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Archive for November, 2013

Thanksgiving is the day we officially set aside to reflect on our blessings, and the Friday after officially marks the start of the Christmas season.  Many folks have high expectations for good feelings that somehow are supposed to be evoked by traditions and family gatherings.  As we get nearer to Christmas, we’ll hopefully hear some who remind us again the virtues of giving and urge us on to works of charity and sacrifice.  If it weren’t for the reminder that the Savior was born in a stable on mission to save us from our sin, we would be battered to bits by the greed, angst, loneliness, and despair that too often overcomes too many at Christmas.Family Praying Before Dinner

So let us pause for a moment in our plans for Christmas to consider that the “season” of Christmas truly begins with Thanksgiving.  Yes, commercialism is a strong influence on the attitude of our culture as companies urge for both an earlier start to the Christmas shopping season and for shoppers to indulge in a Christmas that is “bigger and better than ever before” (meaning, “more stuff is bigger and more expensive is better”).

Be that as it may, no matter who pushed for it or why, it seems to me that “thanksgiving” is an appropriate mindset for entering into an occasion in which many Americans are just a bit more interested in the spiritual and perhaps a bit more open to the touch of God’s grace.

And why would that be so?  Well, people across the land are being robbed right and left… plundered perhaps not of material possessions, but of the much more elusive yet infinitely more valuable commodity that we call “joy”.  It’s not really that anyone can steal happiness per se, but people can allow themselves to be lured into attitudes and subsequent behaviors that leave them feeling cheated, slighted, or frustrated.  Not quite finding a lasting joy as a result of whatever lifestyle they may have adopted, they continue to chase the phantoms of false promises that abound in a world of fakes and phonies.

Will a better job make him happy?  Could a nicer house satisfy her?  How about a new car or some new clothes?  Or even a new husband or a new wife?  Does it seem that I’m taking it to a ridiculous extreme?  I don’t think so.  I think that the signs of the times prove my point.  The fact is that no matter what we have, we obsessively look for something bigger and better.  As a result, we are perilously close to having no capacity for contentment.  And if we can’t be content with what we’ve been blessed, there can’t be any real sense of thanksgiving “seasoning the soup” of our fellowship with God.

After all, how can we simply “rest” in God’s loving presence when all we can think about is what we don’t have?  How can we reside in an attitude of worship of our God when our hearts and minds are elsewhere?  There is no adoration where the heart is distracted by preoccupation.  So let us not waste God’s time by telling Him that we’re worshiping Him when our affections are stuck on substitutes.  When we do this, we ourselves are robbers for we have become accomplices in the stealing of God’s glory.

This then is the tremendous value of having a day set aside for expressing our thankfulness to God.  If such thankfulness is genuine, it places us in the right spiritual posture before our Creator and Savior because it both professes God to be Provider as well as confesses that we are dependent upon His good will.  It is also an occasion for us to render pleasure to Him in our appreciation of the mercies and gifts that He has lavished upon us (whatever they are in whatever measure He grants them).

If the Christmas season follows such attitudes and expressions of gratitude, then the reflective and celebratory tone of the holidays can truly be meaningful.  In other words, if we will practice the discipline of thanking God for what we have and being content with that with which He has blessed us, we can gaze upon the coming of Jesus into the world as Savior and truly adore Him.  We can adore Him and thank Him for His having thought of us and cared for us.  We can humbly bow and praise Him for His having lived and died for us.  Thankfulness widens the door of fellowship with God that faith in His atoning work on the cross of Christ opened for us.

So be thankful for that which God has blessed you, either in the giving to you or in the refusing to give to you.  Be thankful for His provision for your life and set your eyes on His Son, not buying into the lie that you don’t have enough or that you need something more than the love that He has bequeathed to you through His Son.  Don’t allow anyone or anything to break into the secret place of your heart and steal the joy and peace that God alone supplies.

“…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11b-13 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Small towns and countryside communities like the one in which I live provide a picturesque and comforting sanctuary in a world that seems completely out of control. While Hollywood occasionally demonstrates a knack for misrepresenting small town life as either dull or naïve, rural Ohio provides its inhabitants an opportunity to live life in an unhurried manner, uncluttered with many of the pressures and tumults of urban and even suburban areas.

A quiet pace for living and a safe place for raising families are some of the expectations that we’ve adopted in the rolling hills of southern Ohio along the graceful waters of the mighty Ohio River.

And yet quiet, small towns and seemingly peaceful farmlands are not immune to troubles, nor are they impregnable fortresses against the ruthless tragedies and terrors that characterize our times. The headlines of our world are dominated by evil men bent on preying upon, terrorizing, even maiming and killing others… even in small towns.

