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There is a myriad of opinions among Christians as to what it means to be the church and what it should look like for a believer to live in the world today. For some, the church is a social gathering and an opportunity to find meaningful connections with others. For too many, it is nothing more than a rally to find empowerment to live a happy, successful life. At times the church is seen as a duty and an obligation that one must attend to in order to “qualify” as a good person, yet in no way channels into that person’s life any quality that makes of his or her life anything significant for eternity. For some, church is only a tradition or is viewed as a way to perpetuate a culture in which we have become comfortable.

God’s Word, however, presents the church otherwise. For instance, it is the bride of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:32, Revelation 21:9) as well as a divine response to the forces of evil (Matthew 16:18). One particularly powerful purpose for the church, however, is found in Ephesians 3:21 in which the church is declared to be the means for the awesome glory of God Himself to be revealed to our lost and dying world. The revealing of God’s glory happens when the church functions as it should. And it functions as it should when it is in all practical ways the body of Christ at work in the world today (Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 3:6, Romans 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

Don’t be duped into thinking that the church is a building. A building is only a meeting place. The church itself is where the presence of God is made real in the lives of individual Christians knit together into one body, serving Him in a way that is so different from the way the world operates that only God could have done it.

The evidence or proof of His presence is found when godly qualities come to the surface of people’s lives. It appears when it changes them and moves them to interface with others the way that Jesus did during the years of His earthly ministry. Those qualities are poignantly portrayed in Galatians 5:22-23 and are referred to as the “fruit of the Spirit” and can only truly be present when God Himself is present. 

The presence of God in the people of God brings to the world the love of God in practical ways. The hands of God are never idle (see John 5:17). His hands are always clearing, tilling, sowing, weeding, watering, nourishing, and pruning His handiwork in order that there will be a harvest of His glory… real life experiences of God in the lives of “regular people” like you and me. Where He is, fruit will grow. If He is alive within you, then there will be the fruit of His presence.

The Bible tells us what those fruits are. If He is living in us, we will bring love, feel joy, practice peace, choose patience, treat with kindness, pursue goodness, value faithfulness, handle with gentleness, and find strength for self-control.

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the fact of His resurrection from the dead and the power of His Spirit alive within us, He has made it possible for His divine power and presence to be actualized in you and me.

Let us therefore listen and obey the Scriptures that teach us to “walk in His Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25), for when we do, the fruits will come and lives are changed and God is glorified.

“… Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh….  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16, 22-25 ESV).

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Today, Friday, March 23rd, marks my wife’s and my anniversary. Having been married to her for almost three decades has been a privilege that I find hard to explain or even describe, yet it profoundly represents to me the grace (and hard work) of long-term commitment and the joy and blessing that can be found in it, not to mention the miracle of God’s presence when Jesus is made the center of the relationship.

The friendship that I have with her has been something that I have found warrants constant nurturing and is worth every effort and sacrifice that may present itself. I am particularly grateful to the long-suffering grace and patience that she has shown me over the years. I recall more occasions than I care to admit in which she has endured less-than-ideal challenges with me, yet she has hung in there and been for me a constant companion and partner through various trials, sorrows, as well as blessings I could not begin to count.

My heart goes out to families that do not have this experience and feel that God’s plan for marriage is so derailed by conflict and attempts to circumvent the demands of genuine commitment that few couples experience the joy of it. Many people will talk about “committed relationships”, but even this falls short of “covenant relationships”: the former can withstand many challenges, but the latter, by God’s working in them, can withstand anything.

My hope for families today is that the covenant of marriage, as God has intended it, recaptures the sense of holiness which God instilled in it whenever it is pursued under the auspice of His authority, approval and blessing. Marriage, when it is framed from the perspective that it was God’s idea (as being His creation and not merely a social construct, an invention by people to be whatever people want it to be), regains some of its sense of divine sacredness and is therefore revealed as a noble pursuit and not just a relational afterthought.

And marriage, when it is viewed as being His provision for shoring up the united effort to bring the home under His lordship (as being an institution He ordained and not just a social contract subject to the ebb-and-flow of popularly accepted mores), is upheld as the front line of social engagement as children grow up in a home that demonstrates the biblical ethic of loving God first, loving others second, and finding that how we treat others is as important as how we are treated. Notice that I said, “biblical ethic” as opposed to the “religion’s ethic” which, historically, has distorted and maligned God’s design for marriage.

When I look upon the landscape of broken homes today, I cannot help but consider the devastation that is wrought through the cumulative effect of more and more betrayals, more and more broken promises, and more and more division in homes that divide the hearts of our young and vulnerable because parents have become divided.

Marriage should be a place where both husbands and wives agree to pursue with one heart and one soul the glory of God, the gift of each other, and the good of the family. Abuse and neglect aside, divorce is not good and foils God’s purpose for family. It is not easy. On some occasions, it is costly and even painful. But the reward of perseverance isn’t just in a wonderful friendship or a fun and rewarding experience; it is in a union that physically illustrates the spiritual dimensions of God’s union with His children.   This is a huge mechanism in perpetuating the conviction that hope in God and faith in His Word are rightly placed for the one who trusts Jesus as his or her Savior.

I am thankful for my wife and for the help she is to me. I am thankful for our friendship and how God has continually taught me about love through her. I am thankful for the story of our years (so far) together and for the story yet to come. I hope that story encourages others in their marriages and, more importantly, strengthens their call and commitment to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord.

If you are married (or are thinking about becoming so), consider the joy of pledging together, under God, your lives as you seek to become one. Let God’s Word be your standard for your relationship and the standard for your home.   “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:31-33 ESV).

