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One summer, when we had planted a larger garden than we did this year, our family began to notice a strange phenomenon taking place among our tomato plants. They had grown tall, lush, and fruitful with clumps of both orange from their ripening fruits as well as yellow blossoms, like golden stars, decorating their vines. But suddenly we began to notice that leaves at the very tops were being inexplicably shaved from the plants.

If this had taken place when the plants were still young and small or if it were happening only near the bottom of the plant, we might have supposed that yard critters, such as rabbits, had managed to find ways into the cages and were enjoying the fine cuisine. But the leaves being sheared off were nearly six feet off the ground. We ruled birds out for various reasons and finally concluded that it had to be an insect of some kind.

We looked and looked, searched and searched through the tomato vines, but could not find anything suspicious. So we determined to just keep our eyes opened, waiting to catch whatever naughty little culprit was responsible. In the meantime, we continued to find every morning that a few more leaves had been clipped from our tomato plants.

CatepillarBut then one evening, we saw hanging as placidly as the leaves about it, an enormous green caterpillar. Our children, on a recommendation from their mother, consulted a book on North American wildlife (handy for these impromptu learning opportunities). They concluded that it was either a Luna Moth or a Cecropia Moth. While the caterpillar in question was far too swollen for us to be sure exactly which kind it was, we had several weeks prior discovered a beautiful Luna Moth (a kind of Giant Silk Moth) which we had scrutinized until it decided that it no longer liked being scrutinized and so flew up and over the house to unknown destinations.

We gazed for a moment admiringly at its swollen progeny, but then, in the end concluded that this caterpillar needed to make its happy home some place other than our tomato plants. We consequently removed it to a new location (far from the tomato plants) and have had no further grazing problems.

The whole little episode with the tomatoes and the caterpillar, was more than a bit reminiscent of Eric Carle’s children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but also served as a catalyst (or should I say, “caterpillaryst?”) in my mind for thoughts regarding a spiritually rewarding life.

Keep in mind that the great goal in the Christian life is true knowledge of God. Not merely knowing “about” Him, but knowing Him – intimately and profoundly! The Scriptures assume this and present this theme repeatedly from what is called the great “Shema” (in Deuteronomy 6:4-5) to the declaration of the two “greatest commandments” by Jesus to crowds who were lost and straying, eager to hear this special message from a God Whom they perhaps believed was as far off as the unreachable stars (see Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:29-31, and Luke 10:27-28).

If such true knowledge of God is the theme of the Christian life (and if you’re still in doubt about this then read Jesus’ prayer in John 17, especially verses 2 and 3), we must then recognize that there are as many “caterpillars” in the gardens of our souls as there are among the gardens in which we grow our flowers and vegetables.

Little attitudes subtly nibble away at our spiritual stature, shearing from us our capacity to be nourished with the simple and yet incredible love of our Father in heaven. We most likely don’t consider such attitudes to be capable of such harm, believing them to be harmless enough, but little prejudices, resentments, envies, and worries have power to climb through the vine of fellowship that binds us to Jesus and shear from us attitudes of joy, contentment, thankfulness, and peace. And when these fruits begin to fail to materialize in our relationship with God, our growth becomes stunted. We at best are slow and meager in our harvest of glory for Him through our lives. But too often we stop growing altogether and become susceptible to various kinds of spiritual blight that will try to choke out all remnants of His love within us.

Our challenge is therefore simple. As in the case of our little garden, we learn to look for little things that slowly eat at us. Not only that, but as we prayerfully meditate in His Word, the Bible, we learn what we’re looking for.

Such “caterpillars” range from greed to lust and from pride to fear. Allowing these persistently parasitic attitudes the freedom to linger in your life, will most assuredly render you incapable of true and unfettered fellowship with God. Not only that, it also makes fellowship with other believers impossible. These “caterpillars” have a way of wandering from our own leaves onto the leaves of others. Those who become thoroughly “eaten up” become hazardous to the church. Things can become so bad that they require radical intervention such as is employed in 1 Corinthians 6 when Paul addresses this kind of issue in the church in Corinth.

“…Now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:11 ESV).

