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Most people in Jesus’ day did not recognize Him. And because they did not recognize Him, they did not understand Him, His mission, or His motives. This paved the way for their rejection of Him, their mistreatment of Him, and their missing out on receiving from Him what they needed most – the gift of eternal life that only He could grant them.

When you read in Luke 23 about Jesus in the presence of that time period’s leaders, Pilate and Herod, you should feel keenly their confusion and take heed that you do not fall into the same traps into which they did.

“Herod with his soldiers treated (Jesus) with contempt and mocked Him. Then, arraying Him in splendid clothing, he sent (Jesus) back to Pilate…. (Pilate) said to (the chief priests and the rulers and the people)…, ‘What evil has He done? I have found in Him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release Him.’ But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted” (Luke 23:11, 22-24 ESV).

Pilate, on the one hand, seemed to perceive Jesus’ innocence and the injustice that the crowds sought to carry out against Him. Yet Pilate shrugged his shoulders, more or less, and abdicated personal responsibility of responding to the uniqueness of Jesus. And Herod, in love with himself, did not find in Jesus anything that fed that selfishness, so he not only dismissed Him, but mistreated and mocked Him.

Both men, though failing to recognize Jesus as Son of God and Lord of Creation, were still accountable for their responses to Him. Jesus, Son of God, the Word made Flesh, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, stood before them and they missed it, rejected Him, and sent Him packing. They couldn’t afford to make that mistake, yet they did. I cannot fathom their reaction when they stepped into eternity without the forgiveness of Christ Jesus and realized the horror of not receiving Him as Lord and Savior.

You and I are in a similar boat. True, we are not in the positions of either Pilate or Herod and it is likely that our names are not going to be known throughout the ages, but our response to Who He is will be the most urgent decision ever before us. And our response to Who He is will be dictated by our recognition of Who He is.

Do we really perceive Him as the Son of God (Luke 1:32)? As the Word of God made Flesh (John 1:14)? As the One to Whom every knee must bow and every tongue confess as Lord (Philippians 2:10-11)?

If we do recognize Him as the “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), then we must submit to that fact and make the decision of receiving Him accordingly. He is the Lamb of God who will take away your sin, if you will repent of your sin and turn to Him in faith (see Romans 10:9-10). The moment you do so, God “causes you 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” (1 Peter 1:3b-4 ESV).

This is the hope that Good Friday secures for us as we make our way to Easter Sunday’s Resurrection. Do you recognize Jesus? Do you see that He is Lord and Savior? Do you know Him personally?   He died for you and in your place so that you could have a place in heaven with Him. Receive Him today.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

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

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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The days that followed Jesus’ rising from the dead, glorified and victorious, were undoubtedly overwhelming to His closest friends and followers. How they initially responded to it is very telling in regard to their humanity and, perhaps, to our own as well – especially when we consider how we react when we begin to truly grasp the miracle that God lavishes upon us the moment we become His children through faith in His Son.

“On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:1-6 ESV).

The disciples’ response to Jesus’ not being where common sense predicted He would be was predictable in itself. They were confused and then startled by the presence of those supernatural witnesses who God appointed to present them the news that the One Whom they thought as being dead and buried, was not a victim to tragic circumstance and human hate, but the victorious slayer of death itself.

Their difficulty was primarily rooted in the limitations that all their experience had taught them. They were well-schooled in seeing people rise up to do and/or say the right thing being silenced permanently as either the Jews themselves would squelch what they perceived to be religious opposition or the Romans who were at best only ever tolerating them and were always too-ready to kill anyone who dared to stand up to them in very public ways.

In a similar way, a newly-saved Christian may initially have difficulty in knowing how to live life from the framework of God’s forgiveness and Holy Spirit power because he is still mentally entrenched in old ways of looking at things and old ways of dealing with problems or coping with pain. But as he becomes immersed in the reading, exploring, and discovering of the promises of God and the principles of His Kingdom, he begins to discover, as those disciples of the first century church did, everything is changed and he moves forward by shaking off the chains of old assumptions, sins, fears and habits.

As the reality of Jesus’ resurrection became more “real” in the minds and hearts of His followers, the qualities of wonder, worship, joy and courage began to take root and germinate in the hearts of His followers that ignited the hearts of multitudes beyond them.

In a similar way, as Jesus’ forgiveness and lordship become more “real” in our minds and hearts, we too discover those qualities and we too may influence those around us towards the Savior we celebrate. Not because we are suddenly so charismatic or convincing in rational arguments, but because the presence of God is real to us and, therefore, real to others through us. We are genuinely and beautifully different because we have truly encountered Jesus Christ in our hearts and experience through faith.

