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In the midst of great divides, the treasure of sharing a special connection with others is increasingly precious. It cannot be overstated that much of the suffering people face today is in the feeling of being cut off from others. In many ways, we were already sliding down that slope. In pre-pandemic months and years, isolation fostered by mere illusions of connection offered us by technology were already gripping with an icy hold the hearts of people, freezing their sense of hope and true connection with others.

How is this possible when the means to connect with others has only become increasingly easy? Because with that ease has come the ease of pretending to be something one is not. What we see in our shallow connections with others over social media and video technology are carefully packaged presentations of people who put on display either a semblance of perfection to show how “together” one is or the outlandish deviations people can concoct as they attempt to draw attention to themselves and feel special and unique.

What we are not getting are authentic connections. We are not getting real love and acceptance, but likes and shares that grant us illusions of love and uniqueness. How very lonely then for us since just as surely we only share our pretend selves with others, others only share pretend selves with us. There is no true “knowing” of another in this way.

How precious then is what the child of God has in Christ and shares with other Christians as we let down our masks of whatever we think we must pretend to be. When we courageously admit how weary, broken and hurt we are and, yes, even our guilt as fallen individuals, we experience a moment of truth in which we can confess that while we are each sinners, we share a common forgiveness in Jesus Christ which binds us eternally with one another. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5 ESV).

Not only that, but we share so much in Him that any “joining together” we experience in the world outside of this special bond pales in comparison. “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV).

Perhaps this is why the Scripture in Philippians 1:7 resonates with us as the writer speaks of how he feels about other Believes, no matter the miles that separate them. “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace”.

When mostly what we hear about is that which would divide us, I hold to my heart that there is something infinitely wonderful at work, binding my life to my brothers and sisters in Christ: the grace of God in Jesus. The world and its troubles may try to drown out that beautiful truth with the noise of hate, fear, and despair, but as I turn again and again to the Bible, the Word of God, I see that I share with each Child of God something greater than all the temporary treasures and pleasures of the world.

Will I always agree with everything another Christian says or does? No. Will other Christians always “feel” close to me and I to them? Again, no. But these things cannot alter the truth of the special bond that I share with others who have received God’s great gift of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ. This truth is a special truth that Christians must especially hold dear and demonstrate for the world around us now. As people feel increasingly “cut off”, the authentic connection that only Jesus can bring to His people is a life-saving promise those around us need to see, hear, and experience. So let us cherish it, commit to experience it more and more, and let us share it. The time to do so is now.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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If I had to pinpoint any one thing that concerns me the most among those who profess to be Christian, it would be their disconnect with the Word of God.  One could say that the root cause of this is the general illiteracy we have of what the Bible actually says, but if we trace it further, it would be the lack of interest we have in what the Bible says.  We care not, therefore we read not.  We read not, therefore we know not.  And if we know not, we do not.  We can’t do what we don’t know we are to do or how to do it.

Perhaps the reason we do not care for it the way we should is rooted in that we turn away from what we do not want to hear, failing to realize that in turning way from it, we break the connection of what actually gives us life and hope.

As an example of this, people who work with those who struggle with addiction find that the truth that they share with those who are struggling is often rejected.  What they say may be very true, but because the truth is painful, the hearer dismisses it and strives to find others who will say what they want to hear, only to be further entangled in the coils of an addictive lifestyle.

Spiritual truths are like that.  They can pierce our illusions and self-serving notions with painful accuracy, but like a scalpel performing a life-saving surgery, they cut away the destructive lies we believe in order to set us free to live fully as God intends.

It is insane to believe something simply because we like the sound of it or because it is repeatedly shouted at us (literally sometimes as well as through social media outlets).  But lies become no truer because lots of people believe them.

It is essential that we turn from the subjective pronouncements hurtling upon us each day and turn to a truth so objective that it had to be handed down to us by a merciful and holy God!  The Bible is a bottomless wellspring of truth because it is not a book of rules and regulations so much as it is a love letter from a righteous God in heaven commending to us His heart, His purposes, and His ways.

