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Behind These Walls

There is something about the love of God expressed in the conduct and character of Jesus Christ that makes all other pursuits silly and superfluous – at least as ends in of themselves. Just think of it.  We spend our time, our energy, and our resources in order to have a merely momentary pleasure, a fleeting sense of importance, a fading façade of purpose, or an all-too-brief taste of love.  Even at their best, our past-times, pursuits, and priorities are all-for-naught if we do not live under the banner of God’s love in Jesus.  Without Him, such things are “Vanity of vanities!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 ESV).

Not only that, but in our frustration of gleaning only crumbs of comfort from dubious flirtations with such things, we flail about and end up settling for things that can only give us the illusion that we have found what we have been looking for.

Finally, too tired to keep up the search, we entrench ourselves in rationalizations and put up walls of suspicion and defensiveness, housing within ourselves a shrine to whatever it is we have decided to place our faith in: self, relationships, sex, drugs, work, money, power, fame, possessions, food, exercise, politics (or politicians), social causes or even escapism.

Behind these wallsWhat a sad lot we are behind those walls that we have put up. Tired of fighting off the wolves that would prey upon any of us who are unwary and foolish, we increasingly turn inward and fail to hearken to the voice of the One for Whom we have truly been searching, the One Who alone can bring healing, wholeness, cleansing, truth and beauty.  Indeed, even when we hear His voice, we eye Him with suspicion for we do not recognize Him.  In a world of liars, cheats, thieves and murderers, who can dare to open our hearts to Him?

Yet, when once we hear His voice, and find that this Righteous Judge has scaled the walls of our jadedness, we perhaps see His mercy… a mercy so great that it bears within itself the beautiful scars… ugly for they are the evidence of our sinfulness, but beautiful, too, for they are the evidence of His gracious forgiveness.

If we could then dare to lift our eyes to meet His, we would see there a fierce fire that would have consumed us in flames of holiness if it had not already been satisfied by the perfection of the righteousness of the Son Who died in our stead on the cross of Calvary. But we would also see a timeless look of love that would be like our falling into a well filled to overflowing with mercy, patience, kindness and goodness.  Looking into the eyes of Jesus, we would, I’ve no doubt, gladly lose ourselves to Him so that He could fully make us to be all that we ever hoped and dreamed to be, washed clean of failure, evil, and fear.

As He casts aside every stone of pretension we ever set up against Him, He steps fully into those places of our hearts and lives we feared most to let Him enter. And as He does so, we find that we have finally been made free and fully alive.  No more do we run from His presence or hide from His face.  No more do we seek to put up barriers to keep Him out for we have found our truest Friend.  We clasp the hands that have been holding us all along and we gladly lead Him to each corner of our lives, seeking His light to illuminate the shadows that would still haunt us and hold us at bay from the future He holds for us.

He is faithful to love us with infinite patience, doing us the kindness of bringing our rebel and sinful hearts from a posture of death into a place of life and victory. Only Jesus can do this.  Only Jesus can be this.

Whatever “good thing” you live for, it is not all it could be or should be unless you find first your fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He is the starting point for every life worth living and He is the end point for all of us – whether or not we care to admit it.

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (Philippians 3:7-12 ESV).

Because He is good and gracious, we are given the immeasurable opportunity to fully lay hold of what it means for Him to have laid hold of us. Let down your walls, friend.  Let them down and go forward into His purpose for you, a purpose which is secured by the atoning work of Jesus’ death on the cross and the astounding wonder of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  Do so and find that there is a world of wonder and delight before you and God’s mighty hand to uphold you.

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Jason and the Ant

Jason sat behind the wheel of his black GMC Sierra feeling a sense of disbelief as he monitored the progress of an ant clinging desperately to his windshield. The small insect was being buffeted by the air passing over the window as the large pickup traveled at 45 miles per hour down the straight stretch of country road, yet it had not yet been blown away. The ant had probably fallen off a branch of the crabapple tree that had stretched over the vehicle at the building site he had just visited.

While the ant’s determination to hold on was amazing, Jason was more interested and even perplexed by the fact that its plight had triggered a wave of compassion within himself. It was just an ant, after all, right?

