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I was recently working on a series of devotions and happened to be reading from 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (ESV).  This started a line of thought and reflection for me in regard to the subtle ways that people utilize fear in their relationships with even their loved ones.

As Christians, this should not be – particularly in how our relationships with each other play out in daily interactions.  Relationships with others, whether with spouses, children, friends, neighbors or even co-workers, fall short in God’s eyes when their motivating quality is fear.

For some, this is what they perceive as necessary to survive in our sin-ladened world.  An excessive emphasis on control and retribution characterizes the way they interact with their spouses and children.  To not utilize fear runs the risk, in their estimation, of allowing people to do the wrong thing or to do them harm.

Please understand that I am not saying that we should not recognize the appropriateness of fear inasmuch as it is an essential ingredient in a right understanding of God (as in overwhelming awe of His majesty and holiness) or that is the right response to our sin condition apart from Christ for there is only condemnation for us if we are not saved by Him.  Fear should be our response to God’s judgment if we did not have Jesus’ blood to shield us.  “For in Him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV).

Nor am I saying that establishing appropriate boundaries for ourselves and our loved ones isn’t necessary:  it is.  As is the need to justly enforce those boundaries with whatever consequences are right.

But it isn’t God’s design that we use fear to lead others to lives of devotion to Him.  Instead, His plan is that we live with His love shaping our dealings with them in such a way that we inspire them and invite them into a “safe” emotional and spiritual closeness to us that opens the door for them to perceive and receive our Heavenly Father’s invitation to come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.

As far as how this plays out in our day-to-day relationships and how we should connect with others under our influence, ask yourself these questions:  “Are my relationships characterized by other people’s worry in regard to how I may act or react?  Do they relate to me based on the fear that I won’t accept them if they don’t please me?”  If so, there may be a bit of selfish manipulation working in you in an effort to control others’ according to your selfish desires.

Before you dismiss this out-of-hand by saying, “I would never treat someone else that way!”, consider that almost no one who does it realizes he does it.  Instead, allow the Holy Spirit of God to reveal to you any felt “need” within you that doesn’t quite trust God with the hearts of loved ones giving you the temptation to feel as if you need to help others with threats and “ultimatums”.

Think of how our treatment of others and our use of fear to influence them may affect their perception of the God we say we serve.  Might people have the idea that God is waiting on them to mess up?  Are people around you under the impression that they must never “mess up” because God will reject them if they do?  Is it possible that they get that idea from others who actually do accept them or reject them based on those superficial ideas?

While it is sometimes true that a boss, teacher or parent may have to “spell things out” for others in regard to the consequences of choices, our goal is to establish a more genuine Christ-like relationship with others that is characterized by grace and love.  After all, isn’t that how God wants us to perceive Him?  Isn’t what we truly desire a genuine relationship based on a Christ-like regard for others?  Do we want people to “behave” more than we want them to “be His” in love and affection?  Isn’t what God really wants from you and me a relationship based on our sincere love for Him?

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In Whom are Hidden Treasures

Among Christians, there is often a lot of dialog regarding God’s gifts to us. His spiritual gifts to us are those things of course that produce spiritual fruit for Him and increase our joy in Him. Other types of gifts include expressions of His providence, protection, and empowerment, not to mention at times those ways that God moves at times in regard to healing or supernatural helps.

For some, heaven is the greatest gift they can think of and, similarly, eternal life is what some have decided is God’s greatest gift to us and look forward to the day of no longer having any pain or sorrow, but also a happy reunion with family members who have passed on.

But the greatest gift that God has given us is none of the above… not even the gift of eternal life (if by “eternal life” we mean ceaseless existence or even a happy here-after in heaven). No, the greatest gift that He has given us is the gift of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son.

First, there is His condescension in becoming a man and then living among us. Consider what Jesus gave up in donning human flesh: the glory of heaven, the unveiled fellowship with His Father, and the awesome authority that was His. There is also His laying down of His sinless life at the hands of those for whom He came to love. He knowingly and willingly gave Himself to those who meant to kill Him and silence His invitation for love to all people, no matter their background.

But there is even more to it than this. The giving of Himself to us is literal and ongoing, meant not only for those who happened to live in the days of His earthly incarnation, but for all who have lived since and for those who live today.

In other words, Almighty God offers Himself to us and desires that we come to Him and experience Him. Even the “perks” of eternal life (John 17:2-3) are tied to our coming to Him: no one can enter heaven or be accepted by the Father except those who come through Jesus Christ (John 10:1, 28; 14:6). Nor can we have any assurance of God’s blessings apart from coming to Him through God the Son.

“…Christ… in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3 ESV).

In Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that illuminate dark moments of life’s doubts, empower us when we have run out of encouragement, and refine our character so that we reflect the Person of Jesus into a world that has rejected Him thereby depriving humanity of the hope and healing that only He can give.