If you want to find your bearing in this tempest of hate mongering and fear surrounding us today and if you want to find peace in your life as you come to grips with what God actually says about who you are and what your life is really all about, you must come to His Word, the Bible.  You must open your heart and ask His help in prayer to have your heart opened even as you open the Bible’s pages.  You must read, hear, and trust His Words.  You must consider them, let them become a part of you, and you must obey them.  You obey them because the One Who speaks them, speaks them in holiness.  The Bible’s words are right and pure.  They are the lifeline that God sends you to know His gift of salvation, forgiveness, hope, and victory.

“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 3:16-17 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Busyness, when taken away, creates a vacuum.  Our stay-at-home situation has disrupted many people’s daily routines, causing their over encumbered schedules to seemingly bottom out. This has left people stranded on the desert islands of their homes as they toss out their social media bottles with messages in ongoing attempts to stay connected with the outside world.

Vacuums will be filled… with something.  As we may not know how to spend all the time we suddenly find at our disposal, boredom sets in and fear seeps in… like a slow poison to the soul.  I personally think that these two facts have much to do with how we have lost our way with those things that matter most to us and the work it takes to nurture those things.

For example, we speak more often than we think.  I probably don’t need to try to prove that to anyone since our social media accounts are saturated with explosive demonstrations of ignorance.  Time suddenly at our disposal can be used to allow us to begin the process of thinking once again.  That is to say, that we learn to listen carefully and consider what we hear (or read) with an analytic mind, scrutinizing what comes our way as opposed to simply accepting things thrown at us from all sides of the aisle according to whatever fits our already cemented beliefs.

We have now the opportunity to step back from things and weigh them carefully looking for real evidence as opposed to the polished, shiny apples lobbed at us by those who want us on “their side”.  Those shiny apples look and taste good in the sense that they align with our political, emotional, and spiritual taste buds, but they are as surely poisonous as the one that brought low Snow White.

Another area where we could regain something lost to us is the area of our own prayer lives.  Prayer is not for the weak, because it is work to develop an attitude and habit of taking the time to pray.  Yet prayer is for the weak, because it anchors us to the only true power that is… the power of the love and majesty of God which is not subject to our world’s churning circumstances.  Are you finding a lot of down time right now?  Why not invest it in the one thing that lifts you up out of the dreary pace of what you can only see with physical eyes?  Why not connect with the Creator of the universe?  After all, it is a tremendous gift given you as a result of His death on the cross!  Not only that, but His resurrection underscores the validity of doing it:  victory in prayer because of His victory over death!

Yet another area where you could become reestablished with power that transforms the ordinary moment into a Kingdom of God experience is reading the Bible, the Word of God!  Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is an overflow of excitement as the writer just can’t stop gushing about how God’s Words meet every need for the Child of God in every moment!

And finally, there are the “little things” that we can do to change the kind of day others are having.  Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Let’s be honest.  How much of what we had planned before the COVID-19 shutdown was doing what we wanted to do for ourselves?  Our vacations?  Our shopping trips?  Our daily indulgences in whatever pleases us most?

Happily, I know that not everything falls into that category, but much of what we lost probably had to do with what we wanted for ourselves.  Well, here we have time now to make a difference in other people’s lives.  Stripped away are the excuses of how we are too busy to do those things.  Why not call someone who is lonely?  Why not drop a card in the mail?  With sterilized hands, of course.  Why not Facetime someone who is feeling lost, alone, or forgotten?   You’ve got the time.  Now take the time to use it well.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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You may feel powerless right now in the face of the pandemic and impact that it has had socially and economically upon you and our society. You may feel weak. You may feel scared. You may doubt that in the face of trying to stay away from others (at home or however you must do it) that you have anything to offer others let alone manage to get through this without losing your mind (or duct-taping the kids to the wall; please, don’t do that, by the way). The awareness of weakness is not something we enjoy intrinsically. But there is some tremendous value in it and there is reason to give thanks for it.

For one thing, our smallness is rarely clear to us until we come up against something bigger. For some, it is happening right now for the first time in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is it bigger than any one of us, but it has reared its imposing head over nations and their leaders and is proving to be unpredictable upon whom it inflicts its wrath and those it doesn’t. Only now are some realizing that they do not have all the answers and their stature is tiny in the shadow of a worldwide epidemic.

For another thing, our selfishness is seldom revealed until we find ourselves threatened. We could, on the one hand, fearfully look out only for ourselves, hoarding and hating anyone who competes for the resources we reach for. Fight or flight are instincts that we may be powerless to stop from taking us over as our adrenaline pumps throughout our bodies and we live as if we are at war with the world.

