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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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This week saw the passing of a renowned man of God, Billy Graham. The man, referred to as “America’s pastor” and described by some as “the most significant religious figure of the 20th century”, was a person with a single-minded view of humanity’s need – collectively and individually – that of peace with God through Jesus Christ.

It cannot be doubted that his well-established sense of integrity and personal humility were traits that model for us today the gentle, yet passionate spirit of one called of God. For one who spoke in person to over 100 million people and countless more over television, satellite, film and internet, and for being the “friend and confidante of popes and presidents, queens and dictator” (according to Randall Balmer, Columbia University historian), he was approachable by anyone and everyone and received them as though they, too, were royalty.

And perhaps that is because he knew their Kingdom potential in Jesus as well as his own poverty apart from Christ. It is hard to imagine what our world would be like today without him and hard to imagine what our world will be like now that the Lord has called Billy to his eternal home.

Having said that, I remember about twenty years ago a conversation I was having with a woman about the Lord in general and about Billy Graham, whose name had come up as we talked.

I remember her sadly shaking her head at the time as she said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do when he dies.” She was imagining all sorts of horrible directions for our country and having a hard time recognizing any hope for our nation once this man of God was taken home.

My response to her was that “Just as God raised him up for this season to share the hope of Jesus to our world, He will raise up others to share that same hope. Our hope is not in Billy Graham, but the Savior to Whom he bore witness.”

Today we remember Billy Graham as a faithful servant of the Lord. We can celebrate what God has done in and through that faithful life and thank the Lord for the anointed witness he was. What God has done through that humble servant’s life is incalculable.

I am sure that his family and friends grieve the immediate loss of their loved one, but that they are greatly encouraged by the assurance that comes from knowing that their father, grandfather, friend or mentor is standing now in the light of the glory of the Savior for whom he lived. Not only that, but they are doubtless encouraged, too, by knowing that he is again reunited with his dear wife who had gone on before him to meet their Savior in the place He prepared for them.

But even in death, by which Billy now is “more alive than ever before”, his life’s message is still one that challenges us. Are you prepared? Do you have peace with God through Jesus Christ? Are you still trapped in sin without any hope for change for your future, no clear purpose or identity?

Jesus is the solution to that. While it is true that each of us is a sinner by nature and by behavior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 ESV) and that the result of our sin is death – spiritually, socially, and even physically (“The wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23a), it is also true that God’s desire is for you to be given new life: forgiven, made new, and given a new destiny (“…But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23b).

Because it is a gift, it cannot be earned. It can only be received. It is received through faith in Him (“By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” Ephesians 2:9 ESV).

And how do you lay hold of this awesome opportunity? How do you step into the grace of “saving faith”? “…If you confess your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:10 ESV). In other words, you repent of your sin and turn from your old life and turn to Him, wholly committing yourself to following Him. Then you can trust His promise to save you and establish your eternal destiny in heaven with Him.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13 ESV).

That is what I believe that Billy Graham would have you know and what he would have you find hope in. It is true that he will be greatly missed, but we can look forward now to new things that God will do in and through His people in the days ahead – no matter how challenging they may be.

But please settle things with the Lord today while you have the opportunity.

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I had thought that I would be writing this week on the matter of Thanksgiving or perhaps an admonishment to beware, this Black Friday weekend, the frenzied lures of greed and covetousness that turn relatively sane and civilized people into barbaric hordes terrorizing retail establishments (all to the liking of those same retail establishments).

However, the explosion in the news of stories of men in power who have reportedly sexually harassed and/or assaulted women, using their position and affluence to force compliance and then to buy silence, underscores the urgent need for dialog among Americans in regard to what it means to be a man and whether or not a man can be a man without also being a sexual predator.

Ultimately, sexual harassment and sexual assaults emanate primarily from what the Bible refers to as sin, a condition that is essentially intertwined with what it means to be human. From this tragic, but intrinsically human quality, flow thoughts, attitudes, actions, habits and lifestyles that erode what God intended for what was in the beginning the crown of God’s creation, humanity which alone among living things bears the image of its creator (Genesis 1:26).

