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In the fourth season of the Andy Griffith Show, there is an episode called “Citizen’s Arrest” in which Gomer Pyle, the both physically and socially clumsy attendant of Wally’s gas station, is given a ticket by Deputy Barney Fife, everyone’s favorite stickler for the rules. The citation is for making an illegal u-turn in downtown Mayberry and is given in spite of Gomer’s protests, his appeal for mercy from Barney, and his claim on Barney for friendship.

The matter would have then been laid to rest, Gomer would have paid his two dollars, Barney would have gone back to his patrol, and Andy would have had a moment’s peace if it were not for the fact that Barney, no matter his zealousness regarding the keeping of law and order by others, excused his own culpability (responsibility for wrong, guilt) and also made an illegal u-turn (he was, as was pointed out in the show, not on an emergency run and therefore not supposed to be making a u-turn).

Of course he was then caught in a net of his own making. Gomer, standing haplessly by still holding the freshly written ticket that Barney had given him, witnesses Barney’s infraction and begins shouting at the top of his lungs, “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!”

A situation then unfolds in which a crowd gathers, Andy attempts to sort things out, and the altercation between Gomer and Barney escalates to the point that Barney not only resigns as deputy but, in refusing to pay his fine, locks himself in the “slammer” (one of the few times he did it on purpose), all in an attempt to hurt Andy who, in trying to be just, was forced to hold Barney to the same standard that Barney had held against Gomer.

I remember the episode clearly from childhood, Gomer’s loud chanting of “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!” making an impression upon me. It was a very funny show. It was troubling, too, to watch Barney’s pride get the better of him to the point that he very nearly seemed to have lost all ability to be reasonable and act rationally. It was painful to watch him render almost irreparable harm to his life-long friendship with Andy as well as very nearly flushing his own career down the proverbial drain.

On the one hand, this was just another one of those completely off-the-wall things that Barney did. “I’m not like him. I would never do that,” we might think. And so it seems surreal and we’re safely “better than him.” But really, the creators of his character were trying to create an overt example of what we are beneath the surface. We tend to know people that remind us of him but overlook the subtle things in ourselves that are perhaps more like him than we imagine or choose to appreciate.

As Christians we often have issues with our pride, for example. Perhaps the problem manifests itself when we feel compelled to put someone else in his or her place or when we criticize others with caustic remarks. We might even be inclined to run after someone in order to give him his ticket (a visible or audible rebuke that makes it clear that he is morally inferior to us).

But pride isn’t our only problem. We each also have other areas of ineptitude, places or things in which we can’t quite handle the job, so to speak, and need help. Some folks are clumsy with their words, some with their relationships, some with money, some with their physical well-being, and all of us when it comes to the deep truths of God (to one degree or another). I’ve no doubt that some reading this will be offended in my comparing them to Barney Fife, but know that I am applying a universal truth to each of us (myself included). No one but Jesus measures up to the standards of God. Whether in our actions, our words, our thoughts, or in the attitude of our hearts, we cannot measure up to the pure and righteous standard that holiness requires.

But this, of course, is where grace comes in. Our clumsiness is swallowed up by God’s grace when we turn to Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

If you have ever seen the episode, Citizen’s Arrest, you may recall that Andy required Barney to apply the same standard to himself as he did to Gomer, but then Andy offered to pay his fine himself out of his own pocket. Andy knew he had to be just, but his desire for ongoing friendship with Barney compelled him to make a sacrifice in order to preserve and perfect that friendship.

What was the one thing standing in Barney’s way though? It was that recurring pride of his. His pride not only refused the gift of grace his friend offered, but deliberately chose instead the alternatives of punishment, the loss of his livelihood, the harvest of humiliation that his choices brought to him, and the ending of his long friendship with Andy.

Was Barney technically in the wrong for giving Gomer the ticket? Nope. We might sympathize with Gomer who felt somewhat hurt for getting a ticket from his friend, but Barney was just in giving it and in doing so was fulfilling the responsibility given to him in being an agent for peace and law and order for Mayberry. What was unjust however was his attitude of moral superiority and his notion that the same rules did not apply to him.

By the way, God does allow u-turns. In fact, He loves it when we turn from our pride, our selfish ambitions, and our sin and begin walking with Him. “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV).