When he had first seen it, his initial reaction was to turn on the wiper blades and knock it off. But he unexpectedly felt sorry for it and thought that the wind would knock it off anyway. But it didn’t. The little ant somehow managed to hang on. When Jason reached a straight stretch where he would normally speed up to fifty or so, he held back surprisingly reluctant to see it go. He had once read about ants, their colonies and habits, and remembered that if an ant somehow wandered or was placed in another colony’s territory, the offending ant would be quickly and ruthlessly dispatched by “guards” of the rival ant colony. So even if he didn’t smash it with the windshield, the little ant was doomed anyway should it blow away and land intact anywhere but its own home.Ant

Jason couldn’t believe he was feeling this way… about an insect. But a still, small voice seemed to speak in his mind, “But what about Randy?”

Randy… an hourly employee that worked for Jason on a lot of his new buildings. Jason rarely got to know his employees very well. In fact, Randy had been with his construction firm for months, yet Jason knew almost nothing about him, except where he lived… sort of. He knew he lived in a run-down house outside of town but either had never seen his house, or had not realized it was Randy’s at the time.

Actually, Jason knew that his employees generally viewed him as something of a snob and maybe even a jerk, but it didn’t bother him much. It was his company after all, and he said what he wanted the way he wanted, not much caring about the pressure he put on his workers or their families’ lives. Jason suddenly realized that he viewed his employees more-or-less as disinterestedly as he normally viewed the insects on the ground.

Jason was abruptly aware of the glaring contradiction in his life. Jason professed to be a Christian. He was (usually) a faithful attender, a tither, and even served as a leader on committees in the church. Yet, there was an appalling lack of compassion and even of interest in other people… especially if those people were somehow “beneath him”.

He absentmindedly followed the road, his eyes glazing over for a moment as all these thoughts ran through his mind. He focused his vision back on the windshield and saw that the ant had finally blown off… beyond recall. And he thought about employees who had come and gone through his life, neighbors he had had, and business associates with whom he no longer had reason to remain in contact. Did he know where they stood with God? Could he say that he had ever thought about them as anything other than a means to an end for his business and himself? Had he ever really thought about their lives, their pain, or their need for the hope that he publicly professed to possess? Not really. And so many were gone, blown out of his life by the winds of change… beyond recall, never once hearing from Jason the news that God loved them enough to send His Son to die for them.

Jason suddenly pulled off to the side of the road. It was the strangest thing, and he could hardly believe it about himself, but he began to weep. There was a terrible brokenness in his heart and life… a weight of regret and shame, all because of a single ant struggling to cling to life on the face of his windshield.

“Lord,” he prayed. “I confess to You that I’ve been proud and calloused. I’ve been selfish and… stupid. If anyone has a right to look upon another as just a bug, it would be You looking at me. I mean, You are God! But You loved me and Your Son died for me.”

A car drove past but Jason ignored it. “Please forgive me for… my pride… and the fact that I didn’t share eternal life with people.” Grief flooded over him as he uttered this. The thought became almost unbearable that he had had chances to share the message of God’s love with people and opportunities to, in a sense, help spiritually save lives. He didn’t even notice that the car that had passed by, an old run down, Chevy sedan, had stopped, pulling a few yards in front of his truck.

The still, small voice seemed to speak again… “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 ESV).

There was a tapping at the window and Jason looked up. It was Randy. His weathered face, so baked by exposure to the sun, made him look far older than thirty. Jason turned away, wiped his eyes, and looked back again, rolling his window down.

“I was headin’ over to the other site and I seen you sittin’ here. Is something wrong?” Randy asked, his eyes showing that he was both puzzled and concerned by finding Jason this way.

Jason almost laughed. How do you tell someone that you were crying over an ant? “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so… at least not now.” He looked at Randy hard.

“Randy, why don’t we go ahead and take lunch right now. You and I can go over to Bob’s; I’ll buy,” he said. Surprise washed over Randy’s face and he paused a brief moment.

“Uh… sure!” he said. “You’re the boss.” Randy headed back to his car, got in, and pulled out.

Jason followed and smiled. “I don’t have to tell him the part about the ant, do I, Lord?” he prayed aloud. “The main thing is that I start treating him like he’s something more than a bug; he’s a man… a brother-to-be and Jesus died for him. But if You’ll open the door, God, I’ll sure tell him about Your Son.”

And he did.

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then there is grace which is offered us freely through faith in Jesus.  He is the channel as well as the source.  “Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me….  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 14:6, 3:16-18 ESV).