Given the stakes involved, be sure to make it your habit to sit prayerfully in the Lord’s presence (in a personal time of prayer and reading His Word), and allow God to help you remove the “caterpillars” that may be at work in your heart and mind. Let Him move them far from you so that your spiritual life might become lush and fruitful, bearing a lovely harvest of spiritual fruits in your relationship with God.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A Question of Hell

I recently read an article in a popular Christian magazine intended to challenge church leaders to lead their ministries in ways that are more relevant.  I do not often read the magazine anymore because I have, in more recent years, come to the conclusion that in our pursuit of “relevance” that we collectively seem to be forsaking the mooring that faith in God’s Word must be to keep our Christianity (and its resulting ministries) true to the true nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the particular article I read, it heavily defended a popular preacher who began to question the doctrine of hell and apparently came to the ultimate conclusion that a good and loving God could in no way have meant that people actually go there.  This person wrote a book about it and has since left his megachurch. But still maintaining a following through more sensational means (e.g., promoted by an extremely popular television personality and even given his own television program), he continues to push forward (apparently) in a denial of a teaching on God’s judgement.

The article claims that this person is continuing to be “crucified” and laments what the author appears to feel is the persecution by Believers of this person simply over a difference of opinion.  The article was unclear about what constitutes “crucifying” in this former preacher’s situation and perhaps there is validity in how things are handled (if disagreement is expressed with a genuine degree of hate or something to that effect).

My concern with the article, however, grew as I read it because it seemed to me to treat as of small consequence the issue in question (specifically if there is such a thing as hell and whether or not people go to it after God’s judgement).  It troubles me greatly that the article relegated the matter of hell to the realm of things that Christians can agree to disagree on, such as the role and purpose of the gift of tongues or even the method and mode of baptism.  We may not see “eye-to-eye” on tongues and baptism perhaps because we are understanding the Scriptures from different points of view, but we maintain an over-arching agreement that the Bible is true and authoritative and so we are in unity is some essential elements of doctrine.

The problem that emanates from this former preacher’s teaching is that it simply denies Scripture itself.  Jesus, the Author and Lord of love, the One from Whom love is derived, spoke about hell, its reality and His desire for us to not go there.  Three separate Gospels record for us Jesus’ passionate plea to weigh our choice to pursue our own flesh and proud ways in the light of the eternal consequence of hell (see Matthew 5:22-30; 10:28; 18:9; Mark 9:43-47; and Luke 12:5).  The presence of these remarks from Jesus should sufficiently support our acceptance of the fact of the reality of hell.  Those who argue these passages away would do well to also read and reflect upon 2 Peter 2:4-10.

But, as has been observed, Jesus Who is not only a picture of grace but is the expression of infinite grace, extends to us the hope of the forgiveness of God and shows us the extreme lengths to which His heavenly Father has gone to grant to us the opportunity to turn from ourselves and turn to Him through faith in the One Who died for us.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).

And in regard to Jesus, God says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame….  For everyone Who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:33 ESV).

Saved from what?  Eternal death.  Eternal judgment.  Eternal separation from God.  “This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14b-15 ESV).

If this is true, and the Bible says that it is, then it is imperative that we have not only a right understanding of its reality, but also a right understanding of what our response must be.

Lives are at stake.  More than that, eternal lives are at stake.  And we cannot reduce our Christian teaching to philosophical nonsense that does not adequately allow people to respond in faith to the only One Who can save their souls.  If standing for life-saving truth is confused for hating, then it is worth it to have our motives misunderstood.  Why?  Because in our standing for life-saving truth, God’s Holy Spirit can bring a lost soul bound up in his or her pride or worldly preoccupation into a soul-saving relationship with Himself that can only come through faith in Jesus.

Is it an uncomfortable teaching?  I would say, “No.”  It is not “uncomfortable.”  It is absolutely terrifying.  To not be in a place spiritually of having received God’s pardon for my sin would be the worst possible place that I or anyone can be and we would do well to be terrified of the judgement of God.

But then there is grace which is offered us freely through faith in Jesus.  He is the channel as well as the source.  “Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me….  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.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 14:6, 3:16-18 ESV).