Additionally, our weakness is not typically apparent to us unless we are attempting something that we simply cannot do. In the case of the Corona virus, we thought we could stop it, some thought they could survive it, some thought they could cure it. While it is to be hoped that by God’s mercy a cure may yet be found, this sickness has surged throughout the world infecting and killing many.

But these same conclusions could happen to any of us individually at any time anyway. It does not take the virus to reveal our smallness, selfishness, or weakness. Those things were only invisible to us because of our complacency and our inclination to simply not think about it. It could be cancer that reveals these things. It could be losing a job. Or a spouse. Or a child. It could be failure to have lived the life we had dreamed of living.

In any of these crises (worldwide or personal), there comes a moment of reckoning when we have to deal with the fact that being merely human is sometimes a hard thing to be. But it is only as defeating to us if we only look so far. If we look beyond the bigness of life, of problems, of failure, and look to the God of creation Who is steering the events of history in accordance to a master plan and that He has our welfare in mind, we realize that the bigness of our problems are infinitesimally small in comparison to the God Who reigns.

The staggering implications of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-33 is that the strength and commitment of God in taking care of you is unimaginably beyond your ability to take care of you.

Furthermore, Jesus says in Luke 12:6-7, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” If God is taking care of little things, God will take care of you.

Our weakness is a blessing in this respect: it paves the way for us to seek God. Of course, it does not guarantee that we will seek Him necessarily for His own sake. We might content with being satisfied with merely hoping that He’ll help us in our problems, overcome our obstacles, provide for our lack, or protect us from what scares us. But what He desires to do instead and uses weakness to prepare our hearts for is that we look to Him, perceive His great love and power, and come to love Him in return. There may be times when He does not save you from your problem, but would still use it to teach you to trust Him and to lean upon Him, learning His strength and compassion.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV).

It is not likely that we are going to quickly be contented with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, but when we remember how such limitations can teach us to turn our heavenly Father, suddenly they lose their strength in our lives. Are you troubled? Turn to God; He is Lord. Are you anxious? Trust in Him: He is working. Are you weak? Yes, you are, but He is strong.

“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 8:37-39 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Nothing shows us what is really important in life as does an imminent tragedy.  Nor is there anything that show us what is really true about ourselves as does a crisis.  These things have a knack for stripping away the layers of lazy assumptions and pretensions we like to live by because they are comfortable, ego-inflating, and don’t require growth and adjustment on our parts.

Whatever I might fear about the current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and assume about human nature’s response to it, the bottom line is that much of what is going on right now is out of my control.  And because these things are outside of the realm of my ability to control them, I, like you, must wrestle with how to respond.  Yes, I can wash my hands (and will); I can keep social distance (and will); and I can take my vitamins (and will, at least while I have them).  But that is pretty much as far as it goes.  I can’t control the spread of the virus worldwide, the volatility of the stock market, the bulk-buying panic of others, and can’t even guarantee that I won’t get the virus.  There is a lot more out of my control than there is in it.

Because of this, human nature, on the one hand, tends to draw me to self-protective and reactionary responses to the circumstances around me.  I can stockpile, compete for what seems like disappearing resources, live in fear of others, and act aggressively to either protect my family or to go beyond and exploit others if given the chance (as is found in price-gouging, etc.).  I can live fearfully and through my fearfulness encourage a similar response from others who feel threatened by me and the lengths I would go to take care of myself.

Similarly, I might be inclined to be angry about the reactions of others, loudly criticizing those who are making decisions that I feel are infringing upon my comforts and ease.  I might be in a state of denial and be willing to run the risk of putting others in danger because I am fixated in my pride on the wrongness that I perceive in others.  If this is the case and I am given the opportunity, I would do nothing.

Or I might be tempted to place my faith in people and then assume that they have all the answers.  In a best case scenario, our leaders do not have all the answers and are unsure how to move forward.  The fact is that they are human also and cannot perfectly make the choices that in hindsight they (or we) might have wished that they had.  Human limitations affect leaders because they are human, too.

The challenge then for you and me is to recognize that which transcends human limitation and to come under its protection and provision.  The Bible honestly deals with human frailty and points us beyond people who cannot live up to all our needs and expectations, directing us to the “wisdom of God” which is personified in Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31).

