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Shortly after I began college, I went with some acquaintances on a short trail ride. I hadn’t ridden a horse in a long time, but I was glad for a reprieve from “busy-ness” to do something that I enjoyed.

When we arrived at the stables we found the horses already saddled and standing ready for their riders. The trail leader, whose name was “Walt”, promptly introduced us to the horses, sharing the names of each of them with its prospective rider. Cottonball was a white, round mare. Jake was an older, chestnut colored horse. The others were Roundup, Flower, and Bub which was Walt’s horse. The trail leader paused a moment, however, when he came to me and the small black stallion that I stood by, as if he were sizing me up.

“That’s Blackberry,” he remarked with a wry smile on his face. “If he gets a little antsy, it’s usually a good idea to let him have his head.”

“Um… thanks,” I returned, wondering just how “antsy” Blackberry might get. The horse swished his tail but said nothing unusual for horses. He just snorted and looked around, giving his long mane a shake as if he were laughing at me.

The others mounted and, in spite of a sudden sense of foreboding, I went ahead and climbed into Blackberry’s saddle. We followed Walt down a faint path that led into a wooded area. Just as we came fully under the trees, Blackberry unexpectedly turned and began to make his way to a sunny spot off the path in which some tall grasses were growing. I pulled the reins to the left in an effort to turn him, but he obstinately resisted and continued on his way. I then pulled the reins up to try to stop him and that’s when he gave his first kick. The horse’s back bucked up with me on it, tossing me a few inches into the air.

“Oka-a-a-y,” I sighed to myself, loosening up on the reins. Blackberry reached the grasses and took a leisurely bite. I let him take another and then tried turning him again. This time he cooperated. I pressed my heels into his side… gently, and said, “Giddap!” He trotted quickly back into line and I thought we were going to get along famously after that.

Whether we are feeling like God is holding us back or is moving us too fast, we must remember that His love for us is absolutely perfect.

Whether we are feeling like God is holding us back or is moving us too fast, we must remember that His love for us is absolutely perfect.

A few miles later, Blackberry decided to stop for another snack. After allowing a few bites and noticing that the line of riders ahead of us had disappeared beyond the trees, I encouraged Blackberry to move on.

“C’mon!” I snapped. He ignored me. I pulled harder on the reins and pressed my heels into his side. “Giddap!” I barked. He glanced back towards me, snorted, and kept eating. I pulled forcefully on the reins and gave him a light kick with my heel (no stirrups were on my feet in case you wondered).

He lowered his head sharply, paused a split second, and then threw it back and began bucking. I had never ridden a bucking horse before so didn’t really have a lot of knowledge or experience to guide me. I did have a plan though. My plan was to not fall off. I stopped trying to control him and focused on keeping my center of gravity above him so that every time I became airborne (which was about every half second), I would land back in the saddle. I didn’t fall off and he eventually stopped bucking. He took a few more bites (to prove his point, no doubt), and then turned back towards the trail and followed the others.

Soon we came to a straight stretch and Blackberry began to trot. His trot quickly became a canter, and as my anxiety began to increase, I instinctively began to rein him in. He slowed down some, but he tossed his head and tensed up like he was thinking about losing his baggage once and for all. I immediately let him have his head.

He went back to his canter and then into a full gallop. We soon caught up with the other riders just as they neared the end of the trail and rode in with them as if nothing had happened. The only evidence that anything had was Blackberry’s heavy breathing and a film of perspiration glistening on his coat. Come to think of it, I was perspiring a little too but it wasn’t because of exertion!

“So you made it,” Walt commented with an amused look on his face. “Usually I have to go back and pick up his rider.”

I nodded and climbed off Blackberry wordlessly. I stroked the horse’s neck. “See ya,” I said and then walked to the car.

On the few times that I’ve ridden since then I have always been reminded of Blackberry. There have been a few times, too, that I’ve thought of him even when not riding.

These moments are usually when, in my walk with God, I find Him leading me inexplicably in a direction away from the one I thought I ought to go.

In my enthusiasm to be fruitful for Him, I sometimes strive to move on to the tasks and opportunities that I think will be most worthwhile, but find myself steered circumstantially in the opposite way. Then, when I try to “take the reins” and change my course, He reminds me that He’s the Boss. Then I strive to simply keep centered on His “will for the now” instead of my own ideas. When I do so, I find that I do not have to worry so much about getting bruised and battered or about having to “climb back up again” into His will for my life and ministry.