Turn to Him in genuine faith.  Turn from your sin.  Turn from your self.  Allow His forgiveness to enter into you as you cling to Him in faith.  Let Him change your destiny from eternal death to one of eternal life.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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When I was about nine years old, I happened to run across a book by Walter Farley called The Black Stallion in my elementary school library. Up until that point I hadn’t had much of an interest in reading. But that book grabbed my attention like no other book had until that point and I found myself caught up in the adventures of the boy named Alec (around which the story centered). The book, not quite like the movie of the same name, triggered a love for reading in me that abides with me still, but also ignited a love for horses that remained with me throughout my entire childhood and still stirs a thrill in me whenever I have a rare opportunity to ride or simply be near horses.

Perhaps part of the magic that the story wrought upon me had something to do with the main character’s dramatic adventures in being lost at sea and then overcoming the odds against his survival by learning to thrive upon the meager resources that his small deserted island afforded him. But the real thrill for me was found in his awe of the magnificent Black Stallion (also stranded on the island), Alec’s passion for connecting with the mighty horse, and his victory as the great beast began to trust him and allowed him to ride upon its back.

The story may also have prepared my heart for a significant truth that all too often escapes people today as they struggle with the heavy duties of juggling a plethora of worries and temptations. What is that truth? Simply that we were created for more than mere survival here on planet earth. We were made for knowing God and riding His will for our lives just as Alec was intended to be more than a diminutive Robinson Crusoe. No, as Walter Farley’s pen scribed for us the tale of The Black Stallion, we might see that the island was in fact a necessary ingredient for the wonderful turn that the young boy’s life would take.

As I recall that story, it occurs to me that we would do well to reflect on the eternal nature of our lives. We would do even better to realize that if we remain focused just on this little “desert island” that we call life, we will miss the fact that this is our grand and glorious opportunity to establish an eternal connection with God. Just as Alec in The Black Stallion recognizes that the island is his opportunity to become more, have more, love more and to be loved more, we also must recognize that life is our opportunity to become more, have more, love more and to know love in return.

The Bible, God’s Word, tells us a much greater story than the one I found on the bookshelf of an elementary school over thirty years ago. It paints for us in vivid colors the true story of how God’s plan for the world is unfolding and how His amazing love is still triumphing, in spite of the inclination of humanity to turn its back to Him again and again.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 ESV).

Many people linger and wallow in the muck of worry and despair as they strive to live in their own power and so every day is a misery to them. Many others choose to abide in the delusion that they can “put off” dealing with their own eternal needs or the needs of their loved ones until a convenient occasion to face them. Some almost have the attitude that if they fill their schedules (and their minds) with preoccupations that keep thoughts of their souls’ need for salvation at bay, then somehow they’ll never have to deal with their need for God’s forgiveness and the soul-saving power of faith in Jesus Christ!

In such cases, it’s like having an awesome stallion within our reach, fully capable of carrying us on the wings of the wind, but our eyes are focused elsewhere. When we finally “get off the island” as death closes our eyes, we go without ever knowing the love and power we might have known and never have the benefit of being made ready for the eternal life that awaits us.

Let it not be so with you and me! The Bible tells us of how God so loved us that He gave His one and only Son in our place upon the cruel cross of Calvary (see John 3:16)! It tells us that we obtain the benefit of His sacrifice by placing our faith (our full confidence) in Jesus life, death and resurrection (see Romans 10:9-10)! It tells us that as we repent of our sinful waywardness and past rejection of God, if we accept His gift of eternal life through His Son, we are not only fully forgiven, but are made heirs of God and the recipients of His own divine power!

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him Who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV).

Is there a “Black Stallion” awaiting you? Certainly! Are you willing to risk leaving your “comfort zone” to climb on board God’s will for your life? Will you forsake the “luxury of worry and fear” by trusting God’s Son to save you? Are you ready to let go of control of your life so that you can “ride the wind” and feel the thrill of walking with God? I hope so. One day it will be your turn to “leave the island” and I pray that you will be ready.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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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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