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Many Christians today live a life of wandering. They wander from teaching to teaching, apt to drift to what sounds most like what they want to hear about God, the world, and themselves. But they also wander from experience to experience, seeking something that will satisfy them on the one hand without requiring full surrender on the other.

Are you wandering from experience to experience, seeking something that will satisfy you… but does not require full surrender?

Christianity that is characterized by shallow and self-absorbed worship and teaching is reminiscent of the spirituality of Cain in Genesis chapter 4. Cain was a “religious” man. He worshiped, he tithed, he had what could be called a “relationship with God”. In terms of practice, he is probably as good an example in ancient times to a typical Christian in our Post-Modern one.

Of course, Cain’s “practice” was the outflow of his heart’s attitude. His “practice” can hardly be said to be more than mediocre and was therefore unfulfilling to himself and unremarkable to its intended recipient, God. It had more to do with ritual (religious habit devoid of passion) than it did with genuine worship. It had more to do with the appeasement of God (the minimum necessary to “get God off his back”) than it did with atonement (the bridging of the distance that his sinful nature created with God). His worship had only to do with obliging God (fulfilling his obligation) and nothing whatsoever with pleasing His Creator.

This lackluster façade of false spirituality pales in comparison to a life authentically given over to its Maker, that of Abel, Cain’s little brother. Abel, seems to really “get it”, in contrast to Cain, who quite clearly doesn’t “get it”. Abel’s life resonates with worship that is a melody of genuine devotion and delight in God. His heart’s desire is for more than a “touch of God” but of close and sustained communion with Him. This attitude of worship outshines Cain’s offering as brightly as does the sun outdo the faint glow of an open cell phone. Abel does not want to just fulfill his obligation, he craves to surpass it and please God with his focused and lavish worship.

When God looked on Abel’s offering, the genuine nature of it was clear because Abel gave his best and “first dibs” to God (see Genesis 4:4). Cain presumably surmised that God was not taking Cain’s offering at face value but was judging it based on what Abel was giving (as if God preferred sirloin steak to garden salad with scallions and bacon bits – or vise-versa). It’s that age-old habit of ours to assume that estimations of our worth are derived from comparisons with others. But it doesn’t work that way. Our value is not relative to others; it is absolute and the Lord’s estimation of our worth is independent of how others are behaving, what they can do, or what they may be giving. The fact is that the “what” is less important to God than the “how”. God would not overlook the fact that Cain’s worship was lukewarm at best nor does He do so now.

Some might give this passage in Genesis a shallow reading. To them it might suggest that God favors sheep ranchers to dirt farmers, but that would be as silly as saying that the Lord likes plumbers over restaurant managers (or restaurant managers over plumbers), doctors over information technologists (or the reverse), and so on. But take it from a former career counselor, Cain’s “vocation” was not the problem. His problem was his heart’s attitude.

No doubt you have heard the story of Cain and Able. Cain became jealous of Abel’s favor with God. Basically, Abel was getting something out of his “religion” that Cain was not. Cain started jealous and then became suspicious, imagining in his heart that Abel’s wonderful spiritual life was all pretense and pride. Maybe, in a typically human way of underestimating God, he even wondered if Abel was doing something down and dirty behind Cain’s back to get God to like him. Who knows? What we do know is that, as his bitterness festered and grew in his heart, he moved from being suspicious to injurious, exploding in an eruption of violence that left Abel dead. I doubt, by the way, that it was a murder of passion. My inclination is that it was calculated… although stupid – as if God wouldn’t notice or hadn’t seen what had happened. Cain did not comprehend the “ever-present” and “all-knowing” nature of God. But God saw. He knew. Just as He sees and knows today what is going on in our hearts and minds.

“Cainitic spirituality” abounds today but it still has a knack for being shortsighted. Not only that, it leaves us thoroughly unsatisfied. Sadly, instead of submitting to the grace that God gives us through His Word in challenging our attitudes as His Spirit strives to help us see the roadblocks that lie within us (e.g., anger, see verses 6-10), we imagine that the fault lies with the one who is spiritually alive and passionate: he evidently has some sort of satisfaction that we crave for ourselves, a rich and passionate experience with God, so we become seeded with jealousy. Just as in Cain’s case, it produces in time a crop of injury against our brothers through unjust criticisms, disassociations, or violence.

