Feeds:
Posts

Archive for September, 2013

One of the greatest challenges to the living out of a practical and day-to-day faith is our wrestling with the problem of suffering. Because suffering is pain and, as Lucy Van Pelt quipped in a Peanuts cartoon many years ago, “Pain hurts!”, we run from it, hide from it, and try to remove it if we are afflicted with it.

But whether one assumes the Modern perspective of trying to dissect pain to its basic components so it can be “fixed”, or one takes the Post-Modern approach of simply trying to mask it, the problem of suffering doesn’t go away.

Suffering

People suffer and wonder why. Why is suffering universally a part of the human experience?

The history of humanity has always been characterized by suffering, the question of “why” haunting every generation until today. And, of course, people today still wrestle with pain physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Since the problem of suffering has not gone away, neither has the question. People still suffer and still wonder why. Why do we suffer? Why is suffering universally a part of the human experience?

Within the Bible can be found the answer to the question. In its most simple sense, suffering is part of what it means to be a human being. Suffering is on the one hand a result of human rejection of God. Our earliest ancestors, representing the human race, were the first to suffer because in their rejection of God for the sake of their own pride and willfulness, they chose the alternative to ongoing joyful union with their Creator. Hence, they chose to suffer. It was the consequence to them having their own way. The shadow of suffering and the presence of pain entered into what could otherwise have been completely joyful cycles of life devoid of suffering in all its forms (see Genesis 3:16-19).

And so, if we turn our lives over to God, repenting of sin which has separated us from Him, we have the promise that He will help us with our suffering. “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their stronghold in the time of trouble.  The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him” (Psalm 37:39-40 ESV). Walking with God opens the door for His power to work in our lives bringing hope and healing.

But it isn’t as simple as that for we find that, even when we humble ourselves before God, forsaking the going of our own way and choosing to enter into fellowship with Him through faith in Christ, suffering still comes. What then? Why do “good people” have bad things happen to them? Why does our health fail and sickness come? Why must death claim our loved ones? Why must we struggle with depression or suffer afflictions of our minds? Why must we strive and strive and still find that our dreams come to nothing? Why do those we love reject and abuse us though we’ve given them our hearts?

How can the promise of Psalm 37 be understood when our lives seem still to be painted by such dark and drab colors as hurt and sorrow? Think of Job in the Old Testament. A man whose eyes and heart were focused on the Lord found himself the target of affliction. Not only did he lose his health and his wealth, he lost his children to death and his wife to bitterness. And then, as a last straw, he lost his friends (or at least the qualities in his friends that define what he needed in friendship).

But at the end of the experience he learned (as did his “friends”) that sometimes suffering is meted out to us in order to demonstrate the sufficiency of God. In other words, God Himself is the only pleasure and blessing that we truly “need”. Suffering is at times permitted in our experience to lead us to God. If we have not experienced the wonder and power of salvation then it can help lead us to faith in Him. If we’ve already become His children through receiving God’s gift of salvation, suffering can lead us to more deeply and earnestly seek Him.

And here I want to point out an incredible truth. Our God is no stranger to suffering. In taking human form He endured the fullness of human experience. Born in humble circumstances, hungering and thirsting, bearing the emotional anguish of rejection and treachery, and then beaten and crucified, He knows fully what we go through in all our varieties of suffering.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:4a, 7a ESV).

Jesus has fully entered into our suffering, and by His Spirit, enters into our suffering however it takes form in our lives today. He did not avoid our need because dealing with it would hurt, nor did he refrain from doing the work of dying on the cross because there was pain. He embraced the suffering because, in doing so, He was also embracing us.

And now He invites us to look again on the myriad ways that we might be suffering today. If you’ve asked the question “Why?” and felt abandoned, if you’ve considered throwing in the towel or shaking your fist at the heavens, reconsider for a moment. If you cannot find a reason for why pain seems your lot right now, then entertain the possibility that God Himself is extending to you the opportunity to enter into a new arena of fellowship with His Son.

“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11 ESV).

