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There is a weight to sin that the eye cannot see and the mind cannot imagine. It is so burdensome that it cannot be upheld by even the strength of mountains. It brings with it a veil of murky darkness that chokes the soul, murders joy, and smothers hope.

Like spiritual cement shoes, this weight, encumbering all of human life on planet earth, drags its victims into grave waters of eternal separation from the presence of Holy God.

And although sin was not native to Him but was instead laid upon His almighty shoulders so that our own frail forms might not be destroyed, it was this sort of burden with which the Son of God contended on a lonely, dark night in a grove of olive trees.

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38 ESV).

Looking around at those who knew Him best, their having lived and worked by His side for the last few years, His tender heart reached out for their love, knowing all the while that, in the end, He would walk this path alone. “Pray,” He encouraged these friends and followers. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40b ESV).

His heart and mind were bursting with anguish, not only because of the physical travail that He was about to face, but also from the fact of the horror of sin and its terrible price… and not least because of the personal betrayal of one whom the Savior had loved as a friend.

“…Being in an agony He prayed…earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV).

It is almost unthinkable that an “innocent” would endure the punishment of the guilty. And as much as it moves us to applaud a noble sacrifice, we mustn’t forget that Jesus was and is the only real innocent that has ever lived – He is the only One Who could ever truthfully make such a claim. Nor can we forget the nearly bottomless depth of the guilt of mankind: how he turned his back on his Creator at the dawn of time and unleashed hordes of evils that have beset the Cosmos since. Are we deserving of abandonment? Yes. Are we deserving of judgment? Yes. It could hardly have been expected that if God were like man, that at the point of our rebellion (and even more so for our persistence in it), He would have done anything other than shrug His shoulders, wash His hands of us, and walk away.

Yet, this Innocent walked directly into the face of hate, betrayal, and death knowing the awful price that only His blood could pay.

The innocent Son of God, Jesus, walked directly into the face of hate, betrayal, and death knowing the awful price that only His blood could pay.

The innocent Son of God, Jesus, walked directly into the face of hate, betrayal, and death knowing the awful price that only His blood could pay.

But our astonishment must still increase even more. His heart reached up to His Father, staggering under the utter atrocity of our guilt and shame, and doubtlessly recoiled from the approach of the most terrible of all consequences – that of separation from the Father.

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV).

And later, as the wrath of divine judgment poised over the spectacle of His gasping body, nailed cruelly to a tree that He had created, the sun itself was darkened as if the face of the Father Himself was forced to turn away.

“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour… Jesus cried out in a loud voice…. ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Luke 23:44, Matthew 27:46 ESV). “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them… (because God) made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19a, 21 ESV).

The holy indignation of the Father, having judged once and for all the rebellion of the works of His hands, was satisfied. Holiness can’t ignore sinfulness, but with Jesus’ laying down His own life, holiness could be vindicated and the eternal consequence of sinfulness destroyed. Mercy could enter the wide gap separating mankind and his Maker, bridging the nearly immeasurable distance with the outstretched arms of the Lamb of God.

Earlier it was said that we cannot forget the nearly bottomless depth of the guilt of mankind. This is definitely true. But I only said that it is “nearly” bottomless. There is an end to it, after all. But of the grace of God there is no end. As measureless as the east is from the west, infinitely farther than the north is from the south, and truly deeper than the lowest trench of the deepest ocean is the love and goodness of God for those who will turn from their own sin and receive the gift of life that He desires to give them.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV).

The crucifixion is ugly… but it is also beautiful. For against the backdrop of incredible horrors and atrocious hate is the portrait of grace in motion. Nails didn’t hold our Savior on the cross; the grace of God did. And it is this grace that extends to us today the only hope that our woefully broken planet has. And just as that grace poured into the ugliness of human sin a glimpse of infinite beauty as people reviled Him, despised Him, abused Him, and killed Him, that same grace lives today still as it reaches out through hearts won over by His faithful mercy.

As the winds of mercy blow by you during this Lenten Season, breathe deeply the daily kindnesses of your Father in heaven, and breathe out the praise of God as well as loving kindnesses towards all you meet.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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You are a part of God’s story of love. What tale will now be told in your part of this cosmic drama that is still unfolding?

Stories fascinate me.  I like to read them, hear them, see them and tell them.  I also like to talk about them with others.  On one afternoon, when some young friends and I were discussing the book by C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we were proverbially kicking around the elements that make up a story: the setting, plot, and theme. When we came to “setting” (or “time and place of the story”), we talked at length about how the setting at the beginning of the book began in England (during World War II) and then shifted to the snowy landscape of the perpetual winter of Narnia. We thoroughly explored to how the setting in the story not only allowed for the tremendous events that followed to take place but how the author deliberately used the setting as a tool to launch his story.