As a Christian, do not underestimate the value of spending time alone with God. The urgent and vital work of daily seeking Jesus in prayer and in meditating on His Word is the only source of nourishment that can keep your spiritual life healthy and functioning as it ought. Too much of the time, a person’s “Christian life” is relegated to his experience in worship services (stirring music, moving messages, etc.) or service activity (e.g., helping out on a church work day or volunteering on a church committee). While not denying that such functions are necessary, the value of such external expressions of faith are directly related to whether or not we have personally come to God as well, seeking His love, correction, and empowerment for our own individual lives.

The world needs the presence of Jesus to counter the degrading effects of self and sin. The Church needs the power of Jesus to maintain a voice with enough credibility and authority to make a difference. The individual child of God needs the person of Jesus to unlock the provisions of God in practical experience.

This is why, of course, we come in the name of Jesus Himself as we approach God the Father through prayer, having cast off the rags of our old identities as sinners and are wrapped in the white robes of righteousness that Jesus’ sacrifice affords us. It is through Jesus that we can expect God to hear our petitions and it is through Him that we can have any degree of confidence that He will answer them.

Some may scoff at our trust in the Lord to hear us, and some may ridicule our belief that God will answer, but we know that for us individually, as well as our families, churches, schools and communities, the victory in life that we crave is secured only through devoted occasions of personal prayer. Such prayer produces in us the character and faith necessary for our worship to be meaningful and our service to be fruitful. But it pleases our God also to move the mountains in our lives, provide for our needs miraculously, and at times calm either the surging storms that beat upon us or the surging storms that beat within our hearts.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Feel My Pain

In the late nineties, I had taken a team of college students on a mission trip to a resort town wherein there lived and worked several hundred migrant workers from several different countries.

 

At the end of an especially demanding day, a young man in our group was accompanying me back to our headquarters. We walked along a darkened boardwalk that connected miscellaneous shops and restaurants to each other with little patios attached to it at various intervals. In the daylight this was normally lined with families of tourists casually browsing through various amusements, shopping for miscellaneous what-nots and trying out of all sorts of delectable cuisines. But at night, it was dark, mostly deserted and barren of any sense of wholesomeness.

Nevertheless, it was the path that we had to tread that night. As we walked along, my companion breezily chattered on about the experiences he’d had during the week and, spurred on by my occasional exclamations of interest, moved on to other matters of his life including girls in which he’d been interested, job prospects for the rest of the summer and his success as a black belt karate student.

As we traversed a particularly remote portion of the walkway, someone hailed us from a shadowy corner of one of the patio areas. “Could I have a drink of water?” he called out in a voice that left me unsure if he had an accent or if his speech was somewhat slurred. Still, I slowed down just enough to see a dark form seated on one of the tourist chairs commonly found there. My younger friend and I were both carrying water bottles. I unslung my bottle from my shoulder and walked over to the man who I began to see more clearly as I approached. I offered him the water bottle and he took it from my hands appreciatively. He was a young man, in his early twenties I guessed though his eyes seemed abnormally sunken into his head.

After he pulled the bottle from his mouth, he offered it back to me. I smiled weakly and gestured that he keep it. “It’s okay,” I replied, “you might be thirsty later.”

He took another drink, wiped his mouth, and then rolled his head strangely to one side. “Hey, are you CIA?” he asked gruffly as he looked at me sideways.

“Um, no,” I answered somewhat startled.

His eyes narrowed a bit. “Are you KGB then?” I shook my head. “FBI?” he asked, his eyes narrowing to slits and suspicion suddenly coating his tone.

Not often being in that situation, I was unsure how to respond but decided that by no means would I say anything inflammatory (I hoped). “No, no, my friend and I are here sharing God’s love with people.”

He smiled and stood up, wobbling as he did so.  I realized then that he was very much under the influence of some sort of drug.  Still, it didn’t seem right or even wise to abruptly end the conversation and I was also wondering what God might do with the situation if I remained alert to His leading.

The man, who said his name was Ramos, briefly told us how he had come to work in this town. But then he stopped and, with a wild look in his eye, asked me again, “Are you CIA?”

“No,” I again replied.

“They’re everywhere,” he whispered leaning towards me. “Are you sure you’re not KGB?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Are you from outer-space?” This question seemed out of rhythm with his other queries, but I responded, convincingly I hope, that I was not from outer-space but was a Christian telling people about God’s love.

He was again friendly and mild for few more moments but then suddenly looked at me savagely and reared his right arm back as if he were going to hit one of us.

