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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

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*I just ran across an article I had written exactly ten years ago!  My, how time has flown by!

After our having just decorated for the holidays one Christmas many years ago, our oldest son (who was about three years old then) would approach a nativity display that we had set out with what seemed to be a great sense of reverence.  He would walk up to it solemnly and with great care, toddler though he was, touch the various parts of the scene.

He would occasionally ask us questions about the account of Jesus’ birth and we would, of course, tell him over and over again the Christmas story, delighting in his openness and interest in the things of God.

“Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with Child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7 ESV).

Our son, each time he heard it, would point out the different personalities involved in the Christmas story who were represented in the nativity set:  “Der’s Mary.  Der’s Joseph.  Der’s the shep-uds.  Der’s the wise man-s.  And der’s Baby Jesus!”

One evening as we were preparing for our nightly ritual of story time, I walked past the nativity set and casually glanced at it only to spy a flash of orange.  I turned and looked more closely finding a small plastic Tigger standing in the midst of the Shepherds and Wise Men, saluting the Christ Child.  I didn’t remove the small, stripey character, our son’s favorite toy at that time.  Instead, I caught up my young son in my arms as he ran by and asked him who that was in the stable with Baby Jesus.

A Tiggerific ChristmasNaturally, he replied, “It’s Tigga!”

“Why is Tigger there?” I asked.

My son looked up at me and as sweetly as he’s ever said anything answered, “He’s worshipping Jesus, too, and… and he’s singing ‘Happy Buthday’!”

“Oh,” I said, kissing him on his head and holding him tightly.

In such a wonderful time of celebration, whether we’re celebrating family, good friends, rich food (*ahem*), or meaningful traditions, it would be wonderful and right if we took all those precious things that we love about Christmas and also placed them under the feet of Jesus, singing “Happy Birthday” to this One Who is the center of Christmas.

After all, Jesus’ coming to earth on a “rescue mission” for you and me firmly establishes for us an anchor of hope in a very chaotic age.  Knowing that our favorite Christmas carols about angels singing together of peace and hope aren’t just songs.   They are reminders to us that God’s love cannot be conquered by human evil.  Sometimes that love enters the scene almost silently and unassumingly (how unassuming is being born in a stable?).  But it enters nonetheless.

You may never have had “time for God” before or may have felt that God has never had time for you – you wouldn’t be the first to have mistakenly adopted these attitudes.  But God is doing something in your life right now… something that may seem silent or invisible.  He is very likely entering the scene of your circumstances ready to establish His presence in your life in a fabulous new way if you would let Him, in the same way that He quietly entered our world in what probably seemed an unimportant place in Rome’s grand designs.

But that’s how God moves.  He takes the “small and weak”, the “broken and forgotten” and brings healing, strength and hope.  Christmas is a perfect place to pause and consider how “Tiggerific” God’s power and love are.  Stop during this Christmas season and join the Angels, Shepherds and Wise Men in praising this Prince of Peace and in wishing Him a Happy Birthday!

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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In grim and gloomy cells, prisoners were forlornly locked. Emptied of hope, they sprawled on the filthy floor of their prison or warred amongst themselves, madly scrambling for the few crusts that their dungeon keeper tossed their way. Little had they known of light or life and many even believed that the whole of the world was contained within the gray walls of their dismal existence.

At times, though, there were some who escaped, helped by One from outside. These would return to the others with messages of hope, a light in their eyes, and a fragrance that clung to them, the sweet vestige of fellowship with the One Who had liberated them.

Shackled and chainedBut some had become so accustomed to the fumes and stench of their imprisonment, the new fragrance of freedom and hope caused them to gag and so they clung to their shackles of pride and selfishness. Mistrusting these emissaries of hope, they turned their backs on those who had come. At times, they would even rise up and attack them, calling them “liars and frauds who sell false hope for personal gain.”

Still, those Keepers of Hope, went from prisoner to prisoner, holding forth the message of light and life for those who would receive it. With them went One, hardly to be seen in the mists that swirled about the dungeon. With a key that only He kept, He unlocked any who would receive His gift of hope. This Giver of Hope would kneel down beside each wounded and weary prisoner, and offer them the balm of forgiveness and the elixir of grace, lifting them from the nasty pool of their fallen nature, bringing them out into the clean and clear airs of glorious fellowship with Himself.