The question then for you and for me is whether or not we have really met the risen Lord. Have we personally encountered His holiness and forgiveness? Are we engaged by how deserving He is of our love and adoration? Are we changed by the fact of His love? Are we gripped by His glory? If not, then let us turn our eyes to the Jesus of the Bible. Let us drink deeply of His promises for us and of His soul-saving and life-changing presence. Let us reconnect with Him through the reading of His Word, the fellowship of worship of Him in the community of His people at a local Bible-teaching church. Let us meet with Him again and again in the quiet place of genuine communion that prayer grants us.

If you have never encountered this wonderful Savior in a personal way, then waste no more time. Connect with someone who has and ask how you too can be saved. There is too much at stake to waste any more time. And Jesus Himself is waiting to welcome you into a personal relationship with Him that turns your destiny from spiritual death to eternal life.

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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Valentine Day ReminderMany years ago, our daughter was preparing Valentine Day notes the other day for some of her friends, when she snatched up a “Sleeping Beauty” card with a great big, red heart on it and held it up in her hand, waving it around enthusiastically.

“This one is for Jesus!” she announced. Sleeping Beauty ranks number one (at the moment) of her favorite princesses. “I’m going to give Him this one!”

Her mother replied, “Oh, you are, are you? How’re you going to do that?”

“When I go to Heaven, I’m going to take it with me and when I see Jesus, I’m going to run up to Him and give it to Him!” she explained carefully.

What can you say? Her mom smiled at her, commended her for wanting to give Jesus her best valentine, and moved on.

Later on, the subject came up again with two of her older brothers. She told them that she planned to give her Valentine to the Lord Jesus. They listened thoughtfully, and when she had finished, one of her brothers said with good intentions, “That’s nice, but I don’t know that Jesus will ever read it. Well, He can read it but it’s not like He’s going to come down and just get it.”

His younger brother interrupted, “Ah, but how do you know? He could!”

On that thought, my daughter began to whirl around the room like a ballerina, flitting about and waving the Valentine as if it were an oriental fan, singing, “Here it is, Jesus! Here’s Your Valentine! Come and get it!”

That evening, she was sitting in my lap while I sat in my chair, and she told me again about how she was giving her Valentine to Jesus. When she was done, she held it in front of me solemnly and then slipped it into my shirt pocket. “Would you hold it for me until I can give it to Jesus?” she asked.

I pulled it back out of my pocket. “I think that maybe you should take this and put it away with some of your other special things, sweetie!” She smiled and took it from my hand, running off to presumably place it with her other treasures.

There, she did it again. She, as do all of my children, has a way of coming into the hum-drum routine of daily life and lobbing “deep thoughts” my way with reckless abandon. Sometimes those “deep thoughts” blow in like bubbles, inspiring warm and comforting images of God’s great grace and patience; sometimes, like bricks, they break the windows of presumption of my heart and I find myself a bit rattled.

In this particular instance, I was not in any particular hurry to contemplate again the mortality of my children. I would be much less disturbed in considering my own. Nevertheless, the “brick” has been thrown. When our second oldest son was only eight months old and we had been told that he likely had Leukemia (which, I am glad to say, he did not), my whole world was shaken to its core. When our daughter was arriving and the doctor suggested that neither the baby nor her mother may survive, I was profoundly shaken yet again. In the same way, when life-threatening events seemed to “zero in” on our other two children, we have been forced to reconsider our priorities!

My daughter waxing on and on about giving her Valentine directly to Jesus painfully reminded me of her mortality, and then, as a result of that harrowing thought, of the importance of not losing focus on what is truly important. Frankly, I am glad for such reminders for they are opportunities for me to reevaluate how I am spending my life!

As you know, Valentine messages are generally either made in the shape of hearts or are adorned by them. Her dancing, with her Valentine held up high for Jesus, underscored to me the supreme importance that she truly gives her heart to Jesus, especially while she is yet a child. This weighs very deeply upon my heart… that she and my sons all come to a genuine and life-saving faith in Jesus Christ and then dwell in a deep and abiding relationship with Him.

I thank the Lord for such a gentle reminder that every single moment that I have with each of them is a gift given to me from God. Obviously I do not wish to squander these moments of enjoying them, but I certainly do not want to lose the chance that I have while they are young to do all I can to help them see God the Father’s love for them and the need right now for them to seek Him with all of their hearts, all of their lives!