There are moments, also, when I find that His leading in my life is picking up speed and, although I may at first try to rein Him in, the best thing to do is just hold on and trust Him to take me where He wants me to be.

Above all, whether we are feeling like God is holding us back or is moving us too fast, we must remember that His love for us is absolutely perfect. I have no illusions about Blackberry’s affection for me: only my own sentimentality would have me think that any existed.

But the Bible paints on the canvas of our hearts a clear picture of God’s love for us using the vivid colors of His faithfulness throughout the history of the world. At the center of this painting is the cross upon which Jesus died. When I see there all that love has done for me, I know that His daily leadings in my life are always right and good.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us His Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:11-14, 16a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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When the humble-hearted
                Lifts his eyes unto the hills,
As he looks beyond them
                To the only One Who stills
The raging storms of fear
                And the swirling winds of life,
He finds help for his trouble
                And strength to live his life.
 
Just Who is this Helper?
                Who is mighty for the weak?
Why does He care for those
                Who have no voice to speak?
Who’s the One Who with His love
                Uplifts the sorrowed face?
Jesus is His holy name!
                Lord of hope, King of grace!

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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Who-o-o-o are YOUWho are you? Seriously… who are you? What makes you what you are? Where do you fit in the great big picture puzzle of the cosmos? Where exactly do you belong? And how do you define your worth on a planet teeming with over six billion other people?

Chances are really good that your first response to these questions is any of these three: 1) stunned silence (“Uh-h-h”); 2) stammered exclamations as you try to articulate the fragments of ideas that are popping into your mind (“Well, um… naturally I feel that I, uh… that is to say…”); or 3) stilted statements that don’t really jive with what the One Who made us has to say about who and what we are (“I’m the MAN!” or “I’m such a loser: nobody likes me; everybody hates me. Guess I’ll go eat worms”).

Not knowing who you are is a crisis. Men and women experience a cognitive form of that when they literally forget their own names, their addresses, and their loved ones as cruel dementia dims their minds. Christians experience something spiritually akin to this when they’ve either forgotten or are ignorant of the incredible identity change that is theirs when they turn to Jesus in faith, are forgiven of their sin, and are made spiritually new.

In a very similar way, if we have not yet met Christ (by which I mean, if we have not personally trusted Him as our Savior and invited Him into our lives) we have an identity crisis of another kind. On the one hand, God’s Word (the Bible) paints us as people hopelessly separated from the Holy Creator of the universe. Having either obviously or subtly transgressed His Law, we are incapable of conjuring up enough righteousness for ourselves in order to be accepted into His presence. Refusing to place our faith in Jesus’ work on the cross leaves us with a grim future indeed. “Our destiny is destruction, our god is our stomach, and our glory is in our shame. Our minds are on earthly things” (from Philippians 3:19).

On the other hand, this same Bible paints God as being filled with compassion and sorrow over our estate and not content to leave the matter be. “…The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7 ESV), but we have hope in the fact that “the Lord… is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b ESV).

God’s amazing compassion for humanity is keenly evident when Jesus, God’s Son, confronts those who are spiritually “lost” about Him. Comparing such “lost persons” to lost sheep and Himself to a “Good Shepherd”, Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that He is searching out the lost in order to bring them safely home – home… a sweet daily fellowship with Him as well as an everlasting destiny prepared for us by His side (see also John 10:1-18).

On the day that I realized who I was apart from Jesus (a lost person, reserved for destruction) I also realized that I could become someone new, complete with a new identity, a new purpose, and a new destiny.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith….” (1 Peter 1:3-5a ESV).

So… if you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, do you really know who you are? Do you know that you are a citizen of heaven (Ephesians 2:19)? A conqueror (Romans 8:37)? A child of God (Romans 8:14, 1 John 3:1)? Members of a “royal priesthood and a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9)? If you know that you are all these things, how does your life demonstrate that knowledge? If you are really confident that He is truly master of your identity and has made a new person of you, do you then live accordingly? Or are you defeated, broken, and enslaved still to worldly patterns of thinking? Are you convinced that you have no value and are unimportant in the grand scheme of things?