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Perhaps the most pernicious calamity assaulting people anywhere and everywhere in our area today is the epidemic levels of addiction. The most obvious expression of this plague is, of course, the deluge of opiates flooding our homes and families as “regular people” find themselves reeling from its merciless grip.

Billions of dollars of research both in private and in public sectors underscore the complexity of the problem indicating physiological causes and effects, psychological ones, and even sociological factors that contribute to and result from addiction.

This naturally leads us to various treatment options that approach the problem of addiction from these different vantage points. It often creates confusion for us when we see it from only one of these perspectives while others approach it from still another.

The truth is that there is legitimacy in these different philosophical approaches and we are wiser when we treat the “whole person”, aiming to get at the roots of each individual’s struggle with addiction.

The most essential quality for a person’s recovery is a “heart” that is ready for it.

However, there is one aspect I cannot underscore enough as fundamental to one’s ongoing victory over addiction and I truly believe it to be essential. In the many people that I encounter who have struggled or are struggling with addiction, it has become clear to me that the most central quality for their recovery is a “heart” that is ready for it.  In other words, it is necessary for a person to hunger within the essence of himself for real and lasting change and to recognize the spirituality of life and the purpose for which he has been created.  When that hunger is acknowledged as a real need for something that drugs cannot satisfy or fulfill, then the eyes of the heart can turn to the one thing that can.  It is what turns one from the downward spiral of selfishness towards an attitude that can look outward and upward.

Addiction is often viewed as a kind of terrible bondage, a heavy and burdensome chain that shackles a person, enslaving her with a feeling (the “high”) that relentlessly eludes its pursuer. It’s a good comparison.  It IS a chain.  And it mocks and torments its victims even while it boasts of its empty promises of pleasure and happiness… or at the very least, pretends that it can provide us escape from pain whether emotional or physical.

I have been asked, “How do we fight addiction? How can we overcome it?”  The answer, while some may think it overly simplistic, is that we lead the victims of addiction to the one pleasure that makes all other so-called pleasures pale in comparison.  We must unveil the “pleasures” of drugs for the anemic counterfeits that they are by holding them up to the “real thing”.  And what is the pleasure that transcends all others?  It is the joy of the Lord.  It is what can deliver the life that wants change.

But a person’s heart must be ready for real change and not just a temporary release from the intensity of addiction. If that were all, it is only a matter of time before the person slips back into the folds of whatever drugs they depend upon or, just as bad from an eternal point of view, would settle into another phony sense of purpose for his life, content perhaps for a time, but still ensnared with something less than God’s purpose for him.

Time and time again, I have found that when a person has come to the end of herself and finds that drugs cannot now nor ever will fill, only then is she really ready to look towards the one thing that can complete her.

When a person receives the gift of God’s cleansing forgiveness, there comes upon him a newness that begins to reframe his outlook and expectation for himself. Indeed, there is now an awakening that arises within him, as he shrugs off the shame and condemnation for which Jesus died on the cross:  “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him (Jesus), having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV). Because Jesus gave His life for us by dying in our place on the cross, God counted the sins of all who turn to Him for salvation as being paid for through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Then, for each person who turns to Jesus and learns that he has been made a new creation, God tells us that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  This knowledge is so powerful in a recovering addict’s life that comprehending it and then accepting it as true is the equivalent of dynamite when he comes up against the walls of resistance that addiction’s proud owner, Satan, throws in his way.

And finally there is the priceless gem of hope that Jesus grants us through His resurrection life, bequeathing to us (through faith in Him) the same power that brought Him back to life in His glorified form! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV).  When a recovering addict sees himself as something new and no longer bound by an old nature that was enslaved to a temporary, fleshly passion, he can then give himself over to love, forsaking all the illusions that addiction threw up previously and pursuing the higher, heavenly reality of an eternal God Who created him for His own glory.

Nothing conquers the short-sightedness of addiction like an overwhelming sense of the pricelessness of an eternity with a holy God Who loves us in spite of ourselves and holds open for us an open door to a forever kind of victory.

My heart’s desire then is to share with anyone whose heart is open to it, the message that God loves and God saves.   Jesus is proof of that reality.  In fact, Jesus is the way to that reality.  For the addict.  And for everyone else, too.

Whether addiction has been part of your story or not, Jesus is the Way.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jesus in John 14:6 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Thom Mollohan