Quiet, small towns and seemingly peaceful farmlands are not immune to troubles, nor are they impregnable fortresses against the ruthless tragedies and terrors that characterize our times.

Quiet, small towns and seemingly peaceful farmlands are not immune to troubles, nor are they impregnable fortresses against the ruthless tragedies and terrors that characterize our times.

So whether our minds are keeping tabs on the global scene or are focused on events in small town America, let us remember that evil is very real and very insidious. But let’s not throw in the towel. I don’t believe in yielding to the power of fear. Acknowledging the fact that evil exists is a step in the right direction; pretending there is no evil on the prowl is a step towards self-destruction.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV).

So if evil is real and is on the prowl, and there is no place so safe that I can be sure as to my future, where can I turn? Where can I feel secure? Where can I find hope?

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!…. Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?  The LORD is on my side as my Helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes….  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.  The LORD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:1, 5-9, 13-14 ESV).

As great and as terrible as evil can be at times, God’s children press on in His righteousness. We do not react to evil with evil, but respond to it instead with courage, standing up for those who are weak, defending the powerless, and liberating the oppressed. “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.  I thank You that You have answered me and have become my salvation” (Psalm 118:19-21 ESV).

Of course, that’s what the good news of the Gospel is all about… redeeming those whose lives are under the power of evil.  In fact, the Gospel addresses evil at its deepest level – the human heart as Jesus confronted empty religion and worldly preoccupations, the fruits of which are hypocrisy, hate, and despair. “… (Jesus) stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’… Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16b-19, 21b ESV).

Since we’ve been made “more than conquerors through Christ Jesus” (see Romans 8:37), let us then each enter into the fray against evil now in earnest. Let it begin within ourselves as we give our sin over to God for Him to forgive and cleanse through the power of His Son’s sacrifice and resurrection. Let us take the battle against evil into our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces as we use the weapons of truth and love to turn back the advances of deceit and hate. Let us trust wholeheartedly in the One Who has already secured for us a victory that is so sure and eternal that it will outlast the sun and the stars.

“You are my God, and I will give thanks to You; You are my God; I will extol You.  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:28-29 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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When in the middle of a terribly difficult trial (to which I’ve referred in previous articles), we received a visit from a person who had been a friend to us in earlier days.  My wife’s and my hearts were eager for encouragement and support, but that visit had little to do with any of that sort of thing.  As it turned out, he felt a great need to instruct us… without the benefit of taking time to learn more about the situation.  It seemed that he was afraid of what we might choose to do next in response to the hurt we had received and felt we were in a position to do significant harm to others if we chose to.

“Actually,” he said in closing, “if you really want to obey God, you’ll move away from here.”  Diane, my wife, left that conversation and turned towards me, tears welling up in her lovely eyes, her face unnaturally pale.

We felt terribly alone.  Worse yet, no matter how much Christian love we sought to share with others and no matter how hard we sought to not react to others with a vengeful spirit, the hits kept coming.  In this instance, our brother-in-the-Lord apparently acted out of fearfulness and inadvertently contributed to our sense of rejection and displacement.  He did not intend to hurt us.  He did not mean to exacerbate our feelings of abandonment.  He did not plan on fueling a pervasive feeling of hopelessness within us.  But he did.

Despair fell upon us like a ton or razor-sharp rocks tumbling into our lives like an avalanche.  We were cut by unjust criticisms.  We were crushed by failed friendships.  We were suffocating under a load of doubt.  The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming.

The idea that he posed to us was one we took seriously however.  What did God want of us?  Was He closing doors?  If so, where in the world was the open one?  And even if we had thought we had an open door before us, how could we step through it and risk investing ourselves once again in an attempt to be God’s servants by helping others to know Jesus and to grow in Him?

There were no clear open doors before us however.  No clear direction was presented to us and we struggled to know what to do.  We examined ourselves in the light of God’s Word, prayed, fasted, and did our best to wait.  All the while, the message that some others had presented to us echoed in our ears that, “You have no place here.”  The few Christian brothers and sisters in whom we could truly confide were as confused for us as we were.  Our sense of hopelessness seemed to only grow.

If our hope is in God, then when He allows good things to be taken away, we can rejoice, give thanks, and move forward because He Himself is our hope.

If our hope is in God, then when He allows good things to be taken away, we can rejoice, give thanks, and move forward because He Himself is our hope.

We learned a few things from the experience, I am glad to say.  One thing that we learned is that hopelessness is a paralyzer.  When it descends upon us, it has the effect of wrapping us in chains.  The chains of fear of trying, of failing, and of being rejected can so enmesh a soul that he cannot make a move.  It stings the heart with the poison of confusion as he wrestles with the question, “What’s the point?” and it leeches from his soul the will to try, move, and even live.