Sexual sin, in all its forms, but certainly including those occasions when a man views and subsequently treats women as mere tools to expedite his own pleasure, is a deviation from God’s purpose and plan. In His plan, men treat women with dignity and honor. What some call “old fashioned”, “gentlemanly” behaviors did not come from out of nowhere nor are they merely quaint notions of how “cute couples” get along, but are born out of a biblical worldview. Holding doors open, standing in a lady’s presence and so forth were specific behaviors that expressed a man’s regard for God’s gift of woman.

So the question arises, is it “normal” for a man to sexually harass women? Is it “okay” and/or “natural” and therefore something we should all just overlook and learn to live with? I most certainly maintain that it is not. In fact, it is an insult to God for men to behave so towards women and an insult to God for us to accept it as a “necessary evil” in regard to men.

Happily, God grants provision for men to rise to a holier (and healthier) attitude towards women. First, there is the gift of His Word, the Bible, the lens of which He bids us view ourselves, our condition, and our need for His help in changing our hearts so that we are not merely at the mercy of any and every compulsion that besets us.

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!… How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word” (Psalm 119:1, 9 ESV).

Secondly, there is the promise of God’s indwelling Spirit. It is, in fact, the Lord’s design for us to live life in cooperation (and in trusting obedience) to His Spirit which then empowers us to avoid the snares and promptings of flesh when our flesh is attempting to commandeer our lives.

“But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV).

Thirdly, we have the potential for cultivating relationships with others that would encourage a nobler and higher regard for women. There are those men in our lives who have not settled for the lie that men can be assumed to be perverts or predators and therefore strive to remain sexually pure, be maritally faithful, and respectful of women.

These men are placed in such a proximity to your life that they challenge and encourage you to live like men should, courageously and faithfully complementing the work that God does through women who also follow God’s leading for their lives.

Like Paul the Apostle, their lives say, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17 ESV).

They can see the snares of adultery and sexual promiscuity. They have recognized the dangers of pornography and the travesty that it is and how it relegates women to the role of objects of pleasure and how it enslaves men to the pursuit of physical pleasure. Many men have failed at some point but have repented (and not just because they were “caught”) and now seek, with God’s help, to live out the higher calling of viewing others, including women, the way God views them, precious and empowered co-laborers in His kingdom. These men have come to the place where they have taken their sin (not just sexual sin) and placed it under the cross of Jesus Christ and found the forgiveness of God. Seek out such men. Spend time with them. Imitate them but learn, through God’s Word, to imitate Jesus, Who is the ultimate Man.

“… Let us… lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:12b-2 ESV).

If you have failed in the past, take it to the Lord and seek His forgiveness. Seek, where possible, to make right what wrong you have done. And then forsake that hellish mentality that not only turns women into “things” in your heart, but also chains you to a small-mindedness and small-heartedness that makes us look more like Satan than it does our Savior. And finally, seek to walk with God so that you find power to live above lust and pride and live out the love and kindness of Christ.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In times of trouble and stress, the need for rest becomes all-the-more apparent. How rare it is for us today to make a space in the busyness of life that is reserved for breathing in the presence of God and breathing out His wisdom, love and will. Spiritual exhaustion seeps into every other aspect of life, including our emotions, our relationships, our self-image, our reliance upon God and the things we ultimately do and say (or don’t do and say, even when we should).

All of life seems to resist such rest. Tragedy surrounds us on all sides as if we were being besieged by forces of destruction, whether disease, horrible violence in churches and schools, natural disasters, opiate addiction and overdose deaths, orphans and broken families and international dilemmas that blare constantly through our airwaves and digital spaces.

The world wonders, “Rest? How can you speak of rest?” And it hurries on its way through the trackless jungles of worry and doubt, trying to fix with the bandages and duct tape of wishful thinking and government policy what can only be cured by the power of God in the changing of hearts.

So before you and I get carried away by the monstrous vultures of fear and hate, remember that there is healing and hope even in a time of tears. Remember that there is life and light beyond the veil of shadow of doubt that afflicts us in the swirling mists of hateful and fearful messages that rampage about us today. Take heart that even death cannot conquer the child of God for even when our bodies are broken or are overcome with weakness at last, our hope is not in this life alone, but in the life to come.

“On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalm 62:7 ESV).