This is not to say that we do not engage error or attitude that grieves God’s Spirit or that leads the unsuspecting from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the contrary!

But churches often have a way trying to snuff out the “Abels” among them, because their desire for “more of God” and their generous spirit towards the Lord makes others feel uncomfortable with their own ho-hum religious life. Folks often despise being reminded that there may be something missing that they really do want, but to possess must be willing to give up everything.

In the end, of course, God deals with Cain’s murder of his brother by sending him away. Cain ventures out east of the garden of Eden to the land of Nod (“Nod” means wandering).

In a way, Christians today are dwelling in their own “Land of Nod”. In ancient times, Cain and his descendants built a great civilization. It grew and spread and seemed to be flourishing. But it at last came to nothing when the destruction of the great Flood swept over the earth after a lengthy process of increasing immorality, anarchy, and futility.

But another son was born to Adam and Eve, trumping the evil that Cain intended when he killed Abel. Through Seth the Abelitic spirit of worship was preserved even through the cataclysm of the Great Flood of Noah’s day. It was the descendants of Seth who shone in a spiritually dark society (the civilization of Cain’s lineage) by “calling on the name of the Lord” (see verse 26), proclaiming Him even though those around them had descended into wickedness and perversion.

What kind of Christian do you want to be? A “Cainitic Christian” or an “Abelitic Christian”? One who is lukewarm and does only what is minimally necessary or one who lavishes upon God the best he has to offer? One who contents himself with the meager fruit of a nominal Christian life or one who hungers for more of God in this life?

In a world full of “Cains”, God is looking for more “Abels”. It is time to leave the Land of Nod and embark upon the greatest adventure of all. Open your heart to God, give Him your life, and let Him make Himself known to you as you follow His Son… in Spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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*This story is adapted from John 8:1-11.

 

The bruises on Rahab’s arms ached as rough hands dragged her mercilessly through the dusty streets. But more stinging than the fingers that clamped like claws were reproachful stares of those whom she passed as she was forced along. Jeers and insults were thrown at her like barbed javelins dipped in the poison of hate. “Adulteress!” some shouted. “Harlot!” cried others.

She kept her eyes down, partly so that she could focus on not stumbling as she was driven along, planting one cut and bleeding foot in front of the other. But partly she did so to avoid the mocking look in scores of cruel eyes. Occasionally she could not keep from allowing her eyes to furtively look up, searching and pleading for some shred of compassion or mercy. But there was none. Even the one whose arms from which she had been ripped now mocked her and betrayed her with cruelty as he followed along with the others.

Fear gripped her more tightly than the men who half dragged and half shoved her along and a weight of despair hung like a millstone from her heart. They took her to the temple courts where a great crowd had already assembled. A man was waiting just inside the gate, long, flowing robes dragging the dust at his feet. “You have her, I see,” he said in a low voice to one of the men. “Good! Now let’s take this sacrificial lamb and see if this ‘Teacher’ steps into our little trap.” As he laughed a cold laugh, his prayer tassels seemed to quiver in agreement.

“But what if He doesn’t, Abihu?” asked the lover who had betrayed her. “What if He upholds the traditions and says we must stone her?”

no stones came 2

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
Psalm 32:1-2 ESV

The other man sniffed scornfully. “If He does, He does. Why do you care, Achan? You’ve been paid well.” He looked at the woman and sneered. “Besides, she’s just an adulteress. She deserves to die.” He started to turn towards the crowd. “But I don’t think you need to worry about losing your plaything. This Jesus isn’t bound by the traditions our elders passed on to us. He’s spoken all along of the Holy One’s forgiveness and I’ve no doubt that He’ll place His foot right into the snare we’ve laid out for Him… right in front of all these witnesses. And then His blood will be ours!” With that he strode towards the crowd, people parting right and left for him as he purposefully marched to the Man Who had been sitting in the center teaching.

 

Abihu stood in front of Him, a mocking smile on his lips. He nodded his head and Rahab was dragged to his side.

“Teacher,” he said the word with obvious disdain. “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” He eyed the gawking people in the throngs around them many of them holding heavy stones in their hands. Oh, this was too fun! Too easy! He was about to tear down the idealism of this… this Messiah and discredit Him. News of His discomfiture would quickly erode His reputation and maybe even stop the madness of the multitudes flocking to His call. “Now what do you say?” he said with pretend reverence (see John 8:4-5).