Another thing we learned is that no one, no matter how good his intentions, can take the place of God in your life.  While we should value the input of others inasmuch as they share out of love for us and an open heart to the Lord and His Word, it is up to each of us to cultivate in the context of godly community a personal relationship directly with the Lord Jesus Himself with His Bible and personal prayer as the primary modes of interaction.  In our situation, we did not feel that we were hearing from God Himself (even when one or two people told us that they were speaking on God’s behalf).  In our devotional time in the Bible, we were drawn again and again to God’s admonishment to “stay put” until He said otherwise.  So, in the end, we stayed put.

In staying put, we learned that final lesson that the Lord had or us.  It was to put our hope in Him and Him alone.  Sometimes our hope can be put in the wrong thing such as our own strength, ingenuity, or physical resources.  Sometimes we place our hope in people other than God like friends, family, the government, or even the church.

As wonderful as these things can be (one would like to think), none of them can be our final source of hope because each of these things has limitations that prevent it from being capable of being everything we need in every situation.  Therefore, we must take care to put our hope in Christ.  If it is so, we can take such provisions from Him as He sends our way (like good health, a good mind, or good financial situations) and we can be thankful to Him for them.  We can enjoy the blessings of good friends, good family relationships, benevolent government, and great things happening at church as we joyfully praise the good Giver of such good gifts.

But if our hope is in God Himself, then when He allows such things to be taken away, we can still rejoice, give thanks, and move forward because He Himself is our hope. While we like the gifts, we are most thankful for the Giver of the gifts.

By God’s grace at work in us, we were able to keep our eyes upon Him and become more deeply planted where He placed us.  Because of that, lives have been touched and changed by the power and grace of God at work through us.  He gave hope to several because He renewed our hope.  And He renewed our hope because He Himself was – and is – our hope!

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!  Behold, You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before You.  Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!  Surely a man goes about as a shadow!  Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!  And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?  My hope is in You” (Psalm 39:4-7 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Twelve years ago, God brought a major transition into my life that not only affected me directly, but had very strong and life-changing ramifications for my wife and children.  It is no easy thing to change from knowing how exactly you are going to spend each day to having to recreate a routine and even a new lifestyle.  But even harder are those moments that your heavenly Father brings to you that force you to examine calling and destiny and precipitate your having to redefine who and what you are – even if it is merely a refining of what you already know about yourself.

That transition was a time of crisis for us in many ways as we adjusted to the physical and material implications of the changes that came.  The bigger crisis, however, was the not knowing what was happening and the opportunity that Satan took to really press us with questions about God’s faithfulness and love.  That season was, on the one hand, a time of complete chaos and I will admit that I did not have a clear sense of God’s presence, although I trusted that He was there.  Dealing with a new livelihood and the financial strains it placed upon us, I felt that I was in no way prepared to begin the process to navigate those changes, although I made myself take necessary steps.

How were we going to make it?  What would I do?  How could I make everything all right for my dear wife and children – these beautiful people for whom I was responsible?

I looked for God, but could neither see nor hear Him.

I looked for God, but could neither see nor hear Him.

The fear of the unknown was nearly tangible and the hurt we felt at the hands of many whom we had trusted and loved was crushing.  I felt the sensation of being utterly out-of-control with a sickening intensity and I didn’t know where to turn.  I looked for God, but could neither see nor hear Him.

This time of rejection taught me that storms come as do dry seasons, times of loss, and moments of pain.  When such things come to us, we face the temptation to believe that God has left us and forgotten us.  Depending on the degree to which we experience it and the depth of our roots of confidence in God’s sufficiency, rejection can create such an aching vacuum in our hearts that all we can feel is aloneness… a feeling of abandonment that we then project onto God.  We “feel” alone, so we decide that we must truly be alone.  Rejection frames the mind and heart for believing in the lie of our having been abandoned and we find ourselves wide open to despair.

The repercussions of arriving at that kind of conclusion can be cataclysmic.  For example, one is more susceptible to disastrous life choices when he feels abandoned than at any other point in time.  Why?  Because he will be quick to join with anyone or anything that will take him in and accept him.  People who turn to abusive relationships find it easier to bear emotional or even physical abuse than being alone and unwanted.

Not only that, but when a person feels abandoned, she no longer has any sense of moral obligation to the one perceived as having abandoned her.  A child abandoned by his parents has no obligation to them to obey them.  A wife abandoned by her husband has no moral obligation to act like his wife.  When we allow ourselves to feel abandoned by God, we naturally do not feel any particular impulse to live a life that honors Him. The feeling of abandonment is powerful in determining our future because it has enormous power in influencing our choices.