Knowing God is the “end all” purpose for which you’ve been created. Knowing Him intimately is the most incredible pleasure and awesome wonder of the Christian experience. And inasmuch as we truly mean the words we say when our mouths utter, “I want to know You, Lord,” we know that there may be at times paths of suffering before our feet. Yet, it is a sweet sorrow. It is one that our Savior will help us to shoulder as we, by His Spirit’s power in us, choose to meet rejection with grace instead of resentment, injuries against us with forgiveness instead of retaliation, disease and afflictions with trust in God instead of fear, and the loss of loved ones with peace instead of bitterness.

And since suffering can allow us to know Jesus more intimately because He enters into our suffering as we cling to Him, the fruit of our fellowship with Him is that we willingly enter into the sufferings of others around us, shouldering what we can, helping where we may, and giving what we have. When we do this, we have opened the door for finally making sense of the suffering that we often find in our lives.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Not happy with church?

Dissatisfied with church? Is it possibly the result of something amiss in your own walk with God?

Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? – Joel 1:16 ESV

Read Full Post »

Unity is a beautiful thing… or at least could be and should be under the right conditions. Of course, people collectively bent on violence or fear can be just as ugly a scene as a group can be beautiful which is concentrated on good.

“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all." - Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV

“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV

But God’s people, when unified under His leadership can be an especially lovely sight. Understand, however, that my statement has at its core some significant assumptions. Without these conditions in place, the beauty of such unity is merely a mirage.

The first assumption is that before God’s people, the Church, can be unified under His leadership, they must first be separated from the world for God’s purposes and therefore unique to the world in nature and destiny.

Jesus’ teachings necessitates such a kind of separation because the world-at-large is under condemnation for sin as it pursues its own purposes and slides into its own destiny of destruction and eternal separation from Him.

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51 ESV). “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 ESV).

When Jesus remarks that He came to bring division, He is indicating that salvation requires a heart movement that swims against the flow of worldly patterns of thinking in our world, our society, our workplaces, and even in most of our homes.

Responding to God’s call to follow Him, therefore, generates division from the outset of our Christian experience as we turn our allegiances from institutions and personalities that the world venerates. As we yield our love and life to His sovereign claim to our lives, we are blatantly disconnecting from the world around us.

The second assumption that we must retain as we assess the beauty (or lack thereof) of unity, is that of the purity of our united devotion to God. For our unity to be more than just a neat idea and to keep it from becoming a disgusting mockery of what it should be, the Church must not become distracted by becoming infected with the woes of complacency, hate, greed, idolatry, immorality, or pride. The Church (both universally speaking as well as the local assemblies with whom we worship and minister) is comprised of individuals. And when those individuals are collectively living the lives to which God has called them (pure and holy, loving and serving), the body is uniform in its character and godlier in its essence.

This does not happen automatically, as you might have guessed. It happens when God’s people undertake the joint venture of knowing God through His Word and truly seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). The Bible records for us Jesus’ prayer for the unity of His people (in the context of the abovementioned criteria).

“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You (God the Father) have given Me, for they are Yours.…. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth…. may (they) all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.  The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me (John 17:9, 16-17, 21-23 ESV).

So what do we do with this call for unity? First, remember that God’s appeal for our unity requires that we first be separate from the world: we belong to Him and not ourselves. Second, remember that the saving grace that He has bestowed to us (to which the cross of Christ bears testimony) binds together all those whose lives it has transformed in a supernaturally and divinely instituted organism: the Church. Third, in the context of the these first two facts, we may see that we are individuals who are diverse in gifts, personalities, and contributions to the larger body, but individuals who, like parts of the body, together share a common life, along with a common purpose (God’s glory) and a common hope (eternity with God through faith in Christ Jesus). Finally, our bond is not merely that we share a common cause but is instead the fact that His very Spirit indwells us and links our lives to one another with cords that human eyes cannot see.

“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV). “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world…. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God” (1 John 4:4, 7a ESV).