And the story continues. We are ourselves caught up into that same saga. The story of Christmas is the account of how the Great Giver of Hope descended into our fallen world, and brought with Himself power to overthrow shackles of sin and selfishness in the lives of all who will place their faith in Him. “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

The world presses in upon us and we come ever so close to toppling off the brink of discouragement into the abyss of despair. Though we become convinced that there is no hope and that all the evils of the world and all the pains we’ve endured will never be cleansed or healed, hope cannot be conquered for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

People who have lost all hope are people who have already died. Yet God specializes in bringing people “back from the dead”. And though we may be shackled by the deadly weight of chains of sin and selfishness, He holds the key to our freedom and desires to set us free into fellowship with Himself.

How about you? As He reaches down with nail-scarred hands full of forgiveness and restoration, will you receive the healing that only He can provide? Will you seize them and allow Him to place upon your fingers “rings of joy and peace” and upon your shoulders the “mantle of dignity and worth?”

Now is the time to be set free and made new. This Christmas season, celebrate the coming of the King into the world by receiving His gift of love.

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9-14).

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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My family and I annually watch a Christmas film in which some especially mischievous boys, by their own acts of selfishness, accidentally cause the destruction of Santa’s load of goodies for boys and girls around the world. Smitten by conscience, they then lament the world-wide ruining of everyone’s Christmas. While the story moves on to how they then “save” Christmas by fixing their mistakes (and finally demonstrating some selflessness in the process), the whole idea that Christmas can be “ruined” or “saved” by whether or not there are Christmas presents is so totally off the mark that it cannot be ignored.

Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor S. Geisel) probably was closer to the mark in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for when the gravely grumpy Grinch steals all the toys of all the Who’s down in Who-ville, the Who’s gather nonetheless in their town square to sing joyously and triumphantly – with no toys at all.

One perfect giftChristmas is really about only one gift after all – the supreme gift of God, wrapped in the plain “wrapping paper” of a little baby’s body, born in a barn, growing into a prophet and teacher, tried as a criminal, but victorious in rising from the grave to glorious new life.

Written five-hundred years before an angel choir gathered over a shepherd field near Bethlehem, Isaiah 7:14 declares that, “… The LORD Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son and will call Him ‘Immanuel’” (which means “God with us”).

And what an amazing and undeserved gift He is!

“He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed…. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth…. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth…. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My Righteous Servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities…. He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:2-5, 7, 11, 12b).

This gift of God, Jesus Christ Who alone grants eternal life, (see Romans 6:23), is for all who will turn in utter faith to Him. But turning “to” Him means also turning “from” ourselves:  from trusting our own good intentions, our own accomplishments, and our own sufficiency.

It also means turning away from the pursuit of things in competition with God’s right to “first place” in your heart. Are you looking for financial security? How can anyone feel financially secure if he has not given the Lord access to his money matters? Looking for someone to love you and accept you? *Knock, knock!* He-l-l-l-l-o-o! Jesus says in John 6:37, “Everything and everyone that the Father has given Me will come to me, and I won’t turn any of them away.”

Will you not now turn away from things that ultimately fail you and turn to the One Who laid His life down so that you may have an abundantly meaningful life in His love?

“(Jesus said)… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Just think! All of us “Who’s, the tall and the small, can turn to Him for life, this Savior and Lord of all!”

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Traveling outside the country is an exercise in anxiety for me. I am by no means a “frequent international flyer”, so on the occasions when I have traveled abroad, I have found my prayer life accelerating exponentially (especially when I’ve headed into unknown airports with procedures that I have suspected differ greatly from other airports in which I’ve been).

Traveling by car has had its own quirks as well. When in West Africa several years ago, I and my partner were going by van out into remote villages to encourage and train “bush pastors” (pastors, usually with little or no formal training who are responsible for Christian believers far from urbanized settlements). As we left “civilization” far behind us, the sun was shining, and we found ourselves driving on rough “roads” that threw up such clouds of dust that we were literally red from head to toe. Trying to breathe through handkerchiefs, we sat in the back of the van, tossed back and forth as our Ghanean driver (tried) to dodge the tree limbs and gulleys that unexpectedly crossed our paths.