This is the essence of what gives such power to mobilize the children of God to positive and life-saving action:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV).

If you read that passage carefully, you will see that it allows for the fact that you and I will have afflictions which produce in our hearts the potential of anxiety, sorrow, bitterness, and anger, but if recognized as something allowed by God for our good and illuminated by the hope that we have in our resurrected Savior, can instead instill in us compassion that causes us to rise up out of feeling sorry for ourselves to the need of others who have not yet understood or embraced the hope that you and I have in Jesus.

Is this a time to panic?  Nope.  Is this a time to bar the doors of our homes (and hearts) against others?  Again, no.  Is it a time to be in a mode of denial that foolishly sets us up for the pain of unnecessary consequences?  Absolutely not.  Instead, it is a time for us together as God’s children to allow the light of His love to shine in and through us in real and practical ways.

Loving others is not about a sentiment or positive vibes, but about active and intentional praying for and serving others.  The crisis around you is the stage on which the love of God can be demonstrated for those about you to see.  Be encouraged that God has made promises to you that He fully intends and is fully able to keep.  But you have your part, too.  It is to trust Him enough to climb out of the small box of selfishness that you are tempted to stay in and to love others as Jesus has loved you.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV).

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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It frequently happens that I come into contact with people whose marital relationships have been painfully fraught with turmoil, confusion, and mistrust. In many of these, there have been patterns that have kept one of the parties subjected to cycles of abuse and victimization. Then, when the oppressed person determines that she has had enough and threatens to leave, the oppressor pledges change and begs for another chance.

I have written in regard to forgiveness on a few occasions, so far always addressing the one who has been offended and his or her need (and call by Christ) to do the hard work of forgiving. This time, however, I am speaking to those who have done the harming, intended or not.

All too often I observe in these sorts of situations the injuring party’s demand that the other forgive. Let me point out that if your repentance before God and towards another is genuine, you will not demand forgiveness. In fact, you will understand entirely why they may choose not to.

The desire for another’s forgiveness is natural and normal, yet it innately possesses within it an inclination for the same self-centeredness that caused whatever offense that led to our perceived need for it. We hurt our loved one. We say we’re sorry. We expect them to forgive us. We become angry if they do not. We retaliate when they hesitate. We guilt them. We nag them. We harass them. Why? Because we’ve truly repented and truly regret the pain and anguish they feel from our selfish actions and stubborn pride? Or are we still really the only ones we really care about?

In a marriage that has repeatedly cycled through abuse, I am sometimes asked to “reason” with someone to convince them that the spiritually mature thing to do is for him or her to forgive the other and simply move on.

Granted, Jesus taught us to forgive. But I believe that we have a distorted view of what forgiveness is. For one thing, if at any time a person just expects it, he or she clearly does not understand that with true forgiveness there is grace and grace is unmerited, undeserved favor which, by definition, makes it something we shouldn’t simply expect (let alone demand).

One thing that you and I should take to heart is that if I have betrayed another, if I have hurt him or her, if I have failed to be their friend and have somehow preyed upon them, I do not deserve forgiveness. I have blown it. I should be able to understand completely if he or she does not forgive me.

That is what makes forgiveness truly powerful, the fact that it is freely given, without coercion or compulsion on my part. If I am jockeying for forgiveness, making arguments about why the other should give it, then I am likely not ready for it. Forgiveness just becomes another tool in my toolkit for manipulating another and I will inevitably return to hurting someone I pretend to love and cherish.

Never take grace lightly. Never demand another’s forgiveness. You don’t deserve it. Don’t take it for granted. Their forgiveness of you is ultimately between that loved one and God. Leave it there and give them room to work on the healing that they need and God intends for them. Stop victimizing them when they demonstrate an inward struggle to allow you access to their hearts again.

Not only that, even if they do forgive you, don’t assume that everything can be same as it was before your betrayal of them. It can’t. They have been changed. They have been bruised, anguished, and are vulnerable to the fear of being hurt again. But with God’s help, they can be changed for the good, wiser and made whole once more. Respect boundaries if your loved one feels the need for them. It may be that they forgive you, but choose to not open their heart and life like they had before. Your cooperation and humility in acknowledging their needs go a long way in demonstrating the genuineness of your repentance. Anything else tells the story that you haven’t really changed and shouldn’t be given another chance.

