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Archive for November, 2015

Too Heavy to Bear

With the Christmas season now having “officially” begun, we may be expecting the holidays to be an occasion of joy and refreshing, although for many it instead historically seems to serve as a season of sorrow, worry and loneliness.

For one thing, the ideals of what we assume the season should be are frequently not realized, leaving us feeling deflated and disappointed as our expectations are not met.

For another, the problems, turmoils and unresolved conflicts that we can lay aside for most of the year are often forced into the open simply because family members are in much closer proximity to one another during this time and what is generally “swept under the rug” is kicked up in our faces as relatives march into our lives and we into theirs.

With that in mind, many folks respond by taking on the impossibly heavy weight of responsibility for managing the world’s affairs (or at least their own corner of it). But the world is too heavy a burden to bear.

When the “whinies” strike (you know, those temperamental moments that children have when things aren’t quite living up to their demands and nothing can satisfy or satiate their desires) we may feel like pulling our hair out, assuming that we have some to pull out.

Kids don’t always get exactly what they want for Christmas (no matter how hard we try) and can’t always get all that they may have wanted (budgets do have limits after all). But most of the time they get more than they need and much of what they do want. Parents (hopefully) try to teach their children to be thankful for what they do get and give them a perspective of contentment (let us pray) that is not at the mercy of their circumstances.

In all honesty, however, we would have to admit that the “whinies” are not limited to children but have their more sophisticated versions in us adults as well. Not only do we not always get the gifts that we may have been dreaming of, but our holidays may not be everything we had hoped that they would be. From what is served at our Christmas dinner to who goes to whose house for Christmas morning, to just hoping to avoid the annual family argument over whose political party is caught up in the most scandal, we have entire lists of unmet desires and unsatisfied wants.

And, of course, some of our desires are more abstract and run deeper in our hearts, such as having all our family members together but finding that death, or war, or sickness have prevented such heart desires from being met.

Even so, our happiness cannot be based on our circumstances because trying to bear the weight of making everything all right for everyone is beyond the strength of anyone.

When I get particularly cynical and negative, my wife sweetly, although pointedly, reminds me that, while she does all that she can to be the wife and mother our family needs, ultimately no one can make me happy but me. I can choose to worry and fret, vent and complain, try and try to get everything right all the time, but my circumstances will never be “perfect” (at least, based on my superficial criteria and mortal perspective) nor will I ever be perfect either. But by God’s grace, I can still find joy in Christ.

In other words, if the fact that the turkey is too dry ruins your Christmas season, then you need a new perspective. If the tree getting knocked over (repeatedly) by the cat keeps you hot and bothered, then it’s time to reevaluate what criteria you use to determine whether or not the holiday was worth it. And if Cousin Joe and Great-Aunt Matilda can’t help but get into their yearly argument (complete with name-calling and fist-fighting) about who he should have really married, there’s no reason that you should declare the holidays a failure and move to a remote tropical island as far from holiday “cheer” as is possible (not to mention those pesky relatives).

Now don’t think that the realization that you can’t bear the weight of the happiness of others is a license to skip out on responsibility. Sometimes folks will uproot themselves from their obligations and promises.

“I’ve carried it all for so long; now it’s time for everyone else to do the carrying,” we may think. But that’s not what the Bible teaches us. Instead, it teaches us to follow-through with our promises, to do our best for our God and Savior, and to then trust Him with what is beyond our strength to carry.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).

Jesus simply wants us to carry what we were designed to carry. And what is that? We are made to carry only the weight of walking with Him as His disciples. But that weight is really what gives us our wings. As we trust Him, obey Him, and entrust to Him our burdens of worry, control, relationships, work, and what appears to us to be an uncertain future, we are lifted up by the divine hope that our God is faithful beyond compare. He is not content to bear only our burdens but endeavors to carry us as well.

There is something incredibly freeing in the conviction that “God is in control” and that His grace is sufficient to cover all my imperfections and inadequacies.

There is something incredibly freeing in the conviction that “God is in control” and that His grace is sufficient to cover all my imperfections and inadequacies.

You have to admit, there is something incredibly freeing in the conviction that “God is in control” and that His grace is sufficient to cover all my imperfections and inadequacies. Do you want to know how to have a truly happy holiday season? Do this. Do the best you can to honor God with what you are and with what you have, and then trust the Lord with the rest.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 2:5-6 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Days such as these have shaken a great many people to their core. It has proven to be an age in which faith in God is essential not only in the esoteric realm of “religion” to which we often have attempted to relegate it, but in the practical living of life. Things like material success, financial security, popularity, and political party affiliations (in which we have blindly deposited the assets of our hope) have proven time and time again to be empty of sufficient power to protect and provide for us. Not only that, but such things as politicians, industry, financial institutions have all been abundantly sown with the insidious seeds of corruption, thoroughly contaminated by those in society who “call the shots” and demonstrate that the only interests they’re looking out for are their own.

But as Christians, instead of becoming overcome by anxiety and cynicism, we merely refocus our lives and allow Him to reorient us to the victorious life to which He has called us. We now begin to live a life of practical faith.

“We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV).

Faith is nothing more, but nothing less, than the entrusting of our lives to God.

Faith is nothing more, but nothing less, than the entrusting of our lives to God.

In doing so, we come to Him on His terms, and then live “in Him” as He leads, discovering that He Who called us is faithful (see 1 Thessalonians 5:24)! We humbly approach Him through faith in the sufficiency of His Son’s death and resurrection and, in repenting of our sin, find that He credits us with His Son’s righteousness. We then live in faith as we learn that being His “children” is more than theoretical but is in fact “actual”. We find that He has an active and intimate interest in our thoughts and attitudes, as well as how those work out in our relationships and daily choices. And we also learn that we must live by faith in our Heavenly Father’s desire and ability to guard us and to provide for us. It is in this latter point that many Christians today are rekindled spiritually and it is through our challenging circumstances that it is being made abundantly clear that “faith” is essential.

But as essential as faith is, it is a fragile thing indeed. It is a hair’s breadth of “fiery trial” that refines the faith of a person in one instance but becomes the catalyst for his despair in another. Are there practical steps that may help you in discovering the “lifesaving faith” that Hebrews 10:39 describes? Here are some of the basic ingredients for cultivating within yourself that kind of faith.

First, if you really are a man or woman of faith, you are saying that you are a person who takes God at His word. If this is true, then you must make knowing His “Word” a priority. In other words, become a person who reads and reflects upon the Scriptures, studying them not only for an academic understanding of them, but also for personal transformation and practical application of His truth!

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD…. With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments! I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You…. Let Your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, Your salvation according to Your promise” (Psalm 119:1, 10-11, 41 ESV).

Second, become a person of prayer. If your first response to this is, “But I don’t know how to pray,” then you’re making something harder for yourself than it needs to be. When the Lord Jesus models prayer for us in His “Lord’s Prayer”, He teaches us that it is simply a conversation with our Heavenly Father, humbly offered, but courageous in its being direct. Real prayer is an earnest talk we have with our God in which He is the only audience. Through prayer we tell Him how we love Him, share with Him our concerns and burdens, and lay out before Him petitions for others as we seek His grace on behalf of others. Prayer is also an occasion in which we learn to sit quietly and listen, hearing Him speak as He “brings to mind” what He has said through His Word.

Perhaps you can see that prayer and study of His Word work best when linked together. To talk to Him and to truly “dig into” His Word effectively, it’s definitely a good idea to set aside a special place and time to do so privately. Doing either (or both) publicly is necessary at times and very beneficial, but it is in the private encounters with God in which we really begin to sink roots of faith downward into the soil of Christianity.

Next, become a person of worship. Privately praise Him daily for being God, Savior, and Lord. But join your praises with a church family as well. The greatness and goodness of God cannot be adequately appreciated in lonely worship, but is amplified as if by a megaphone when we become a part of a larger body of praise and thanksgiving! In corporate worship you will find that your spiritual life is fed and enhanced as the Spirit of God flows through the conduits of faith that surround you!

“The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made. All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, and all Your saints shall bless You! They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations ” (Psalm 145:9-13a ESV).

Having discussed how Bible study, prayer, and worship are all necessary parts of building your faith, for that faith to take on the dimension of leveraging for you a meaningful and satisfying significance, it now needs the power and strength that comes only through application. For your faith to grant you the sweet and savory flavor of fulfillment, you must allow your faith to overtake every other dimension of your life.

Your material resources are a great place to start. Most folks are worried about their material wellbeing. Maybe you are, too. But here is a great place to start experiencing God’s power. If you are His child, apply what His Word teaches you in regard to material possessions. Pursue His kingdom rather than the accumulation of stuff. Don’t worry about what you don’t have, but seek His will and trust Him to provide for your needs. Remember that “your stuff” is really His stuff and that it has been entrusted to you to use for His glory. So employ a spirit of generosity (in tithing in your church but also in the helping of others in need).

Another area of life to begin the application of faith is in the area of service. Are you serving God through a local body of Believers? Are you joining with other Christians in the work of ministering to others in need? Have you ever participated in a mission trip? Are you contributing your talents and gifts, knowledge and experience to the work of God’s people in sharing God’s love? If not, stop holding back. Remember that in every area you feel weak, there is a vacuum waiting to be filled up with the power of God.

So now let the word “faith” take on a new meaning in your life as you offer yourself to Him for His glory. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In a time of escalating crime and selfish vice, it seems that justice is a fading concept. Yet one of the virtues for which the human heart craves is justice: the moral imperative to right what is wrong, to lift oppression, and for people to be held accountable for their actions. Indeed, a hunger for justice is one of the qualities given us that affirm our having been created in the divine image and a desire for a just society is more than a evolutionary blip or sociological coincidence. We are, from our origins, wired to want justice.

But ironically, the fallout of moral relativism is the obscuring of both the meaning and the value of justice. It would seem that in our culture the concept of justice is generally only exposited in criminal law shows and police dramas. Even talking heads shouting at each other on “news” shows can’t quite provide for us for us a clear picture or rationale of justice.

While I am glad that justice is being “dealt” with (sort of), I am sad that it takes such convoluted and confused venues to say something about the matter. The foundations for understanding and valuing justice are actually laid at home in the formative years of our children, strengthened and clarified at church, and understood in practical forms in school.

Of course, television shows and movies only deal with the most heinous and extreme departures from justice. Our limited interest in the matter seems to suggest that we’re only willing to admit that cold, calculated murder is unjust but can’t quite bring ourselves to also acknowledge lying, cheating, stealing, adultery (and other forms of immorality), neglect of children, abortion, and human euthanasia are all also radical deviations from God’s divinely crafted plan for humanity.

“Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us” (Isaiah 59:9-11 ESV).

It should not surprise us that the consequence of muddying the waters of justice is increased hurt, crime, and oppression. It should not surprise us that the illegal forms of injustice increase when injustice increases legally as well, whether we’re talking about banking schemes to win over more borrowers even when they cannot afford the crushing weight of debt or if we are speaking of unborn children in terms that somehow minimize their value, deny their humanity, and treat them as nothing more than inconveniences that people can “choose” to rid themselves of.

“Justice is turned back and righteousness stands afar off; for truth has stumbled in the public squares and uprightness cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14 ESV).

Those who speak up for the weak, the oppressed, and the helpless are frequently labeled as “intolerant” and “narrow-minded bigots”, deflecting attention from the real issues of injustice (the plights of those who can neither speak for nor defend themselves).

“Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey” (Isaiah 59:15a ESV).

Can we expect God to bless us if we’ve become so “tolerant” that justice is lost to us and injustice is the rule of the land? No!

Can we expect God to bless us if we are “tolerant” of injustice?

Can we expect God to bless us if we are “tolerant” of injustice?

“The LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede…” (Isaiah 59:15b-16a ESV).

The Lord esteems justice: It matters a lot to Him. Since it matters a lot to Him, it should matter a lot to us. If Christians value the favor of the Lord then they will seek to be instruments of justice. While He does not desire us to be vigilantes who consider ourselves above the accountability that God-ordained law imposes upon us, He would have us be spokesmen and spokeswomen for truth, even if it risks the favor of our society (which, you’ll remember, is somewhat confused on matters of justice anyway).

And of course the first place to begin to implement justice is in our own homes and in our own churches. God’s justice compels us to be men and women of integrity on all levels of life: our service to Him (obviously), our jobs, our school work, our friendships, our relationships with our children, and our relationships with our husbands or wives. Gossip and slander are just as unjust, in God’s eyes, as striking a co-worker. Neglecting our responsibilities as parents is just as unjust as being too harsh. Stealing from God our tithes and offerings is just as unjust as stealing from your neighbors.

But if we’ve found ourselves riddled with unjust attitudes and behaviors, there is the open door God gives us to start over with Him. Although, “He will repay according to what (injustice) they have done” (from Isaiah 59:18), he also promises to receive us if we repent and return to Him humbly.

“A Redeemer will come… to those… who turn from transgression,’ declares the LORD” (Isaiah 59:20 ESV).

Let justice not be far from you. Make your love for the One Who gave His life for you stir your heart up for the things that He Himself esteems.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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He Waits…

He waits

Who is this lonely father? Do any of us know him?

Picture a father, lovingly devoted to his children, seated by his window, waiting. He waits and waits, his eyes gazing through glass which at times shines brilliantly as the golden sun rises and falls, and at other times glows silver gray, from the rainwater streaming down its surface. Like the window pane, the father’s eyes also seem to shine with eager anticipation at times, a golden overflow of joy ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice. But sometimes the light in his eyes fades as silver gray tears stream down his face.

What does he await? What does he look for? Why does he continue, day after day, to gaze out the window? He waits on his children to come home. He waits for more than a brief appearing with no agenda other than to ask for money. He longs for more than arms that are ready to greedily grab up but never eager to embrace. So he waits.

And who is this lonely father? Do any of us know him? He is our Great Father and He longs for us to come to Him, ready to embrace Him with no agenda other than to know Him and see His face, and to be embraced by Him with no other preoccupation crowding out our delight in His love for us.

Beside Him stands the Son, the One Who came to bridge a gap made wide by our rebel hearts and the pride that runs deep in us like a self-inflicted wound that never quite heals. He too bears wounds, but these were inflicted by our hands, hands driven by hate and jealousy. Yet His wounds have healed, covered by the balm of forgiveness, leaving behind only scars that tell the tale of how unearned hatred was met with an unconquerable grace. This Son, Who bore upon Himself the judgment earned by our repeated rejections, stands with the same eager desire mixed with the same silver-gray sorrow that paints the face of the Father.

Why must He wait? Why do we not rush right home to sit at His feet, drinking deep from the fountain of fellowship? Because we are too easily lured into the quagmires of busyness and burdens imposed upon us by a world that hates Him. We rush from the Father’s presence, and run amuck into pools of anxiety because we do not quite believe that God does indeed love us. We run from His loving embrace and dart into the traffic of ideas and philosophies that will run us over the moment our guard is let down. The affection of our hearts is too easily tantalized and led away from the only One Who can really meet all our needs. So we trudge our way into fearsome desert valleys littered with bones, the skeletal remains of the “might have beens” of others who have tried to live life apart from God.

Christians have great enemies. Chief among them are apathy and distraction. Too often we “settle for less” than we could have. But whether we hunger for more than we have, God Himself hungers for more. He yearns for our devotion, desires our affection, and longs for us to “seek Him with all our hearts” (see Jeremiah 29:13).

But unlike us, God does not “settle for less”. Although we may content ourselves with spiritually plastic alternatives to God’s presence in our lives, He will not leave well enough alone but will often take from our clutching fingers the things that compete for His place of preeminence in our lives. And while we may, in spiritual childishness, complain about it, I for one am glad that He does so. Why would I want something inferior to the great and glorious reality of His love? How could I possibly settle for less than what treasure in Him can be mine if I’ll simply delight myself in Him?

And what about you? Are you cold? Have you forgotten how great and good is the One Who waits for you? Can you not see Him even now, tears of joy and tears of sorrow running alternately down His face as you wander in and out of His presence?

What do you allow to compete with His position of being “first place” in your life? Have you relinquished control of your life to your circumstances allowing your call to come into His presence be subservient to the priorities and pressures that the world throws your way? If so, you’re the only one who can make the choices necessary to change your predicament. Don’t be afraid to repent and return to Him. You’ll find that He’s not going to hold over your head your failings and flaws, but will sweep you up into His arms as well as His glorious will for your life!

Don’t delay your return to Him! Don’t hold back either! Return to Him! Reprioritize your life around Him! If something comes up that competes for your attention and time, simply tell that something, “No!” and decide that you can do without it for the sake of the One you can’t do without!

Don’t make the Father wait any longer for you to come into His presence. Don’t treat the Son’s gift of Himself for your sake as if He were nothing. Don’t ignore God’s Spirit’s voice inviting you to go deeper into the spiritual life for which you were created. And don’t be afraid, wondering about how you’re going to make it, or about what others will think of you. God assures you that He’ll see to it, that as you obediently trust and obey Him, your needs will be met. After all, God is great and God is good.

“Seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:31-32 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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