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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

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

Discover His Love

Forlorn and lost and bereft of hope,

            Embraced by fear and pulled down the slope

Of pain and fear and desperation

            And dying from our separation

From our source of life, the God of love

            Who supremely rules from above.

 

In His holiness, He judges all.

            Yet to the sinner, He sends the call

To turn aside from all pride and sin

            And through Christ’s blood he is ushered in

To His presence! Be cleansed and made new!

            Pardoned and changed completely through!

 

O come and find His forgiveness now!

            And set yourself to discover how

Great and good is Jesus’ love for you!

            How beautiful and perfectly true

Is Jesus Who died to set you free

            But lives and reigns eternally!

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

With this year’s Valentine’s Day comes another round of… what is it? Shades of something? If audiences’ responses to the last two episodes are anything to go by, this one will also likely have a wildly enthusiastic reception and viewers will once again be exposed (no pun intended) to confused and distorted messages about sex, relationships, and love. It’s too bad that folks are so eager to accommodate an easy message of pleasure that they’re willing to overlook a genuine message of love… one that these movies essentially ignore or, perhaps, are incapable of even understanding.

Some might argue that the movies somehow, in the end, redeem themselves by trying to convince us that their characters eventually come to a place where they genuinely understand love itself, the movies themselves reportedly take (as the books on which they are based allegedly also do) such a circuitous path through hazy messages of sensuality and perverted sex, that viewers will be victimized by the notion that such interactions between two people are not only normal, but are desirable. 

But that argument is a stretch anyway. I cannot help but believe that the primary engine driving the production of the movie itself is greed which, in turn, exploits lust, the engine that is driving those who will eagerly attend the movie.

All the emphasis of these movies – all the sex, all the need to control others, and all the using of others to build ourselves up – are sad counterfeits of the greater pleasures of knowing God and experiencing His love and power in our lives. They threaten to ruin the God-given point of sex in the first place: the joyful consummation of the uniting of the lives of a husband and wife in a covenantal relationship.

It’s a sad thing when people, in whom the image of God resides, relinquish the high and beautiful purpose granted them by their Maker as they twist a gift He has given them… a gift that would ultimately deepen their love for Him and each other as it teaches them to love as He loves.

The love of the Bible is first-of-all a giving kind of love, not a taking. Just as God gives His love to those who place their faith in His Son, a husband and wife express their love for each other by giving themselves emotionally and spiritually to the other. The physical act loses all its meaning if it takes place outside the context of marriage and is a mockery of true love because sex without the commitment of the covenant of marriage is merely a taking from the other. As one uses the other for his self-centered urges, or allows herself to be used selfishly because she believes the lie that this is how one is loved, they miss the mutually edifying and sacred union that marriage represents when fleshed out as God intends it.

And aside from that, the very idea that physical pleasure is the greatest goal to pursue in this life misses the point entirely of what this life is about. God is not God to us when we capitulate to the lie that a mere physical pleasure is our greatest good. Nor can we accept the natural counterposition of this idea: that pain is our greatest evil. When we believe these lies (even subconsciously), we are unable to make sacrifices and put the needs of others before ourselves.

So watch out. Let your ideas about sex, love and marriage be shaped by the Bible, which is God’s Word. Don’t fall into the lie that God’s great aim in creating you is to deprive you of the joy of sex, but understand that He wants you, when the time is right, to enjoy it in the way it is intended to be enjoyed: in the confines of a God-centered marriage.

Jesus is the supreme example of what love is and what love does. He proves that love is not a mere emotion. It is the following through of the determined resolve to raise you up into His divine life. But just so you know, when you believe that truth and finally surrender your life to His holy sacrifice for you and His divine lordship, that love does bring forth a harvest of emotion: joy, peace, comfort, courage, affection, and hope. Indeed, when we finally surrender our passion to something as truly great as He is, we find an amazing grace sweeping us up into the wild abandonment of seeking Him, pursuing Him, discovering Him, and knowing Him. Only in Jesus are we truly freed to live and love and experience the myriad of experiences and fantastic encounters with Him awaiting us… and there are infinitely more than fifty shades!

“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God…. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (Psalm 24:3-6, 1 John 4:15-16 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Ya Got Yer Callin’

Ya Got Yer CallinAlec MacNeal had had a reputation for knowing the waters off the coast of his little New England village like no one else around. His father had been a fisherman, as had his father before him. Alec had grown up on the waves, and knew exactly where to drop his nets and when to do it. He had weathered every storm that had ever aimed its winds his way and had enough sense to get out of the ones that he couldn’t weather.