My friends waxed eloquently on the various insights that they had gleaned from their reading of the first few chapters, pointing out that the four young protagonists would never have begun their journey into adventure and become the heroes that they were destined to be had there not been Nazi bombing raids taking place in London. Neither would they have discovered the marvelous grace of Aslan (the character representing Jesus Christ) had they not been sent to that old mansion with long and creepy corridors and mysterious empty rooms. And but for the rainy day on their first day there (much of England being rainy much of the time) there may not have been the discovery of the magical wardrobe that silently waited for the chance to open the way to a new world.

But since the author knew where he wanted to go in his story, he knew what it would take to tell it, and what would have to happen to bring all the right ingredients into the mix along with all the right conditions for the unfolding of the tale.

We talked then about how it seems that God is also telling a story and that He is constantly establishing the necessary settings to continue His tale of love and righteousness. Since that conversation, I’ve only grown in the conviction that it is so.

Consider first how the setting of Jesus’ earthly ministry is ideal for the events leading up to His submitting Himself to the cross for our sake. The Law, although perfectly upholding the holy and righteous standards of God, could not change the nature of the human heart: generations upon generations of sliding into idolatry had given testimony to that fact. Legalistic oppression under the Sanhedrin and the military and political oppression under Rome had so exhausted people who could barely remember their divinely bestowed identity that they were spiritually famished. Because of all these things, and countless more, people needed the infusion of a grace so radical and so thorough that it would do far more than save people from their circumstances but would pierce their hearts and pave the way for God Himself to enter in. People needed a Savior.

So Jesus came and lived among us, teaching and healing, loving the unloved. He was rejected and despised; He suffered and died. And then He rose again, demonstrating for all who place their faith in Him that He alone holds the keys to death and life. This is the story God told and is still telling today.

“(Let us fix) our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NAS).

Now consider how that we ourselves are in the ongoing saga of God’s story, having been placed in settings that are necessary for us each to be the unique creation God intends us. Our afflictions, our burdens, our handicaps can each somehow contribute to an effect in and through us that could not be realized except that we endure and persevere through faith in Christ.

You are a part of God’s story of love. What tale will now be told in your part of this cosmic drama that is still unfolding? Are you a protagonist, embracing God’s will for your life, becoming all that God desires as He transforms you through His Word, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians? Are you contributing your unique gifts and letting God harvest through your life the kind of fruit that endures?

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:28-31 ESV).

Consider well your setting, the circumstances surrounding your life, and prayerfully ask the Lord how He wants you to respond. Let His working in your life transform you into the protagonist, the Christ-like hero that your family, your church, and your community need. Make room in your heart for His Holy Spirit to pour out love, grace, forgiveness, courage, vision, hope, and joy in you and through you. The world needs heroes today. Be one who answers God’s call!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Chances are good that you know someone who is in trouble. Battered by circumstances or weighed down by discouragement, this person you know may feel as if he or she is at wit’s end and may even be asking the question, “Why is God letting this happen to me?” And it may occur to you that the hand of God has placed you in the life of this individual to encourage or help.

One thing you certainly DON’T want to do is to offer trite or glib remarks that patronize the pain or suffering of the other. For example, one might say to the other that the Lord never gives us more hardship than we can bear. While well intended, it doesn’t enter into the pain of the other nor does it acknowledge the fact of his or her desperation. In fact, it isn’t even correct biblically.

What the Lord doesn’t let us have more of than we can handle is temptation. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).

Someone being told that God doesn’t permit circumstances in her life that she cannot handle may result in the unhappy effect of bitterness or despair, especially when she is overwhelmed with a hurt or loss that just doesn’t go away. So what perspective can you share with another who is suffering? What is the truth of the matter that brings hope and strength in such times of utter brokenness?

Being told that God doesn’t permit circumstances in your life that you cannot handle could result in your feeling despair!

Being told that God doesn’t permit circumstances in your life that you cannot handle could result in your feeling despair!

 

Simply this. That the God Who created the heavens and the earth, the stars, the trees, the mountains, the seas, the flowers, the family, and even each hair on each head will ultimately bring about His deliverance in the life of the one who will trust and obey Him.  To a heart that perseveres because of hope in God, the Lord ultimately brings about a great victory!

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV).

So what can we say about hardship and suffering that isn’t the result of sin or selfishness on our part, but seem instead to be allowed by God for either no reason or reasons known only to God? First, we recall to mind that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).

Second, we remember that while our Lord will permit us to exhaust all our resources, expend all our strength, and even forfeit all our hopes and dreams, He is merely clearing the way in our hearts for His deliverance, His strength, and eternal rewards that infinitely dwarf our meager hopes and shallow dreams. Indeed, “He delivered us from… deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10 ESV).

So if this God can deliver us from the deadly peril of our sin through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, can we not count on Him to “hold onto us” through the trials and tribulations that He permits in our lives? “He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV).

No, I’m not suggesting that you “wax on and on” theologically when keeping company with the hurting, but knowing what God says in His Word does empower you to simply say to the hurting one, as your tears mingle with theirs, “Hold on to Jesus. Trust God through this. He understands and weeps with you, too.”

But do not be an encourager in word only. As a channel of God’s comfort and encouragement, be an encourager in deed, too. Be creative and be ready to go beyond what is necessary to be the friend this other may need. Cards, help with errands or chores, or thoughtful gestures that remind this friend or acquaintance that they’re not alone may be all it takes for him or her to continue to cling to the hope that only Jesus can provide.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17 ESV). So, stay on the lookout and let God make you a source of true encouragement today.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In an age characterized by massive transference of information (or “false-information” as most of it proves to be) from one entity to another, it has become a culturally accepted notion that one must learn the skill of multi-tasking so that one can navigate the complex and perplexing responsibilities and requirements of today’s dizzying pace. I suppose, to a degree, there is some practical truth to the idea that one must know a little about a lot of things just to survive our technologically driven world.

That being said, however, a huge mistake that many make is to believe that one can “multi-task” in the sense of living a life of faith while at the same time living according to the whirling whims of a world that marches according to its own agenda.

Why, when we're called to live in a new and wonderful land of light and joy, would we settle for living merely along its borders... the sad and lonely "hinterlands"?

Why, when we’re called to live in a new and wonderful land of light and joy, would we settle for living merely along its borders… the sad and lonely “hinterlands”?

It is as if a man, called to live in a new and wonderful land, settles for living merely along its borders, a sort of “hinterland” (a remote or undeveloped part of a country) wherein he celebrates the light and the glory of the new kingdom from afar, while still not quite free from the enamoring boasts of the old life.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus met such a man who queried, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 ESV).

Jesus countered him with a question of His own, one intended to give pause to a quick and easy solution to the man’s dilemma of wanting to live in two worlds simultaneously. “Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only One Who is good” (v 17a).

The very fact that Jesus asked this question is, in my opinion, evidence that Jesus had (and has) an uncanny ability for seeing into the heart of a person and knowing how to deftly tackle the idols and issues that hinder his coming fully into God’s light and life. It is as if Jesus was asking him, “Are you willing to acknowledge My authority and will you truly hear and receive what I am about to say to you?”

Jesus then mentioned to this searching soul what all shallow seekers already know to do. “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (v 17b).

But there was the rub. The man had already been keeping them. Well, he had at the very least been keeping them externally. He had obeyed them with his hands and possibly with even his bank account (so far as the Law required). Yet, he was unsatisfied. He was unfulfilled. He was seeing from a distance that glorious light glowing and was hungry for what it represented, yet he was merely in the margins of the realm, and had not fully disclaimed citizenship of his old country.

“The young man said to Him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect (as in “whole, complete, or fulfilled”), go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (vv 20-21).

What a quandary for that young man! He wanted the joy and peace of Jesus’ life, but found himself forced to make a choice: he had to either surrender the few places in his affections that he had reserved for his own comforts, so that he could run unencumbered headlong into the life God had reserved for him; or he had to choose to continue as he had been doing, and never completely cross over into the land of promise.

“When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v 22).

It evidently was too a hard choice. In the moment of crisis, when forced to choose between continuing as he had for years (never quite in the light) or denouncing his citizenship of the world by surrendering the one thing of that old world he loved most (his stuff), his stuff won out.

Rather, his love for stuff won out. Keep in mind that owning possessions was not sin; but those possessions were his idol. But Jesus, loving him as the Savior loves each of us, brought to him the invitation to enter into the lovely meadows and fruitful groves of spiritual abundance that life in Christ is to those who whole-heartedly respond to His call.

By calling him to give up those things by giving them to the poor, Jesus invited him into a new life complete with new purpose and new meaning.

Today, the call to follow has not changed for those who are hungry for more than the mere phantoms of joy and pleasure that this world offers. We must still choose Him over pleasures and comforts; we must still decide between pleasing Him and forgoing popularity and good will; and we must still acknowledge Him as Lord (by which I mean we must obey Him) over following attitudes and philosophies of the world that are contrary to God’s Word.

But many of us will continue to dwell sorrowfully, knowing that we are missing still the glory and gain of the Kingdom of God while we remain on the borders, prisoners of the hinterlands of heaven, chained still to our old lives. Though we attend church and do our good deeds, there are “possessions” in our lives which still hold the place of supremacy, which still hold our allegiance.

Do not settle for the hinterlands, beloved. Fully surrender to the Savior your life and will and see if He will not fully satisfy your soul’s deepest needs. He invites you to come in and desires for you to be filled with the joy and peace of His presence.

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