And, once we have made that u-turn and begin walking with Him in the direction of His will for our lives, we do not become like Barney with his ever-ready ticket book and wailing siren, but live humbly in the forgiveness offered us through God’s sacrifice in His Son. Through faith in Jesus we are empowered to become messengers of grace, ready not to give tickets but words of hope and warning to those who also need to turn… turn to God’s grace and be made new!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In another misadventure amongst the cornstalks, we learned, in weeks following the incidents in last week’s article, a broader (and maybe deeper) perspective of some kingdom principles.

It had come to our attention in the course of that summer that the number of tomatoes among the vines in our garden were not in quantity what we had expected. At first, it was simply a vague feeling that something was amiss, but it got to the point of being fairly obvious when a tomato vine on one evening would have multiple clusters of tomatoes and then suddenly be stripped bare by the next morning. Cucumber plants also were being plundered although squash plants were only mildly disturbed: I guess that squash was not someone’s favorite vegetable. The bean plants did not appear to be disturbed suggesting that the task of picking beans was simply too time consuming or too much work to bother with for our neighborhood vegetable picker.

Standing Upright 2We considered the various culprits that possibly could be responsible and had to rule out animals (even raccoons). The plants were not pulled down but were simply plucked of their vegetables. What planted the realization beyond the reach of doubt, however, was our discovery of our storage building’s doors having been forced open, the latch bent almost beyond repair (with a few items missing from our building). Our backyard is completely surrounded by a chain link fence with gates that are locked but a spry person (or persons) could hop over the fence and back again without too much trouble.

The aggravation came to a head (or maybe I should say that it came to an “ear”) when we realized that someone was carrying off the corn. In spite of the hard work of preparing the soil (we had the help of a small rototiller for some of it but did most of it just with a shovel), the ongoing work of weeding (a never ending battle), and the struggle with falling cornstalks (don’t worry, I won’t go into that again), someone had carried off twice as much corn as we were able to pick for ourselves.

Needless to say, the Lord used the experience to develop our character in the realm of anger. And really, if someone wanted some of it we would have liked to have shared it with him… or her… or them.

But in our discussing the whole matter, my wife, Diane, and I were actually reminded of Jesus’ parable of the sower, the seed, and the soils in Matthew 13.

“He told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them’… ‘Anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path” (Matthew 13:3-4, 19 ESV).

There is a “seed” called the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is being sown along the path of life today and there are “birds” out and about scavenging that seed. A little bit like those that have snuck into our backyard to help themselves, there are causes and philosophies and false religions that steal from God the harvest that He desires in His people. What complicates this is that much of this is happening, in a sense, in His backyard. Causes that compete with the proclamation of God’s Truth and ideas that have their origins in worldly philosophy have a way of infiltrating the lives of Christians and consequently steer them away from the harvest of Godly fruits that the soil of their lives would yield for Christ.

Instead of the fruits of worship, thanksgiving, love, joy, peace, holiness, and glory to God, folks are too often giving themselves to thieves. As a result they leave behind legacies of selfishness, resentment, strife, brokenness, anger, immorality, and dishonor to God’s name. Frankly, if your life is not wholly surrendered to God for His glory and purposes, and obeying Him and experiencing His love in your life is not your top priority, then someone has been plundering the garden of God and you are an accomplice.

What makes this worse is that many Christians are “okay” with this mediocre and lukewarm spirituality. But the Lord isn’t okay with it. Not only is He being robbed of the devotion of His people, He is also being robbed of the effect that such devotion has on unbelievers: the salvation of souls. And if you can imagine Diane and myself being somewhat disturbed and frustrated by someone coming into our yard to snatch a few vegetables, then you’ll probably realize that the spiritual crime of robbing God is far more serious and deadly.

So what do we do? How do we not rob God of His harvest? The Bible puts forward this plan of action.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, 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. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV).

So take care to not let spiritual thieves into the corner of God’s garden that is your life. Focus your devotion upon the Lord Jesus and let His Holy Spirit nurture the soil of your heart with His Word. As He brings conviction to your spirit from the revealing of His truth, yield to His leading and follow His lead. Our family finally took some steps to discourage future thefts, and God is taking steps to protect a future harvest in your life. Let Him have His way in your heart and let Him reap the fruits of grace that He desires to produce for you.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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An unusually wet summer, years ago, proved to be a special problem in growing corn when my wife and I were a bit more involved in growing vegetables for our family. I recall one garden news expert remarking at the time that since, we were having an especially wet summer, the roots of corn plants had not grown downward as deeply as they generally do thus making them very susceptible to being knocked down. And so it was that a very heavy rain late in the season beat the corn down until the stalks all lay flat upon the ground. Being of the opinion that corn growing vertically would do much better than corn lying flat on the ground, my wife, Diane, and I laboriously restored them to upright positions by carefully standing each individual plant up and then packing soil around their roots.

