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It could very well be that when you rose from your bed this past Christmas morning, after rubbing the sleepiness from your eyes, your hands reached for the things under your Christmas tree or the stockings hanging by the fireplace and, instead of the things that you hoped for, you found a lump of coal.

Maybe you found coal even though you weren’t (especially) naughty this year, and so were perhaps not (especially) deserving of a not-so-subtle rebuke from “jolly-ol-Saint Nick”. Indeed, there’s enough naughtiness in the world without us summoning more of it – from wars to crime, from pride to immorality, our cup certainly seems to “overfloweth”.Lumps of coal

Of course, I’m not really talking about literal nuggets of coal, but instead an unexpected mishaps, griefs, and difficulties. Like many others, you may have awakened with some sort of situation or circumstance that, although unlooked for, proved all too real in spite of the supposed good cheer of the season. If so, you might well be less enamored with the possibilities of the future and may be weighed down with anxiety for the impending new year. And just for the record, there are some “coals” in life with which we must deal that are not judgments directly resulting from sin in our lives. It is true that SOME may be the consequences of sin, but there are some things we must face that are the kind of thing Jesus referred to when He said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV).

Having said all that, chances are pretty good that you are carrying around some sort of spiritual coal. While I have no intention of throwing your way any trite or flippant remark about “looking on the bright side” when you’re facing an arsenal of hardships and difficulties, I would prefer to reflect with you the value of “coal”.

For instance, Christians need a renewed passion for God’s glory – a yearning to know Him better, and see His face with spiritual eyes so that their breaths are taken away and He is all they see. Comfort and ease can be hindrances to a closer walk with God insomuch as they tend to lull us into a posture of contentment with temporal things. But the coals of trial, trouble, and loss can provoke a longing in our hearts for something more substantial than the “cheap” thrills that short term satisfactions provide us. Sometimes the coal can be found in the loneliness of lives that are cut off or estranged from loved ones. It’s also in the fear we feel when sickness comes to us even in our own homes and then never wants to leave again. Sometimes it resides in the worries that plague us when we’ve lost our jobs and we’re left to wonder desperately how we’re going to make ends meet.

Such coal, naturally, must be “dug up”. It must be brought to light and honestly processed (or confronted), but once it’s been “mined” (recognized, identified, and engaged), it can feed the hot and flickering flames of joy and peace, as the spark of divine presence and promise breathes into our circumstances a Godly perspective.

I believe with all my heart that our God wants to set a glorious fire blazing in your heart and in the hearts of all His people, burning up the dross of despair, pride, greed, bitterness, hate, lust, and complacency. I am convinced that He wants to fan the glowing embers of the hearts of His people to a towering inferno that will drive back the night of sorrow, fear, and discouragement.

God yearns to thaw our frozen hearts and drive back the chilly fingers of apathy. It turns out that the very things that give us reason for “throwing in the towel”, are also the very things that our heavenly Father can use to demonstrate His incalculable love and awesome power.

As we give Him room to work in our lives, with the pressure He applies to our “hearts and minds”, coupled with the “high temperatures” of rejection and frustration, some of our “coals” will be transformed to spiritual “diamonds” – precious memories that are more important to us than strings of pearls. And although handling such coals may perhaps be painful, these experiences become not only treasures to us, but they also convey precious testimonials to those who are observing our lives. These observers watch and wait as God conveys His grace and power through our open hearts so that they then have room to wonder about the hidden reservoirs of inner strength that they didn’t know we had.

Yes, it is entirely possible that you found coal on Christmas morning or on some other occasion this past year. But, if surrendered to the care of our loving Father, you might very well find that they produce the best gifts you could have ever received.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:2-4, 17-18 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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*I just ran across an article I had written exactly ten years ago!  My, how time has flown by!

After our having just decorated for the holidays one Christmas many years ago, our oldest son (who was about three years old then) would approach a nativity display that we had set out with what seemed to be a great sense of reverence.  He would walk up to it solemnly and with great care, toddler though he was, touch the various parts of the scene.

He would occasionally ask us questions about the account of Jesus’ birth and we would, of course, tell him over and over again the Christmas story, delighting in his openness and interest in the things of God.

“Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with Child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7 ESV).

Our son, each time he heard it, would point out the different personalities involved in the Christmas story who were represented in the nativity set:  “Der’s Mary.  Der’s Joseph.  Der’s the shep-uds.  Der’s the wise man-s.  And der’s Baby Jesus!”

One evening as we were preparing for our nightly ritual of story time, I walked past the nativity set and casually glanced at it only to spy a flash of orange.  I turned and looked more closely finding a small plastic Tigger standing in the midst of the Shepherds and Wise Men, saluting the Christ Child.  I didn’t remove the small, stripey character, our son’s favorite toy at that time.  Instead, I caught up my young son in my arms as he ran by and asked him who that was in the stable with Baby Jesus.