But now he was overcome at last by a storm which he couldn’t steer clear of, a storm that wasn’t in the blowing wind or stinging spray of the open sea, but in his own flesh as cancer irresistibly continued its advance.

He reflected a bit over his life, scenes of joy and sorrow alternately flashing across his mind. He was waiting for his son, Richard, to arrive and as his wait dragged on, his mind dwelled more and more on the weed bed of regret that his own pride and selfishness had cultivated for him.

He and Richard hadn’t been close for nearly two decades, since Richard was a very young man. Alec had always considered himself a good man, perhaps even better than a lot of churchgoers in their little coastal town. Attending church was never something he had ever faulted anyone else for doing, but given the need to be out even for days at a time on the water, he reasoned that he rarely had a Sunday free to attend church and even when he did, he usually used it as his day to catch up on other things.

But he didn’t object when Richard announced that he was going to attend a church meeting with a friend who had invited him. It was, after all, a much better track than sneaking a bottle of whiskey or smoking who knew what on some back road in the country.

But Alec was mystified by Richard’s strange attitude when he returned home and in the following days. He was quiet and reflective as if deeply pondering things. When Alec asked what it was all about, Richard quietly replied that he had become a Christian. Richard went on to explain that at church he had heard about Jesus coming to show the way to God the Father, that He had died as a sacrifice for everyone’s sin so that they could be forgiven and go to heaven. Richard shared that he had asked Christ into his life and was now going to try to live for Him.

Alec simply stared at Richard. He finally shrugged his shoulders and muttered, “More power to you.” And it neither troubled or in any other way affected him until Richard’s new found relationship with God began to affect Richard’s part in the family business.

The older fisherman had always assumed that Richard would simply continue in the family business as Alec had done. But the first clue that assumptions were dangerous things was Richard’s asking to not go out on the boats on Sunday. As far as “needing” him, Alec had plenty of employees to take care of the boats, but he still bristled a little bit when Richard made his request.

“You know, Richard, that this is a very busy time of year for us,” he said crisply. Richard nodded respectfully, but continued to look his father in the eye.

“I know it, and I’ll work all the harder the next day and the rest of the week to make up for it,” he said. “Besides, you’ve got Carl, Edward, and Mac to help you. You could do without me for one day.”

Alec sighed, and then grunted his assent. Richard was as good as his word, making up for the one missed day with extra energy and enthusiasm for the rest of the week.

“Richard is a good lad,” his father thought to himself one day, as he watched him working with the other men on the engine of the boat. He was far more a positive influence on them than they were a negative one on him. Even their language began to get tamer whenever Richard was around. Nevertheless, Alec kept a watchful eye on his son, riding him hard about his work and requiring a level of perfection and performance that he himself doubted he’d have if Richard had not become a Christian.

But one Sunday, he returned home to find Richard once again in his strangely pensive mood as if he had something to say but was afraid to say it. Alec was tired after a long day of disappointing results so, after a somber meal, he turned to Richard and said, “All right. What’s on yer mind?”

Richard looked quietly at the table and then at his father. “I believe that God is calling me into the ministry,” he answered. “I’ve gotten information about a Bible college and seminary and plan to go there at the end of the month.”

Alec’s sunburned and wind-blown forehead crinkled into a thousand lines of agitation. He spluttered a few syllables but didn’t manage to say anything. He stood up suddenly and strode to the wide window that looked out over the bay. His little fishing vessel was well into the shadows that the gable of his house cast eastwards. Two of his ship hands were still inspecting nets before they stowed them away.

Richard came and stood by his father, gazing out across the relatively calm waters. “Dad…” he started to say. His father turned a cold eye towards him.

“Ya got yer callin’,” he growled. “Just go ahead then and follow it. Just go and get out!” With that, Alec turned, yanked his jacket off its peg. “I mean it! Get out!” he barked over his shoulder and then stormed out of the house down to the boats. Richard watched for a few moments, standing as if he had been slapped in the face, and then made a phone call to a friend. He packed some bags, grabbed his Bible, and quietly slipped out the door.

When Alec returned, several hours later, he came home, slamming doors and muttering curses. He cast a quick glance into Richard’s room and shook his head. “After all I’ve done for him, too!” Alec realized that he was incredibly angry… angry at Richard, but angrier at God for stealing him away.