A few weeks later, a few short but heavy rains early in the day knocked a lot of the corn down again. I was not home at the time so my wife diligently set herself to the task of restoring them to an upright stance and, when our family left to run some errands, the garden was in fairly decent shape. But then we had a “gulley washer” a few evenings later while we were gone. The next morning when we investigated, we found that the four new rows of corn had all fallen, smashed down flat once again by torrents of rain.Standing Upright

When we were finally able to go out to fix what we could before we had to leave again, we found that a lot of the stalks were actually broken or had begun to curve as they lay on the ground, their growth bending them towards the sunlight. Still, it was mostly back in shape by the time we had to leave again.

Two days later, however, Diane went out again to the garden and discovered that another rain had fallen, both adding significant weight to the corn stalks and weakening the soil that we had piled up around the plants causing them to fall again. Needless to say, we were both crestfallen over our fallen corn. We seized the narrow window of opportunity between other responsibilities and stood the plants up yet again.

The end result of our labors I may disclose in a future article, but for now let me only say that our misadventures in trying to keep the corn upright reminded me a little of God’s efforts in growing an “upright” people in whom He intends to produce a harvest.

If we appreciate the fact that God personally engages His people in a covenant relationship (complete with mutual benefits and responsibilities), then we must recognize the trial that we must be to Him at times as we frequently demonstrate a failure at being “upright”.

The spiritual alignment of a Christian is, in a sense, a vertical one. This is not a description of a physical stance but of a spiritual one, in case anyone thought that the human body is some sort of cosmic rabbit ears: lifting your left arm over your head, for example, and holding your right leg backward in the air will in no way improve the effectiveness of your prayers. No, living in spiritually vertical alignment (which is to say “living an upright life”) simply means living a life focused on God and His Word while manifesting a straightforward commitment for “God-likeness” in attitude and character. This orientation, which is not native to us, is the result of a life redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice and a heart that is transformed by God’s grace.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV).

We might be considered a “trial” to God therefore when we lean towards either the various distractions that come our way or give in to our own compulsions (the remnants of the old lives we lived before we came to know Jesus as Savior). Such “mild” and subtle bendings in our character are little moments of compromise or laziness that erode a passionate following of Jesus. Naturally, when “heavy rains” of trouble, trial, and temptation come our way, we are knocked flat into a mud of failure and condemnation from the world.

When Diane and I were standing corn up for the umpteenth time, I can tell you that I seriously considered giving up on that corn. But my wise wife gently reminded me of the reward we could expect on the other end of our waiting and working, stalks with full and ripened ears of corn upon them. So I joined her and set myself again to the task of straightening out that stubborn corn.

And I am sure too that when we get knocked down the Lord is quick to intervene in our lives in order to stand us up again in an upright relationship with God. Through His Word He “straightens us out” so that you and I can live an upright life, free to enjoy our fellowship with Him and His people, and ready to produce a harvest of praise and fruitful service to God. The fruit of godliness produced by living uprightly opens the door for a more joyful life and opens the door for those around us to also be touched by the grace of God.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Yesterday afternoon, the stunning horror of the massacre in Las Vegas reached my ears. I, along with the rest of the nation, was shocked by the unveiling of evil in another senseless tragedy. My prayers and the prayers of my family and church go up for those whose lives have been terribly changed by this unexpected intrusion of wickedness.

Many questions arise as the country strives to comprehend why a deeply disturbed man would do such calculated evil. And, as usual, folks from all sorts of political positions are jockeying for an interpretation of what has happened, why it happened, and what must be done to prevent it from happening again. The gun control debate, for example, is finding plenty of explosive fuel for renewed battles in our government and media arenas everywhere.

