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Archive for October, 2013

Clean & Clear Waters

I recently found myself standing by Raccoon Creek, watching leaf after leaf slip from the overhanging branches into the slowly moving, blue-green waters below. As I stood there, I recalled having once read that waters seeping from the mines riddling southeastern Ohio had washed into the little river (Raccoon Creek, in case you weren’t aware of it, is actually a river). One effect is the water color that now characterizes it – very unusual for this area. Another effect was in the rendering of it nearly uninhabitable to most fish life.

But I remembered reading that careful redress of past negligence had improved conditions for Raccoon Creek, and that more conscientious habits among southern Ohioans had since improved the situation somewhat. As I gazed at the quiet waters below me, I was glad for such improvements and yet hope for the ongoing healing, so to speak, of the river’s waters.

In considering Raccoon Creek’s plight, however, I was reminded very strongly of the purpose and mission of the church. The Church is very much a “river of life”, made up of the wellsprings of souls that are in communion with the Savior.

“Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37b-38 ESV).

Through the obedient walk of individual Christians come the sweet waters of fellowship with God as He irrigates their lives with His elixirs of peace, joy, courage, and love.

 If the Lord is dealing with your life about the waters He wishes to have flow through you, you may find that there are bubbling up from the depths of your heart things that are unclean and tend to poison His loving activity in you.

If the Lord is dealing with your life about the waters He wishes to have flow through you, you may find that there are bubbling up from the depths of your heart things that are unclean and tend to poison His loving activity in you.

“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV).

But poisons can seep into our own springs of eternal life and discolor even our waters of spiritual fruitfulness just as surely as coal mine backwash can change the look of Raccoon Creek. Not only that, but as such poisons accumulate and float out into the waters around us, our “rivers” can also become inhospitable to life – spiritual life, that is.

Contaminants such as dissensions, for example, make our rivers ugly and smelly – not only in the nostrils of our God, but also stifle the sweet fragrance of Christ’s presence within us. Resentments, jealousies, hard-heartedness, and little commitment to the giving of ourselves in holy devotion to our Heavenly Father all raise the acid levels of Christian community so that we neither attract new life but rather hinder the Holy Spirit of God in His work of raising the spiritually dead to life in Christ Jesus.

As selfishness, gossip, greed, and tolerance of “little” compromises in our character leech out into the waters that our God so longs to flood through us, His loving mercies are very nearly cut off and the people of God become parched, thirsty for something. And it may well be that they are not sure for what they thirst because they thought they HAD the living waters. And then people begin to leave… wanting and hungering for more, but looking to all the wrong things.

The challenge then for the Church is to reexamine itself and see if its “waters” are truly the fresh and clean waters flowing from the throne of God, or if it has become polluted and incapable of supporting life. We may very well find that God needs to “flush out” our hearts and restore us to a right and proper relationship with Himself. But then, that’s what He does… He cleanses hearts and lives, expunging the sin in the past, purifying our hearts in the present, and appointing His purposes for our future.

If the Lord is dealing with your life about the waters He wishes to have flow through you, you may find that there are bubbling up from the depths of your heart things that are unclean and tend to poison His loving activity in you. If so, then honestly confess these things to God and release them to His control. Let His healing and cleansing touch wash you and set your feet on ground that does not rely on your power for “personal reformation” but upon His power for “eternal transformation”.

There are whole worlds of lost people dying of spiritual thirst all around you. Some of these lost people may be in your family, or perhaps your neighbors next door, close friends, or people with whom you work. Don’t be content with playing spiritual games or with waters that look “pretty” on the surface but are ladened with the poisonous toxins of selfishness and sin.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Some time back, a friend of mine, whose name is Scott, sadly commented to me about how frequently he runs across Christians who fall prey to temptation. And then, having fallen, wear the weight of condemnation so heavily that they essentially throw in the towel, despairing of God’s capacity to forgive them, cleanse them, and restore them.  Our conversation made me think of many I know, too, who struggle with this very thing.

Many people, when born again, are filled with fiery zeal and are beaming with the radiant glow of gratitude and hope. But then, if they’ve stumbled, they find that the lies of the great deceiver are whispered into their ears. And what are the lies that they hear? That they are failures. That since they gave in to temptation, God can’t love them anymore.

ShameSome say that if you give in to any sin then you must not truly be a Christian or that you somehow lose assurance that God will receive you when this earthly life is over. They cite Revelation 21:8 in which we are taught that, “…the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

But there is a profound difference between the one whose heart has never yielded to the lordship of Jesus Christ as he or she attempts to hold on to a life of sin (such as the ones mentioned above), and the one who through weakness gives in to temptation… even repetitiously.