So, let those who have been born of God walk together the path to which the Lord has set before our feet. Let us link our hearts in the common yoke of loving Him with all our heart, soul, and strength, and let us surrender pride and selfishness, as well as fear and anger, to the Holy One we serve so that He might accomplish in and through us more than our hearts can imagine and show the world that He is truly the King of His people.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

I know that a lot of folks love and admire Oprah… and there are a lot of wonderful reasons to do so.  But I wrote in 2008 about a concern I had with a direction she was taking.  I am reposting the article I wrote in regard to an association she made and its related worldview.  At the end of the article I am posting a comment posted shortly thereafter and my response to it.

This is an era in which we find ourselves swirling in conflicting messages and confusing reports. If one were not confident in God’s ability to enforce the perseverance of His truth and, subsequently be the faithful Shepherd of His sheep that He claims to be, one would wonder if authentic Christianity could survive.

Take as a “for instance” the Christian tendency to listen to voices that espouse a “feel good” spirituality yet fall short on truly communicating that which is true. I know, for example, dozens of people who closely follow the Oprah Winfrey Show and hang on her every word. She’s smart, successful, sincere, and seems genuinely interested in bettering herself and catalyzing the “betterment” of her audience.

Millions of viewers and radio listeners watch her show and who can question the impact that her book picks have had on the publishing industry? When Oprah recommends a book, one can expect that book to instantly be on the bestseller list.

So imagine the harm that can be done if someone like Oprah Winfrey were to be quietly led astray. I specifically refer to her show’s promotion of the book entitled “A Course In Miracles”. Someone recently mentioned to me that her show has not only endorsed it, but has also begun to broadcast lessons from it on her radio program, hosted (evidently) by Marianne Williamson. I have since researched the matter and have found it to be true. I am, quite honestly, horrified. I have long been aware that Williamson espouses a non-orthodox (and I might also add non-authentic) Christianity, originally stumbling onto her philosophical and spiritual positions when I found a children’s book by her on prayer.

While it should never be one’s goal to spread aspersions about another (and this commentary isn’t doing that), it is imperative, however, that we clarify the issues at hand and the claims being made, and take a look at the persons who have made those claims – even in the limited space that a newspaper column affords.

In a nutshell, the Course (or “ACIM” as its proponents often refer to it) is an alternative interpretation of deity, humanity, and reality using the language of the Bible as a means by which those who have grown up in the church may be wooed and led astray if unwary or unlearned in the Scriptures. It has at its core the teachings common to a movement made very popular in the 1960s (generally referred to as “New Age”), but originally introduced to the United States and England in the late 1880s as the West became more connected with the various religions of the Far East (Hinduism and Buddhism in particular).

The Course teaches that the Christ Spirit (the Son of God) is separate from the historical figure of Jesus (this was a teaching introduced into the early Church also in the fourth century and was a part of a heresy called “Gnosticism”). It further teaches that the cross of Calvary has no meaning and that sin is merely an illusion. The basic premise of the Course is that all of reality is, in fact, an illusion (a basic tenet of Buddhism). Sadly, its usage of common Christian lingo makes it so confoundedly confusing that most Christians are not prepared to defend themselves from its aim: which is to elevate self as god and worship created things instead of their Creator (see Romans 1:25). The Course teaches one to discover the divine within us (a non-Biblical teaching called pantheism) and promises that as we uncover our true divinity all our social ills and problems will go away.

In addition to my hastening to point out that this was the original lie straight from the King of Lies’ own lips (Genesis 3:4, “… you will be like gods”), it has ever failed to deliver the promised goods. Even Hugh Prather, an advocate for the Course, said in July 1999 (over twenty years from his taking of the course) that its effect was “the opposite of what I (Prather) expected. With two or three exceptions, everyone I saw at the gathering (a reunion of participants in the Course) was far more separate and egocentric than they were when I first met them. In fact, their egos were so large that many of them had lost the ability to carry on a simple conversation. They made pronouncements and listened deeply to no one. I was appalled.”

It may interest you to know that the Course has as its founder, Helen Schucman, who “scribed” the Course as a mysterious voice that claimed to be Jesus spoke to her, giving her these messages. For anyone who might make the mistake of comparing this to how God spoke in the Scriptures (the Bible) to His prophets, keep in mind that what God said to His prophets was aligned with what He had already been saying. In other words, the prophets were consistent with one another and Schucman’s “revelation” is not. And remember also that the Bible records that there were at times some who proclaimed to be speaking for God yet were not doing so and that their error was ultimately and invariably judged by God.