In a similar way, when we presume upon God’s grace, forgetting how deeply wounded He is by our sin and rejection of Him, we are not ready for His grace. When we lightly say that we “accept Him as Savior” without having felt the anguish of our betrayal of Him, we clearly do not understand grace.

We don’t deserve grace. We cannot ever earn it. God would be in the right if He did not forgive us. He would be in the right if He simply destroyed us, consigning us to an eternity of punishment.

But that is what is so amazing about grace. It is undeserved. It is unmerited. And it’s given to those who have finally realized that it is the one thing we could never hope to have based on anything we do, have done, or promise to do. It is only because God in mercy looks upon us and extends to us His forgiveness of sin that we have the hope of forgiveness. Our rebellious nature deserves punishment and God’s own holy nature must punish it. But His forgiveness moved Him to punish it by giving His Son Who, in turn, freely gave His own life’s blood for us. And because of that, we can receive forgiveness when we fully trust Him as Savior and Lord.

“In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:4b-8a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Now that Valentines Day is officially behind us, yet still fresh enough on our minds to warrant some reflection, have you ever thought much about the gifts we give to one another as expressions of our love? If you haven’t, I invite you to do so. It might help you to “think outside the box” in the future and allow you to creatively approach your gift-giving practices to the loved ones in your life.

Gift giving is a statement of our affection for another as well as a statement of our own character and attitudes about life in general. Casual gift-giving, for example, might inadvertently express the subtle point that we take someone for granted. On the other hand, doing so with thoughtfulness indicates attention and interest in another.

Of course, it is important to remember that gift-giving is only one manner of expressing love and regard for others. There is also service, words of affirmation, and a few other things that, if you’re interested, you can learn more about in the The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

But gift-giving is certainly one important way that we will often choose to express our affection for another. It can be a good and powerful way in doing so and we should never be reluctant to do it when it is appropriate, helpful, and sincere. However, in our day and age, we might be prone to missing some of the finer points of gift giving. Here are a couple of things to consider as you either give gifts to someone else or are the recipient of gifts.Gifts of True Love

First, a gift of true love is never given to buy or win the affection of the beloved. It is given as an expression of delight and devotion of the one who gives it. It represents the sacrificial regard of the giver for the one gifted and is a way of saying, “I love you more than what this cost me.” Such gifts, therefore, represent some sort of sacrifice. The sacrifice may not be material (although it could be), but could be time taken to painfully seek out and acquire the gift for the sake of the beloved.

If the gift is slighted or rejected, the giver may persist in his expressions of love, yet every effort turned away runs the risk of being the last for there is little joy in spurned affection and only pain when sacrifice is held in contempt. One might suggest that one who has given such gifts also give the recipient the gift of choosing how to respond. If it is received well and in the spirit that it is given, then the joy of the giver and beloved is multiplied. If the recipient chooses to reject it, then the giver can choose to move on without the bitterness that comes from the sinful notion that giving a gift to another human being somehow indebts them to you.

Another thought to kick around about gift-giving is that a gift loved for itself, one that usurps the place of affection rightfully belonging to the giver, is misplaced and disgracefully received. Nothing is uglier and more a display of contemptuous ingratitude than love for a gift over the one who gives it. It would wound your heart indeed if another loved you only for the material things you handed him and, in the moment you had nothing left to give, dropped all interest in you and moved on to someone else who could materially provide for them.

So if any of these principles apply to our human relationships, then consider there spiritual implications. For instance, God does not give us blessings in order to win us over (to get us to “like Him”), but His doing so definitely serve as signs that we really are the “children of God”.

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11 ESV).

The blessing of being given gifts from God is not primarily in the gift itself, however wonderful and timely it may seem. It is not in the material things. It is not the new job or the better income. It is not the healing or that wonderful new relationship. Those are “gifts” from God, yes, but they are not the main gift He is granting us. The primary gift is that the Holy Countenance of God Himself is turned toward us… in love. He Himself, therefore, is the greatest gift of all. In token of this, He gave us Himself through the Person of His Son, Jesus, Who died on the cross that we might be reconciled to the Father. The giving of this gift continues daily as He gives us Himself through His Holy Spirit (God living in us and through us day-by-day).