Jesus looked at Abihu for a moment, His gaze penetrating into his soul. Abihu suddenly felt unsure of himself and took a step backward as if he feared a blow. But Jesus looked away towards the woman standing beside him, her head down, hair spilling messily around her shoulders and her hands clenching and unclenching feebly.

Then Jesus knelt to the ground and began to scratch letters into the dust of the ground. What was He writing? Abihu waited, his anger and impatience growing, like a floodwater rising inside him. He turned his head, trying to look as if he weren’t interested, and finally could make out the words.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2 ESV).

Abihu felt the sting of those words almost as fiercely as if he had been flailed. “Who does He think He is?” he thought.

“Well-l-l-l?” he finally retorted, ignoring the writing in the dust. Others began to murmur. “Yes,” said one especially loud. “What do you say?” Soon at least a dozen voices began to prod him with variations of the same question.

Jesus stood up and the murmuring was silenced as His deep eyes looked at them. “If any one of you is without sin,” He said, “let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (from John 8:7). He then bent down again and resumed writing in the dust. Rahab gasped and clenched her eyes tightly, her heart pounding in her chest.

But no stones came. She heard a dull thud and dared to look up. An old man had dropped a stone and was quietly slipping away. There was another thud as another stone hit the ground. Another accuser was gone. One by one the stones fell from their fingers and one by one they each left silently until only Achan and Ahiju were left. Achan glanced at Rahab’s face, but then he too dropped his stone and disappeared. Ahiju stood alone, bristling powerlessly. The venomous hate in his eyes was met by the strong and graceful gaze of Jesus Who now looked up at him. Ahiju turned on his heel and stormed out of the temple area.

Rahab stood alone before the Lord. She looked at what He had written. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV).

Jesus stood up and faced the woman. As she stood before Him, she was tortuously aware of all of her past guilt. Her shame clung to her like rags and she could not make herself look into His face. What would He now say to her, this Judge who had judged her judges?

“Woman, where are they?” He asked as if in answer to her thoughts. “Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, Sir,” she quietly replied.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” He declared, a righteous warmth glowing from His face. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (from John 8:10-11). He looked at her knowingly for a moment as she stood blinking in her astonishment. He then turned and quietly walked away.

Rahab also turned and made her way back home, nearly stupefied over what had just happened. She had met something in Jesus she had never known before… something called grace. It was like she had been in a vast bog into which she had willfully wandered, the stench of which was overpowering. Instead of being allowed to just sink into its mire, to be lost forever, a strong hand had pulled her up and out and set her feet on a good path lined with fragrant flowers. This path, she knew, led not to disappointment but to complete joy and peace because it led to God Himself. She realized that she had been given a new life.

There was no doubt in her mind or in her heart: Jesus had truly been sent by God to pull people out of the mire of their sin. He Himself had chosen to not accuse her but to give her another opportunity to know God and be given a second chance. She smiled as she entered her house. She looked around and nodded to herself. Now that He was Master of her life, there were going to be some changes made! And in the knowledge that she had been forgiven, she began to clean her house.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A Troubling Landscape

A survey I read some time ago of 35,000 Americans indicated that large numbers of Christians do not believe that their faith is the only way to heaven. Even among Evangelicals this proved to be true as 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life. Of course, surveys are notoriously misleading especially when semantics are in doubt. For example, by the word “faith” or “religion” do responders mean various denominations within Christianity who differ on some things yet hold fast to central Christian assertions (e.g., justification by faith in Jesus Christ)? Or are they meaning that Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and African Animistic religions are all different sides of the same egg?

But I suspect that the survey in question wasn’t far off the mark (it’s very efficient as a rule). So if American Christianity has become as convoluted as all that, what does it mean? And does it matter? Rabbi Gary Huber of the Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington (Ohio) says, “Nothing could be more American than the idea that we each forge out our own path” (reported by Meredith Heagney of the Columbus Dispatch in her article “Most Americans believe many religions lead to heaven”, June 23, 2008). Even as Huber lauded open-mindedness and inclusiveness, it occurs to me that we’ve rendered moot the role of faith in the life of Americana if we can’t possess it with any degree of confidence and surety. And as you might suppose, if one has no conviction about what one believes, than the by-products of faith are eroded away as well. There is no anchor, for instance, for morality if it cannot be moored to absolute truth: “right and wrong” will drift anywhere popular opinion takes them.