Helen Schucman, though the Course’s primary prophet, seems even to have not found the peace that the Course promised: while she was dying, “she cursed, in the coarsest barroom language you could imagine, ‘that book, that *curse word* book.’ She said it was the worst thing that ever happened to her,” according to Father Benedict Groeschel, a priest who had at one point been fascinated by the claims of the Course but, in the end, had concluded that it “effectively undermines authentic Christianity”. He also noted that the Course’s co-founder, William Thetford, was “probably the most sinister person I ever met”. Thetford worked with Schucman in the Psychology Department at the Columbia University Medical Center.

It is also very telling that Victoria Hardy of the Los Angeles Chronicle reported in December 2007 that while Thetford was at Columbia (and while Schucman was his graduate assistant), Thetford was also working for the CIA on a top secret project called Project BLUEBIRD (a program to develop and perfect techniques of mind control and manipulation).

Its origins aside, one of the most disturbing statements made in the Course is that the Crucifixion of Christ was pointless and without value. Not only does such a conclusion fail to understand the true nature of humanity (that we are fallen from our Creator and riddled with sin), but it also holds in disdain the awesome love shown us of our perfect and holy God condescending to die as a perfect sacrifice in our place for our sin.

After considering its self-serving and ego-centric ideology and when reflecting on the disturbing origins of the Course (as well as the ultimate conclusions of some of its chief adherents after having “benefited” from it over two decades), one must conclude that if we are truly desiring something more in our spiritual lives than that which we’ve found, we simply need to turn our attention to the God of the Bible, the Revealer of truth. It isn’t sufficient to simply dabble in Christianity, we must turn wholeheartedly to Him and allow Him to transform our thinking, our hearts, and our lives. But the only way to do that is to recognize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 3:23, 6:23)

  Comments:

I HAVE SAID THIS BEFORE AND I REPEAT IT NOW. EVERYTHING YOU HAVE SAID IN YOUR ARTICLE IS TRUE, HOWEVER, I DO BELIEVE THAT WE AS BELIEVERS SHOULD BE PRAYING FOR OPRAH’s SALVATION. SHE APPARENTLY IS ACCEPTING A LIE AS TRUTH AND IS DECEIVED AS MANY ARE. SHE HAS A VERY PROMINENT PLATFORM FROM WHICH TO SPEAK TO MILLIONS AND THAT IS A TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY. I DO THINK WE NEED TO EXPOSE THIS TYPE OF DECEPTION, BUT I ALSO BELIEVE OUR GOD WOULD APPRECIATE OUR PRAYERS ON HER BEHALF.  – Connie

Thank you, Connie, for your feedback. I also agree that we should pray for Oprah as well as all those who are influenced by her and other cultural trends as well. I hope that you noted that the article was careful to not attack her (or even the proponents of the ACIM), but to instead briefly bring its origins and its claims into the bright light of the Scriptures. I lament what I believe to be the easily exploitable spirituality of Christians today, mostly due to a rather casual approach to the Bible (and the subsequent contempt of God’s holiness, His power, and most of all His love). I appreciated reading your remark. Thank you again!   –  Thom

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

“Ah!” my wife, Diane, cried as she glanced out the window five or six years ago. “She’s digging again! Someone needs to go out there and stop her!” I didn’t have to look. There was only one “she” to which Diane could possibly have been referring.

Our son's labrador retriever... as she is now.

Our son’s labrador retriever… as she is now.  She doesn’t dig quite as much as she used to.

We sent out our then-ten-year-old son to intervene, his seven-year-old brother accompanying him. A moment later I heard a sharp, “No! No digging!” and then they returned, with the horse-of-a-puppy in tow. After he carefully cleaned her paws, our son set her loose in the house. His brother, having quietly observed the proceedings, followed after him.

As they passed out of sight down the hall, I could hear them discussing the number of large holes that had turned a section of our backyard into a lunar landscape.

“We’d better bury the holes,” the younger boy advised solemnly, his comment immediately sparking a question in my mind.

