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Archive for July, 2016

The Call to Holiness

Beautiful and amazing things happen to you in the moment that you are brought into the Kingdom of God as you place your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Of course there is the fact that you are “born again” into God’s family. “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…. Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3, 5-6 ESV).

Then there is the wonder of an incredible transformation taking place as you are made new. “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…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a ESV).

And how can we not marvel that the ugly and loathsome sins that we have borne are carefully and completely cleansed from us! “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV).

No less amazing is the fact that God has set us apart for Himself, for His purposes and for our own sake! This setting apart is called “holiness” in the Scriptures and has almost become unknown in the culture in which we live. Today it is clear that we have lost sight of the precious treasure of holiness and drifted from flirtations with “unholiness” to embracing it; from embracing unholiness to flaunting it.

But what is holiness? What does it look like? How do we grasp this lifestyle of living in the Lord, fulfilling His purposes for our lives, and knowing the joy of being wholly His? Well, holiness is not self-righteousness, nor is it strict adherence to a rigid code of conduct (although these ideas seem to be the prevailing attitudes and biases folks have about holiness).

Holiness is first of all the nature of God. It is the infinitely high and noble essence of what He is and how He reveals Himself to us. His holiness is unfathomable and so alien to our fallen nature that we naturally contend with the directions in which His holiness leads us.

“Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 ESV). So majestic that we must revere it if ever our hearts truly turn towards Him, His holiness is overwhelming!

Holiness for us then is both recognizing the unique and precious nature of God and embracing it. It is the pursuit of the pleasure of God as we willingly seek to know Him as He is and to become like Him by the help He grants us through His Holy Spirit.stand alone

“Strive for… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV). Righteousness (being considered “upright” and therefore acceptable by God) is granted to us because the true righteousness of Jesus is credited to us once we place our faith in Him: our sin is forgiven and we know that He has made a place for us in heaven. But holiness is the key to intimacy with God because through holiness we turn our attention to His love, His purposes, and His ways and subsequently submit to them. It is no wonder then that God admonishes us to pursue holiness in how we live and will even take steps to correct us and discipline us accordingly.

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:7-10 ESV).

Many Christians today may have no idea what holiness is all about. Or they may wonder why we should seek to live in it. Or they may even scoff at it as a relic of the past or an agenda of a pompous and “kill-joy” group of hypocrites. Nevertheless, holiness is essential to the joy that God intends for us in life. We must remember that we are called to live holy lives and that we are truly set apart for God. We do not belong any longer to the world, nor are we bound any longer to its wickedness.

So what practical steps can we take in the pursuit of holy living? We could try to (and too often do) compose a long and complicated list of “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots”, but the Bible teaches us a simple frame of mind to adopt that lovingly yet firmly leads us into ever-increasing holiness as we lean on God’s empowering through His Word and prayer.

“You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace…. Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:11-14, 19b ESV).

Because you are called to sanctification, which is another word for “holiness”, your body and your mind are now reserved for God and His purposes. Withhold the valuable gifts that your mind and body are from those things that are contrary to God’s will for your life and daily offer them anew to Him so that He might both bless you and bless the nations of the world through you.

“As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest My holiness among you in the sight of the nations.…. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (Ezekiel 20:41, 1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I am often convicted that the key misunderstanding among Christians that produces qualities of apathy, confusion, legalism, and pride is in the matter of what it is to which we have basically been called. It is true that you and I are called to serve God, but it is not our primary calling. It is true that you and I are meant to learn of God and His Word, but the reason we do so is not so that we can just be impressive reservoirs of useless information. It is true that we are to not live like the world or buy into its value system, but the reason is not that we might be able to look down our noses on others or point to our spiritual superiority. And it is true that we are called to lives of great value and worth, but it is not so we can revel in our own uniqueness or squander our gifts and opportunities upon our selfish desires.