If you have been married, but it was lost to you through divorce, consider the great and cleansing healing of Jesus. Jesus gives you the salve of His presence to mend your broken heart. If you were not faithful to promises that you made, allow Him to lift burden of guilt and shame and flood your heart with forgiveness and hope. Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient for any and every sin we’ve fallen into or allowed to fall into us. It is good to get a new start and have a clean conscience. Let Him make you new and make you clean. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Circumstantial Evidence

My wife and I recently watched another remake of a popular mystery by Agatha Christie and found it very interesting in regard to how it addressed murder (it was an Agatha Christie mystery, after all), how it approached the mental processes that precipitated the murder, and even the morality of it, given its apparent justification. In the end, I am glad that it did not passively condone it (as a previous version did), but recognized the chain reaction of hurt that one evil act sets into motion unless healing comes in and liberates victims of grief, anger, and hatred. It was very thoughtfully done, I must say, even if I did not relish the handling of every aspect of the story line itself.

Mysteries on television, as I was growing up, however, tended to follow a certain formula and were prone to resolve in predictable ways. “We, the members of the jury, find the defendant not guilty.” And so would conclude another Perry Mason, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder or Columbo movie. And every time, even as I turned off the television, I would reflect on the similarities between the “trial-of-the-month” in the movie and the spiritual life we enter into when we become children of God.

Movies and shows like the ones I mentioned, were at one time a part of our cultural psyche and mythology. Why did that genre of mystery appeal so much to us? Easy! Because we instinctively knew that things are not always what they seem and enjoyed trying to see through the tangled web of falsehoods until we finally came to the truth.

Such a movie would proceed in a typical way. Mr. Victim has been murdered and, according to a cursory look at the circumstances, it is apparent that the only one who could have done it is Mr. or Ms. Too-Obvious. A jaded police detective or obnoxious district attorney froths at the mouth, vehemently accusing the falsely accused while the real “ne’er-do-well” sneaks around in the background smiling pleasantly and looking innocent.

Finally, after various misadventures suffered in the name of truth and justice, the hero (suave defense attorney, disheveled police lieutenant, nosy doctor or busy-body author) pieces together clues so obscure that only Sherlock Holmes would be left unimpressed. It turns out that the obvious candidate for committing the crime did not do it. The only ones unhappy are the real culprit, who must face the music, and the DA who probably must face some music of his own and likely send out his résumé first thing Monday morning.

These sorts of scenarios often provoked a line of thinking in me as I considered the plight of those who were falsely accused: Doesn’t it often seem that God Himself is the victim of “circumstantial evidence” in our lives? We look at our circumstances, piece them together (putting square pegs into round holes), do some math (two plus two is three) and come to the wrong conclusion, or, at best, imagine several scenarios, all rather grim in their conclusion: “God must not love me”; “God must not care”; “God wants me to be miserable”; and so on and so on.

So why doesn’t God go out and hire a good defense attorney? Hmm. Just think of the brownie points Perry Mason could have earned in defending God (I am tempted to insert a lawyer joke here, but shall resist the temptation).

The bottom line though is that God isn’t interested in explaining Himself. Mary Poppins in the movie by that name announces at one point, “First of all, I should like to make one thing perfectly clear… (dramatic pause)… I never explain anything.” One never did find out what the “second of all” thing might have been.

Anyway, when God storms into Job’s consciousness at the end of Job’s ordeal, He never says why He allowed and even encouraged Job’s misfortunes. All He seems to say is “I shouldn’t have to explain Myself to you.” The Scriptures say explicitly that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

Living by faith in the every-day, practical sense is all about not jumping to conclusions about God by what is going on in your circumstances, ultimately despairing of the Lord’s compassion for you and His desire for you to turn to Him. In fact, God maintains that His plans and promises cancel out what our circumstances dictate. He expects us to simply believe that we are indeed His children when we come to Him by faith through Jesus Christ, and that He will not be less than our perfect, loving Father. As for me, it just seems to make sense to take God at His Word and believe that He loves even me.

“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).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A few weeks ago, while in a very warm room just outside of Washington, DC , with several hundred other people in a conference dealing with the prevention of drug abuse, my phone suddenly vibrated indicating that a text had just been received. Normally, I wait for an appropriate time to read it, but I was strangely moved on this occasion to check it. I quietly pulled my phone out and read the message.

It was from a precious member of our church letting me know that a member of her extended family had just passed away from an overdose. I immediately began to pray for the family and texted back our love and prayers.

The loss made me very sad the way it does every time I learn of someone in our community who has lost his or her life to drugs. It always stabs my heart with grief and horror. On the other hand, every time I learn of someone who has had enough and sets out on the long path of recovery, I celebrate, knowing that while it may be a hard journey, the destination is definitely worth it.

When asked about the relationship between faith and recovery, many folks think of instantaneous transformations. I have very rarely encountered this, but have discovered that transformation is usually a process with its roots in perhaps one initial step, but is only realized through the hard work of applying the principles of God’s Word in progressive stages in all areas of life.

Faith and recoveryGod is the God of transformation. That transformation is bequeathed through 1) hope (that God can and will change us if we let Him; 2) peace (that we have peace with Him through His gift of forgiveness if we truly are willing to turn away from what holds us enslaved, as well as peace inside ourselves as we relinquish the need to try to control and manipulate others, ourselves, and maybe even God); 3) direction (though we cannot see very far ahead, we can find the one step we need to take right now); and 4) strength (He gives us the will to turn away from temptation if we are willing to turn away from it consistently and persistently – long before we encounter it).

Learning the Word of God (through Bible study at church and in small groups) helps to rewire our minds as we learn the thoughts of God, while prayer (conversation with God) puts us in touch with His almighty power! While we have wonderful resources in our community to help the recovering addict, never underestimate the healing and life-giving power of Jesus Christ!

“You have… been taught in Christ… to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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