Archive for January, 2015

Having spent what seems to me a great deal of time in hospital emergency rooms, I have learned to appreciate to some extent the solemnity associated with them. The experience not being exactly a barrel of laughs, sitting with someone in an ER can easily remind one of the fragility of life.

Crisis has a way of establishing a whole new perspective for us.

Crisis has a way of establishing a whole new perspective for us.

While we can make all sorts of assumptions about life in general or develop very complex ideas about what really is important, real crisis can force refocusing: refocusing of priorities, refocusing on our place in the world, and refocusing on how we should have invested the life given to us.

And although we can develop tunnel-vision in the journey of living and neglect others or even our own eternal destiny (to our ultimate and utter ruin), crisis has the potential of establishing a whole new perspective for us.

We may at one moment be planning our next day’s agenda and in the next, after a brutal accident, be wondering if we’ll ever be able to walk again. We may on one day be thinking about getting the entertainment system we’ve always dreamed of and then after being laid off, be wondering how long we might be able to count on our unemployment checks. Or we may on one evening be thinking that our spouse is nearly the most exasperating person in the world and then find our hearts breaking the next morning when the doctor sadly says, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more I can do.”

When Sennacherib, king of the Assyrian Empire, invades King Hezekiah’s land of Judah, Hezekiah does all he can physically do to prepare (which isn’t enough) and then calls his people together. Having them assembled before him in the city square at the city gate, the Bible says that he encouraged them with these words: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before of the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (2 Chronicles 32:7-8 ESV).

Read just a little further in that chapter to see how God delivers Hezekiah and the people of Judah, though Sennacherib taunts Hezekiah and blasphemes God. Verse 22 contradicts any grand claims Hezekiah’s army officers might have been tempted to make by saying simply, “So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of his enemies, and He for them on every side.”

In a national emergency, Hezekiah did the very best thing he could have done. He turned to God. As a good king, he did all he could to prepare, but, in the end, he knew and proclaimed that there was only One Who had the power to deliver his people. Here’s a lesson we as Americans should continually take to heart, immersed as we are in the raging storm of moral chaos and confusion.

Lest we think that such principles do not apply to our own lives, consider another defining moment in Hezekiah’s life: personal illness to the point of death. In 2 Kings chapter 20, the Scriptures describe a malady that very nearly takes Hezekiah’s life. While 2 Chronicles 32:24-26 describes the illness as a chastening of God on Hezekiah’s pride and lack of responsiveness (it’s funny how unresponsive we can be to God’s mercy), 2 Kings elaborates on how Hezekiah finally does respond to this new and very personal crisis in his life: turning to God in humility and faith. God hears his cries and sees his tears (very real evidence of very real faith) and honors his request.

While we cannot say that God will answer our prayers the ways that we always ask or demand, if we will trust Him with our lives, He can turn evil around for good, pain into solace, and sorrow to joy.

What should one say then when his or her plans go awry? What does he do when his strength is not enough to save him? To whom does she turn when she finds herself alone and broken?

Where do you turn when your world comes crashing down around you? Do you rely on your own ingenuity to save you? Do you look to others to bail you out of your plight or start searching for proverbial escapes hatches? Do you perhaps begin to plot remedies and retaliations as the bitter bile of hurt and anger bubbles up in your soul?

Would you not allow such crises to reorganize your priorities and plans? Wouldn’t you like to think that you’d stop what you were doing and begin to focus on those things that really matter, so that a legacy that will outlast you might remain behind?

But why wait until crisis comes calling? Why not live our lives prioritized His way from the “get-go”, knowing that there is no promise of a tomorrow? Even now let us seek to allow God’s priorities become our priorities. His Son, His Church, your family and your service to Him wherever you live work and play, are all urgently important to Him. May they be so for us, too.

“Now may the God of peace Who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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On occasion, I find myself in conversations with people who choose to share with me why they have chosen to not become Christians (or at least the reasons they delay in becoming Christians). Sometimes they may even share why they feel some hostility towards the church and pretty much let it appear that they would just as soon have a root canal as come to church.