It is to love that we have been called. We are called to be loved by God (living according to His pleasure and purposes for us) and enjoying the delight in which He lavishes upon us; and we are called to love God with all our being, rendering to Him a passion and devotion that usually only appears in counterfeit forms in Hollywood love stories or sappy songs that make us groan inwardly. Far different from our shallow ideas of love is the love God intends for us. The love relationship for which we are made is not an imaginary apparition that we chase in vain nor is it simply an emotional by-product of wishful thinking. The love to which we have been called is both real and true.

First, consider the “realness” of God’s own love for you. It exists whether or not you recognize or accept it. It is there even if you do not believe in it, hence the need for the Bible to remind us of it.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39 ESV).

If that promise of His love is not enough for you, then consider the “proof” (or demonstration) of His love.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.…. By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us…. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (John 3:16, 1 John 3:16a, 4:9-10 ESV).

In other words, God’s love for you is so “true” that He gave His only Son for you, sinless and perfect though He is. Furthermore, His love for you is so “real” that it has tremendous power over your life, your circumstances, your past and your future.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 ESV).

It is to love that you have been called: to be loved and to love Him in return.

“Whoever has My commandments,” said Jesus, “and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21 ESV).

This basically means that we are to go beyond lip-service and Sunday morning religion and enter into a daily love-relationship with God that supersedes all other priorities, passions, and pursuits. Loving God and enjoying His love in return is more than just going to church. It is more than just living a moral and (self) righteous life. It’s about giving your heart away to the One Who made you and died for you. It’s about romancing the heart of God with a passionate clinging to Him, His Word, and His leading by His Holy Spirit.

Do not settle for mediocre and ho-hum Christianity. Chase after God and let the power of His love change you. Are you in doubt about whether or not He can love you? Then go back to what His Word says. His love for you is not founded on your appearance, your finances, your ability to do “great things” for Him, your not having miserable failures in the past, or even your good intentions. He loves you simply because He is love (see 1 John 4:16).

And as you allow the soothing waters of God’s love surround you and flow into you, with cleansing and healing power, let them flow through you that the love of God which has rescued you from sin and death, reach the parched desert shores of lives that have not yet been reached or transformed by this love that has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:16-18a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I’m not a “die-hard” Andy Griffith Show fan, but I sometimes have the opportunity to sit down with my family and enjoy a hilarious episode with them. Perhaps my all-time favorite episode is the one entitled, “Aunt Bea, the Warden” where she is haplessly made the caretaker of Otis, the town drunk, who can’t “sleep off” his stupor in the jailhouse as he normally does. Not the least inclined to coddle him as the sheriff and deputy are in the habit of doing, she promptly initiates her prisoner into “the Rock” (as he later “affectionately” refers to it) with a good dousing of cold water and a healthy dose of good ol’ hard work.

However, Otis, not accustomed to a sentence of “hard labor”, groans and moans his way through the day. And in between his grass cutting, window washing, hall vacuuming, dish washing, and floor scrubbing, he makes several less than heroic efforts at “breaking out”.

Even Aunt Bea cant reform us But always watching over him is the ever vigilant eye of Aunt Bea. Just as soon as he slips his shoes off so he can sneak out, she’s right after him with snapping finger that have all the effect of a cracking whip. So, after all his futile efforts to escape have been foiled (from disguising himself as a laundry bag for the cleaners to truck away, to his climbing out a second-story window and down a nearby painter’s ladder), and in spite of his pleas for mercy directed at the sheriff, he eventually “does his time”. Then, all cleaned up and looking sharp, he vows never to touch another drop of liquor. Later he is repeatedly referred to as having been reformed. At the end of the episode, four other prisoners who have been recaptured are transported to “the Rock” (since the deputy’s efforts to reform them only result in their escaping from jail). Once they realized where they are, one cries out, “Oh, no! We heard about this place! It’s the Rock!” and the four of them try to scramble over the sheriff and deputy back into the police car. And when Aunt Bea herself materializes, holding brooms, mops, and buckets, one of the big, burly men points at her and yells to his brothers, “Bloody Mary!” just as they are all shoved under her ruthless reign by the sheriff and deputy.