Eventually, the hours of daylight ran out and it got dark. As the last of the sun’s ambience melted into shadow, the depth of the darkness grew and grew until we were quite literally surrounded by what seemed to be absolute black. That in itself wasn’t necessarily a new experience for me. In rural Ohio, we have country roads that go for miles without any flicker of light to be found, allowing the stars in the sky above to shine down uninhibitedly. As we drove on that particular night in Africa, however, the canopy of trees and vines so thickly surrounded us most of the time that we generally couldn’t see the sky. Even so, the big difference that God began to open to me is that in Ohio, where there are people, there is almost invariably light. A porch light, a street or security light, a light in a window, a headlight, a flashlight, and so on, are almost always present whenever people are present. Where there are people, there is light. Not so in the undeveloped territories of Ghana and Togo.

What was really experientially strange for me (although I knew it prior to my experience of it), was that we would be riding along in nearly complete darkness (save for the headlights of our vehicle) when suddenly we’d find ourselves driving through whole groups of people walking along the trail with no light among them at all. On one occasion, the driver stopped and we all got out to stretch our legs while he confirmed that we were traveling towards the place we wanted to go. As I stood there, listening to the voices in the darkness around us, I gradually became aware that we were actually standing in a village of mud huts, their forms hardly to be seen in the shadows all around us. And then, an hour later we came to another village, only this one had some real buildings, one even with a light on as we drove by. I even found a man who had Diet Coke to sell (I bought one to wash down all the dust I’d been eating for the seven or eight hours prior).

The point is that I consider that perhaps I have taken the blessing of light a bit for granted. My thanks to the professionals who work tirelessly even in harsh elements here in Ohio to help us keep the lights on. Our friends in Africa don’t live in darkness by choice; there simply hasn’t been the economic development there to make it happen in many places. I assume that it is because there have been too few incentives to make it happen (perhaps financial gain will become less an incentive for others and compassion for others more of one). In the meantime, darkness is what many people who live there are accustomed to though they hunger for more.

Spiritually speaking, the parallels are enormous for folks in our world today. On the one hand, many of us who “have the light” (the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ) take it for granted, underestimating the power of that light to illuminate our own paths in life today. On the other hand, many do not have “the light” and walk in the darkness of despair, fear, and bondage to sin.

If we look with spiritual eyes, however, we will find that there are far more people striding up and down the highways and byways of daily routine, lost in darkness, than we could ever have imagined. We who have come to Christ Jesus, placing our faith in Him and receiving His gift of salvation, must remember that this light to which we’ve been called (the light of God’s love) is not merely for our benefit, but for God’s glory and for extending into the lives of others who hitherto walk still in darkness.

“In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world… He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him….  But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:4-5, 9a, 10, 12-13 ESV).

There are two things that we must do with this light which has been entrusted to us. The first is simply to walk in the light. “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7 ESV).

The second is to share the light. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

"You are the light of the world." - Matthew 5:14 ESV

“You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:14 ESV

Let us each who then say we love God, simply strive to live in His light and to share His light with others that they may no longer walk in darkness but have fellowship with us in the wonderful illumination of His love!

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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When golden sun first lights the day
and little songbirds wake and play,
perhaps you hear the Father say,
“I am with you, O My child.”
 
But even when the light is shorn
and gray and cold you find the morn
and trials come that can’t be borne,
He’s still near you, O dear child.
 
When your joy is overflowing
and you reap fruits of gladness’ sowing,
of fear and hate there seems no knowing,
bless His name, O happy child.
 
But when all life is filled with woe
and grief and loss are all you know,
and one more step’s too far to go,
let Him carry you, O weary child.

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.   And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” – Philippians 4:4-7 ESV

 

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Blessed is the moment when
            at last we learn to live
in the hope that Jesus
            alone in life can give.
 
His blood alone can cover
            every vile and wretched thought.
His supernatural sacrifice
            has cleansed our every spot.
 
Jesus’ resurrection power
            that freed Him from the grave
is sufficient in its working
            to unchain every slave.
 
The Spirit that He sent us
            works in us our Father’s will
and all He asks of us His own
            is that we trust Him and be still.
 
“Cease your striving!” the Master says.
            “You could not save your soul,
but turned from sin to trust My Son
            so I could make you whole!”
 
And as we learned we are not saved
            because we earned the right,
we also find that fruits that last
            come only through His might.
 
So it is, we must take up prayer
            and learn to read His Word. 
We learn “abiding” fills us with
            the very power of our Lord. 

 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV

Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. – John 15:4-5 ESV

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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