GrievFolks are looking for easy answers, and, by extension, easy solutions, but are dangerously prone to overlooking the subtle nature of the problem. It isn’t a gun control problem. A person who intends to do a terrible thing will certainly find a way to do it (as the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9-11 terrorists demonstrated for us). It isn’t even a violent game or a violent movie problem, although horrible violence acted out in the name of entertainment doesn’t help in the least and should alarm us at the level of cruelty that can be imagined.

The problem is more basic than these things. The problem is within the human heart. What happened in Las Vegas is nothing less than evil, whatever the motive of the attacker. What was the purpose of his assault? While Stephen Paddock sadly may have been a tormented person (no one seems to know clearly what his story was), the actions of this 64 year-old retiree can in no way be construed as trying to defend himself. It is clear that he was simply driven by a cruel desire to inflict pain and suffering.

However, if we are really concerned about getting right what is wrong with a country in which something so terrible can occur, we need to call this what it is: evil. Somehow evil was given such leeway in his mind and heart that it grew and eventually exploded in this unthinkable storm of hate and rage.

And now families across America are shattered with gaping holes left where loved ones once lived. People like you and me are wounded, not just physically, but in their very souls with images seared into their minds which no one should be forced to see. People like you and me everywhere find themselves confronted by the utterly sobering truth that nothing can be taken for granted and that very bad things are ready to leap in and take what is most precious to them.

In one brief moment, the entire world somersaulted for the those impacted by the Las Vegas attack. Bodies were broken, dreams were shattered, and lives were snuffed out. The tragedy grew and grew, bringing with it a firestorm of anguish that will never completely heal while this world lasts.

As people discuss the terrible events that have taken place, the question arise (quite naturally I might add), “Isn’t there ANY place that one can be safe?” On the one hand, the answer is, of course, “No.” There is no corner into which human presence has entered that there is absolutely no potential for violence and pain. Our social stability hangs upon a mere thread, as we depend on complicated systems of checks and balances to regulate the affairs of each day, recognizing that basic human nature cannot by itself govern and sustain our nation benevolently. In fact, it is a somber reality that any venue in any city, small town, suburban neighborhood or country road can become an arena for the darkest manifestations of evil just as readily as any late night subway or dark alley. Concert halls, shopping malls, athletic stadiums, college campuses, childcare centers, school playgrounds, church sanctuaries, Amish school houses and even living rooms cannot guarantee safety, let alone peace of mind.

But on the other hand, there is hope. The hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ cannot be derailed by sorrow and loss, even when it is of this incredible magnitude, because the hope that we have in Jesus Christ recognizes both the capacity that humanity has for rendering great evil to itself as well as the nearly bottomless depth of sorrow that we bear when faced suddenly with unthinkable loss. As surely as we suffer and mourn the events of today, we can know that God also suffers with us and mourns with us in our hurt, His heart aching from the pain that we bear.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled…. Jesus wept” (from John 11:33, 35).

The fact that our basic nature is not in harmony with His is deeply troubling to God. And when the awful fruits of our “independence” from Him ripen, yielding us a feast of trouble and grief that we cannot swallow, the compassion of God is stirred up and His Spirit reaches out to ours with an invitation to repent and turn to Him. And if in spite of our spiritual blindness and deafness, we can finally discern the truth that we truly DO need God to help us, sustain us, lead us, and purify us, we’ll finally actually begin living in the freedom with which God desires to wrap us.

“Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!… ‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. I, I am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are My witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I am God. Also henceforth I am He; there is none who can deliver from My hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 43:8, 10-13 ESV).

When He acts to redeem us from our sin and the hopelessness that characterizes a life that is bound to it, no one can reverse it. As we turn to Him, we come to the one place that truly is safe no matter the howling gales of trouble and cruelty. As we walk with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, abiding in the center of His will, we find that we are also in the center of His mercy and are the recipients of wellsprings of His grace.

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in Whom I trust…. If only I will pay attention to His commands, my peace will be like a river, my righteousness like the waves of the sea’” (from Psalm 91:1-2 & Isaiah 48:18).

One whose eyes are clouded with hurt and despair might ask why God doesn’t just do something. But he or she should take heart… God is doing something: He’s reaching out with mercy and grace, calling us to trust Him and to step out of the poisonous vapors of bitterness and despair. And He’s calling us to lift our hearts and voices to Him in prayer, seeking His help in an age where the only help we can truly have can only be found in Him.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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