And what a logical and perfectly sensible solution to the crime wave besetting little Mayberry… turn the hardened criminals over to one who knows how to whip them into shape. Ah, yes. Maybe I enjoy it all the more because Aunt Bea reminds me a lot of my sweet and unassuming grandmother before she went to be with the Lord.

As far as Otis goes, the whole idea of reforming a man gone bad, of course, is not a new one. It defines society’s general attitude towards handling men and women convicted of crimes and has at its heart, for its greatest proponents, a core of mercy.

But since this episode was produced and aired in the show’s second season, folks who watched the show know that Otis did not stay “reformed” for very long, no matter what oath he had made. He was back to the booze in short order and remained in the less than honorable position of “town drunk” until a reunion movie was made many years later.

I’ve known men and women with substance addictions and can attest to the terrible chains that alcohol and drugs have produced for them. The addictions themselves aside, consequences to being under the influence, terrible decisions, and tremendous lapses of moral fortitude destroy families, marriages, careers, and even lives in only moments. The addictions also create such a bondage that men and women who would have been horrified by the very idea, have fallen to such an extent that every sentence from their lips is a lie and stealing becomes so natural and subconsciously driven that they’re not even aware that they are doing it. 

But this column isn’t really about alcohol or other substance abuse. It’s about all of us and our struggle against sin. Spiritually speaking, we’re all waging a war, caught between impulses that can overwhelmingly and unexpectedly surge within us (urging us to hate and hurt, maim or kill those who represent to us racism and classism’s abuses of power) and those societal pressures for us to conform (to “fall into line” and do what we’re told).

Although we each are created in the image of God, our nature has been corrupted by our cumulative rejection of God’s love and authority over us. Our nature, although designed perfectly by a perfect Designer, has gone out of control and seeks to elevate its own interests above relationship with God and even our own long-term future. Humanity has an incredible addiction to selfishness and pride. And it takes more than mere reformation for us to break free of it. You or I may look at social problems, diagnose them in other people (sometimes even correctly), and yet miss the fact that we ourselves are each liars at heart (if not overtly, we’re great at spinning the truth to our own benefit), thieves by nature (“Well, the mistake was the cashier’s, not mine”), and murderers in the hidden chambers of our thoughts (“I hate him for what he’s done to me. I wish he were dead”).Aunt Bea cant reform us

Maybe you disagree with my logic, but I’ve no doubt that if you were to honestly lay out all the thoughts you’ve ever had on a table, you’d be as red as a tomato. But the point isn’t that God stands over us like some monstrous Aunt Bea with flaming red eyes and a huge rolling pin poised to whack us on the head, or even snapping His fingers at us, and demanding more blood, sweat, and tears. The point isn’t even that God is telling you to pull yourself up by your boot straps and reform yourself. “Now promise you’ll be a good boy, Otis, and run along.”

The point simply is that what you and I need isn’t “reformation”; it’s “transformation”. You can mold something externally and maybe make it resemble something else (or break it in trying to do it). But to really change something into something else, you’ve got to get inside it and effect change from its heart. That’s true of you and me. You and I can’t be the people God wants us to be unless we let Him transform us. And He can’t transform us unless we let Him into our hearts. We need for more than our appearances to change. Our desires have to change; our values have to change; and our choices have to change. And it takes a something more than resolve and good intentions on our part. The source of strength on which we depend must shift from self-reliance to dependence on God’s strength (which He offers us by His Holy Spirit through His Word, prayer, authentic worship, and the loving support of other Christian men and women who understand our struggles and lift us up with love).

Reformation, even when it appears to work, doesn’t really work. The transformation that comes from placing our faith in Jesus alone as savior and His exerting His lordship in our hearts is the only solution for setting us free from the bondage of our own sinful natures. You might be inclined to settle for a watch-dog to help you get in shape. Or you might be resigned to tolerating character flaws and spiritual needs within yourself. I hope not though. Jesus has made a way for you and me to break free and start clean with Him. After He’s invested so much so that we can be free, why try to do it on our own?

“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 12:2 ESV).