So if ever we love “things” in place of our God, we can be sure that such things are at risk of being stripped from us. God is, after all, a jealous God (see Deuteronomy 5:11). Such things, these lesser gifts, are actually hindrances in our receiving His greatest gift. He would rather we be naked and hungry when finally we enter into the comfort of our eternal home with Him then for us, in this life, to be blissfully content with all manner of pleasures and conveniences as we stroll along into the waiting fires of hell.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).

No one can out-give God because there is no greater treasure than Himself to give and there is no greater sacrifice than in His giving His sinless, perfect Son for you and me, sinners who do not deserve His love. Yet, the gift is given. The gift is yours and mine for the receiving through faith in Jesus alone. So let us receive His gift, Jesus, with humble adoration and gratitude and, in turn, give Him our lives and give Him our all. This gift we give Him is all that He asks and makes room in our lives for the precious treasures of knowing His love and power working in and through us.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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At least in one respect, the turning of the calendar page from one year to the next is not as positive an experience as we would like it to be. For one thing, it gives us the emotional equivalent of acid reflux as we pause to look back on the past year with all its thrills and joys or disappointments and regrets. We tend to feel the impact of the negative more than the happiness of the positive. For many, it’s as if we have a scale before us with the bad invariably outweighing the good. With such a sour taste lingering in our mouths, it is no wonder that so many of us look forward to finally crossing over the watershed of what has been to what we hope will be.

The conspicuous proof that this is so is the cultural phenomena of making New Year’s resolutions. These promises that we make to ourselves for the New Year suggest an acute awareness of our inadequacies which were only too obvious to us in our failures of the previous year. We think to ourselves, “Life was not what it should have been and I have not done what I should have done. To correct this, I will just make a plan. like losing weight, being kinder to our neighbors, fixing what is wrong with my house, ironing out my relationship issues, or just being a better man, woman or Christian. I will do better.”

But then we do not do better. In fact, we hardly get out of the gate in our trying. According to U.S. News and World Report (“Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail”, Joseph Luciani, 12/29/2015), 80% of our resolutions are routinely foiled by the second week of February. So much for human resolve! And what we do manage to get done does not result in what we had hoped for. It is not what we planned. It is not what we wanted. And when the end of the year eventually rolls around, we do it all over again, making New Year resolutions that we will once again not keep as matter of habit and tradition… like singing Christmas Carols, only a lot less fun and significantly less meaningful.

The secret is not in our will power. Will power cannot save us, change us, or carry us very far into the good intentions we have. In fact, we have already fumbled the ball of commitment in the moment we make the statement, “I will…!” I will? Will I? I may want to do this or that, but those good intentions are not strong enough to become the reality I wish for myself. Why? Because my problem is my will. I forget (or choose to ignore) my tendency for laziness, my natural bend to serve my selfish desires, and the corruption buried deeply within my soul, buried so deep that I do not realize that it is there.

And I will continue to suffer at the hands of my fallen and weak will until something fundamentally is altered within me. It is not my perspective, although my perspective is shaped by it. It is not the way that I think, although it is easy to think that it is. As unfathomable as it may seem, it is far deeper than either of these things. It is my heart. It is my soul. It is the true essence of my being that must be changed. And it must be radically transformed so that what flows from it may produce the changes in my thinking and conduct that ultimately produce the fruits that are worth possessing in the days to come. Without a change of heart, a change of mind is weak and pointless, and only sets one up for failure.

This is why the implication of following Jesus is much more than a mindset. It is a surrender. It is not our committing ourselves to Him that will carry us into spiritual victory and eternal harvests, but a submitting ourselves to Him that places us in the position of reaping spiritual life.

“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it…. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Luke 9:24, John 3:3, 6 ESV). Lose my life to save it? Be born again? Be born of the spirit?

I fear that much of our Christianity today is cut from the same cloth as our New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to do good. We decide to abstain from evil. But we always fail. We set our will to be what we are supposed to be as if we can do it on our own and that it is all up to us. But then we are surprised and depressed by the fact that we cannot. Worse, in our shame of failing yet again, we deny our sin and hide our true selves from God and from others for fear of the pain of rejection.

But, my friend, this is not God’s plan. It is not His will that you, in your own finite strength walk the walk that Jesus did, Who was just like us yet without sin (see Hebrews 4:15). It is indeed God’s will that you break free from your sin and no longer walk in its power. “He (Jesus) appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning…. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:5-6a, 8-9 ESV).