But now, years later, he was dying. Richard frequently came back, but Alec would never receive him and never quite forgave him. Their visits were generally prolonged exercises in strained and awkward moments. Richard had even the audacity on a couple of occasions to try to talk to Alec about a relationship with God. Each time, Alec would just hold his hand up and tell him to mind his own business.

Alec’s heart now weighed heavily with regret. “What was I so angry about?” he now wondered. “If he really did become a Christian, how could I not expect him to want for me what he says he found?” Alec mentally kicked himself now. What if Richard didn’t make it back in time? What if he never made peace with his son? What if he never made peace with God?

But the outer door opened. There were voices in the outer room where the nurse who took care of Alec had been waiting. Footsteps. And then Richard’s familiar form entered the room.

“Dad?” Richard said, his voice a welcome sound to Alec’s ears. Alec smiled and reached for his son.

“Hiya, Dickie,” he said, using Richard’s childhood nickname. “I’m glad you’re here.” There was a pause. “Would you… Could you tell me again how to become a Christian?” Richard’s heart leapt to his throat. He nodded and began to share with his father about Jesus, glad for the peace that now lay between them. Moments later, Alec MacNeal received Jesus as his Savior. Days later, Alec MacNeal went to heaven.

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him” (Matthew 4:18-22 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Ever been hurt by someone? Ever been dealt an emotional, mental, or spiritual pain that may or may not have accompanied a physical hurt? You know the kind of hurt I’m speaking of… a soul-searing ache that shoots into your heart and mind, eliciting responses of fear, anger, and hate as well as the temptation to react with fight or flight. For those who try to run away, pain has a way of pursuing them relentlessly, like an awful hound of anguish keeping them constantly looking over their shoulder in dread. Or the pain slyly disappears from view for a time, hidden in the waters of busyness and life, only to resurface unexpectedly, laying hold of its victim with its icy fingers and tempting them to either hide from life or lash out even at those who love them.

Perhaps you’ve tried to numb yourself to such pain, burying it with pursuits of other things that promise to mask the hurt as you medicate yourself with activities, accomplishments, pleasures, drugs or faulty relationships. Maybe you reason that such vices are better than violently seeking revenge on those who have hurt you. Still, in time the pain one buries has a way of taking root and shooting forth tentacled vines of regret, suffocating you and even controlling you like some alien weed that makes you something you never dreamed you could be – even in your worst nightmares.

At first, such strategies seem to work. You have a “respite” and so you buy into the lie that ignoring what hurts you, closing your eyes to the pain and locking memories in a closet of denial, will somehow make the hurt go away. But the problem with masking painful hurts, running from painful memories, or avoiding painful situations is that the pain remains. It’s still there, all the while injecting the poisons of bitterness, fear, and despair into your spirit. You can neither live fruitfully nor fellowship fully with others as long as pain is allowed to control your choices. Nor can you enjoy God and what it means to be His child as long as your pain is unaddressed. Consequently, you cannot be all you could be because of the control that unsurrendered pain has over you.

Let’s not oversimplify things, but let’s recognize that addressing pain victoriously begins with engaging the source of the pain itself. Acknowledging the pain and its source is essential to recovering from it. As you admit and “own” your hurt and what it is or was that hurt you, you can move on to the healing act of forgiveness.

Letting it go through the grace of forgiveness has less to do with letting someone else “off the hook” then it does with letting yourself “off the hook” of keeping score of what others deserve and the weighty obligation of taking them to account for their sins against you. And as you forgive, hearkening to God’s admonishment to forgive others (Matthew 6, Mark 11, Luke 6, 2 Corinthians 2, Colossians 3, etc.), you then trust in God’s forgiveness of you (1 John 1:9) and finally begin to find the holes in your soul beginning the process of healing.

Forgiveness, as opposed to running away from your pain or taking revenge out on those who have wronged you, allows you to move on to the new things in your life that God has in store for you. You let go of the former things (even your broken dreams) and press on (Philippians 3:13) allowing these new things (and new dreams) to fill up the empty spots in which your past experiences try to keep you trapped. This applies to even your own mistakes, failings, and sin… you set right what you can but you know that all the rest is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Walking obediently with Him (in even your attitudes as well as actions) allows His healing to become effectual in your experience. The more of God in your mind, heart, and experience, the less room for the bitter fruits of the past.

Healing takes time, by the way, and only the faithful and patient application of “waiting on the Lord” (Isaiah 40:31) allows you to experience the reality of recovery from the powerful grip of pain.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan