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I found myself this week reflecting on the tsunami disaster that struck twelve years ago this week. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands… dead. Within mere hours, in a cataclysm of monstrous proportions, a tsunami literally wiped countless numbers of people off the face of the earth.

Unsuspecting tourists, among the extremely vulnerable, perhaps intended to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Indian Ocean shoreline. Yet death came.

All along the 3000 miles of the coastal rim surrounding the Indian Ocean, children were walking along the beach, sitting on the floor of their village homes or playing in the streets… then death came. Even those wrapped in the arms of mothers or fathers were savagely ripped away and lost.

There were no easy explanations or cliché speeches one could share that would take away the hurt or mend the brokenness of all these lives even in the years that have followed.

Nor are there easy explanations or trite sentiments that I can express that erase the pain of tragedy today when it hits on a colossal scale as it did in 2004 or when we are alone, privately reeling from a personal loss whether the passing of a beloved child, the unexpected advent of cancer, or financial ruin so severe that there seems no recovery.

There is nothing that can be written here that would cause us to wake, when crisis and trauma afflict us, from what we wish was only a bad dream. Death and pain are permanent residents of planet Earth and at times gallop madly through our lives, trampling everything and everyone in their path.

roaring-wave

While God has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk.

But in spite of all the horror hurled at humanity by our broken and ravaged world, however and whenever it happens, God does not look on passively. While He has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk. He grieves with us over our sorrows; He is pained by our hurts; and He laments our losses as if they were His own. He knows pain and loss intimately even as He Himself looked death boldly in the eye and willingly embraced it for our sakes.

Yet… on the other side of loss, there is hope. On the other side of grief, there is joy. On the other side of death, there is life.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3 ESV).

Where do you turn when the world turns upside down? Where do you turn when you lose everything you ever wanted or ever needed? Where do you turn for hope?

And what do you say when it is someone else who has suffered so? Do you tell them to “just get over it” and walk away? Do you turn your eyes away, so afraid of facing pain yourself that you try to keep your distance?

May it not be so. If God had done that, we would never have had a Savior. “By this we know love, that (Jesus) laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

If you are a child of God, your purpose is to be an extension of His heart, a receptacle through which His love may pass and enter a beaten and battered world.

Be a vessel of comfort for someone who grieves. While it’s likely that there isn’t much you can say to make everything okay again, your loving presence in the life of someone who hurts can touch a broken life with comfort.

Be a source of help to someone who is struggling to survive. In your church or in an outreach center near you there may be found avenues for helping others who do not have enough.

God, speaking through His prophet five centuries before the Lord Jesus was laid in a straw-filled manger, said of Christ, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations… a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for His law” (Isaiah 42:1, 3-4 ESV).

Still in the business of lifting up bruised reeds and rekindling smoldering wicks, the tender heart of God even now seeks to bring hope to the islands: the islands spread all over the Indian Ocean as well as the private little islands of the struggling souls of those with whom we work and play every day. Let us then be His hands and feet in this New Year.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A Season of… Greed?

I don’t know about you, but I am very much fascinated by what makes people tick. I cannot resist peeling away layers that camouflage or conceal that which is underneath. Consequently, I am intrigued by what appears in people when they find themselves in situations that strip away pretense and rhetoric.

It is my personal conviction that the Christmas season proves itself to be one of those “situations” in which folks really find out what they’re made of.

Some folks, who hunger for something meaty (so to speak) in everyday living, slow down a bit and reflect on the love of God and one’s place in His plan for the world. They’ve come to value things that endure or at least know the vanity of pursuit of shallow values and goals. Such ones are inclined to share tangible expressions of the love of God in acts of kindness and generosity for people who are sick, or are in genuine need, or are otherwise lonely and/or forgotten. Setting aside their wants, they make time and share even sacrificially with others as God opens doors of opportunity. They remember that there was once a Christmas present given for all the world in a time of spiritual and moral darkness and they reflect on just how much it has meant for all who have received it in the centuries that have come and gone since then.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

They share because God has shared with them. The only race that they are running is the marathon of making a difference in the lives of others and somehow connecting the lost and lonely of the world to the inconceivable grace of God.

But for some, Christmas is a “situation” in which things other than love, joy, peace, hope, and thankfulness are exposed.

Consider an event several years ago in which a poor Walmart employee in Queens, New York, like an unarmed man at the gate, was trampled to death by a modern day equivalent of the Huns crashing through the doors of his place of work in Long Island. The 34 year-old man died facing hordes of mindless shoppers who were so savage that they ripped off a metal part of the door frame (leaving it looking like a crumpled accordion) as they trampled anyone caught in their path. So fierce was the mob’s assault that some of the Wal-Mart co-workers who strove to rescue him were injured and taken to the hospital.

Let’s all be horrified, but let’s not act surprised by a violent progression of events. The madness of after-Thanksgiving Day shopping has long been a joke (and often the comedic story line in movies and television shows). But now it turns out to not be so funny.

Whatever dreams that this poor man may have had for the holiday season were cut short. Whatever family members he left behind had a bitter loss for the sake of someone’s shopping list. I hope that I am not the only one who is ashamed that greed has besmirched a holiday named after our Lord. If some have gotten the gist of Christmas, the hope that it represents for all humanity, and the love it reveals of our God, it seems all too evident that countless numbers have not. It doesn’t matter if we merely “talk the talk” of the holiday season (or even sing the carols of Christmas); values are played out in our choices, especially when we don’t have time to think about what others may think of us and we are simply do what we feel like doing.

We are in our nature a greedy people. Why would I think that? Because we consistently make greedy choices in those situations that allow us to act naturally. Circumstances come to the stew pot of our lives and stir up what’s really in us. While pride, selfishness, hatred, and immorality too often come to the surface, chief among them is greed: we want what we want, and we want more than we have.

Again, for some the soup spoon of circumstance brings love, generosity, and patient humility to the top. These men and women (and even some children) give without regard to getting. They give because they’ve permitted God to put something of His love into their hearts. It’s these folks who really get Christmas, not those trying to get the best bargains at the store.

If anything (including shopping) is capable of stripping away from us kindness, patience, ethics, honesty, and love, we have a serious spiritual problem. Think of even the “small ways” that our “true selves” are revealed if we’re racing without regard for others to be first in the checkout line or pull in front of someone else to get the closest parking spot to the door. Are such behaviors and attitudes truly becoming to the children of God and the Savior Whom we represent to the world? I think not.

Besides, those who learn best how to give are also the ones who really get the most from this season of celebration. They’re the ones who really have the most to celebrate: the love of the Son of God Who came to give His life is not just Savior, but Lord of their hearts as well.

Keep Christ in Christmas indeed! But remember that to keep Him in Christmas, you must also keep your heart in His hand!

The Christmas season is a celebration of God’s Son’s first advent into the world. He came as a Servant so that we might have eternal life and, in turn, become servants of God as well.  As He has come to serve us by saving us from our sin, let us now each one go and serve others by following His example and putting them before ourselves.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Hope Spent Well

Christmas is doubtlessly a busy season for most of us. It can be overwhelmingly full of the chores of shopping for gifts, cooking for family get-togethers, and decorating our trees. Not that it’s all bad, mind you. We love the excitement and expectancy of the season as we sing our Christmas carols, hang our Christmas lights, and send out our Christmas cards all while we wait for the fun of receiving our gifts and enjoy (hopefully) the giving of them.

But perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life when a small and hidden ember bursts into a cheery blaze that once again warms a home.

Perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life.

Perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life.

Hope is an essential ingredient for life, its sweet savor making bearable and even pleasurable a dining table set with circumstances that we would otherwise find unappealing and even revolting. Without hope, peace is an illusion, joy is hollow, and faith is empty. Hopelessness can be a spectral wraith haunting not only our dreams but also our waking moments, draining our labors of purpose and our suffering of meaning.

It is probably obvious that hopelessness is rampant today. It not only wounds and wears upon those who have been overcome by sickness of body, but also men and women who are sound in body, but are afflicted with illnesses in hearts and minds that others cannot see. Hopelessness not only holds drug addicts in its ruthless and merciless grip, but also successful business people who have come to realize that they have acquired plenty of material benefits but have not acquired any lasting fulfillment from them. Hopelessness not only torments victims of years of cycles of abuse, but also those who themselves possess power and prestige but have found such baubles to be pointless in affecting change in lasting and meaningful ways.

Hope is something we desperately need, but so rarely find and sustain in the dark watches of winter and in the long seasons of trials of this life. It is like the hoped for oasis in a sprawling desert after finding only mirages along the way. Hope is essential to every one of us no matter who we are or where we’ve been. But ironically everyone who is now tortured by the pangs of hopelessness once actually had hope… but such hope was placed in the wrong things.

Our hopes are placed wrongly in our political leaders as we look to them to remedy our society’s hurts, yet they fail… either from their own corruption using our trust to advance their selfish ambitions or from their own limitations as we find them simply unable to do all that they promised.

We place our hopes in education, but we find that head knowledge cannot change hearts as it becomes clear that hurt, fear, prejudice, and violence continue. In a similar way, some of us place our hope in media in the belief that it can inform and inspire people to action. Often it does, but we have learned (from nearly a century of broadcast news) that often it is the wrong kind of action and that it is sometimes no more than a propaganda machine, uncommitted to truth but a skewed perception of things that leads us astray.

There are so many other things in which we hope, yet time and again we find that we have reached for mere phantoms. And each time we close our hands upon a promise that evaporates into nothingness, we are left a little more calloused and suspicious and even reluctant to endure the pain of once again placing our hope in something or someone.

The ultimate tragedy is that when we are finally met by the Source of true hope, we often dare not believe it. On the day that God shows up in our circumstances, wooing us by His Spirit to forsake sin and become His child forever, we feel so burned and disappointed by our pasts that we listen to the lie that, “Surely this is not true. God cannot or will not love me.”

This happens so often to us who have resisted His call and spent ourselves on things that appealed to our spiritually childish inclinations, flashier and easier substitutes for Christ’s call to forsake all and follow Him. The world is not lacking in its proposed alternatives to Jesus nor is the devil lackadaisical in inventing them.

Yet there is no path surer than that of Christ though it lead us through valleys under the shadow of death. The Living Word Who became flesh effectually offers you hope because He both desires for you to be His victorious child and also has power to achieve it.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made…. By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…. 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?” (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16-17, Romans 8:31b-32 ESV).

Hope spent in what is eternally able to deliver us and fulfill us is hope spent well. Hope that is misplaced is always eventually a disaster. Christmas is a season of hope, not because of gift-giving, nostalgic traditions, and families spending time together, but because it marks the occasion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, leaving the glory of heaven so that you and I might be saved from our sin (*Matthew 1:21).

The Lord, speaking of Jesus says, “Here is My Servant Whom I have chosen, My beloved in Whom My soul delights…. The nations will put their hope in His name” (Matthew 12:18a, 21 HCSB, citing the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-3).

So let the story of Christmas turn your eyes from mere temporary things to the eternal hope of heaven. If you will allow God to kindle within you His divine spark, it cannot be snuffed out however furious the winds of discouragement may blow. Hope, therefore, may be one of the greatest gifts given to you this season… or any season.

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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