A Tiggerific ChristmasNaturally, he replied, “It’s Tigga!”

“Why is Tigger there?” I asked.

My son looked up at me and as sweetly as he’s ever said anything answered, “He’s worshipping Jesus, too, and… and he’s singing ‘Happy Buthday’!”

“Oh,” I said, kissing him on his head and holding him tightly.

In such a wonderful time of celebration, whether we’re celebrating family, good friends, rich food (*ahem*), or meaningful traditions, it would be wonderful and right if we took all those precious things that we love about Christmas and also placed them under the feet of Jesus, singing “Happy Birthday” to this One Who is the center of Christmas.

After all, Jesus’ coming to earth on a “rescue mission” for you and me firmly establishes for us an anchor of hope in a very chaotic age.  Knowing that our favorite Christmas carols about angels singing together of peace and hope aren’t just songs.   They are reminders to us that God’s love cannot be conquered by human evil.  Sometimes that love enters the scene almost silently and unassumingly (how unassuming is being born in a stable?).  But it enters nonetheless.

You may never have had “time for God” before or may have felt that God has never had time for you – you wouldn’t be the first to have mistakenly adopted these attitudes.  But God is doing something in your life right now… something that may seem silent or invisible.  He is very likely entering the scene of your circumstances ready to establish His presence in your life in a fabulous new way if you would let Him, in the same way that He quietly entered our world in what probably seemed an unimportant place in Rome’s grand designs.

But that’s how God moves.  He takes the “small and weak”, the “broken and forgotten” and brings healing, strength and hope.  Christmas is a perfect place to pause and consider how “Tiggerific” God’s power and love are.  Stop during this Christmas season and join the Angels, Shepherds and Wise Men in praising this Prince of Peace and in wishing Him a Happy Birthday!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In grim and gloomy cells, prisoners were forlornly locked. Emptied of hope, they sprawled on the filthy floor of their prison or warred amongst themselves, madly scrambling for the few crusts that their dungeon keeper tossed their way. Little had they known of light or life and many even believed that the whole of the world was contained within the gray walls of their dismal existence.

At times, though, there were some who escaped, helped by One from outside. These would return to the others with messages of hope, a light in their eyes, and a fragrance that clung to them, the sweet vestige of fellowship with the One Who had liberated them.

Shackled and chainedBut some had become so accustomed to the fumes and stench of their imprisonment, the new fragrance of freedom and hope caused them to gag and so they clung to their shackles of pride and selfishness. Mistrusting these emissaries of hope, they turned their backs on those who had come. At times, they would even rise up and attack them, calling them “liars and frauds who sell false hope for personal gain.”

Still, those Keepers of Hope, went from prisoner to prisoner, holding forth the message of light and life for those who would receive it. With them went One, hardly to be seen in the mists that swirled about the dungeon. With a key that only He kept, He unlocked any who would receive His gift of hope. This Giver of Hope would kneel down beside each wounded and weary prisoner, and offer them the balm of forgiveness and the elixir of grace, lifting them from the nasty pool of their fallen nature, bringing them out into the clean and clear airs of glorious fellowship with Himself.

And the story continues. We are ourselves caught up into that same saga. The story of Christmas is the account of how the Great Giver of Hope descended into our fallen world, and brought with Himself power to overthrow shackles of sin and selfishness in the lives of all who will place their faith in Him. “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

The world presses in upon us and we come ever so close to toppling off the brink of discouragement into the abyss of despair. Though we become convinced that there is no hope and that all the evils of the world and all the pains we’ve endured will never be cleansed or healed, hope cannot be conquered for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

People who have lost all hope are people who have already died. Yet God specializes in bringing people “back from the dead”. And though we may be shackled by the deadly weight of chains of sin and selfishness, He holds the key to our freedom and desires to set us free into fellowship with Himself.

How about you? As He reaches down with nail-scarred hands full of forgiveness and restoration, will you receive the healing that only He can provide? Will you seize them and allow Him to place upon your fingers “rings of joy and peace” and upon your shoulders the “mantle of dignity and worth?”

Now is the time to be set free and made new. This Christmas season, celebrate the coming of the King into the world by receiving His gift of love.

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9-14).

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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My family and I annually watch a Christmas film in which some especially mischievous boys, by their own acts of selfishness, accidentally cause the destruction of Santa’s load of goodies for boys and girls around the world. Smitten by conscience, they then lament the world-wide ruining of everyone’s Christmas. While the story moves on to how they then “save” Christmas by fixing their mistakes (and finally demonstrating some selflessness in the process), the whole idea that Christmas can be “ruined” or “saved” by whether or not there are Christmas presents is so totally off the mark that it cannot be ignored.

Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor S. Geisel) probably was closer to the mark in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for when the gravely grumpy Grinch steals all the toys of all the Who’s down in Who-ville, the Who’s gather nonetheless in their town square to sing joyously and triumphantly – with no toys at all.

One perfect giftChristmas is really about only one gift after all – the supreme gift of God, wrapped in the plain “wrapping paper” of a little baby’s body, born in a barn, growing into a prophet and teacher, tried as a criminal, but victorious in rising from the grave to glorious new life.

Written five-hundred years before an angel choir gathered over a shepherd field near Bethlehem, Isaiah 7:14 declares that, “… The LORD Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son and will call Him ‘Immanuel’” (which means “God with us”).

And what an amazing and undeserved gift He is!

“He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed…. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth…. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth…. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My Righteous Servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities…. He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:2-5, 7, 11, 12b).

This gift of God, Jesus Christ Who alone grants eternal life, (see Romans 6:23), is for all who will turn in utter faith to Him. But turning “to” Him means also turning “from” ourselves:  from trusting our own good intentions, our own accomplishments, and our own sufficiency.

It also means turning away from the pursuit of things in competition with God’s right to “first place” in your heart. Are you looking for financial security? How can anyone feel financially secure if he has not given the Lord access to his money matters? Looking for someone to love you and accept you? *Knock, knock!* He-l-l-l-l-o-o! Jesus says in John 6:37, “Everything and everyone that the Father has given Me will come to me, and I won’t turn any of them away.”

Will you not now turn away from things that ultimately fail you and turn to the One Who laid His life down so that you may have an abundantly meaningful life in His love?

“(Jesus said)… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Just think! All of us “Who’s, the tall and the small, can turn to Him for life, this Savior and Lord of all!”

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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As winter quickly steals the stage, and the black velvet of night rolls in earlier and earlier each December evening, one may look up and see the glittering hosts of celestial bodies sparkling down upon his or her head. As what appear to be tiny pin-points of flame twinkle down from the vault of heaven arching across the endless sky, we know indeed that each is actually a blazing ball of flame and fire.

And though we may also know that such light and heat is the result of colossal explosions and fusions and that one blazing furnace in the sky functions similarly to each of the others, still the glory of any one star that we behold is inconceivable whether we spin about it in orbit or are merely observing its light from millions of light-years away. Each star is uniquely created with unique position and unique purpose in the sky through which it sails in apparent perpetual journey. No two stars are identical whether we’re discussing the actual mass and breadth of said stars or we’re considering those objects upon which their light and warmth shine.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so.  And God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars.  And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:14-18 ESV).

And just as these cosmic lampposts are each fashioned by the Divine Hand and appointed their own stellar duties, so each man and woman, boy and girl is uniquely created and positioned in this more temporal existence by that same Hand. And since we know that “determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4 ESV), we can also know that our lives are not accidental and that our place and purpose in this world are not incidental.

Pinpoints of twinkling flame “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?  Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:3-6 ESV).

How wonderful to know that the light of each of our lives is not hidden from His eternal eyes! How amazing to know that we each count and matter in the grand scheme of His eternal plans! Though we may often feel lost in our responsibilities, our problems, our sins, or even the countless needs of over six billion other people, we are each known by name by the One Who spread the boundless canopy of heaven across the universe!

And how like Him, too, to appoint among all the starry host one single light that would transcend the luminance of all the others, to herald the arrival of One Who, among all the hosts of earth, would transcend the luminance of all other earthly and spiritual beings!

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He Who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2 ESV).

Greeting the tiny Messiah on the behalf of humanity with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh, these “Wise Men” followed the light of that very special star from the lands of the East and fulfilled their God-given destinies. Likewise, if any would be wise today, they still turn to the Eternal Light of Jesus that shines in the darkness of our broken world, and follow it, fulfilling the destiny that God has reserved for them.

Let us each then choose to receive the gift of forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Christ. Through Him we become as lights in the dark and wintry sky of a world that is shrouded in sin and selfishness, shining with the sparkling glimmer of hope, joy, and love! And let us also “do all things without grumbling or questioning, that (we) may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom (we) shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16a ESV).

Let us avoid the trap of becoming bitter and self-absorbed, like star that collapse in upon themselves. Black Holes shed no light or warmth but greedily suck in all life and heat, hording such good things inside themselves and becoming incapable of shining any of the light they have devoured. Souls that implode in this way, whether due to bitterness or selfishness, are useless in any spiritual sense and offer nothing to those around them except an insatiable hunger that constantly gnaws at them.

Let us choose instead the destiny that God Himself has chosen for us. If we’ll receive the freedom that Christ offers us through genuine faith in His work of atonement on the Cross of Calvary, we shine like stars indeed.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world…. 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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