If so, allow God’s truth to dispel such lies and set your mind and your spirit free. You have unimaginable worth! Just consider what it cost God to set you free from the prison of sin and its dreadful offspring, death! God would not have given His own Son up for you if it were true that your life were not important to Him!

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV).

And if you haven’t yet turned your eyes to Jesus and allowed Him to wash you free from sin and make a new person of you, it is good to know that He can and will set you free from your destiny of destruction if only you’ll let Him come into your life as Lord.

“…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:9-11 ESV).

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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A striking quality in Jesus’ earthly ministry was His ongoing availability to His heavenly Father’s purposes. Take, for example, His trip home to Galilee after He and His disciples had spent time in Judea teaching, healing, and baptizing. Having to take what most Jews in that day would have considered both an inconvenient and unpleasant short cut through Samaritan territory, Jesus’ love for His Father compelled Him to talk with a socially outcast woman, sharing with her the good news of God’s love.

Having missed most of conversation between the woman and their Lord, the disciples urged Him to eat some food. When He in effect replied to them, “No thanks. I’ve already eaten”, they were puzzled and asked a question that Jesus was just waiting to answer. “Could someone have brought Him food?” they asked (in John 4:33).

And Jesus’ answer? “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). What was the food that He was talking about? It was nothing more, but nothing less, than obedience to God.

It’s a funny thing how we can long for and even expect God to nourish us, waiting for Him to fill our lives with good things, and yet withhold from Him our lives. We’ll shortchange God in our devotion, our time, and our resources as we live our lives the way we think is best. Not such a smart thing to do when you consider that in shortchanging Him we are shortchanging ourselves.

We should definitely not go down the road of rationalizing obedience to God because it somehow benefits us. God is infinitely worthy of our obedience simply because He is God. To think that one should or even could give God the cold shoulder by not seeking to do His will is actually an unthinkable offense.

Obedience to our Creator and Redeemer is nourishment for our souls.

Obedience to our Creator and Redeemer is nourishment for our souls.

But one should not ignore the fact that obedience to our Creator and Redeemer is nourishment for our very souls and affects us in countless ways as we are continually led to the right places at the right times for us to receive His protections and provisions. Not only that, but as we allow Him to cultivate obedient attitudes within our hearts, He grants us thoughts that are effective, hearts that are enlightened, wisdom that transcends worldly philosophy, and pours down upon us His awesome glory. Our obedience is the tool shed in which He crafts within our character patterns of divine thinking and pours through us streams of mercy with which we can engage our spiritually parched world.

If you have read the Bible’s incredible account of how Jesus met that sinful woman and showed her the grace of God, a thought may have crossed your mind. Was the whole encounter in that Samaritan village a “coincidence” or was it somehow a great “divine appointment” which had been arranged by God the Father for Jesus, God the Son?

Well, the answer is simple. It was on God’s agenda all along. Jesus, not having a personal secretary through which the woman could schedule the appointment or a daily planner app to make sure that He wouldn’t forget about His meeting, was led by God’s Spirit to that place for that moment to talk with that woman. And that woman then became the open door through which that same grace of God could impact the entire Samaritan village in which she had long been an outcast.

If Jesus had been bent on meeting His own physical needs, He may well have missed the opportunity to advance the Kingdom of God. If Jesus had been out of step with the Father, He may have never noticed the lonely and broken woman who had to come to the well when all others were done with it. But He was in step with the Father.

“Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’?  Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.  Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together” (John 4:34-36 ESV).

Remember that Jesus’ life and His earthly ministry set for us an example that is not only relevant for today but is essential if we are to see the power of God impact our homes, our churches, our schools, and our communities. After receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior, walk with Him in obedience (from baptism to serving Him in a local, Bible-believing church). Obey Him in every avenue of your life, and trust that, as you surrender your will and life to Him, He will lead you right.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV).

 

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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This past week, my wife, Diane, crafted a homemade cookbook to give to a young couple preparing to soon marry.  Members of our church family each contributed one or two favorite family recipes for the soon-to-be newlyweds and these were placed in various sections of the cookbook.

To help them to be able to navigate to whatever recipes they might want to use on specific occasions, Diane placed within it little tabs:  one for “Appetizers”, one for “Breakfast Foods”, for “Main Dishes”, “Desserts” and so on.  These little tabs, or “labels”, are, of course, intended to save time and make things more convenient for the user of the cookbook.