Because the feeling of abandonment is so potentially devastating, we need to stop when we get caught up in feelings of rejection and ask some very important questions:  “Am I really alone?  Or do I just feel what way?”  Remember, what you think you feel is not necessarily the way it is.

In a moment of such desperate trial, we are forced to decide what will function as the authority under which we live.  The opinions of others, material rewards, and even physical comforts can obviously be allowed to hold that kind of authority over us. More subtle, perhaps, is the question of whether or not our emotions are going to govern us as opposed to God’s revelation of Himself in His Word, the Bible.

Anger, sorrow, greed, lust, and laziness are all feelings that the Bible warns us against.  He especially warns us against fear because fear almost always misleads us in regard to life choices.  The ultimate exception to this is a reverential fear of the awesome might and holiness of God which has a unique way of putting everything in its proper perspective.

Jesus, the Son of God, made some special promises to us that have the power to override our feelings of fear (or whatever).  In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus promises, “I am with you always.” Think of it! God, Who revealed Himself to us by taking on human form with all its limitations, has promised us that He will always be with us! While He does not do that in physical form with us today, He does it in spirit by His Holy Spirit!  He is with you!  And if He is with you, then you are not now – nor ever – abandoned!  And if you are not abandoned, then you are not unwanted. And if you are not unwanted, then you, in spite of your failings and weaknesses, are wanted.  You are wanted!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan.

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Okay.  Time for confession.  Ready?  Well, here it is.  I’m not as strong as I sometimes wish I was, I’m not as brave as I would like to be, and I’m not as smart as I’d like to pretend.  I don’t like to be wrong, don’t like to look foolish, and don’t like it when I say something “half-baked”.  And I certainly do not want to be ever less than super-spiritual, always knowing exactly how God is working and what specific response He expects in any given situation.

None of these things may surprise you I suppose (especially if you know me well), but I generally have a hard time admitting such deficiencies to myself.  I seem to run with the notion that maybe if I never admit these things, they’ll magically go away and lose any power over me that they might exert.

The lion sleeps tonight

God has a way of helping us to see things as they really are.

But God has a way of helping us to see things as they really are.  He is ever busy with the business of plunging into the deep places of our hearts to do a work of deepening His blessings for us.

One morning very recently in a quiet time of prayer, I found God doing His spiritual surgery in my heart as He gave me some new insights into His work in my life.  Generally speaking, I have considered myself an intensely private person, careful to guard certain aspects of my life.  Some of that guardedness is good and so remains:  for instance, my wife and children are a sacred charge to me and I will prayerfully protect, to the best of my ability, the boundaries that provide for a nurturing environment in which God’s Spirit can do His work of building them up into the men and woman God has created them to be.

But there are certain areas of my life that I’ve simply not talked about, in the name of discretion, that have perhaps been guarded for less noble reasons.  The Lord has brought me to a place to consider my motives in some of those areas and I find that my reason for being “discrete” in some of these instances has sometimes had less to do with not wanting to whine my way through life than it has with my desire to seem strong and invulnerable.

After all, we should never let our problems get us down, right?  We should hold our heads high and never let on that we’ve faced and sometimes been overcome by hurts, betrayals, failures, and disappointments.   Well, in a moment of grace, the Lord opened my eyes to the fact that a refusal to acknowledge hurt often has at its heart the sin of pride which is the chief obstacle to the thorough healing that God in His compassion desires to bring about in each of His children.  Not only that, it robs God of His glory which had the capacity of demonstrating the application of His grace in our lives to a watching world.   Furthermore, it robs others the opportunity of seeing how such grace works in the lives of those who are willing to trust Him and thereby leads them to the forfeiture of His grace’s work in their own lives.

This realization was brought home to me by God’s Word in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV), “(God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Am I saying that God wants us to “air our dirty laundry”?  No, but it does say to us that it is important – even vital – to recognize, admit, and surrender the broken pieces of our hearts and the miserable failures we’ve brought upon ourselves so that we, loaded with all our finiteness and wretchedness, can appreciate God’s infinite grace!

What God has taught me and is still teaching me is that while His methods can seem harsh, uncaring, and incomprehensible, His love for me is eternal, profound, and inexhaustible.  The distortion of my eyesight (spiritually speaking) is not the reality; it is just a misrepresentation that Satan likes to exploit and is a tool for his slick smear campaign against God.  When in the midst of pain, I believed in God.  I even believed that God was good.  I just couldn’t see what that “goodness” meant for me or even if that goodness was meant for me.

My hope – my prayer – is that you will see that no matter how hurt you may feel in life, there is an eternal God Who truly does love you and, through Jesus Christ, really does accept you.

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, Who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort you hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 ESV).

Copyright  Thom Mollohan

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