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Archive for February, 2016

Stuck in a Bucket

When I was eleven years old and living in a rural part of West Virginia, I and my younger brothers were walking home one day along a mile-long strip of dirt road. To the right of the road rose a hill covered with various hardwood trees. To the left of our road was a deep ravine, a gash in the earth carved by a small stream that could, with almost no warning, turn into a raging white water with just a little bit of rain.

Puppy eyes

There is One Who will climb down into our messes to set us free, one Who longs to lift us up, give us spiritual nourishment and have us walk with Him in faith.

As my siblings and I plodded the familiar path towards our house, we were stopped in our tracks by a sound like someone beating on the bottom of a kettle. We peered cautiously over the side of the ravine and saw fourteen feet below us the skeletal form of a small terrier dog staggering about blindly. Its head was completely wedged inside a plastic barrel which it was beating upon the stony stream bed.

The poor animal was clearly in a sad state. As we looked down upon it, I couldn’t tell if it would first die of suffocation or simply succumb to the starvation that obviously held it in its grasp. It weakly weaved about, vainly trying to dislodge its head from the container again and again by placing its puny paws on the barrel’s rim.

My brothers looked at me and I looked at them. We then looked at the spectacle before us, wondering what to do. Finally, after giving a heavy sigh, I turned and began to clamber down the ravine’s side while my brothers continued to look on. When I reached the bottom both of my brothers began to shout suggestions like, “Grab its tail!” or “Jump on it and pin it down!” Keep in mind that one brother was nine years old and the other was six. These seemed like perfectly reasonable ideas to my enthusiastic siblings.

Instead, I managed to get one arm around and under the animal’s stomach and, with my other hand, was able to pop the barrel off the dog’s head though it thrashed about in terror.

Once the dog was free, I let it go. It leaped forward a few feet and then turned and looked at me, its big eyes staring intently into my own. It hesitated a moment and then walked to me, its ratty tail waving enthusiastically and its head lowered contritely. I looked up at my brothers who were now shouting more suggestions like, “Let me find a rope and we’ll haul it up!” and “Just toss it up here and we’ll catch it!” I was fairly sure that I couldn’t toss the dog up that high, but was also sure that the dog would have not enjoyed that experience, especially if my brothers missed. Again, ignoring them, I just tucked it under my arm and slowly began to climb back out of the ravine.

Once I and the dog were safely up, I put it on the ground and nudged it in the direction of some houses, one of which I assumed was its home. I shooed it on and then turned away towards our own house. Glancing behind us, I saw the dog padding along after us. We tried to shoo it away and it would back up a few steps quizzically, but would then follow us anyway, determined to go with us.

When I think of that little dog, I’m reminded of the mission of Christ Jesus. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one that is lost. He doesn’t describe the degree of that sheep’s “lostness” but one can conclude that it is profound. It is lost and cannot get to the shepherd on its own.

So the shepherd finds it and rescues it from its plight. Jesus goes on to say that when the shepherd finds the sheep, he joyfully puts it on his shoulder and goes home to celebrate with his friends.

Like that dog, when we try to live our lives apart from God, we get stuck in situations that are too dark and too strong to escape. We’ll make choices based on what seems right to us at the time, way off the path of faith in Him, and get ourselves trapped in predicaments that are too difficult for us to escape on our own. Hungry, blind and at the bottom of the ravine of fear and discouragement, we wait for a flood of sin, pain and grief to drown us in destruction.

Why did Jesus tell the story about the lost sheep and the shepherd? He was describing the nature of His own mission to a world of people who feel forgotten by God. Yes, we do indeed get ourselves into trouble and into situations that we’re not able to fix on our own. But there is One Who will climb down into our messes to set us free. He longs to lift us up, give us spiritual nourishment and have us walk with Him if we’ll stop running.

If we’ll trust Jesus to set us free from sin and self, we can know personally what He meant when He said in Luke 19:10 ESV, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” We’ll know personally the beauty of the words penned by Robert Robinson in the 1700s, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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When our children were much younger, it was not unusual that as the shadows of night deepened to darkness and the quiet stillness of slumber finally filled our home, our children would begin to rest from all their cares and worries only when they were lulled to a place of peace by the gentle melody of their mother’s singing.

And when the day’s first light would once again begin to spread its fingers across the sky, one often heard the sound of more quiet singing in our home. When the little ones in our arms nestled their little heads against us, my wife and I couldn’t help but sing. Such singing soothed the inexplicable fears and anxieties that beset our small children but it also gave utterance to the joy and love we had (and still have) for our beloved offspring.

Song of our Father

The love song that our Heavenly Father sings over the ones who rest their weary, anxious hearts in Him is one of peace, renewal, acceptance and strength.