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

 

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If there is anything that is especially challenging to a material-minded civilization such as the one in which we live, it is the inescapable fact that we have been created as spiritual beings. As evidenced by not only our ability to comprehend abstract and complex themes such as love, freedom, beauty, and grace, but also our need to articulate and develop them, there is in the human soul a spark that reflects the image of the Giver of that spark – God Himself.

Throughout history, we see the ebb and flow of the manifestations of that spark as our spiritual yearnings lift our eyes from the “mundane” affairs of everyday life and cause us to reflect on eternal things. But therein lies a great danger waiting to ensnare us should we haphazardly plunge into the spiritual world heedless of its various perils. For if it is ultimately lethal to deny spiritual reality, it is also a grave and disastrous matter to turn to spiritual ideas and teachings that masquerade as truth but are, in fact, deceptions.

During our brief visit on planet earth, our pilgrimage through life places us upon a path that has “hiding in the rocks” of our circumstances, a band of robbers ready to attack and place in bondage the unwary (similar to the traveler mentioned in Luke 10:30) – only these are spiritual beings which war with God upon the battlefield of human history.

Although I realize such discussion is often unpleasant and uncomfortable (as well it should be), let us entertain for a moment that there are indeed spiritual forces at work in the world and many of these are not benevolent or benign, but are instead malevolent and cunning. “…For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

The forces of evil are not primarily societal ills (although such problems are manifestations of the reality of that evil). The dark powers are not political parties (although it must be said that parties and politicians can be influenced and manipulated by such forces). The “bad guys” in this world are not even other religions (although anything that steers us from the truth of the Gospel is a tool or means to thwart God’s will for our lives). No, the real “bad guys” moving behind the scenes and opposing God’s activity and lordship over His creation are spiritual beings.

The prince of these spiritual beings at war with the God and the eternal hope that we have in Christ is generally referred to in the Scriptures as “the devil”. Satan, as he is also frequently called (which means “accuser” or sometimes “adversary”), delights in our misfortune, gloats in our rebellion against God, and finds his greatest pleasure in our rejection of God’s offer of hope through Jesus. Hence the Biblical admonition to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV).

Setting aside what Hollywood may sensationally tell us in our cinemas or even on our television or TiVo screens, chief among the deadly tools that comprise this enemy’s repertoire is the tool of deceit. If he can simply deceive us into not trusting God’s promises, we are a defeated people. If he can trick us into not heeding God’s warnings and loving appeals to turn to Him and repent of our own waywardness, we are a people who are perishing. If he can throw enough of the “dust” of confusion and doubt into the air when the Truth is presented to us, we may hesitate just long enough to miss our windows of grace and remain enslaved to our passions and pride, or worse, shackled to spiritual powers that work to keep us from a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Consider this deceiver’s “modus operandi” throughout the account of the Scriptures and it becomes clear that it is as Jesus declares in John 8:44b, that “…(the devil) was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies”.

Consider carefully how the things you trust stack up against the truth of Christ.

Consider carefully how the things you trust stack up against the truth of Christ.

Humanity’s initial plummet from his special position in walking with God at the beginning of time was triggered by the crafty guile of this great adversary. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:1-5 ESV).

And so, as our first ancestors hearkened to his voice, they rejected the love and Law of God, ushering in the bitter fruit of that rebellion. And still, though the Lord gracefully did not cast us away, but immediately began the great work of rebuilding connections with His broken creation, the devil continues to attempt to thwart and disturb God’s people, seeking again and again to deceive them into turning aside from God’s will and Word. Though the evil one is largely successful in his purpose to “lead the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9), and the bitter consequences of such successful deception wrack our planet with pain, take care to simply look to the Truth, trust Him, obey Him, and know that you are secure in your victory.

Do not treat as trivial the spiritual messages constantly beamed your way but consider carefully how the things in which you trust stack up against the truth of Christ. Cultivate a real and abiding relationship with God through the reading of His Bible and through prayer. And as you become a student of God’s Word, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 ESV).

We live in a serious age among conflicting and contradictory philosophies wielded by ancient spiritual powers seeking to lead us astray. Choose wisely then the voices to which you listen. But remember this too, “you are from God and have overcome them, for He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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