“So do you want to feel my pain?” he snarled at me. For the first time I noticed in the very dim light that he was holding an empty hypodermic needle in his hand poised for stabbing. Hmm, there was nobody else around us at all.

feel-my-painFor a split second I was glad that my companion had a black belt in karate. But the only part of him moving was his sagging jaw wagging in the wind. Also, I was responsible for him so I pivoted my body towards the stranger to make certain that I was between him and my young friend.

As a prayer lifted from my heart to heaven as quick as an exhaled breath, I looked him in the eye and simply said, “No. But I know Someone Who can bring healing to your pain.” He instantly calmed down and flopped back into his chair.

“Do you?” he asked quietly.

Though my friend and I were not sure what he might remember when he “came back to earth”, we told him how sin (doing what we want over what God wants) separates us from fellowship with God. We shared that God sent His Son into this cruel, hard world so that He might bring to us hope. We explained to the young man the promise that God Himself made to save any and all who in faith call on His Son.

Ramos allowed us to pray for him, that he might experience the healing of his heart in God’s love, and with a Bible we gave him in one hand and a water bottle in the other, he staggered off into the darkness.

We returned to that spot over the next few days, but we never found out any more about him. Nobody seemed to know who we were talking about. Still, we know that it was a divine appointment arranged by our Father in heaven. Through what seems to us often to be awkward acts of service or words that fall all over themselves, God was still somehow sowing seeds of hope in a broken man’s life.

And it’s good to know, wherever I go, that God can bring healing to even the most wounded of souls, hope to even the most forlorn and lost of hearts, and freedom to those ensnared by sin, hate, or bitterness.

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:4-7 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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If ever there was a snare into which men and women like you and me will blunder over and over again, it is the tendency to listen to the distortions and blatant untruths that rob us of fellowship with God and the fruitfulness that our divinely appointed purpose entails.

Not only is it a matter of historical record that we too often give ear to the world (1 Samuel 8:5 & 20), our own selfish impulses and desires (2 Samuel 11:2-4), or the devil himself (Genesis 3:1-6), it is a cultural phenomenon still today. We do not perceive ourselves in the light of God’s truth, but as twisted images reflected back to us by the shattered world around us.

In fact, living life on planet earth is a lot like growing up in a “fun house” filled with hallways lined with warped mirrors that tell us on the one hand that we are ugly, funny-looking, too short, too round, too skinny, or otherwise misshapen – either physically or, for many, socially or psychologically.

On the other hand, they may have convinced us that we are incomparable in beauty and/or strength and worthy of exceptional honor, making us insufferable braggarts. And if you have not met someone like this, it’s possible that you are the one to whom I’m referring.

In either case, we are programmed by deceit to think of ourselves in ways that vary significantly from the truth. Because we act according to our mistaken beliefs, we repeatedly disqualify ourselves from the benefits of grace, suffering further brokenness in our lives as a result.

The fact is, while some have bought into the lie that they are so unlovable that even God only looks upon them in disgust, the grace and love of God are so incalculably great that there is no one so riddled by the disease of sin and selfishness that God does not have the ability to deliver him or fails to deliver him once his heart yields to His love.

While some believe the lie that they are so unlovable that even God only looks upon them in disgust, the grace and love of God are so incalculably great that there is no one so riddled by the disease of sin and selfishness that God does not have the ability to deliver him.

While some believe the lie that they are so unlovable that even God only looks upon them in disgust, the grace and love of God are so incalculably great that there is no one so riddled by the disease of sin and selfishness that God does not have the ability to deliver him.

Nor is any man or woman so “good” in of himself that he has access to God on his own merit – whether we estimate “merit” based on physical factors such as our faulty definitions of beauty, strength, and skill; or intellectual abilities in physics, mathematics, literature, or the arts. Even our greatest moral and ethical achievements are like “polluted garments” or “dirty rags” in comparison to the holiness of God whether we list them singly per individual or add them up as a whole in our society.

“…All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

And to those of us who say that we need to make our primary goal in life the achieving of a healthy self-esteem, I say that we do not need to fall prey to yet another vain pursuit that seeks to uplift “self”. Instead, we must learn to simply accept and submit to the grace that God has lavished upon us through His Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, Christians should be very wary of the golden calf of “self-esteem” and recall that we are called to “deny self” and follow Jesus daily!

“And (Jesus) said to all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV).

The secret to both our greatest happiness and abundant fruitfulness is not remaining in our “hall of mirrors” looking for the perfect one that will tell us how great we are, but in leaving the “fun house” of mixed messages altogether and following Jesus in the light of His Word.

Here is the plain truth: you and I are loved by our Creator. His love is not based on what we have done or can do. Nor is it based on physical, emotional, or spiritual qualities that we may (or may not) possess. We are loved by the Father through Jesus, His Son, just because God’s very nature is love. Accept it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. And worship Him! He is love and He is holy. And through faith in Jesus Christ alone, you are made His forever!

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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