This is naturally the whole point of labeling:  assisting one in properly identifying something so that he or she may properly handle that thing.  Labels are obviously important in that they help us to know what pills might be the medicines we need, what books we may want to read (yes, book covers are, after all, labels, too), and what streets will lead us to our desired destinations.

Imagine the frustration of traveling through an unfamiliar city with no “labels” (street signs) or the danger of trying to find life-saving medication from a row of unmarked bottles in a medicine cabinet!  Having no labels would be a very difficult ordeal to overcome: both inconvenient and potentially lethal!

By the same token, consider how problematic it would be to have labels that were misleading or outright wrong!  A road side sign that says there is a rest area ahead might give one false hope for a potty break if it turns out that, when the desperate traveler arrives, the rest area is closed due to renovation!  Far, far worse is a candy bar label that does not mention the fact that it may contain trace amounts of peanuts:  mislabeling in this instance may tragically turn out to be fatal to someone with a food allergy to peanuts!

We label people, too, you know.  We do it in part because the human brain needs to be able to organize information readily and finds it efficient to group together what it perceives as “like kinds”. Consequently, it “labels” people, categorizing them into perceived groups that share either real or imagined similarities.  In our tendency to lapse into what I like to call “cognitive laziness”, the problem arises that we quickly label others in order to not have to actually understand them.  Our inclination to do this is called “prejudice” (prejudging others without objectively and logically considering real facts).

As a case-in-point, my family watched a live debate this past week between two men representing vastly different worldviews.  On the one hand there was Bill Nye, iconic scientist for kids across America, representing a naturalistic, non-theistic interpretation of the world and its origins.  On the other was Ken Ham, founder of Answers-In-Genesis, who defended the perspective that the world was literally created in six days.

ThinkingWhile I don’t mind at all sharing my own perspective in my own feeble way on this particular discussion (a literal six day creation), this particular column is not so much about that as it is about a strategy Mr. Nye employed at the outset of his remarks.  Right off the bat, Mr. Nye referred to anyone who holds to an evolutionary belief system as a “reasonable man” and, as his remarks progressed, anyone who does not as someone who is “unreasonable”.  With one sweeping “label” (probably a reference to Adolphe Quetelet’s l’homme moyen in 1835), Mr. Nye sought to end the debate with what he hoped would be a shared and uncontested assumption about his worldview and those who do not agree with it.  The inference is obvious:  those who do not agree with him are simply “unreasonable” because they do not “reason” (think logically and critically).  Furthermore, if you want to be considered “reasonable”, you’ll simply accept evolutionary thought as fact and dismiss out-of-hand anything contradictory.

The clear problem with his approach in the debate was that those who disagreed with him in the debate were clearly “reasonable” men and women.  Ken Ham was one, of course.  Others included were scientists and inventors who in video snippets indicated that they’ve “reasonably” arrived at the conviction that the world was created in six days and that the Bible can be trusted as a historical source.  They have rationally considered what evidence was available to them and have arrived at a reasonable (or viable) conclusion.

Another label tossed out by Mr. Nye was that of “followers of Ken Ham” in reference to those who hold to a Creationist point-of-view.  Yet again, this is poor labeling on Mr. Nye’s part.  Right or wrong, that perspective preexisted Mr. Ham and has been espoused by many other “reasonable” men and women.  But that is what labeling does when it is not held accountable.  It dismisses, it slanders, and it disempowers (or seeks to) those with whom we disagree.

Labeling is necessary to some extent and can be a good thing.  I do not mind the label at all of “Christian” and am undeserving of the honor of being called a “Child of God”; but since God in His Word is the One doing the labeling, I readily embrace it as truth.

Mr. Nye, please be careful in your use of labels.  If you are a true scientist, then you want to know things as they truly are and look beyond what things are merely rumored to be.  I truly believe, Mr. Nye, that if you honestly and objectively considered the claims of Christ and the validity of His Word, you yourself would “reasonably” arrive at the conclusion that His Word is true (whether we’re talking about Creation or His plan for salvation).  But to objectively arrive at such a conclusion, you just might have to let go the assumptions that cloud your ability to truly reason.

“I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad…. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:1-2, 8 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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