I appreciate their willingness to trust me enough to bare their hearts as they seek to explain the “whys” and “wherefores” of their resentment or fear of church… if not out-and-out hostility towards it. In fact, I’m honored by their confidence. And I especially appreciate their willingness to talk about it for their own sake.

No more no's

Sometimes our concerns are not real concerns, but hide deeper spiritual issues that we may or may not recognize within ourselves.

They’ll share with me about hypocrisy that they’ve witnessed. Or they’ll refer to some “Christians” who, somewhere and at some point, were cold and indifferent. They’ll perhaps mention Church people in their past who were all about condemnation of others while exalting themselves and their own “holiness.”

As they share, I find it impossible, of course, to attempt to excuse the bad behavior of someone in their past. Additionally, since I (generally) don’t know the people to whom they refer, it is impossible for me to really form my own opinions of their behavior and discern if the one talking to me is justifiably angry and upset, or is perhaps looking with a distorted perspective, misunderstanding the words and deeds of others.

Be that as it may, our conversations ultimately drift towards the subject of how the person sharing is him- or herself responding to the information that they feel they’ve gleaned.

Honestly, there are times when folks eventually begin to show that their concerns are not real concerns, but perhaps hide deeper spiritual issues that they may or may not recognize. For example, Bill (an imaginary person) may blame Aunt Ellie’s “FOSE” for his reluctance to attend church, talk about spiritual things, or make a personal commitment to trust and follow Christ.

Oh. Maybe you don’t know what FOSE is. Well, don’t look it up in the dictionary; I made the word up. It stands for “Flamboyant Outbursts of Spiritual Excitement”.

Maybe Bill’s embarrassed by how Aunt Ellie claps out of rhythm… very loudly. Okay… so maybe every time her hands come together everybody else in the building stops what they’re doing and looks her way… with poor old Bill blushing an amazingly deep fire-engine red.

In truth, he is envious of her peace and confidence (if not her lack of rhythm). He would like to have a sense of confidence that his eternal peace with God has been secured but he’s afraid of what his co-workers and friends might think… so he throws up a smokescreen for others and, maybe, even for himself.

Another example is Ruthie (another imaginary person). She says that she resents the hypocrisy that she sees at church. “Why go if they’re all a bunch of hypocrites, right?”

In reality, she simply likes her life… a lot. She doesn’t have any particular desire to change anything, being perfectly happy with her friends, her job, her hobbies, her family, etc. Placing her faith in Jesus for salvation makes sense in her head, but her heart is contented with everything the world has been serving up to her. She fears that in following Him, she’ll have to begin making some choices about her priorities. She’s afraid that He’ll say to her what He said to the disciples when He called them, “Follow Me.” So now, when someone suggests that she attend church, she pulls out her handy-dandy, sure-fire reason for not going. The person who invites her backs off, not sure how to respond to Ruthie’s objection and so she continues to contentedly live her life the way she wants.

And then there is Carl, who feels the stirrings of something, a hunger for more perhaps. His defense is to wear a mask of cynicism, to keep what he calls “over-reactive Bible thumpers” at a safe distance. But all the while he is weighing their words with how they live. He’s known some Christians who seemed no different than anyone else in the world, but then there have been a few whose joy, compassion, courage and patience have seemed almost supernatural.

So Carl probes into the life of his co-worker, Leonard, a quiet, but peaceful Christian. Carl likes to play “devil’s advocate” (no pun intended) with Leonard, sometimes to amuse himself by trying to upset Leonard (who doesn’t often cooperate and chooses to patiently withstand Carl’s taunts). But sometimes he asks because he really wants to know why Leonard’s life is so different: same problems and same headaches, but a completely different outlook on them.

But there are times when we may meet a person who has really and genuinely been hurt, been misused or abused, or has witnessed others being victimized by someone allegedly from “the church”. Their reaction? Anger, of course. And then sweeping generalizations about other Christians. And then, horror of horrors, mistaken conclusions about God Himself.