“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’… before the silver cord is snapped… and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6a, 7 ESV).

If you are a parent, or have influence over little ones, ask yourself the question, “To whom is my child giving his or heart?” While you cannot decide for your child to accept God’s love expressed to us through Jesus Christ, what are you doing to be a catalyst in his or her life that he or she comes to know God’s love personally? What about you, your choices, your lifestyle, and your priorities is pointing that child to an abiding relationship with his or her Creator?

If you are finding yourself painfully unable to answer this, then why not turn the direction of your life over to God right now and ask Him to help you to be the person your child needs you to be, even if he or she has reached adulthood? Take in faith God’s desire to set things straight and His will to turn things around if you will surrender yourself to Him. Allow God to set things right in your own heart and then, through your submitted will, allow Him to start making a difference in the life of someone you love.

Copyright ©Thom Mollohan

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The human heart, entrapped in night,

In sin’s dread grasp, no hope of light.

Sovereign grace stooped down to free

Those in sin’s captivity.

 

He came upon a midnight clear,

The Son of God, to drive out fear.

Laid in a straw-filled manger low,

So life of God we could know.

 

________________________________

 

Oh, tiny town of Bethlehem,

The Prince of Peace is here.

To drive out night and give us light,

God in flesh is near.

 

Hark how the herald angel seeks

To lift our eyes from strife.

He bids us keep this Babe asleep

As light of hope and life.

 

________________________________

 

Away in the manger, sweet Jesus rests,

This given Lamb of God,

Who on Calvary will die for me

To cleanse me with His blood.

 

Moved by mercy, moved by love,

The King of Glory came

To cast out sin and enter in

And take away my shame.

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Hope Spent Well

Christmas is doubtlessly a busy season for most of us. It can be overwhelmingly full of the chores of shopping for gifts, cooking for family get-togethers, and decorating our trees. Not that it’s all bad, mind you. We love the excitement and expectancy of the season as we sing our Christmas carols, hang our Christmas lights, and send out our Christmas cards all while we wait for the fun of receiving our gifts and enjoy (hopefully) the giving of them.

But perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life when a small and hidden ember bursts into a cheery blaze that once again warms a home.

Perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life.

Perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life.

Hope is an essential ingredient for life, its sweet savor making bearable and even pleasurable a dining table set with circumstances that we would otherwise find unappealing and even revolting. Without hope, peace is an illusion, joy is hollow, and faith is empty. Hopelessness can be a spectral wraith haunting not only our dreams but also our waking moments, draining our labors of purpose and our suffering of meaning.

It is probably obvious that hopelessness is rampant today. It not only wounds and wears upon those who have been overcome by sickness of body, but also men and women who are sound in body, but are afflicted with illnesses in hearts and minds that others cannot see. Hopelessness not only holds drug addicts in its ruthless and merciless grip, but also successful business people who have come to realize that they have acquired plenty of material benefits but have not acquired any lasting fulfillment from them. Hopelessness not only torments victims of years of cycles of abuse, but also those who themselves possess power and prestige but have found such baubles to be pointless in affecting change in lasting and meaningful ways.

Hope is something we desperately need, but so rarely find and sustain in the dark watches of winter and in the long seasons of trials of this life. It is like the hoped for oasis in a sprawling desert after finding only mirages along the way. Hope is essential to every one of us no matter who we are or where we’ve been. But ironically everyone who is now tortured by the pangs of hopelessness once actually had hope… but such hope was placed in the wrong things.

Our hopes are placed wrongly in our political leaders as we look to them to remedy our society’s hurts, yet they fail… either from their own corruption using our trust to advance their selfish ambitions or from their own limitations as we find them simply unable to do all that they promised.

We place our hopes in education, but we find that head knowledge cannot change hearts as it becomes clear that hurt, fear, prejudice, and violence continue. In a similar way, some of us place our hope in media in the belief that it can inform and inspire people to action. Often it does, but we have learned (from nearly a century of broadcast news) that often it is the wrong kind of action and that it is sometimes no more than a propaganda machine, uncommitted to truth but a skewed perception of things that leads us astray.

There are so many other things in which we hope, yet time and again we find that we have reached for mere phantoms. And each time we close our hands upon a promise that evaporates into nothingness, we are left a little more calloused and suspicious and even reluctant to endure the pain of once again placing our hope in something or someone.