That same report said that 80% of Americans believe that religion is somewhat important to their lives, but the question arises, “Why?” If it’s merely because religion gives them some encouragement for every day or makes them feel good about themselves, why do they really need religion? Why not get a dog? Or join a coffee club? Or read a Robert Frost poem every night?

Of course, it may be that those who believe that each religion is a different way to God are simply ignorant about the worldviews that they espouse. “The findings can be taken… as disturbing evidence that Americans dismiss or don’t know fundamental teachings of their own faiths,” said Eric Gorski, Associated Press writer (in his article “Believers see more than one way to eternal life”, June 23, 2008).

One can hardly deny that dismissal of a truth that we prefer to ignore does not in any way diminish the fact that it is truth. Nor does ignorance of truth remove its power over one should one step too far beyond the boundaries of safety. If one drinks well water contaminated with lead or C8 or DDT (pick your poison), denying that it is foul water does not alter the fact of its presence nor quell its capacity to harm those who unknowingly drink it. This is no less true of spiritual matters.

And because this is true, men and women everywhere are again and again confronted with the challenge of Elijah on Mount Carmel. “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him’” (1 Kings 18:21 ESV).

I realize that making claims about the exclusivity of truth is unpopular, but saying that all religions lead to God (aside from not even making sense) is a cop out. Making a commitment to follow truth takes courage and I wonder if folks aren’t just a wee bit cowardly about following God.

Well, I suppose that people can continue in their ambivalence (at least for as long as God continues to tolerate it as He gives us a season of grace in which He extends to people an opportunity to accept His gift of salvation). But truth is truth and if one has placed himself at the feet of that truth, embracing it and discovering as he does so that it has given him the only assurance for eternal life that can be had, then he is not only bound to that truth, but he is bound to share that truth as well. This is why my heart echoes the words of Joshua in Joshua 24:15, “…Choose this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Obviously my hope is that each reader of this article will surrender his or her heart to the love of the God, manifested in His Son’s laying down of His life. I hope that you will consider trusting Him as your Lord and Savior. But, at the very least, don’t play games. If God is God, then follow Him. If you aren’t interested in taking such a “radical” or “close-minded” stance, remember that everyone who sits on the fence is going to be knocked off sooner or later onto one side or the other. Instead, why don’t you “choose this day” to receive Jesus as Lord of your life. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I recall once watching an interview by ABC’s Diane Sawyer of Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist and author of several books including, A Brief History of Time and The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe and being intrigued by the philosophically contradictory statements and problematic assertions that Hawking maintained not only in the interview but consistently throughout his various venues as a past professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, best-selling author, and pop-culture icon for rationalism.

In the interview, for instance, Hawking, who prides himself on his atheism, made the statement that “there is a fundamental difference between religion which is based on authority, (and) science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

On the one hand, I thought it significant that Hawking indirectly acknowledged that there is an ongoing conflict between “religion” and “science”. I do not want to read too many things into his remarks, but taken at face value, his statement clearly voiced a personal conflict that he himself has with the idea of a personal, loving, and all-knowing God (facts notwithstanding). When he said “science will win,” he was saying, “I will win.”

That aside, however, he was simply mistaken in his statement regarding the fundamental difference between religion (by which he may have meant all religions but most certainly meant the Christian religion) and science (by which he seemed to mean a rationalistic perspective which irrationally denies the existence of God, since, rationally speaking, even Hawking cannot disprove it). He said that the difference is that religion is based on authority and science is based on observation and reason.

His fundamental mistake was how he perceived religion (the Christian religion at any rate). It is not based on authority as he claimed, but on something entirely different, something that is actually akin to observation and reason. That something? In a word, it is “revelation”.

 To put it another way, when we profess and are genuinely immersed in the essence of Christianity, we are saying that what is worth knowing and what gives life meaning is derived from what an otherwise unknowable Creator chooses to reveal about Himself.

Some of that revelation is, of course, unveiled in the complexity and sophistication of the world around us. From the sheer immensity of the universe which is still far vaster than our means of observing it can assimilate for us to the incredibly fragile and infinitely intricate facets of life and its life-sustaining environments, we can perceive, should we care to, a mighty (though invisible) hand at work.