And so our Heavenly Father sings to us a heavenly love song that only the ears of faith can hear. He sings of how He would have us set aside worry and fear for ourselves, trusting both His goodness and His great and glorious power to sustain us, protect us and guide us in our daily living.

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:27-31 ESV).

Ever does His Holy Spirit softly sing the notes of the melody of His love for you if only you will listen with ears of trusting obedience. Ever does He beckon you to lay your head upon the bosom of His love and hearken to His lullaby of grace.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32 ESV).

The song of your heavenly Father, pleased as He is to give you the Kingdom through faith in His Son, is a song of joy and delight. Indeed, all of heaven sings in unabashed celebration when anyone turns from sin and selfishness and embraces the Father’s call to “come home” to Him.

“…I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Jesus in Luke 15:10).

Are you ready to come home to the heart of God? He is more than ready to receive you. Are you ready for the healing touch of the Father? He is more than willing to wash your sin away and set you free. Though you may feel unwanted, unloved, rejected and shut out of life, He yearns to hold you to Himself and sing you the love song that is borne out in the laying down of His life on the Cross of Calvary.

The love song that He sings over you as you rest your weary, anxious heart in Him is one of peace, renewal, acceptance and strength. His voice drives away the dark shadows of worry, fear, sorrow and loneliness. Nowhere else can one find such a reassuring melody than the one our Heavenly Father sings to us through the loving gift of His “only begotten Son” (from John 3:16). Learn to listen with ears of faith and you will find an unparalleled “rest for your soul” (from Matthew 11:29).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Isn’t it wonderful to know that God, in His great care to provide all that is necessary for His people to know Him and live fruitfully (2 Peter 1:3-4), has provided leadership through pastors and Lay Leaders (Ephesians 4:11-13)? It is not an easy charge, that of being the spiritual pacesetter for a family of Believers, responsible for holding forth a spiritual standard towards which our people strive, but it is a wonderful one.

This standard for spiritual life and fruitfulness doesn’t really have so much to do with a high level of activity for the sake of activity. Nor is it related to the size of one’s congregation. And it certainly has nothing to do with impressive facilities or with the number of prestigious persons that come to “my” church.

Actually, when one has been called as a leader in one’s church (whether clergy or laity), one has been granted a great privilege in being a vehicle through whom God’s grace and power might reach the earth. Like a bolt of lightning streaking down from the sky to the up-stretched prong of a lightning rod, God’s presence and love look for hearts eager to yield to His will, and is ready to empower their walk with Him with evidence of His love and strength.

Yet there are serious temptations for church leaders. In our zeal to see the realm of God’s grace and glory spill out from our lives into the hearts and minds of others with whom we interact, we can begin to enjoy too much the personal benefits that we associate with our positions of influence.

I specifically mean those temptations that can beset a pastor, teacher, worship leader or any other person of influence (formally or informally) when we start to forget to Whom the church actually belongs. For instance, if one has been in a church family for a long time, he or she may think that the church belongs to him personally. Or, just as bad, perhaps a pastor feels that he is the CEO of a company and not the steward of a body of God’s children.

The church is God’s flock and it belongs solely to the Great Shepherd.

The church is God’s flock and it belongs solely to the Great Shepherd.

No, the church is God’s flock and it belongs solely to the Great Shepherd (Matthew 16:18). We are simply instruments in His hand to affect His loving leadership in His church. It is therefore a great tragedy when a church leader forgets that God was on the scene before his or her arrival and was already at work shaping that family of Believers. Perhaps it is an ego trip for leaders when they discount God’s ability to work in and speak through others in the church. Maybe they like the power. Perhaps they enjoy just a bit too much the material perks or feelings of being “important”.

Whatever form it may take, the attempt to use God to profit oneself is dangerous and insulting to the Lord. It not only throws “cold water”, so to speak, on one’s own relationship with God, it taints one’s potential fruitfulness in the spiritual realm, thereby hurting others in the process. And God simply doesn’t like “being used”. Nor does He like His people being used.

“…This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds… who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because My flock lacks a shepherd… I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for My flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue My flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them” (Ezekiel 34:2b-10).

I am reminded, as I read passages like this, that leaders in the church (whether pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, worship leaders, youth ministers and so on) are accountable to the Holy One for the nature of their leadership in the church. Perhaps we sometimes neglect the call to spiritually shepherd God’s people in lieu of successfully building an organization or program.

Therefore, let us guard our hearts, brethren. Let us examine our motives AND our methods daily. May we continually hold them up to the light of the Scripture of God and ask Him in our prayer closets how He might be better pleased with the service that we render Him. We are likely to find that it will have a lot more to do with our hearts than with our hands: from our hands and mouths come the fruit of our heart’s attitudes, but it is the heart that is always the starting point with God.