Maybe they’ve heard about some abuse at the hands of a “church leader” in a news story. Perhaps some other immoral act or behavior comes to their attention. Or, it may be, they heard of someone who helped him or herself to others’ money illegally… or at least inappropriately.

I understand that there is real confusion and hurt sometimes. And God understands infinitely more clearly than I do. However, no one is released from accountability before God just because someone else was “messing with our minds”. God will indeed hold those folks accountable who are “leaders” in the church but have violated the calling God has given them. Though they dash to the ground the fact that He had entrusted them with abilities and opportunities to serve Him, they are each accountable to God for the ways that they have lived.

Have you been hurt in the past by someone in the church? The Lord understands… He understands and He cares. Yet He looks to you to let go of the past and to look to Him. He urges you to surrender your will, receive His gift of reconciliation, and walk a new path by His side.

Though you and I may say, “But I was hurt in the past!” His reply is, “Yes, I know. I was there and I saw it all. I’ll take care of it. But what about you? Why won’t you walk with me? It’s the only way to happiness and fulfillment. You were created for Me and My purposes. Why won’t you receive the gift of life I want to give to you? You can see that I gave My very best in giving up My Son for your sin. Don’t hesitate and miss out on your opportunity to have eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18 ESV).

The Father waits for you to finally say “yes” to Him. He waits with an open heart and an open door to you in Christ Jesus.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Fragrant Offerings

To every generation there is given the way and means to, in some measure, affect a meaningful legacy for those who follow after. At times the path to such an outcome is obvious, while at others, the road is gradual and veiled in mists of worry, weeping, and weariness.

How do we steward today the power that we have over tomorrow? Will our choices in daily living positively transform the future of children in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities?

For the Christian in particular, with the love of Jesus compelling him to lift up others, the wisdom of God’s Spirit guiding him in the administration of that love, and fervent passion for the glory of the Father catapulting him to action, he may not remain silent and aloof from the needs and opportunities to make a difference that have been presented to him.

For the few who give up nearly everything to faithfully serve in and through the Christian community: it is very difficult at times when one feels that the Christian community-at-large does not care.

This ought not be. The lives of the people of God have been knit together for purposes that transcend personal agendas. It is therefore imperative that we “heed the signs” in these days and allow the “attitude of Christ” to direct us in the choices that we daily make and the myriad ways that we spend our energies and resources.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:1-8 ESV).

Christians are free in Christ, but have not been made free to live selfishly

Christians are free in Christ, but have not been made free to live selfishly

Christians are free in Christ, but have not been made free to live selfishly. It is both reasonable and appropriate for God’s people to consider ways in which they can make things better for a world that they themselves may never see. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27 NIV).

With a thousand and one practical reasons for caring for others being spouted off by a thousand and one charitable organizations, it would be nice indeed to think that “Christians” would allow simple love for the Lord to be the bottom line in how they respond to the doors opened to them.

In the end, the questions for a child of God are simply, “If Jesus’ Spirit is truly living in my heart as both Savior and Lord, how will He now have me spend the time, gifts, and resources with which I’ve been entrusted? How may I bring Him pleasure through my daily choices, attitudes, and habits? How can I be a real and present blessing to those with whom my life has been joined in the world today?”

May we each act, speak, and love others according to how He guides our conscience. If we open our hearts to allow His love and goodness to shape our choices, He will open gates of blessings for us, our children, and our community.

“…I seek the fruit that increases to your credit…. (Your gifts are) a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:17b, 18b-19 ESV).

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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One of two great perils in the world that we face today is the ever present danger of “missing” God at work. There is nearly no greater tragedy that we might suffer than, when in our neglect of God’s Word (the Bible), we fail to recognize His presence in our lives, His activity in our circumstances, and His invitation to join Him in His work of redemption in our homes, communities, and world.

If we are a people who take His Word lightly, perhaps inwardly yawning as we flip through its pages or openly yawning as we sit under its proclamation, we can’t help but be a people who fail to recognize Him when He comes calling.

Several years ago, I had decided one night to shave off my beard for a change. I shaved, cleaned up, and then went to lie down for the night. When I pulled back the blankets I found one of our children, who was not quite three years old at the time, nestled up snugly against his sleeping mother’s side. He evidently had awakened at some point in the night and climbed into our bed, already nearly deeply asleep. I quietly lay down beside him and started to drift off as well. His little hand stirred and reached up to touch my face as he often did. When he touched my chin and then felt my jaw, he jerked his hand back and sat straight up in the bed. “Mom-e-e-e-e!” he screamed. “There’s a man in the bed!” My wife bolted upright and looked around startled while I fumbled to switch on a bedside lamp. It took several harrowing minutes, but we finally convinced him that I really was his father.

We are often too preoccupied with our own plans and ambitions.

We are often too preoccupied with our own plans and ambitions.

Because I came to him in a way that he did not expect, he had a hard time recognizing me and accepting me for who I was. In a (vaguely) similar way, we are frequently in danger of missing out on God’s work via fresh winds of renewal and growth for the simple fact that He moves in ways that we, according to our limited human perspectives, fail to recognize.

“Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I (also) am working” (John 5:17 ESV). A wonderful promise, don’t you think? For if He is indeed at work in the world today, we have an assurance that the power of God Himself is still infiltrating the bastions of powerlessness and despair that are always being built up by humanity’s tendency to try to make it through life without Him. We as Christians seem to have a great deal of trouble in taking it for granted that God is truly on the move today in the world and in our lives. Thus, when His Holy Spirit moves and stirs our hearts to respond to His invitation to know Him by taking His Word to heart, we fail to recognize His presence. We shrug off such movements and promptings, suffocating the faintly glowing embers of passionate worship and heavenly service that He would fan into roaring and glorious flames. And failing to recognize Him means failing to experience a unique blessing that He would pour out upon us if we only we are ready to acknowledge Him and embrace His work in our lives.

Perhaps we are often simply too preoccupied with our own plans and ambitions or maybe we’re too afraid that such whole-hearted devotion to Him is excessive or “weird” and that it can’t REALLY be His love stirring our hearts. Maybe we “feel Him out” a little, enjoying the happy and obviously encouraging aspects of being Christians, but sometimes pull back when what He impresses upon our hearts fails to match what we always envisioned He’d do, because what we had envisioned is either too little or too selfish for an infinitely graceful God.

Of course, the other great tragedy (but related to the one mentioned above) is the occasion of our having recognized Him but in the end simply having no room for His Word in our hearts. During the days of Jesus’ physical incarnation on earth (between His birth and His crucifixion), some folks listened closely to Jesus’ words, nodding their heads at things they liked but criticizing Him and even condemning Him for things that they didn’t like. Instead of looking inside their own hearts, eager to let the transformative power of God challenge and remake their ideas of Who He is and What He’s like, they rejected things He said that simply “didn’t fit.”

“… You seek to kill Me because My word finds no place in you” (John 8:37 ESV). How terrible when we have no room for His Word in our hearts! It’s not that our hearts are too small (God’s love enlarges hearts, after all)… it’s rather that they’re too cluttered with pride, selfishness, fears, and resentments. But the Savior still looks into our world, into our lives, and into our hearts, and He still offers us hope through His Word. “They said to him, ‘Who are You?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but He Who sent Me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from Him.’ They did not understand that He had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me” (John 8:25-29 ESV).

Perhaps we all would do well to look at the great big heart of Jesus! Why, for instance, would He wander from village and town to village and town, healing and teaching people who were fickle with their loyalties and were frightfully less interested in genuinely reconnecting with God than with having some want or short term need being met? He graciously poured out love and grace upon them (as He does upon us) knowing that they’d reject it far more often than they’d embrace it, yet SOME would turn… SOME would listen… SOME would respond… and SOME would say yes to His invitation to life.

And if we also would dare to make room in our hearts, if we’ll really dare to love Jesus, we are given the promise that God Himself will reach down into our lives and meet us, lifting us out of worldly worries and all its defeatism and bring us into a spiritual fellowship with Himself. “Jesus answered 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 14:23 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A friend once commented to me that she had heard and read several times that Christians should live lives that are “Christ-centered”, but never understood what exactly is meant by that. How do you become “Christ-centered”?

An intensely critical question, for if we as Christians can come to at least a consensus on the fact that we SHOULD live Christ-centered lives, HOW we meaningfully live that out is going to set the course for the spiritual pilgrimage of the church of the future. I, for one, want to set the feet of my children and all those that God entrusts to me, on a path that will effectually keep them positioned for pleasing God and experiencing His blessings.

Being “centered on Christ” then has two chief applications for daily wear-and-tear. The first is “relationship”… and the second is “lordship”.

Please understand from the start that you are created to walk in a personal relationship with God. “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil (selfish and sinful) deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV).

Alienated once, but through faith in Jesus we are now forgiven and made holy and presentable to the Father. But presentable as what? For what purpose had He implemented so great a salvation on our behalf? Why did He embark on the road to Calvary? Was it in order to secure for Himself an army of slaves who have exchanged one form of bondage for another?

No, it is not that for which He shed His blood. We can celebrate and rejoice, “giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14 ESV).

This is why Jesus instructs us to begin our prayers with “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). We are no longer alienated but are given the rank and role of beloved child of God. The kind of relationship that we are to have with Him is that of a son or daughter and his or her perfectly loving Father.

To live a “Christ-centered life” is to exalt our relationship with God above all other relationships.

To live a “Christ-centered life” is to exalt our relationship with God above all other relationships.

And to live a “Christ-centered life” is to exalt this relationship with God above all other relationships, even those of closest family and friends. In fact, as offended as you might be from this expectation on God’s part, He knows that, as much as you love your wife, husband, children, parents, brothers or sisters, or close friends, you cannot possibly love them remotely as much as you can IF you keep your relationship with Jesus as first and foremost. If your relationship with Him is the center around which you build all your other relationships, you open yourself up to God-sized amounts of love, understanding, patience, and wisdom to help you in living with these others that you love.

The second thing in which we must consciously choose to maintain a “Christ-centered” attitude is the area of who is in charge of our lives. Who has the final say in my decision-making? Who has the right to “call the shots” for my activities, my choices, my habits, and my attitudes? Just as God does not desire “an army of slaves”, He also abhors throngs of luke-warm worshippers who settle for living out a “ho-hum” Christian existence.

“(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent (be above all)” (Colossians 1:15-18 ESV).

If Jesus is the “head” of His Church, then it must be assumed that it is meant that He is the “head” of that which makes up His Church. And Christians make up His Church. Application of this is for the Church members who together make up a single body, but it also means that the individual lives of Christians in each of their personal walks with God are to be subject to His authority.

Being “centered on Christ” means that the foundation for how you build your life is the lordship of Christ Jesus. Are the choices that you make based on what you discern from reading His Word, the Bible? Do you spend personal time in prayer laying before the Lord the decisions that you are making? Is His approval of your activities and attitudes of REAL consequence to you?

Oh, I hope so. As great as the plans are that you may have for your life, as wonderful as your ambitions might be, as noble as your dreams, they pale when compared to the plans, ambitions, and dreams of one whose greatest love is to please God.

“And so… we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10 ESV).

Why live a Christ-centered life? Because God deserves it. He is worthy of children who love Him indeed and are not merely “lip-servants”.

Also, you’ll find that seeking to center your life on Him results in spiritual fruit that lasts for eternity. It secures legacies that enrich and enhance the lives of others who will take up the mantle of decision-making in years to come.

How do you live a Christ-centered life? By organizing all aspects of your life around Who He is and What He desires.

When should you begin this serious call to walk in truth with God? Choose now to walk with Him. This day is full of the raw material for victorious and abundant living tomorrow. Don’t wait and allow what He gives you today to slip through your fingers and amount to nothing for the future.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:15-17 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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