But that revelation is fine-tuned so that life here might even more clearly perceive the One Who sent it. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that a God Who takes such care to create a perfectly hospitable home here on earth for life would also want also to communicate with it? Doesn’t reason also tell us that such communication would be a “written record” so that through it the one life form that had been given the ability to comprehend it might also preserve it down through the ages? Of course it is!

Hawking said, “What could define God (is thinking of God) as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of God. They made a human-like Being with Whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.”

But Hawking, in his statement, tipped his hand. He said, “accidental human life”. God’s revelation (His Word) tells us that your life here is not accidental. And once we have that established, the rest of Hawking’s dilemmas are easily resolved.

For if God created you indeed (which the aforementioned fact of the incredibly complex requirements for the sustaining of human life suggests), then it is perfectly logical to assume that He will also reveal Himself in some manner to His creation. And if He has chosen to reveal Himself so that one can observe what He has chosen to reveal, then we can safely assume that He truly does desire a “personal relationship” with us in spite of its seemingly impossibility to Hawking.

Honestly, science cannot “win” because science has not “worked”. While I am grateful to God that He has provided us faculties to see and appreciate the forces at work around us in physics, genetics, medicine, communication technology, and so on, there have been limits to what these things can do, limits to what can be known (apart from revelation), and limits to what can be done with that knowledge.

Our culture is still reeling from the failed promises of “reason” and “science” which, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were assumed to be ready to solve all of humanity’s problems (ranging from curing cancer to humanely solving social evils such as crime, hate, and war). What science has really done is show us that we know far, far less than we thought. The ensuing disillusionment has naturally left our world hopeless and ripe for all manners of confusion and conflict.

Hawking shared with Diane Sawyer his attempts to give benevolent advice to his children. Among his three admonitions he says, “Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.” I think I understand what he means, but it’s a delusional remark nonetheless. At best, work can only give you a feeling of purpose, but the moment you stop and reflect on it you realize that if you really are an “accidental life form”, then nothing you do, say, or contribute means anything at all. Think about it! If Hawking is right, then a day is coming when all you’ve done, said, and contributed will be forgotten. You are a “nobody” dwelling in the midst of a throng of “nobodies”, all about to become “nothing” except inanimate matter that neither knows anything nor cares that it doesn’t know.

But there is a mightier reality at work than can be perceived with our senses or comprehended by our intellects. It is rational after all to not only believe in God, but to seek Him out and trust that as you do so, He will reveal Himself to you. You will find that He has done so through the Person of Jesus Christ. Hawking’s problem with the Christian notion of God is what actually ultimately supports it. An infinitely powerful God not only created you, but in an infinitely awesome act of love, gave Himself through Jesus to you so you could have that “personal relationship” with Him!

“Without faith it is impossible to please (God), for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him…. (and look) to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 11:6, 12:2 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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There are times in many people’s lives when something is said or done that sets for them a course of pain and regret. Perhaps looking back on your life, you see that you have somehow lost your way and are now somewhere in a valley of heartache, a million miles away from where you always dreamed you’d be. Maybe you wonder how you got into the place you are and have sadly resigned yourself to a fate of hopelessness. It could be that there are images engraved in your memory with etchings of sorrow so deep that you shy from remembering, becoming numb to life and the world around you.

If so, you’re definitely not alone. Mistakes in the past often reap a harvest of bitterness and pain. Materially or physically or even socially, things may be so utterly out of hand or are so rapidly heading in the wrong direction that despair has crept into our hearts like a slow, cold poison.

It sometimes appears on the surface that things seem all right, but when one assesses his or her heart’s condition, he or she can discern that things aren’t really so okay after all. As a result, a sense of being trapped takes hold, making one a prisoner of regret, shame, or pride. Relationships have been somehow spoilt and aren’t what they should be and joy stubbornly eludes one’s grasp.

What is one to do then when it seems that there isn’t any going back? Circumstantially speaking, it is true that when once we set in motion a series of events that we must “face the music” so to speak, harvesting the consequences of past decisions, attitudes, or actions. But it is not true that while we have breath on earth that we can so destroy the bridge of relationship with God that we cannot get back to Him!

First consider that no one at all can approach holy God deservedly. The result of our sin and the price to be paid was the giving of a life… which our God accomplished in the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, thinking that you have ongoing access to the Father because of your faithfulness is falling short of the full effect of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Your faithfulness does not bridge your relationship with God. It is the faithfulness of God that opened the bridge in the first place and keeps it open for you.

Your faithfulness simply produces the happy fruit of allowing your heart and life to be filled with the good things of God: joy, peace, purpose, victory, courage, and love. It is because of grace that you can return in repentance and sweet fellowship over and over again with the Lord of glory!

Consider how God’s people, through the ages, wrestled with this time and time again. Hear a prayer of a servant of God interceding for God’s people: “You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God. For after I had turned away, I relented, and after I was instructed, I slapped my thigh; I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth.” (Jeremiah 31:18b-19 ESV).

And listen to the Lord’s reply to this prayer: “Is not Ephraim My dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore My heart yearns for Him; I have great compassion for him” (Jeremiah 31:20 NIV).

So if you feel like you’ve wandered far away from God, remember that it is grace through faith only by which you were saved. Recall to your mind that the way is still open to you even if you’ve departed from the path of walking daily with Him.

“Set up road markers for yourself. Make yourself guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take. Return… return…. How long will you waver?” (from Jeremiah 31:21-22b ESV).

When we are called to walk with God, He calls us in spite of all our imperfections and waywardness in order to demonstrate His perfection: His perfect salvation and His perfectly enduring grace that “keeps us” in His love. Know that He knew what He was getting into when He called you to be His child. So if your feet have wandered away, the way back isn’t closed to you after all. You’ll enjoy, like the Prodigal Son, a reuniting that, while you don’t deserve it, awaits you nonetheless (see Luke 15:11-31). To be once again “caught up in the arms” of your loving heavenly Father, you simply have to turn your feet back towards home.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A long gaze backward over the ages that make up the whole of human history can only really result in one conclusion: that man’s heart condition has not changed. No collective human wisdom has prevailed over our inclinations towards destructive behavior nor has our instinct for selfish indulgence seemingly lessened any notable degree.

In the land of plenty, there is still want. In the age of information there is still ignorance. In a time of incredible advances in medicine, death remains inescapable. And in spite of all the leaps made in technology and space exploration, the inner space of our own souls continues to be unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

Because of the various broken promises of hope made by men and institutions throughout the ages, one might be tempted to give way to depression. Because of the uselessness of seeking hope in politics, social reform, better health, biogenetics, astrophysics, literature, philosophy, material possessions, and even self-improvement, one might utterly surrender to the grim grip of despair.

Let’s face it. At the best of times and under the best of circumstances, our world cannot preserve for us such a sure haven of hope and peace that the corruption of human nature cannot in time invade and defeat it. Whether we are speaking of world conflict as nation continues to threaten other nations with wanton slaughter and mass destruction or if we are considering the tsunami of conflict in homes as husbands and wives separate and divorce or children suffer from various forms of neglect and abuse, signs of our collective moral failure surround us and saturate our culture.

Even education cannot cure the curse of man’s struggle with himself and with his neighbors. At best (and I’m being generous), it is only capable of addressing “how” folks can live life; it cannot supply them with the “want to” for the making of choices that address the deepest needs in their lives.

All we have left then, as we wallow in these realizations, is an empty void waiting to be filled with temporary “fixes” in life as people float from one experience to another in their endless quest for meaning and hope.  Hence, our vulnerability to the lure of drugs, sexual indulgence, and false promises of leaders who promise everything, but deliver nothing.

But there is a “filling” that does not fade away and a “fix” (rather, a healing) that does not wither though the years run by and our flesh grows weak.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV).

The hope that is offered to us by God through Jesus is not a silly promise that life is going to be easy and every little whim that we have is going to be met. Neither is it an ethereal concept that can only be talked about and never experienced. Nor is it even some great reward reserved for “ultra-religious” or “super-spiritual” persons that have somehow achieved it through their own righteous works or self-enlightenment.

No, this “living hope” is reserved for anyone who is humble enough to recognize his or her need for it and willingness to shrug off all the old counterfeits that once had been trusted, to embrace the gift of God’s love, no matter how abysmally he or she has failed in the past. It is a hope that recognizes the price that Jesus paid by dying for our sin, yet chooses to also believe that He has risen from the dead, conquering death not only for Himself but for all who place their faith in Him.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV).

So whatever desperate trial surrounds you now, remember that it is for only “a little while” and that the God Who defeated death by raising His Son again in a glorified body that cannot die again, has established for you a destiny greater than any that this world can offer.

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9 ESV).

You do not need to be a slave to despair. You do not need to feel oppressed by ogres of doom and gloom. God’s Word declares for you an eternally enduring hope that survives the upheavals of the world. God Himself invites you to the peaceful surety that He has an inheritance for all who become His children through faith in Christ. And He welcomes you to walk with Him through the years of your life in victory as you believe that He truly has an eternal place of joy and peace “kept in heaven for you”.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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The End of the Tunnel

One day several years ago, my family and I spent an afternoon at a park that had, along with its wooded walking trails and sandy softball fields, a colorful playground set made of heavy plastic complete with a deck from which various slides sloped down. One of the slides was attached to a tall platform, spiraling down in a long tunnel until it opened again above a pile of mulch.

Our children who were very young at the time, very much enjoyed climbing to the top of the “tower” only to disappear through the tunnel. My daughter especially loved sitting at the top of the slide, unable to see below, while I would call to her through the tunnel. Although she could not see me, she loved to hear my voice speaking to her from some unseen location below.

I thought of that afternoon this one day when chatting with a dear pastor friend, Lyle. He and I had gone on a mission trip together one fall to Ghana, a country in West Africa. We spent nearly two weeks there, encouraging and training pastors who do not have access to opportunities for formal education. While on that trip, we became burdened for these pastors, and were given a vision for something more than the occasional pastor training conference. We saw a need for a place where pastors could come and spend an extended period of time in intensive training in an environment that would supply pastoral mentoring, preparing them more adequately for the rigors of spiritually shepherding a congregation.

On our flight back to the U.S., we discussed the vision, scratched out ideas for a curriculum and even drew rough plans on napkins for a building that would facilitate it. Even as we considered it, somehow we knew that the Lord would cause it to come to pass. But it took nearly four years for sufficient funds to be raised so that construction could begin and about three years since then for sufficient monies to be raised to nearly complete it.

As the project neared completion, having taking several years longer than anticipated, we were discussing God’s faithfulness and how close the project was to being done, when Lyle remarked, “It’s come to the point now that I feel like we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

When I considered that conversation, I was reminded that not only is the life of faith itself a journey through unknown lands, but is made up of various opportunities to choose to obey the leading of the Lord in our lives, and thereby experience His love and power in intimate and profound ways.

That particular mission trip itself was one such experience for me. It was an extremely inconvenient time to take a trip like that for many reasons and doing so was difficult on a lot of levels for my family. But the participation of Lyle and myself in that trip was a key aspect in the development of a pastors’ training center that has made a huge difference for the Kingdom of God. Since then, the center has nurtured and assisted churches not only in the rural villages north of the cities of Accra and Kamasi, but in all the countries surrounding Ghana as well. Not only that, it has been a strategic center for reaching out in Jesus’ love to the people of West Africa through even the Hunger Challenge food that people in our community sent last year!

And so goes the Christian life as well. Did you know that much of what awaits you in your own pilgrimage with God will be a little bit like my experience? He is inviting you to trust Him and calls you to “step out in faith” in a relationship with Him that will lead you through many narrow valleys that feel like tunnels that have no end. Ultimately, He calls you to trust Him with your eternal destiny.

Incidentally, that particular conversation with Lyle was prompted by the passing of a mutual Christian friend named Pete. Pete, with whom Lyle had been especially close, was also a man of generous spirit, great vision, and humble devotion to His God. That very week he stepped through the shadow of death into an eternal inheritance kept for Him by His Savior and Lord.

Death, which Jesus has conquered, is the ultimate “tunnel” through which we each must pass. But whether one is speaking of that final step into eternity or of a test of obedience that our God has placed before us here and now, His voice calls to us more certainly than did mine to my daughter as I encouraged her to slide down to me.

But I guess that that’s what makes faith the beautiful thing that it is. God invites us to walk with Him and experience His faithfulness. If we accept His invitation and place our hand in His, He leads us safely through dark valleys of sorrow, over tall peaks of impossibility, and right on through bogs of discouragement until we reach the other side and all His promises are fully vindicated. It’s true that much of the time we just can’t see the “light at the end of the tunnel” but the voice of our heavenly Father calls to us through His Word, the Bible. Our God is faithful and we will see it if we just don’t give up.

“Love never ends…. Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:8a, 12 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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