So let us guard ourselves from trying to use God’s grace for material benefit (2 Kings 5:15-27), prestige (Matthew 6:1-6; 3 John 9-10), and power (Acts 8:14-24). And may we take great care that we do not seek our own glory but His and His alone.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A Big Bear Hug

Several years ago my family and I were driving in southern West Virginia near the college campus on which I worked. As we turned with the road in one of its many curves, my wife suddenly grabbed my arm and exclaimed, “Did you see that buffalo?”

“No,” I replied. “I didn’t see any buffalo. Are you sure you saw a buffalo? There aren’t any buffalo around here.” And while I waxed eloquently on and on about buffalo not living in the area, she sat quietly and looked ahead, smiling. The road curved back again and by the road we came upon a huge wooden gate and above it a big sign that read, “Grandfather’s Hill. Horseback riding and petting zoo. Come and see our friendly bears and buffalo.” *Grandfather’s Hill was not its real name.

They should have mentioned crow, too, since that was what I was eating. Anyway, I pulled our car into their parking lot and we got out. After we had walked around a bit, looking at the various animal exhibits, we finally went into the main building which housed a gift shop.

While my wife and son looked around, I was irresistibly drawn to a large cage that stood in an open area towards the back. Inside the cage was a small black bear, probably in its adolescence. It sat on its rear haunches looking forlorn and I found myself feeling sorry for it. “Oh, it’s lonely,” I thought as I approached it. “How ya doin’, buddy?” I gently said to it as I neared it. “Are you feeling forgotten? Are you lonely?” I began to reach out to pat its leg which was just inside the bar of the cage. When my hand was inches from the bars, the bear shot its two front paws out like lightning between the bars and smacked my hands hard between them!

big bear cub

As we trust and obey God, His power and love work to “tame the wild beast” within us!

 

I was extremely startled and jerked my hand backward out of its reach, smarting from its unexpected assault. “Oka-a-y!” I thought. “That was interesting. But maybe it didn’t mean to hurt me. I must have surprised it. Besides, surely the people here wouldn’t have an animal sitting here in the middle of their gift store if it was aggressive.” Famous last words. In my own defense, I was younger then and a bit more naïve than I am now. I moved slowly towards it again, this time a wee bit more cautious. “It’s okay, fella,” I said soothingly. “I’m not going to hurt you.” As I watched for any sign of sudden movement, I reached out again. I thought that if it knew I didn’t mean it any harm, it would let me touch it. My hand got as far as it had before and I held it there, waiting to see if the animal would react. It sat quietly and just looked at me as if it didn’t mind in the least that I was entering its space. Feeling encouraged, my hand started to reach through the bars and was almost touching its leg.

As quick as a snake, it lunged forward and reached both its paws through the bars, slamming them together hard around my forearm. Higher up my arm and with better aim than before, its paws grasped at me even as I pulled back away from it, its claws raking long lines of skin from my forearm. Well, enough is enough, even for me. I quickly joined my wife and young son and said simply that we needed to stay away from the bear on the other side of the room. I mentioned my little misadventure to the owner/manager before we left (noting that the animal could be very dangerous especially to children who might wander into its reach) and we then left, with me on a quest for the antiseptic in the first aid kit that we keep in our vehicle.

As foolhardy as approaching the bear may have been, Christians frequently do the same thing on a spiritual level. We flirt with things that we know are spiritually dangerous and potentially corrupting. We reach out thinking foolishly that such things are not really so dangerous (whether they’re things we watch, things we indulge in, or kinds of attitudes we permit ourselves to have). Unfortunately, we find out sooner or later that some things really are beset with pain and sorrow, and are best left alone.

Still, the good news is that God has truly caged our spiritual enemy and limited its ability to daunt and control us. It is caged and we are free. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4 ESV).

One of the great truths of God is that His love and power are relevant to every day life. It is His love that moved His God-sized heart to bear the Cross in our place. It is His power that binds the universal law of sin (which is that sin in all men and women will be judged) to its being satisfied by the laying down of Jesus’ sinless life for our sakes, securing for us a beautiful certainty that through faith in Christ, we are forgiven and set free from its power.

Not only so, but it works to tame the “wild beast” within each of us though our selfishness sometimes shows its fangs and clicks its claws when it gets an opportunity. Let us be careful then to not “wander” into the reach of our less-than-heavenly impulses. Let us steer clear of actions, words, and attitudes within ourselves that will rend and tear our spiritual growth and hamper our joy and peace as God’s children. And although such things cannot shake us loose from God’s grace and are truly caged by God’s authority, let us take care that we avoid the snares and pitfalls that can injure our fruitfulness as messengers of the hope of the Gospel.

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:5, 8-14 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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