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Of the many practical privileges that we’ve been given as children of God, prayer is the most profound and yet most simple. It doesn’t take any great physical strength, geographic location, or material asset to avail oneself of prayer. Nor is the activity of prayer reserved for only a special “caste” or class of persons while others are shut out, dependent on others to do their interceding and supplicating for them.

Having said all that, it is good to periodically clear the air on the purpose of prayer. Prayer fundamentally has only one essential activity, that of personally approaching the throne of the Most High. Prayer also has merely one essential qualifier: the one who approaches the throne can only do so through faith in Jesus Christ’s work of atonement (His substitutionary death and His victorious resurrection from the dead).

After all, in our own fallen human nature not one of us can approach the holiness of God without judgment befalling us since a perfectly righteous judge MUST judge sin – even such sins as we might label as “inconsequential”. It is only when we have surrendered ourselves to His forgiveness that we can come to Him unafraid as He completes His work of cleansing by counting to us the righteousness that comes from Christ Jesus’ perfect life and blameless death.

Make no mistake about it. Jesus’ payment of our sins and victory over the power of death pave the way for prayer to become what God has intended it to be from before the beginning of time. Prayer is less about coming to God because you want Him to answer your prayers (whether for healing, success, comfort, or help) than it is about your coming to “meet with” Him. Supplication and even intercession for others are the secondary purposes of prayer, while fellowship between you and your Creator are its ultimate rewards.

Because of the amazing truth of this and the incredible wonder of it, He taught us in Matthew 5:9 to begin our prayers with “Our Father….” How He loves us! How He longs to catch us up into His loving embrace! Heed the secret language of close intimacy between the Father and His Son and how He offers it also to us. “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him…. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:19b-21, 23 ESV).

Prayer must find its roots in the confidence and loving trust that only real fellowship between you and God can provide.

Prayer must find its roots in the confidence and loving trust that only real fellowship between you and God can provide.

Does this really mean that He will “show Himself to us?” Did He really mean that He Himself, accompanied by “our Father”, “will come and make themselves at home with us?” Either He means this, or it is nothing more than sentimentality. Jesus was never interested in simply being sentimental however. He could never do anything less than speak the truth for He Himself was truth then and is still truth today (see John 14:6). He said these things to those who have given their hearts to Him so that they may understand the degree to which He treasures fellowship with them.

It is right and good to come to Him with your needs ready to be lifted up to Him. It is good and even great to approach His throne with the hurts and burdens of others on your heart, offering them up to Him as you intercede. But always remember that prayer must find its roots in the confidence and loving trust that only real fellowship between you and Him can provide. It may be that He chooses to not answer your requests as you have uttered them so that the blessings for which you hunger do not eclipse the One who sends the blessings. Seek to touch His face before you try to move His hand. The heart of a father or mother is moved most deeply by the child who wants more than anything to just sit on his or her lap. So come to the Father’s throne! Come seeking His help! But come mostly because you want to know Him better.

“We… proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:2b-3 ESV).

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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We definitely live in a different age than the one in which I grew up. I won’t say that things are worse, because attaching that sort of interpretation might infer to some that our God has lost control of things and is somehow not as sovereign as He once was (a ridiculous notion).  Of course, I won’t say that things are better either… but times of difficulty and even suffering have a way, by virtue of their fiery trials, of bringing out the pure metal of spiritual gold and silver:  courage, the pursuit of holiness, love, and faith are all qualities that shine most brightly when brought to surface by hard times.

Some things in those “hard times” are of unimaginable proportions. For example, the horrors of ISIS seem to spread, unabated in the Middle East, as the West continues to fail in stopping their advance.  Threats of pandemic Ebola rattle our confidence in Medicine and governmental policies to restrain or contain virulent epidemics.  Terror attacks strike north of our country’s borders reminding us that even a semblance of peace is not much more than a veneer that is easily stripped away.

The Church not only has a right to speak about real life things, but must.

The Church not only has a right to speak about real life things, but must.