This means that when you and I are born of God, a supernatural event has taken place that changes the inclination of our hearts from that of sinning (serving self) towards serving God. As children of God (adopted into His family through faith in Jesus Christ), we are bequeathed a new nature that is shedding worldly and fleshly habits just as surely a caterpillar sheds its chrysalis when it finally breaks free into its new life as a butterfly!

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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” (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

Real change in 2019 is possible, but it will take more than your resolve. Real life is attainable, but it takes more than a commitment. Real joy is yours… if you surrender your life to Jesus, trusting Him as Lord and Savior. And that means a daily surrender that you may sometimes stumble with, but will teach you the power of grace as you draw from Him the love and courage that will make a new you reality. Happy New Year!

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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As Christmas makes its final approach on the runway of our calendars, it may be that we are dangerously close to being swallowed up by the angst and stress of trying to coordinate holiday traditions or by the crushing pressure of trying to appease the tyranny of Christmas lists of our children or other family members. If you find yourself being hurried and harried by trying to make sure that it is “the best Christmas ever”, don’t allow the bullying of unrealistic expectations be a thief that steals from you the opportunity to draw from heaven the joy of God.

There is a danger, even in the church, for us to not understand joy and to not know how to experience it. What we too often settle for is a kind of contentment that is founded upon circumstances in our world which, at best, is fragile and subject to an instant’s nullification at any moment if and when trouble comes or tragedy strikes. A pseudo-joy such as this is dangerous because it anesthetizes us against the hunger for God which moves us to receive His grace and be transformed by His Spirit. 

But joy – true joy – is of God and He delights in our experiencing it and cherishes its aim which is for us to know Him and know His eternal love for us. And there are a number of “mechanisms” in which our appetite for it can be taught to recognize it and, ultimately, to savor it. One of these mechanisms is the relief that comes from the healing of persistent pain (physically or emotionally) which invariably results in joy. For example, a person afflicted by physical pain for any length of time can become consumed with the need for relief. Hence, one’s propensity to turn to things that mask pain or distract one from it. It is easy to see how despair from not receiving healing can be allowed to trigger a person’s settling for counterfeit experiences, learning only too late that such alternatives only breed new hurts and sorrows. But when that person experiences for the first time that the weight of pain has been lifted – and lifted for good – he or she experiences a surge of joy.

Another way in which we become acquainted with joy is through the reversal of misfortune or failure. There are perhaps a few exceptions to this, but generally we are all somehow and at sometime touched by failure. Failing to achieve a sought after goal, whatever that goal might be, depending on how we have labored and sacrificed for it, can be so disheartening that some people do not recover from the experience. After dreaming with all one’s heart, striving with all one’s strength, and sacrificing all one has, the dark night of soul that comes from failing to win what seems utterly important and even necessary can turn into glorious day when such failure flip-flops unexpectedly into success, especially a success that surpasses what he or she had hoped for.

Yet another is the return or finding of something that seemed hopelessly lost. Jesus illustrated this kind of joy in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, in the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost (Prodigal) Son. In each instance, the restoration of what had been lost resulted in a joy that bubbled over into celebration!

One that is hard to explain, yet is extremely profound for the one it blesses, is the recognition of the sublime which is why art and music can be so powerful in affecting our emotions. This is the kind of joy that I believe C.S. Lewis refers to in his auto-biography, Surprised by Joy, which describes his journey from atheistic skepticism to his eventual experience of faith in Jesus Christ. In it, he relates how such rare yet vital emergences of joy ultimately helped him to recognize the authenticity of Jesus as true Lord and Savior.

Finally, receiving what the heart desires most is cause and catalyst for experiencing joy. There is innately programmed into each of us a hunger for more than anything that this world can supply. We are so confounded by it, yet so ignorant of what it is we truly crave (namely, authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ), that we try to plug the hole in our souls with all sorts of things that promise fulfillment, yet cannot deliver the goods.

Indeed, happiness in the wrong things can be spiritually lethal and seal our eternal destruction because it lulls us to complacency in regard to our spiritual need for Christ and His atonement for us. This kind of “joy” is not the joy that God has in mind for you. When Jesus spoke with His disciples in the Gospel of John, the occasion being the eve of His crucifixion, He promised them, that after a season of grief, their sorrow would turn to joy (John 16:20). The joy He promised them was otherworldly and supernatural for it in no way finds either its source or its end in this temporal life, but flows from His eternal Being. This joy has enormous power to make a difference to you and me in this life and serves us like an anchor when we face trouble, sorrow, or pain in the here and now.

And here is the point: Jesus satisfies perfectly every condition for joy that you and I have. He brings us relief of the pain we feel in our souls by accepting and comforting us with His precious presence; His grace serves as a balm for every hurt of our hearts. He achieves for us the reversal of our failure by succeeding in our stead both as a sinless man and perfect sacrifice for us on the cross; through faith in Him, we have victory. Because He came and died for us on the cross, we, the lost sheep, coins and sons, are reunited with our heavenly Father, Who does not turn us away as we deserve; He takes us out of our lost condition and places us where we belong as children of God. In Jesus, we see that which is truly sublime, perfect and pure in every way; “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). And when we receive Christ truly as both Savior and Lord, we finally receive what our hearts have truly desired; we obtain that for which we have hungered and thirsted even when we did not know what it was we needed.

This Christmas, open your heart to God and receive Him as Lord and Savior. In doing so, you’ve opened the door to true joy, “… and no one will take your joy from you” (from John 16:22b ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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There is currently a great deal of discussion among many churches across the country revolving around the issue of abuse of women in the home. There are, for example, instances where the abuse of one’s wife is “tolerated” (if not condoned) in “christian” homes (as anti-Christian as that seems to me).  This tragic fact has a bit to do with the general lack of dialogue due to what some consider to be “none-of-your-business” for anyone outside the immediate family. But it is also more than that.

It is not just the result of a lack of conversation or even a lack of understanding by men, but rather a sinful disposition in the heart and the working out of rebellion against God. It is therefore necessary for us, if we are truly committed to a right relationship with God, to confront it, confess it, and repent of it. God maintains an expectation that men be the antitheses of “misogynists” and no woman should bear the ungodly burden of fear for her life and well-being. If a woman is in actual danger because of abuse, the Church has the responsibility of being an agent for her safety.

Let us be clear on this: abuse (mistreatment and/or harming of another, especially one entrusted to you relationally such as a spouse or a child) is unacceptable at all times, under all circumstances. No one “deserves” to be mistreated even if the Church seems, in many people’s experiences, to not only be vague about this, but to endorse certain forms of it.

Perhaps one of the chief sources for confusion on God’s expectations of how husbands and wives treat one another is found in the mishandling of Ephesians 5. A crass and superficial reading of some verses in the passage notwithstanding, the point and premise of Ephesians 5:25 is, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

Clearly, the idea of love here is personified in Jesus’ tender regard and whole-hearted pursuit of the welfare of His people, the Church (which includes you and me through faith). The welfare of His people and His laying down of His life was and is paramount in our understanding of how men and women are called to relate to each other. Accordingly, this principle should completely eradicate any illusion of an excuse for men to mistreat women (wives or otherwise).

Nor are men licensed to maintain a condescending and “superior” mentality to women or their gifts and callings. Even though the Bible consistently implies different roles and callings typically associated with men and women respectively, only a mishandling of 1 Peter 3 would be interpreted to mean that men are “more important” in the grand scheme of things than are women (just as it is not correct to assume the opposite either!). After all, wives “are heirs with (husbands) of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).

Too often, we inflate our own sense of importance and use distorted interpretations of Scripture to support it. In the case of men and their attitude and behavior towards women, this has too often been true.

To my sisters in Christ, I am sorry for the ways that you have suffered abuse and that the church has failed in hearing you, supporting you, and protecting you. I am also sorry for those moments and occasions when even well-meaning Christians downplay your value in the Kingdom of our Savior and Lord. Your presence matters. Your calling matters. Your voice matters. The Church must learn to appreciate your role and your contributions. The Church must learn to recognize your many areas of gifting and serving, valuing you as dear daughters of God. I hope that I, as well as my other brothers in Christ, will uphold you and support you, believe in you and in God’s working through you.

We are not only blessed by you, but also through you as our Heavenly Father has pressed forward in the building of His kingdom. Thank you and thanks be to God for you.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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