The ultimate tragedy is that when we are finally met by the Source of true hope, we often dare not believe it. On the day that God shows up in our circumstances, wooing us by His Spirit to forsake sin and become His child forever, we feel so burned and disappointed by our pasts that we listen to the lie that, “Surely this is not true. God cannot or will not love me.”

This happens so often to us who have resisted His call and spent ourselves on things that appealed to our spiritually childish inclinations, flashier and easier substitutes for Christ’s call to forsake all and follow Him. The world is not lacking in its proposed alternatives to Jesus nor is the devil lackadaisical in inventing them.

Yet there is no path surer than that of Christ though it lead us through valleys under the shadow of death. The Living Word Who became flesh effectually offers you hope because He both desires for you to be His victorious child and also has power to achieve it.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made…. By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…. 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?” (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16-17, Romans 8:31b-32 ESV).

Hope spent in what is eternally able to deliver us and fulfill us is hope spent well. Hope that is misplaced is always eventually a disaster. Christmas is a season of hope, not because of gift-giving, nostalgic traditions, and families spending time together, but because it marks the occasion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, leaving the glory of heaven so that you and I might be saved from our sin (*Matthew 1:21).

The Lord, speaking of Jesus says, “Here is My Servant Whom I have chosen, My beloved in Whom My soul delights…. The nations will put their hope in His name” (Matthew 12:18a, 21 HCSB, citing the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-3).

So let the story of Christmas turn your eyes from mere temporary things to the eternal hope of heaven. If you will allow God to kindle within you His divine spark, it cannot be snuffed out however furious the winds of discouragement may blow. Hope, therefore, may be one of the greatest gifts given to you this season… or any season.

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

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Well, so far it’s not been much of a “wintery” winter, at least not here in southern Ohio. We are hearing, of course, of real winter weather in the west and the plains, but December here has not been typical at all.  But if it were especially wintery here, if we were being assaulted by artic blasts, frigid snowfalls, and freezing ice storms, we would likely be longing for a quick return of warmer days. And while it may not be especially cold and icy here in a meteorological sense, it is a cold, cold world in which we live… in a spiritual sense.  Worn down by the apathy and indifference of a jaded people, the corruption and arrogance of a broken political system, and the confusion and hate-mongering of religions that are warmed only by the heated conflicts that characterize them, one quickly begins to long for a touch of warmth from a heart of love.

What is it after all that thaws a frozen heart? What warms a frigid home? What turns a winter of despair into a spring of hope?

What is it after all that thaws a frozen heart? What warms a frigid home? What turns a winter of despair into a spring of hope?

What is it that thaws a frozen heart? What warms a frigid home? What turns a winter of despair into a spring of hope?

Love, of course. More specifically, it is God’s love that does this (lest we be confused with the inferior notions of love volleyed about in popular culture).

Love is not content with the status quo but of upholding the welfare and enrichment of those upon whom love shines its light.  Love is not interested in merely pointing out how another is wrong or unworthy, but with drawing one out from the tentacles of error into the wonder and freedom of God’s truth (see 1 Corinthians 13).

Once we begin to understand and come to grips with this amazing and life-changing attribute of God, we find ourselves being transformed by it. It grabs hold of us and we find ourselves woefully undeserving of it, yet it wonderfully comes to us nonetheless because that is what God’s love does.

It motivated the Father to send His Son as Savior for all who will receive Him so that the yawning gulf that separates us from God might be spanned. It motivated the Son to spend His own life on a cross He did not deserve so that the reality of a literal hell might be averted for any who would receive His gift of forgiveness. It motivates the Spirit of God to abide in we who are God’s children through faith in His Son, transforming us from mere sinners into the likeness of Jesus Christ today! And it motivates us as God’s Children, through the leading of His Spirit, to give ourselves away on behalf of those around us, undeserving though we may think them (but in truth no more undeserving than any of us).

God’s love is what moves us to speak words of encouragement to one who is broken by fear or weariness of heart. God’s love is what moves us to share with those around us when they are in need. God’s love is what moves us to stand up for those who are oppressed and are victimized. God’s love is what is moving millions of Christians today in making a difference in the world around them! Because of His love, they are determined to show His compassion, share His truth, and shed His grace into the tear-ladened vales of calamity and crisis, warming hearts that have been frozen by fear, grief, and pain with fires of passion for the One Who loved them first.

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers…. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 3:16, 4:9-12 ESV).

So let us truly love in this day of need. Let us love as Christ has loved us and thereby give Him glory and give the world hope.  Allow the warmth of God’s love even now to thaw your outlook for 2016 as He turns your heart towards Himself and others to His love through you!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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