There is no evil act that trumps the sovereign grace of God at work in our world. Evil will destroy and disturb, it will slander and obscure, but it cannot quench the hope that God’s children find in the life and ministry of our risen Savior.

“Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7 ESV).

The alternatives to trusting in Him are, of course, to trust someone else who promises “the goods” (but cannot deliver anything beyond this life), to trust ourselves (until we come tragically to the end of our wisdom and strength and find that we cannot do or be all that we must do or be), or to trust no one at all and wither into bitterness and despair as we are swallowed alive by the very evil that we hate.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13 ESV).

Happily, it is not necessary for us to come to such a tragic conclusion. It is our blessing, as we turn from sin and turn to Jesus Christ, to enter into a rest that has been reserved for us.

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29 ESV).

Such rest is a place of sweet release as we surrender our compulsion to “control” our lives and the lives of others (as if we really could), and learn how to, day-by-day, hear His voice from His word and how to, moment-by-moment, step with Him through the crazy labyrinth of life finding that He is indeed the only Guide truly worth trusting and the only Path that leads to life. Why would we want to live anywhere but in the place of growing in Him, knowing Him, and experiencing His love and power at work in our lives? And why on earth would we ever wander from it?

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God…. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall…” (Hebrews 4:9, 11a ESV).

If you have found yourself led astray by the devious distractions of hectic schedules, demanding expectations, or numerous disappointments, learn the simple, yet sweet, practice of daily seeking God through prayer, listening to God by reading His Word, drinking from the well of worship from among His people, and fellowshipping with Him in the sacrament of service. These are not given to us that we just have more things to do (and more things to feel guilty about if we don’t do them), but that we might be refreshed and renewed and strengthened to not only survive, but conquer.

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Many thoughts and prayers have been centered around the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Much dialogue, also, has (as usual) flurried around the matter of gun control and the answers to the questions of why it happened and how now to respond to it. There is so much heartache and brokenness emanating from this tragedy, so much that is horrific about taking the lives of the 26 people killed in what can only be described as a truly evil and cowardly act.

The day after it happened (Monday), I took a brief moment to pause and reflect on our own community and to consider its need for the hope in Jesus Christ that drew together believers there in Sutherland Springs, many of them for the last time.

As I looked out over Gallipolis and the Ohio River from Fortification Hill, my mind was filled with the thoughts of the people in our community, the men and women, boys and girls, their families, their homes, our schools and our churches and I prayed.

I prayed that God would open the hearts and minds of each of us to His presence and to His love. I prayed that He would open our lives to His power and to His hope. I prayed that He open our eyes to recognize that the only true hope that there is the world is found in His “only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

The terrible events of Sutherland Springs were insidious and contemptible in every way. Yet there is for Christians so much that resounds with an unspeakable glory and an unimaginable hope. The child of God has heard and accepted the truth that Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of all who repent and believe in Him (John 1:29) and that knowledge grants him a sure place to plant his feet and stand.

Truly, there is an unbearable pain being felt by the people of Sutherland Springs, a pain that we, in some measure, must each face. But it is not a pain that we must carry upon our shoulders; it is a pain that we find, if we will trust Him through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), that allows Him to lead us onward and upward to an eternal home in His presence.

“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…. We ourselves… groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:18, 23b-24a ESV).

Satan’s enticements and the resulting enslavement of minds, lives, hearts and souls often erupt in obviously wicked and horribly violent ways at times and our initial reaction often is to shy away from God and question His goodness or His power. But when we remember that this life and its trials and pains are not about this life, but about preparing us for the life to come, even death loses its terror as its shadow shrinks in the light of hope in Jesus’ love and power.

Even God has suffered the pain of loss, yet He endured it so that you and I could have a hope that conquers sin and death. His Word delivers to us, by His Holy Spirit, a conviction that He Who faced down death yet rose from the grave, will be with us even today to strengthen us in our walk and fill us with joy, granting to us strength to carry on and to hold out that truth for others to hear and receive as well.

What happened in Sutherland Springs can happen here in Gallipolis, Ohio. But Satan cannot conquer the heart that is already conquered by the glory of Christ. He cannot steal what is eternally grasped in the mighty grip of God Himself.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-32,35-39 ESV).

And that, dear one, is reason for great joy.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

 

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