In our own country, American cities and towns serve as battlefields of another sort, threatening our tendency to complacency. In Houston, Mayor Annise Parker’s administration subpoenaed, according to Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times, “communications with church members and others that pertain to not only the signature-gathering effort (supporting the overturning of pro-LGBT legislation imposed upon all public entities in the city including churches) but (also) such topics as the mayor, homosexuality and gender identity” (10/22/2014).  Originally, the subpoenas included sermons, but the term was retracted after a firestorm of controversy erupted.

An attack on religious liberty in the United States, although not as obvious a form perhaps as the atrocities orchestrated by ISIS, is nonetheless a form of persecution that requires a response from those who profess the name of Jesus Christ. There are those who claim that the Church is not supposed to take part in political discussions, citing a misguided interpretation of “separation of Church and state” (which was intended to protect faith, not attack it).

I saw an example of this shortly after the well-known Christian speaker John Piper posted on October 14th via social media a viewpoint contrary to Mayor Parker’s perspective on sexuality.  Comments began to follow and one woman posted what some others haphazardly say, “The Church has no business dealing with political topics; only religious ones.”

This sentiment is echoed in Mayor Parker’s statements as relayed in Mike Morris’ story from The Houston Chronicle (10/17/2014).  Mayor Parker says, “We don’t need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston, and it was never the intention of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners. We don’t want their sermons, we want the instructions on the petition process. That’s always what we wanted and, again, they knew that’s what we wanted because that’s the subject of the lawsuit.”

That may be the official reason for the city’s demands (especially as Parker seems to be hurriedly backpedaling from a negative backlash), but the facts don’t support the claim. Remember, it wasn’t references to the petition only in sermons and other communications, but also the topics of “the mayor, homosexuality, and gender identity” which were called for in the subpoenas.

But here we are. Is the woman who indignantly claimed that the church ought not to be discussing such “political topics” as homosexuality and gender identity correct?  Well, no.  The glaring problem with her statement is that everything is political given the right context.  And sooner or later everything you hold dear becomes political no matter what religious affiliation you have or personal conviction motivates you.

Racism is a moral topic. Great opponents of racism cite religious convictions against it, but it is also a political matter requiring legislation to combat it.  Immigration has a religious dialogue encircling it.  It is, of course, a political matter as well.  Nazi Germany historically told the church to mind its own business and stay out of politics.  While some did not listen, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis, many abdicated their roles as conscience of their society, and stood by while the Nazis killed millions of Jews, dissidents, people of “inferior race”, and those who were disabled in some way.

What determines whether or not an issue is political? Apparently, all it takes is some lawmaker somewhere writing legislation about it.  And that, ironically enough, is so broad that religion itself is a political topic.  Christianity is not about some mystical mumbo-jumbo that has nothing to do with real life, but about the spiritual realm interfacing the material one.  If your Christianity is kept separate from your daily life, your business affairs, the way you conduct yourself at home, how you report your taxes, and so on and so on, then “you’re doing it wrong.”

The Church not only has a right to speak about real life things, but must. We are compelled by both the preaching and the role-modeling of Jesus to make tangible differences in the world around us ranging from God’s design for sexuality and marriage to feeding the hungry and helping the poor.  We must deal with standing up for the rights of others when speaking about racism, unborn babies, and victims of persecution in Syria, Iraq, or Nigeria.  Those who push back on the Church’s speaking out are simply looking for a way to silence the opposition.

But we must speak out, not because it’s our political duty or because such issues are political topics, but because they are spiritual ones and our allegiance to Jesus commands it.  When we pray to God, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), we are confessing that God’s commentary on social issues overrides our personal preferences and we are therefore agents of carrying out His plan.  In other words, how can we not speak out on social issues of the day no matter how political they are?  In some ways, everything is political.  But then again, nothing is.

An American city’s mayor has taken aim. Whether the city’s vendetta to silence the voice of the Church in the matter of sexuality will succeed or not remains to be seen.  But no matter what, God’s people must be a faithful voice, not only about “issues”, but more importantly for the Savior Who came to die for sinners.  Ultimately, it’s the Church’s testimony about Jesus Christ that is the most important call of all.

“But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 ESV).

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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As much lamenting as is being done concerning the virulence of horrific persecution, tough economic times and perhaps joblessness, the threat of pandemic disease, and the collapse of Biblical morality and ethics, Christians should be reminded that this is a season of opportunity for the people of God to receive a two-part blessing!

Today is definitely an age in which most of us are beyond our ability to negotiate life’s circumstances, whether we have been laid off and cannot now find a new job, we have an illness for which there is no cure and/or very little comfort, or we have broken relationships that we simply can’t fix no matter how much we may desire to do so.  Even our “constitutionally protected right to free speech” is under fire and in jeopardy.

While there may be a few (somewhere) where optimism for both the supposedly inherent goodness of human nature and “good old fashion Yankee ingenuity” may be running high, many folks have already come to the realization that such hope has been misplaced and are realizing that the circumstances that have driven them from the high places of self-sufficiency are forcing them to turn to the One Who alone really has the answers for which they’ve been seeking.

 

While there is indeed much that is challenging and even troubling about today, there are indeed pearls of great value hidden within our circumstances.  Let us not overlook them and miss the treasure that can be ours!

While there is indeed much that is challenging and even troubling about today, there are indeed pearls of great value hidden within our circumstances. Let us not overlook them and miss the treasure that can be ours!

A “desperate” situation is frequently the spiritual crowbar that God uses to pry us out of the temples of self-reliance that we erect for ourselves. Ask yourself the questions, “When am I inclined to stop what I’m doing and really turn to God? What moves my heart to really reach for His throne? When does my spirit cry out to Him in earnest?” Chances are your prayers take on a deeper and more profound quality when you’ve been shaken to your core and all the props upon which you’ve rested have been knocked out from under you.

So let us not be hasty to whine about our predicaments, but instead stop to examine our hearts and ask the questions, “How is God dealing with me through this? How is He using His Word to instruct me? What is He specifically asking of me in the midst of this trial?”

If we are sincere when we as Christians say that God has created us for intimate relationship with Himself, we should then not be surprised to find Him working out our circumstances to bring us to the point of having to choose Him over other things. Will I embrace pleasure over the joy of daily delighting in Him? Will I place power to chart my own course in life above His will for me? Will I choose to value money or other material possessions over the gift of His Son?

If we were honest, we would probably have to admit that we do those very things. And since we have allowed such things to become rivals in our affections for the God Who created us and spent His own Son’s life for us, it should not surprise us that He would permit those things to be taken away.

Can there be pleasure in pain and suffering? No, not unless it drives us to the source of a higher joy, the pleasure of which physical experience pales in comparison.

Are we quick to bow to anyone else’s authority for calling the shots with our destiny, thereby relinquishing the power and right to make our own decisions? No, not unless we see that control of our own lives is illusionary and that there is One Who not only sees into our future but has already mapped out a life of purpose and significance.

Is it easy to choose sacrifice over a life of affluence and the false sense of security that money can give to us? No, it is not, unless one is enlightened to the fact that there are riches in eternity that await those who wholeheartedly follow God that make worldly goods seem like trash.

All in all, there is a sweet victory that belongs to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ that only begins to become evident to their eyes when the smog of worldly thinking begins to be blown away by His Spirit moving through their circumstances. Sickness, poverty, and oppression, while real enough in our temporal spheres, are only temporary after all.

“Let us press on to know the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3 ESV).

In addition to teaching us reliance upon the Lord, our hardships and woes are also the arenas in which the glory of God can be seen.

For example, Christians are commanded to love one another. In fact, this is how Jesus said that they would be identifiable to the world as His followers.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

Christians supporting and generously helping each other bear testimony to the abiding presence of the Lord in their midst.

Also, God’s people bring glory to God by upholding His Word. Naturally, defending it as His Word to a world that is hostile to truth is part of this. But inherent in the upholding of His Word is the child of God’s love for reading it, learning it, and applying it in his or her daily living. When the Bible is taken into the heart of a man or woman, he or she is changed and the change is apparent to those around him or her. Their values are revolutionized, their character is transformed, their homes are impacted, and their work is influenced. If we see Christians whose lives make very little difference around them, we are seeing Christians who aren’t taking the Word of God very seriously, evidently not feeling the need to do so.

But many people turn to the Word when times begin to get tough. They’ve begun to realize that they need a wisdom greater than their own to navigate life’s tough choices. They thirst for the comfort of assurances that science and worldly philosophies promised to supply, but couldn’t even begin to address. The fact that our painful circumstances can drive us to search out the promises of God sheds a light of hope for those around us who don’t know where to turn.

And finally, it is true that the prayers of God’s people often begin to be lifted up in earnest only if and when we feel we’ve reached the ends of our ropes. It is through prayer that our spiritual lives can be aligned with the Lord’s Spirit. Genuine prayer is the act of one who has no hope in anyone or anything BUT God and such apparent desperation gets the attention of those around him. But better yet is the fact that in our concentration upon Him in prayer, God delivers. And if what seems to be a fanatical reliance upon God through prayer will get folks’ attention, how much more will those moments when God visibly and miraculously answers those prayers?

I want to be quick to emphasize that God answers prayers in His time and in His way, but He definitely answers prayer. And if as God’s child you allow Him to instruct your mind and heart in His ways through His Word, you will see His hand move in power and in love, giving you a story to tell others about the faithfulness of God.

“Return… to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity!… Say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay… the vows of our lips. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hosea 14:1, 2b, 9 ESV).

While there is indeed much that is challenging and even troubling about today, there are indeed pearls of great value hidden within our circumstances.  Let us not overlook them and miss the treasure that can be ours!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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God's grace and God's love     Gently touched me as if a dove Had lit upon my soul And entered in to make me whole.

God’s grace and God’s love
Gently touched me as if a dove
Had lit upon my soul
And entered in to make me whole.

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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As our daughter nears ten years of age, I find myself reflecting on what Jesus said in John 13:20, “I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts Me; and whoever accepts Me accepts the One Who sent Me.” While this certainly has to do with receiving the good news of Jesus Christ and entering into God’s great Salvation, it is also an admonishment for any who are Believers to humbly receive God’s love through the loving administrations of caring people.

For months of uncomfortable and perilous “expecting” our daughter’s arrival, my family had been the object of a great outpouring of love and support from family, friends and church family. And then, as our new daughter arrived on the scene dangerously early, my wife’s doctor supportively walked with us through the difficult situation while nurses in the maternity area gently and attentively tended to our family. We know indeed that each loving gesture and every caring word was sent from Him. We joyfully praised Him for all those who had a part in the arrival of this wonderful new life.

Little hands and little feet;  A fragile life when first we meet!

Little hands and little feet;
A fragile life when first we meet!

Oh, and how we celebrated that precious little girl! “Little hands and little feet; a fragile life when first we meet….” Naturally, we already knew our new addition in so many ways before she even “arrived.” Ultrasound pictures, for example, helped to introduce us. Those “windows on the inner world” settled for us, by the way, the age-old question, “Do babies suck their thumbs in the womb?” In case the answer interests you, this one did. She also practiced gymnastics and did some occasional “kick-boxing” (much to my wife’s vexation). Also, all of our children occasionally had the hiccups in the womb, this little girl being no exception (much to my amusement).

Did you know that the Biblical perspective on life (Old Testament as well as the New Testament) is that all human life is precious? Every life, even that in the womb, is an amazing work of God, a gift to the world that no one else has a right to mar or destroy.

Did I say a “Biblical perspective?” Absolutely! For does not the Scripture say in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We are created in the image of God whether our bodies are sound and whole or crippled with disease. Black and white, male and female, we were created in the divine image, our first ancestor receiving the very breath of God and becoming a living soul.

Dear one, you also are marked with the image of God. What the world has done to deface that image in you with the horrid “graffiti” of hurt, hate, fear, and bitterness, cannot erase God’s image and the fact that you have unimaginable worth.

“Biblical perspective,” did I say? Truly! The Bible is God’s megaphone as He proclaims, “…before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” (Jeremiah 1:5). Dear one, you have “God-given purpose” and a divinely appointed significance.

We live in such a strange age though. This is an age in which life is not really esteemed as all that important. It seems so bizarre to me to know that we live on the very brink of an era in which human embryos can be harvested for stem cells as though each tiny life were nothing more than a lab-grown culture of bread mold for penicillin.

But I don’t buy it. God doesn’t look at any human life as a commodity whether we’re speaking of slavery or aborted unborn children. Each life counts in God’s Book. “For You (oh, God) created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).

How wonderful! How amazing! God knew you before you came to be! He saw you while your body was just taking shape in your mother’s womb! You have had value and purpose in the heart of God all along!

As Christians we celebrate and honor the sanctity of human life… the life of the healthy and the life of the sickly; the life of the wealthy as well as the life of the one who has no home; the life of the strong and the life of the crippled; the life of the seeing, the life of the blind; the life of the young and the life of the old; not to mention the life of the born as well as the life of the unborn.

Each life is sacred, even the life that appears to have little to give to our short-sighted and narrow-minded eyes. Each life is sacred, even when the world tosses it aside, calling it worthless and unwanted. Each life is sacred, each with a world of beauty inside just waiting to be tapped by God to show to the world. Each life is sacred, dear one… including yours.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In the little Italian burb of Florence, a sculptor taps patiently away at a seventeen foot tall block of marble.

Tap, tap, tap!

“Hmmm. Maybe a bit more right here,” he says to himself as he resets his chisel.

Tap, tap, CRACK!

“Oops!” says the sculptor as he stares at the huge section of stone totally crumbled at the block’s base. The monolith now looks as if it is leaning, about to fall over on its side. “Um, could somebody roll this thing outta here and get me a new block of marble!”

“Hey,” says his friend, Mike, who happens to be walking through. “If you’re not gonna use that, could I have it?”

The nameless sculptor shrugs. “Why not? It’s ruined now so I don’t want it. Yeah, you take it!”

With a little help from his protégés, Mike manages to get the nine ton stone block moved to his own studio. Once it is settled into place, he dismisses his students and then surveys the monolithic block of stone with a critical eye.

Instead of looking at us as unwanted “lumps”, God sees what beautiful works of art that might be made of us!

Instead of looking at us as unwanted “lumps”, God sees what beautiful works of art that might be made of us!

“You can’t hide from me. I see you in there,” he says as a smile spreads across his face. Armed with a hammer and chisel, Mike begins hunting the elusive quarry hidden within. For three years he breaks dead stone loose from the marble muscles and stony sinew of David. Eventually, the enemy of Goliath and the great king of Israel stands free and clear in front of Mike.

Our friend Mike, born Michelangelo Buonarroti, looks on the masterpiece before him and murmurs softly, “See? I told you that I’d find you.”

About fifteen hundred years before Michelangelo carved the magnificent form of David which now stands in the Galleria Dell’ Accademia in Florence, Jesus gazed on a rough cut figure of a fellow, a fisherman named Simon and saw something more than a “throwaway”.

After having met Jesus, Andrew “first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (John 1:41-42 ESV).

This is something of the reverse of Michelangelo who, when looking at a stone, saw the man.  Jesus looked instead at a man and saw the stone (“Peter” means “stone”). Not a lump of oozing mud, not a pile of dusty and worthless rubble, not even gravel with which to line one’s driveway, Jesus saw something special hidden deep inside the rough and wild man. He saw him and discerned the potential for faith. He looked inside the heart of Peter and saw a faith that would profoundly grow and would change the world in unimaginable ways as the Holy Spirit of God worked within him.

Jesus “said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’  Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’  And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:15-18 ESV).

What do you see when you look at those around you? Do you see imperfections? Do you only perceive failures and “throwaways”? That’s not the way the Father sees them. He sees people who are broken, yes. He sees the blemishes and the faults, yes. He even sees the hidden imperfections that you and I cannot perceive with our human eyes.

But instead of looking at them as unwanted “lumps”, He sees instead what beautiful works of art that might be made of them. Instead of complaining about all the “block”-heads that are in His way, He dreams big dreams and welcomes the imperfect and marred into the divine studio of His grace. There He begins to patiently chisel out masterpieces as men and women place their faith wholeheartedly in Him and align themselves with His will.

I’m glad. I’m glad because I’m one of those “block”-heads. I’m glad because God saw in me something more than failure and brokenness. I’m glad because He loved me and saw something more than a “throwaway”.

“We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV).

*Please note that this account of the origins of the Michelangelo’s block of stone has been partly fictionalized: tradition has it that the city of Florence gave the blemished and broken block of marble to Michelangelo when it commissioned him to sculpt the statue of David. The stone had allegedly been lying discarded and unwanted in a church yard for more than thirty years!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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