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In confusing times and difficult circumstances, God has a way of getting our attention. Whatever you may think about yourself and the world around you, the Lord has His eye on you and desires to break through the racket of everyday static to reach into your heart and pull you into the center of His will. It’s is obvious that we are living in troubling times. But the times are not troubling simply because of terrorists (although I’ll not deny that terrorism is truly troubling). The times are not troubling because of economic instability (although the difficulties associated with recession are troubling obstacles for any family). The times are not troubling because of the increase of drug abuse associated crime (as troubling as those things are).  And the times are not troubling because of the collapse of divinely appointed morality (as troubled as we should be by such things).

God can take someone like you and change the world - if you'll trust and obey Him!

God can take someone like you and change the world – if you’ll trust and obey Him!

No, the times are troubling because of our calloused hearts and indifferent attitudes towards our Maker. It’s all too rare a thing to find a man or woman whose greatest desire is to serve God wholeheartedly. Such a one allows Him to not only bring comfort and encouragement, but follows His leading into a life of purity and service. But God-centered devotion like that is sadly the exception and not the rule. If there is a danger to which we commonly fall prey these days, it is our tendency to regard God selfishly and attempt to find contentment in Him on our own terms. And in doing so the natural consequence is a subtle drifting into idolatry (wherein we sacrifice to some “god” other than the Maker of heaven and earth).

Idolatry isn’t found only when stone statues adorn our mantelshelves or carved “good luck” charms reside in our pockets. Nor is it found only when we consult the horoscope section or local palm reader for advice about choices before us. While each of these examples are all indeed idolatry, we also tiptoe into it when we devote our time, energy, and resources to our own interests or we try to make God something that He is not. If all God is to us is a great, big “wish granter” or some vague “force” that we hope will see to it that we live pleasant enough lives, then we are bowing down to an idol.

Historically speaking, it’s the human thing to do. But God has higher hopes for you and for me than that. The Bible tells in the book of Judges how God found His people slip-sliding into idolatry again (they like us had a knack for it). Consequently, He permitted troubles to wash over them until they simply couldn’t stand it anymore. Baal and Asherah (a Canaanite form of Ishtar) were the idols of choice. Perhaps it was because they were easy to understand and people feel most comfortable with things they understand. Whatever the case, God’s people had so muddled their worship of the Lord God with their trust in the Baals and Asherahs, that they really weren’t worshiping God anymore: to really worship Him, one must bow to His supremacy in all things and depose competitors. As a result, foreign invaders not only oppressed them but so effectively impoverished them that they had to keep secret places of safety for themselves and for their crops.

“When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” But you have not obeyed my voice.’” (Judges 6:7-10 ESV).

But in spite of their obstinate refusal to give up their idol worship, God showed them grace. It so happened that in this particular instance, God sent His angel to an unsuspecting man named Gideon who was secretly threshing his wheat in a winepress (since the bad guys would come and swipe it if they caught him doing it). By the way, you might want to make a mental note of the fact that God sees you wherever you are and isn’t going to be deterred in interrupting your schedule just because you thought that maybe He forgot you or others have overlooked you.

“The angel of the LORD appeared to (Gideon) and said to him, ‘The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.’ And Gideon said to him, ‘Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, “Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?” But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.’  And the LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’  And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’  And the LORD said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man’” (Judges 6:12-16 ESV).

And so began the greatest adventure that Gideon had ever known. The very first thing that Gideon did was to offer genuine worship to God (see Judges 6:17-24). The very next thing he did was become a catalyst for his family, his town, and his people for spiritual truth and radically challenged their worship of idols (see Judges 6:25-32). Remember that God wasn’t going to just wink at their spiritual adultery while setting them free from their oppression: He was determined to attack their spiritual oppressors first!

When the Lord had addressed their spiritual need, He set Gideon to the task of preparing an army which God promptly whittled down to a mere three hundred men – any more than that would have raised some doubt about who really was going to win the battle for them (see Judges 7:1-7). It’s time to make another mental note: God is NOT interested in you serving Him in your own strength, nor is He especially enamored by service to Him that does not permit Him to demonstrate His power and His presence through you. If you can do His work in YOUR strength and in YOUR way, where is the glory for God in that?

At any rate, God used this teeny-tiny group of three hundred men to overthrow an army of about 135,000 warriors. Now, if the Lord can take a small force like that to accomplish such an astounding victory, what can He do through you in the face of such adversaries as doubt, hate, grief, greed, hate, and violence? What could He do with a man or woman who would render Him sincere and unadulterated worship and a life of wholehearted service? Make this one last mental note: He can take someone like you and change the world. All He needs from you is a willingness to trust Him and to follow Him onto the path of true and genuine worship.

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8, 10-11 ESV).

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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“Going home is never easy,” I once heard someone say. I’ve also heard that once you leave and set out on your own path in life, “you can never really go back home.” I’m not sure that such sweeping statements apply to every situation, but they certainly applied to the Lord Jesus Who did go back to His “hometown” in the days of His earthly ministry. He was born in Bethlehem, spent a very brief time in Egypt (when Herod the Great was trying to find and kill the “little King”), and was occasionally in Jerusalem in accordance with the instructions God had given His people at that time.

But the town of Nazareth had the privilege of being the place in which Jesus “grew up”. Remember that the Lord Jesus had entered fully into the human experience (except without sin, Hebrews 4:15), so it was Nazareth in which the Lord would have cultivated His earliest human friendships and fond memories. Did He feel sentimental towards this small town and wax nostalgic whenever He heard the first century equivalent of the Springsteen song, “This Is Your Hometown”? I have no idea, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that He did.

Just think of the power that God could unleash in your life if you would turn wholeheartedly to Him and let Him into your heart!

Just think of the power that God could unleash in your life if you would turn wholeheartedly to Him and let Him into your heart!

What I do see, however, in reading of His experience in “going back home”, is His hometown’s failure to recognize just Who it was that they had in their ranks for nearly thirty years.

“Jesus… came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. And on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’” (Mark 6:1-4 ESV).

What a shame! Here was a whole town of people who thought that they had Jesus figured out! A whole community who thought that they knew Jesus, but didn’t really know Him at all. And in “dismissing” His divine identity, they were dismissing the very hope and only source of life that each and every one of Nazareth’s citizen’s so desperately needed.

“He could do no mighty work (miracles) there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6 NSV).

A great many people have taught a great many things about verse five, saying that somehow God’s power was curtailed by the hard hearts of the people of Nazareth. But that isn’t so. Refusing to recognize the glorious identity of Jesus’ Person cannot in any way diminish His essence. What it DOES do, however, is tragically limit what we could have otherwise hoped for in knowing Him. If we choose to not recognize that from Him flow life-giving waters, we’ll not be able to quench our parched souls’ thirst for something more than what this physical life alone can supply (John 4:10, 14-15; Jeremiah 2:13). Or refusing to accept that He has the authority to forgive sin prevents us from having that cursed burden lifted from our shoulders, liberating us from crushing condemnation (Matthew 9:2, 5-6; John 8:10-11; Romans 8:1).

What miracles then couldn’t He do in the little burg of Nazareth? Well, His power over the physical realm was clearly unhindered for He was still fully capable of bringing healing to physical bodies (and did so for some). The people of Nazareth spiritual diseases, however, remained with them. The people’s collective refusal to accept Jesus for Who He was closed their hearts to His power over their sick souls and the spiritual hunger that only He could satisfy. In fact, Matthew 13 says that they “took offense at Him” (verse 57) and Mark 4 records that they not only were offended but just about “lynched” Him. And why? Because they didn’t like the fact that this “carpenter” forgot His place and was “meddling” with their personal lives. People don’t like people who point out their depravity, especially if the people pointing it out are their own people.

We’ll say things like, “Just who does he think HE is anyway? Why that hypocrite! Where does HE get off telling ME how to live my life!” and so on. And how do I know that the spiritual realm is where Jesus “couldn’t” do His miracles in the hearts of the Nazarenes? Because of what happens next in Mark 6. When Jesus leaves Nazareth and begins to reach out with the love of God to the neighboring villages, He sends out His disciples with the message that “people should repent” (Mark 6:12).

Again, Jesus’ essence cannot be diminished by lack of faith on your part or mine, but we are rendered “unreachable” if we refuse to climb down off of the pedestal of our pride or relinquish our selfishness. Rejecting His right to our lives as Lord or refusing to acknowledge the truth of His Word as applied to our lives (e.g., that we need to forsake sin and follow Him) leaves us shut out of the grace that He would lavish upon us if we would simply humble ourselves and turn to Him.

Just think of the power that God could unleash in your life if you would turn wholeheartedly to Him and let Him into your heart! Such power can transform you, your family, your community, and your country!

“If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV).

We as a people need miracles. We need the miracle of lives being changed from self-serving to serving God and others. We need the miracle of hearts being set free from hopelessness and despair, given instead a new destiny filled with purpose, peace, and joy. The fact is that God is wanting to do just that in our lives. The only thing He is waiting on is for us to really start believing that He is Who He says He is, repent, and turn to Him.

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Are you hungry for more of God in your life?

Are you hungry for more of God in your life?

Faith is a tricky thing. And much of what is tricky about it isn’t merely in whether or not we have it, but also in whether or not we understand what it is about it that is actually pleasing to God. If by “faith” we simply mean religious activity or affiliation with a religious body (e.g., “I go to such-and-such church”) then we’ve totally missed what God means by faith. Is it really important to get this right? Is it truly necessary for us to understand what God means by “faith” and “belief in Him”?

Well, frankly, God seems to think that it is important for us to understand His point-of-view on the matter for He makes some very direct remarks about it. For example, He says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:1-3 ESV).

This kind of “faith” is not just an invocation of a higher power. It is a radical reliance upon the provision and power of a loving heavenly Father Who sent His Son to accomplish for us what we could not. Living a perfectly righteous life (thereby totally vindicating the Law of God) and then suffering and dying in our place of judgment for our sin were all beyond our reach. So if the mercy and strength of God was mobilized to effect for us so great a salvation (see Hebrews 2:3), are we then willing to acknowledge our confidence in His promise by aligning our lives with His desires for us, our families, our churches, and our communities?

Inasmuch as we are willing to do so, we truly have faith. Faith is simply a confidence in God’s power that affects our values, priorities, attitudes, and actions. Are you sick? Biblical faith moves you to seek guidance and consolation in His Word, the Bible, and then to say, “God can heal me. And if He chooses to not bring healing, it is simply because He has a great good that He will reap through it.” Are you facing financial difficulties? Jesus Himself knows what it means to trust the Father day-by-day for sustenance. Again, as you look to adjust your life and attitude to God’s plan for living, faith teaches you to trust God to meet your daily needs and to find peace in knowing that your heavenly Father hears your prayer to “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

And speaking of bread, don’t miss the most important Word on faith of all… that believing in Jesus Christ is the most crucial step you or anyone else can ever take in regard to spiritual life… in regard to anything, for that matter. “Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent…Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He Who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst… Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:29, 32b-33, 35, 47-48, 51 ESV).

So how does one “eat” this spiritual bread anyway? Jesus answers it Himself in John 6:47, “… he who believes has eternal life.” One eats spiritual bread by spiritually devouring it: we take in His Word, digest it, and then rely upon its sufficiency. Relying on the sufficiency of His promise that Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection have accomplished for us open access to His throne is the kind of faith that pleases Him. “…We have been sanctified (made clean and set apart for the purposes of God) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…. We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus… let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:10, 19, 22-25 ESV).

Faith isn’t really that tricky after all. Faith that pleases God isn’t an accumulation of good deeds and isn’t even about earning righteousness on our own merits (no one can measure up to God’s standard of righteousness on his own anyway). Nor is it some magic power we use to get what we want or make God do what we want Him to do. And it isn’t even always feeling secure and tranquil, although many believe that unless they “feel” their faith, then they must not have it. Faith is simply choosing to rely on our Lord’s Word, trusting in His goodness and power to help us in whatever needs we’re facing, and taking whatever steps in life that are in keeping with that reliance and trust.

Are you hungry for more of God in your life? Then visit Him in His Word. Fellowship with Him in a church that is truly seeking Him. As you see more and more clearly what God is like, and what He asks of you, trust Him enough to do as He asks. Be the kind of person He wants you to be in your heart, your family, your work, and your worship. Discover that He is indeed the bread of life that abundantly nourishes your spirit for this life and prepares your soul for the next.

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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“My country, ‘tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing: Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrims’ pride, From every mountainside Let freedom ring!” So penned Samuel F. Smith in the 19th century as he reflected upon the origins of a nation still young and fresh and still near to its roots in God’s gracious providence.

Let freedom ring! May this anthem swell again in our hearts and be proclaimed upon our lips until the sweet refrain of liberty is achieved for all men and women everywhere! Is this too much to ask for every American? I think not. Is it too much to ask for any man or woman anywhere in the world? I truly hope that we would never sell any human being so short as to think he or she was not entitled to freely be all that God would make him or her, no matter how different from us or far removed from us he or she may live.

He who does not know how to spend his freedom nobly is not truly free at all.

He who does not know how to spend his freedom nobly is not truly free at all.

Just think! As surely as our nation was once under the power of a truly oppressive government, so were we all once oppressed under the iron fist of sin and death. But “… just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.  When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?  The end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:19b-23 ESV).

And so we have given to us through Jesus a great “Declaration of Independence” from sin and self, sealed through the shedding of His blood on the cross. “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!… There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 7:24-25a, 8:1-9a ESV).

It has been said that it is difficult to define what it means to be American. Yet I believe it is clear that the common thread that binds all Americans everywhere is the liberty we celebrate. While we struggle at times to define even what it means to be free, let us each concur that he who does not know how to spend his freedom nobly is not truly free at all. “What sort of persons ought we to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?” (from 2 Peter 3:11).

In like manner, let us who call upon the name of Jesus and consider ourselves to be free, follow in every way the leading of the Savior. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…. Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-32, 34-36 ESV).

Perhaps you spend Independence Day reflecting deeply on your identity as an American and the entitlement of fellow human beings across the globe to freedom. Be careful to not neglect the need to consider whether you are still in bondage to sin and death. If you are not already so, seek to be set free into God’s life and peace and become the new creation He has had in mind all along.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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