The difference is that a man (or woman), though having become a Christian, is still housed in a body of flesh. The Word of God, the Bible, teaches us that His Holy Spirit helps him, but there are times when he is beset by pangs of fearfulness, waves of anger, surges of pride, or assaults of physical impulses and therefore chooses to not yield to His Spirit’s promptings.

But consider the Apostle Paul’s words of encouragement who himself professed that there were times when he wasn’t perfect and even may have struggled with temptation. “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18b-19 ESV). The Bible doesn’t record the nature of his struggles, whether he struggled with fearfulness, pride, or just liked to eat too many doughnuts at the synagogue. But then again, it doesn’t really matter what it was for we each also find ourselves struggling with our own unique temptations, failures, and fears.

But the hope that he then goes on to share is for all of us. His words of incredible encouragement in Romans chapter 8 tell us how a Christian may begin to cultivate a lifetime of victory over sin because of the new identity that he or she has in Jesus Christ, finding enablement by God’s Spirit to break free from sin’s bondage.

So in reading these Scriptures, if we can agree that we “grow” and “increase” in victory over sin, then we must also recognize that such victories and changes aren’t necessarily instantaneous. No Christian is going to suddenly be a perfect person. She must be “transformed by the renewing of her mind” (Romans 12:2) and that happens through the process of prayerfully reading and learning His Word, and then obeying it.

In other words, stop worrying about whether or not you’re “righteous enough” to stand before God. You aren’t.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).

However, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… for God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…” (Romans 8:1, 3-4a ESV).

You aren’t righteous enough to go to heaven, but Jesus is… and if you have placed your faith in Him, then His righteousness is credited to you. “…The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (is) for all who believe.  For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:22-25a ESV).

If you’re walking around thinking what a miserable failure you are, then think again. You were not saved by your own righteousness and are therefore not kept for God by your own righteousness. Know that God’s grace is big enough to pick you up again and again, dust you off, and put you back on your feet. And if you’ll let Him do that for you, then you can put into practice some wisdom you’ve learned from your experience. If, for example, you’ve struggled with alcohol, then you know to set up boundaries that help you to keep from slipping into situations in which there is alcohol present and consequently tempt you (the same goes for drugs). If you’ve had a terrible time with your anger, learn the technique of walking away and praying so that you can cool down and manage your anger before it manages you. Or if you find yourself falling prey to immorality, then change your lifestyle so that you do not find yourself in compromising situations. And in all cases, seek out a trusted Christian friend who can lovingly (and courageously) hold you accountable. If you don’t know of any, look around in your church. If you don’t go to church… well, you’re in for some trouble. Get in church and find that someone.

So take heart, weary one. Stop carrying around that load of condemnation and shame. It’s all been arranged. You can start all over again with God: He’s ready for you to give Him your struggles.

“…Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2 ESV).

Are you ready to give Him your struggles, too?

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Traveling outside the country is an exercise in anxiety for me. I am by no means a “frequent international flyer”, so on the occasions when I have traveled abroad, I have found my prayer life accelerating exponentially (especially when I’ve headed into unknown airports with procedures that I have suspected differ greatly from other airports in which I’ve been).

Traveling by car has had its own quirks as well. When in West Africa several years ago, I and my partner were going by van out into remote villages to encourage and train “bush pastors” (pastors, usually with little or no formal training who are responsible for Christian believers far from urbanized settlements). As we left “civilization” far behind us, the sun was shining, and we found ourselves driving on rough “roads” that threw up such clouds of dust that we were literally red from head to toe. Trying to breathe through handkerchiefs, we sat in the back of the van, tossed back and forth as our Ghanean driver (tried) to dodge the tree limbs and gulleys that unexpectedly crossed our paths.

Eventually, the hours of daylight ran out and it got dark. As the last of the sun’s ambience melted into shadow, the depth of the darkness grew and grew until we were quite literally surrounded by what seemed to be absolute black. That in itself wasn’t necessarily a new experience for me. In rural Ohio, we have country roads that go for miles without any flicker of light to be found, allowing the stars in the sky above to shine down uninhibitedly. As we drove on that particular night in Africa, however, the canopy of trees and vines so thickly surrounded us most of the time that we generally couldn’t see the sky. Even so, the big difference that God began to open to me is that in Ohio, where there are people, there is almost invariably light. A porch light, a street or security light, a light in a window, a headlight, a flashlight, and so on, are almost always present whenever people are present. Where there are people, there is light. Not so in the undeveloped territories of Ghana and Togo.