“When you bury a hole,” I wondered, “does it cease to be a hole?” I may or may not have voiced my question aloud, but if I did, anyone in hearing distance wisely chose to ignore me. People in my house know that it doesn’t take a lot of encouragement for these kinds of ponderings to get out of hand.

In this case, a whole series of pointless questions ensued. “Does a hole cease to be a hole when you bury it?” was followed by, “If you bury an especially beloved and valuable hole, should you draw a treasure map so you can find it again?” And then, “If you bury a hole that you really want to keep safe, what’s the best way to guard it so no one comes along, digs it up, and then makes off with it?”

Well, however one chooses to answer such “important” questions, one thing is certain, one must do something about the spiritual holes that we frequently find in the landscape of our lives. And just what are “spiritual holes?” Naturally, one might mean the void in each of our hearts until we find Christ and the urgency for each of us to allow God to fill that void with His loving presence through our repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

“And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us.  Whoever keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in them. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit Whom He has given us” (1 John 3:23-24 ESV).

Or, of course, one may be suggesting that there are “holes” in our character. When we can begin to honestly admit that it is so, we can then allow God’s power and His nature to begin to “sew” up such holes so that we might be men and women of integrity whose dealings in this world demonstrate the goodness of God.

“A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight” (Proverbs 11:1 ESV).

And many, many people are contending with yet another kind of hole – a hole into which they pour their giftedness, energy, and resources but without any kind of spiritual dividend returning to them.

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells a story about a man who, when setting out upon a long journey, places his resources to three servants. One is given five units of money; the second is charged with three; and the third is entrusted with one. In the Biblical account, the unit of money is generally translated as “talent” and was worth more than a thousand dollars.

While their boss is away, the first two invest their talents in opportunities that yield a return of one hundred percent. Does the third follow their good example? Nope. He buries his in a hole in the ground! When their boss finally returns, he calls a staff meeting in which they each must account for their actions. The first two report and show the fruits of their investments. Their master is very pleased and commends them, entrusting them with incredibly greater opportunities than before.

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master!” (Matthew 25:21 ESV).

But when the third servant reports, he presents to his boss the one talent that had been entrusted to him and admits that he took his charge and simply put it in a hole in the ground! Not only that, but he has the audacity to displace blame onto the master who had entrusted it to him in the first place! As you might suppose, his boss is NOT impressed, confiscates the talent, and kicks the servant out, essentially firing him for laziness and insubordination!

I’m afraid to say that far more of us are more like the third servant than we realize. Here we are, entrusted with oodles of physical, material, relational, and spiritual blessings, and we too often simply sit on them, oblivious to the opportunities to invest them for the kingdom of God. And while we may realize that the “hole” in Jesus’ story partially represents inactivity (simply not using what we’ve been given), that hole ALSO represents our blessings used for any purpose other than the will of God! Watch out that you do not bury what God has given you in holes of ambition, selfishness, greed, or lust. If you take the gifts that God has given to you, for instance, and use them merely to profit yourself or to impress others, you’ve buried your talent in a hole! Or if you take your material blessings and use them just to accommodate your own comforts and plans, you’ve buried your “talent” in a hole of selfishness.

The time is coming when we also will have to account for our blessings in the same way that those three servants did. When it’s YOUR turn, wouldn’t it be a tragedy to see His beautiful face filled with disappointment and to hear His voice utter words rebuking your untrustworthiness?

Let it not be so for you. “Dig up” today whatever you’ve been burying in your own willfulness, and begin to reinvest it in God’s kingdom. Invest your time, your resources, your relationships, and even your words and thoughts in the great work of pleasing Him. Invest and anticipate those wonderful words from the Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master!” (Matthew 25:21 and 23 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

Too quick do we decide that God either doesn’t see or doesn’t care about pain and suffering.  We’re simply too small to fathom how huge and endless is the holy love of God.  But we get a pretty good picture when we pause to ponder the cross of Christ.

Soaring eagleWhy do you say, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not grow faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:27-31 ESV

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Read Full Post »

Stillness of the water
 
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to Him,
For I rejoice in the LORD.

Psalm 104:33-34 ESV

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »