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Touching the Mountain

Many years ago (alas!), I ran some summer children’s programs for a number of ranching communities in central Montana. When I had asked to be assigned to Montana, images had arisen in my mind of tall white-peaked pinnacles of stone, their knees and feet carpeted with stately forests and icy cold torrents of frothing water weaving their winding ways between them.

Instead, I was assigned to the exact middle of the state, a dry and dusty plain sparsely populated by pronghorns, prairie dogs, sheep and tumbleweeds. The flat terrain stretched out on every side of me like an endless tablecloth with purple shadows of mountains only peeking tauntingly at me from over the edge of the distant horizon.

Even for those who always see their glasses as half full, the daily thrill of prairie dogs and tumbleweeds fades pretty fast. I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I had had enough of only hearing about the mountains and I wanted more than to simply see pictures of one towering majestically over lakes the color of pure sapphires. I wanted to instead ascend the mountain’s summit and touch its face, so that I would know from personal experience its glory.

Given the demands on my time, I had given up hope of such an opportunity being presented to me. But finally, after six or seven weeks, the opportunity was presented. Faced unexpectedly with a free weekend, a few colleagues and I loaded our backpacks and headed out to some mountains in the mid-western part of Montana, in spite of the fact that I was still recovering from a shocking cold into which I had worked myself.

Our trek was a 35 mile hike onto a ridge of mountain peaks that overlooked a wide lake at the foot of its northwestern face. After we had parted company with our car, we began our trek up a twisting trail marked every quarter mile or so with small, crude signs roughly nailed to trees along the way. It was a great climb, but with my fits of coughing and sneezing, we knew that the only wildlife we’d possibly see were wolves that might have confused my hacking with the sounds made by an ailing moose.

Still, even the wolves kept their distance (maybe I sounded as yucky to them as I was feeling) and our trip was mostly uneventful. The beauty of the hike, my cold aside, was staggering. The sun shone with its glory undimmed and each step brought us closer to it. The pine smell was lost on my miserable sinuses, of course, but the wild evergreen trees stood faithfully on either side of the pass arching over our heads with stoic solemnity that made me appreciate ever more deeply their tribute to God’s creation.

We passed above the tree line, made our way until we reached some of the year-round snow that adorned the mountain peak and looked out over the flat lands to the east. Far below me I could see the unremarkable terrain stretch out until another string of mountains rose again from the earth as a brown dust devil swirled quietly below us in the empty plain. A thrill of being caught up in the mountain’s majesty gripped me and I found myself singing a song of praise to God.

That night we found a large, sheltered hollow in which a grove of pine trees had managed to take root and thrive. We made camp and enjoyed both companionship amongst ourselves and a sweet fellowship with the stars that seemed to be near enough to listen in on our conversation.

But later that night, I was awakened by a titanic boom as a peal of thunder blasted our little dell with an explosion of noise. My eyes were momentarily blinded by the brilliant flash of the accompanying lightning. Suddenly, I found myself praying furiously, imagining that each pole holding up my tent was a miniature lightning rod. The wind whipped my little tent about like it was an errant kite and the rain, crashing down around it like tiny tidal waves, soon penetrated my “water-proof” tent, soaking me to the bone. When it finally turned to sleet, I didn’t mind in the least: at least it couldn’t get in the tent as easily. When the storm passed on only an hour later, the full moon reemerged and the stars were again my friends.

Sometimes, God sparks in us wonder at His power or His love. Occasionally, we are possessed with joy as we glimpse His majesty and know that, somehow, He has chosen to love us. At other times, He thunders into our lives with His holy voice and we are dumb-founded by a sense of His omnipotence and holiness!

Sometimes, God sparks in us wonder at His power or His love. Occasionally, we are possessed with joy as we glimpse His majesty and know that, somehow, He has chosen to love us. At other times, He thunders into our lives with His holy voice and we are dumb-founded by a sense of His omnipotence and holiness!

In the days that followed that hike, I realized how much it was like our relationship with God. We sing, teach, pray and talk about encounters with God. But encounters with God don’t always turn out the way we imagine they will. In fact, the longer we walk with Him, seeking Him with “all our hearts” (see Jeremiah 29:13), the more unpredictable we’ll find Him. At times, He shelters us in small valleys of comfort and protection. Sometimes, He sparks in us wonder at either His power or His love. Occasionally, we are possessed with joy as we glimpse His majesty and know that, somehow, He has chosen to love us. And yet… at other times, He thunders into our lives with His holy voice and we are dumb-founded by a sense of His omnipotence and holiness. How rich and wonderful then is our God Who made the heavens and the earth!

“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in His works, Who looks on the earth and it trembles, Who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being” (Psalm 104:31-33 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Old King Cole

I like Nursery Rhymes. Even if I had never had children, I think I would still like Nursery Rhymes. And while I’m not saying that it is my calling in life to do a deeply philosophical or psychological study of the tales and tunes with which we bring up our children (I’m not lacking after all in things to do), I have found that if you look deep enough, there are some pretty nifty pearls hidden in some of the Nursery Rhymes we sing and tell to our children.

Some are indisputably obvious. Take Little Boy Blue, for example.

Little Boy Blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow,
The cow’s in the corn;
Where is that boy
Who looks after the sheep?
Under the haystack
Fast asleep.

This guy shirks his work and the livestock successfully escape their incarcerations and begin their reign of terror. Just where is Blue Boy? Why isn’t he sounding the alarm? Humph! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he has to turn in his horn!

On the other hand, Little Bo Peep learns to lighten up a bit (or least we hope so).  When she fails to find her missing sheep. Don’t worry, Bo! They know the way home. Just leave the light on for them!

Of course, some of the rhymes are more complicated and satirical. To get the beauties buried in those, you’ve got to go a lot deeper!

Contrary Mary, for example, must be someone who has her own ideas about doing things and doesn’t have an ear for the wisdom and advice of others. Or maybe she’s in management for a major corporation and has some pretty impressive skills in delegation and administration.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Somehow, I don’t get the feeling that the “pretty maids all in a row” have yet formed an effective labor union.

Then there’s Old King Cole.

Art by William Wallace Denslow

Do you want more of God in your life? Then stop chasing temporary things, get outside the “castle walls” of your comfort zone and join God in the front lines of changing lives and watch Him change yours! *Art by William Wallace Denslow

Old King Cole was a merry old soul
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl
And he called for his fiddlers three.
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh there’s none so rare, as can compare
With King Cole and his fiddlers three.

A merry old soul perhaps, but he seems to be the object of some subtle scorn. After all, you’re not heroic if all for which you are remembered is that you called for your pipe, your bowl and a violin trio.

While we all are, of course, delighted that each fiddler has a “very fine fiddle” and that he can handle the instrument well, it doesn’t really make us feel that the good old king is in touch with the world around him. The gentle fun in this favorite children’s verse was perhaps satirizing a king who was notably disconnected from the needs of those for whom he was responsible.

This fine old fellow is perhaps a looking glass reflection of many Christians today. Here we are, in the land of plenty and so many of us are just as enamored with our “pipes,” “bowls,” and “fiddlers three” as was Old King Cole.

Selfish habits and selfish attitudes are the pipes that are smoked today. There is so much a “fog of self” enveloping so many, it’s hard for others to see Christ clearly. And too often the fumes of selfishness and self-righteousness are so thick that they choke out spiritual life and fruitfulness.

And aren’t many of us busy with calling for our bowls, driven as we are by our physical impulses? It is so easy for God’s people to fall into the alluring pit of self-indulgence that too much of Christianity today is characterized by it. Unfortunately, the more our passion for comfort and ease take hold of us, the less we are passionate for serving and knowing Him. “Give us our creature comforts!” we’ll cry out. Often our attitudes proclaim, “Don’t withhold from me any pleasurable experience that life has to offer!”

And then there are the “fiddlers three!” Cole’s rascally fiddlers are so talented and so eager to make their fortune entertaining the old king and the king so eager to be entertained, the rhyme concludes with everyone being very merry. I suspect that those who are “merry” are those who’ve been the beneficiaries of the excesses of the king. Those outside the walls of the king’s court, though citizens of his kingdom, are not privy to the fun inside.

The “fiddlers” we that we could say that we face today as Christians are not necessarily evil in of themselves. However, let us be careful to not confuse following Christ with being entertained. Let us avoid seeing church as a venue for entertainment, but instead seek the One Who died that our sins might be forgiven and through Whom we have Abundant Life (see John 10:10).

If your interest in church or in ministry can be boiled down in its essence to wanting to be entertained, then, my friend, you have missed the great point in being called by God to become His child. Do you want more of God in your life? Let go of all this stuff, get outside the “castle walls” of your comfort zone and get out there with God in the front lines of changing lives.

Perhaps you are not a Christian and your life is only about serving yourself and your passions. Ironically, the king and his court could not be satisfied forever with the overflow of extravagances they enjoyed. Sooner or later, they would have grown bored and their fineries would lose their luster. Their hearts would have finally cried out, “Is this all there is? Is there no higher purpose to life?”

Perhaps if you find yourself here, you’ll now turn to Jesus and let Him give you a new tune to hum in your heart as you allow Him to be Lord and Savior of your life!

“…We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, Who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2Thessalonians 2:13-17 ESV).

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Make Every Effort

It certainly behooves a Christian to think long and hard on the manner in which he or she lives his or her life. “What exactly are my priorities?” “How now shall I live seeing that I’ve turned from sin and self and placed my faith in Christ?” “What really is the main thing to which I want to devote my passion and energies?”

If such questions are meaningless to someone who has supposedly become a Christian, then he or she needs to examine the condition of his or her heart. Consider the work of heaven effected in you as the righteousness of Christ is credited to your life! “…If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, Who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18,21-6:1 ESV).

Frankly, the signs of the times suggest that His grace and goodness towards us as Christians have had little impact on how we live. Wherein His love and power do not change priorities, habits and attitudes (and self and sin still reign in us), His grace bestowed upon us has proven vain indeed… vain in securing for the Kingdom of God the domain of our hearts… vain in opening up the territory of our lives and yielding fertile soil for the growing of spiritual fruit… and vain in allowing us even to come into the place where we may be most blessed by the King of glory.

“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. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:5-9 ESV).

Making every effort to live a life that really counts means letting go of lesser things in order to pursue the “main thing” of walking with God.

Making every effort to live a life that really counts means letting go of lesser things in order to pursue the “main thing” of walking with God.

Making every effort to live a life that is going to count in eternity means (dare I say it?) letting go of some things in order to pursue the “main thing”. The main thing? Yes… a close walk with God. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and (all your needs will be met)” (Matthew 6:33). “(Jesus said), ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Let your love for God be manifested in how you plan your life. Do hobbies take precedence over service to your Lord? Does sleeping in on Sunday cancel your joining with other Believers in offering worship to the Holy One? Do ballgames come before your serving in God’s work? Does television preempt your private time in prayer and in reading His Word?

If any of these things are true, “make every effort” to reorder your life and place yourself on the altar of His love. Based on all appearances, the argument can be made that the Church is anemic – lacking in vitality, power and conviction. If this is so, it is merely because God’s own people hold back and let other things come before the “main thing.” Don’t let other things depose God’s place on the throne of your life. Even “good” things must be sacrificed in our choices if they must be had at the expense of the “best thing of all”.

“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 1:10-11 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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At the dawn of the world, when God first fashioned a mass of clay into the first human being, breathing into him life itself, humanity was wired to want to walk with God. Created in the divine image of God, we were intended to enjoy fellowship with the Sovereign Creator of all the Cosmos, enabled to appreciate in holy awe His majesty and also given the capacity to know Him in a real relationship.

But with that first rebellion in the Garden of Eden the image of God in the face of humanity was distorted nearly to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Yes, we’ve been created in the image of God, but our resemblance to Him has been horribly disfigured by the ravages of sin and selfishness. No longer are we capable, in of ourselves, to walk with Him or even desire Him unless He Himself paves the way for that yearning in our hearts to take seed and sprout. It is only too clear today that Christians generally feel either too powerless and defeated in their Christian walks to have an authentic relationship with Christ or they have become too contented with a superficial and shallow spirituality.

We tend to be culturally and biologically a “driven” people by the taskmasters of compulsion, ambition, and apprehension. We do not see that there is both an urgent and dire need to quickly abandon these merciless slave drivers lest we reap their harvests of self-destruction. Nor do we easily accept that there is a divine means by which we may achieve spiritual freedom and an eternal victory so that we may be restored to our basic reason for living – that of walking with God.

The “force”, that drives us backward and downward instead of onward and upward is the force of “self”. The triple-pronged assault of self-gratification, self-importance, and self-preservation tends to body-block our pursuit “of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (from Philippians 3:14 ESV).

Time and time again, the “force of self” is permitted to interfere with the high and holy work of God in our lives. Time and time again, we ourselves conspire with the slave-driver of “self” to thwart what our heavenly Father would do in, for, and through us if only we would stop resisting Him.

What are we to do then with this “force” that has no “Jedi” benefit but is one-hundred percent “dark side”? Ultimately, we must seek the perspective that God Himself has on the matter. God’s Word, the Bible, signals the end of the reign of the fascist “self”! Do not believe the lie that you “cannot” have victory in your life or that you are doomed to a mediocre and marginal role in the kingdom of heaven. Inasmuch as we may believe these lies, we become trapped with shackles of “self-fulfilling prophecies”, but please know that the child of God has been given an infinite provision of life and godliness to overcome the spiritual bondage of “selfishness” within our lives.

When all is said and done, it has been declared from the very throne of God that “self” is dead for “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). Even as Jesus’ precious hands were pierced by iron spikes and He was lifted up for our sin, with Him was also crucified what we would have been were it not for His grace. Upon the Roman executioner’s cross was pinned humanity’s sin (the willful turning from God) as well as the “self” of those who are “found in Him, not having a righteousness of their own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (from Philippians 3:9).

Once we’ve placed our faith in Jesus and come under the power of His forgiveness and cleansing, we are no longer “enemies of the cross of Christ. Our destiny is no longer destruction, our god is no longer our stomach, and our glory is no longer in our shame. Our minds are no longer on earthly things…. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (adapted from Philippians 3:18-21).

The “self” is gone and our new identity is in our union with Jesus: “it is Christ Who lives in me.” The “self” has died and the old régime of selfish attitudes, the strongholds of our old fears, and the insurgency of pride and physical compulsions can be overcome in this physical life as He ascends the throne of our lives. “…For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV).

Our greatest battles in life are not so much on the outside as they are on the inside of us.

Our greatest battles in life are not so much on the outside as they are on the inside of us.

Our greatest battles in life are not so much on the outside as they are on the inside of us. We engage the enemy whenever we are called by Christ to move in one direction, and yet for fear, greed, lust, or pride are goaded to move in another direction. On the one hand, we have the natural inclinations of our flesh and the limited reasonings of our own sensibilities and intellect. On the other hand, we have access, through faith in Jesus Christ, to the power, love, and life of God Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-16 ESV).

The ultimate and wondrous admonition then that God is extending to you and to me today is to not settle for mediocre spirituality nor to relax into an easy faith wherein we believe that God, in having “done all the work” for salvation (in Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection), requires nothing further from us. Oh, no. Even now He waits for His people to turn to Him wholeheartedly, place their hands in His, and walk with Him through this journey of life.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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