What was really experientially strange for me (although I knew it prior to my experience of it), was that we would be riding along in nearly complete darkness (save for the headlights of our vehicle) when suddenly we’d find ourselves driving through whole groups of people walking along the trail with no light among them at all. On one occasion, the driver stopped and we all got out to stretch our legs while he confirmed that we were traveling towards the place we wanted to go. As I stood there, listening to the voices in the darkness around us, I gradually became aware that we were actually standing in a village of mud huts, their forms hardly to be seen in the shadows all around us. And then, an hour later we came to another village, only this one had some real buildings, one even with a light on as we drove by. I even found a man who had Diet Coke to sell (I bought one to wash down all the dust I’d been eating for the seven or eight hours prior).

The point is that I consider that perhaps I have taken the blessing of light a bit for granted. My thanks to the professionals who work tirelessly even in harsh elements here in Ohio to help us keep the lights on. Our friends in Africa don’t live in darkness by choice; there simply hasn’t been the economic development there to make it happen in many places. I assume that it is because there have been too few incentives to make it happen (perhaps financial gain will become less an incentive for others and compassion for others more of one). In the meantime, darkness is what many people who live there are accustomed to though they hunger for more.

Spiritually speaking, the parallels are enormous for folks in our world today. On the one hand, many of us who “have the light” (the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ) take it for granted, underestimating the power of that light to illuminate our own paths in life today. On the other hand, many do not have “the light” and walk in the darkness of despair, fear, and bondage to sin.

If we look with spiritual eyes, however, we will find that there are far more people striding up and down the highways and byways of daily routine, lost in darkness, than we could ever have imagined. We who have come to Christ Jesus, placing our faith in Him and receiving His gift of salvation, must remember that this light to which we’ve been called (the light of God’s love) is not merely for our benefit, but for God’s glory and for extending into the lives of others who hitherto walk still in darkness.

“In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world… He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him….  But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:4-5, 9a, 10, 12-13 ESV).

There are two things that we must do with this light which has been entrusted to us. The first is simply to walk in the light. “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7 ESV).

The second is to share the light. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

"You are the light of the world." - Matthew 5:14 ESV

“You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:14 ESV

Let us each who then say we love God, simply strive to live in His light and to share His light with others that they may no longer walk in darkness but have fellowship with us in the wonderful illumination of His love!

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I am grieved always when I hear or read of some new way that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been man-handled (pun intended) in order to advance some self-serving person or institution.  How revolting it must be to the Lord when His Son’s death is used to promote a person’s selfish political or material cause or any other personally ambitious type of power grab.

And let us be careful to not turn the Gospel of Jesus into something He never intended it to be.  The Gospel of Christ is first and foremost the means by which God administers grace in a sinful world doomed to damnation (yes, I said it).  It is the pronouncement of God’s judgment on sin while simultaneously it is also the announcement of mercy afforded us through the offering of His own Son, Jesus.  The Gospel is this:  through faith alone in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are made the children of God.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, what whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  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 3:16-18 ESV).

The solving of social ills such as war, racism, poverty, sex trafficking, drugs, crime and political corruption are not the point of Gospel, but are instead addressed as the Gospel is worked out in the lives of those it has thoroughly transformed.

And to those who have recently claimed that Jesus’ ministry was to overturn an unfair tax system (and that His opposition to unfair taxation was what got Him nailed to the cross)… oh, please!  Don’t insult God with such short-sighted, material-minded garbage!  Such a claim is simply an ad hoc attempt to commandeer the life, death, and life of Jesus.

It is an effort to confuse those who aren’t rooted deeply in the truth of God, bully opponents of one’s political persuasion, and displace one’s culpability for his own sins and impending condemnation.

Don’t be deceived by anyone who denies the reason for Jesus’ coming to earth.  We call Him Savior because He died for our sins.  We call Him Lord because He rose from the dead, is glorified, and is King forever.

“(John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!’… (Thousands and thousands said) with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ … ‘To Him Who sits on the throne (of God) and to the Lamb (Jesus) be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (John 1:29, Revelation 5:12,13b ESV).

As the Lamb of God, His purpose was to be a sacrifice Whose blood would atone for the unimaginable weight of my sin and yours.  As a matter of historical fact, His coming, dying, and rising from the dead is either true as the Bible records it, or it didn’t happen at all and has no lasting meaning for any of us today.  But it just so happens that it is true, a matter reliably documented by hundreds of eye witnesses in that first century.  To deny it as the Bible records it is a slap in the face of those who faithfully reported it to us.  More tragic (and terrifying) than that is that it is also a slap in the face of God Almighty Himself Who sent Jesus to us.

The truth of the matter was summed up well in words penned by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend in the song, “In Christ Alone”.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless Babe.
This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save. 
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid.  Here in the death of Christ I live.
 
There in the ground His body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain.  
Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again! 
And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me:  
For I am His and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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