Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Difficult Class

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (Colossians 1:21-23 NIV)

I was a freshman in college when I walked into my first day of World Literature class. The small classroom was full with about 30 students. The professor was old, probably about my current age, and, from the start, grumpy. He began almost immediately calling out students who were chewing gum, talking to each other, or had failed to yet purchase the required textbooks. He invited them to leave if they couldn’t show more respect. He was no nonsense and rude. He wouldn’t have lasted a semester in today’s environment, as certainly students and parents would have complained so much, he would have been fired.

When I walked into the classroom for the second time, it was almost emptied out. Probably a dozen brave souls and me (I was just too passive to drop the class) filled the seats. I can’t speak on how the others felt, but for me it was one of the most difficult classes I ever took in my college career. The professor lightened up a bit once he had before him a group of what he perceived to be committed students, willing to tolerate whatever he dished out or handed out. But his grading was brutal!

I considered myself a decent writer and had been told so by a number of my high school teachers. But the first several papers I turned in were covered in red ink and given less than average grades. I was shocked! But over the semester, I hung in and worked hard to improve my thinking and writing skills. And one of my most pleasant memories of college is when I received back my final paper with an A- grade and comments that it was a well-written and thought out paper. Because of how demanding this professor was, that grade and those comments meant the world to me because I knew I had earned them and he was not just being nice.

After all of these years, I still consider that class the best I ever had, not because it was all that enjoyable, but because of what I learned about good writing and my capabilities. Unlike my classmates for a day, I persevered and was rewarded in ways I never imagined at the time.

I share this story because I see a very meaningful spiritual truth from it. We live in a time where many who call themselves believers seem to think nothing should be demanded of them once they’ve (publically or privately) confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as their Savior. Many believe there are no demands and few, if any, consequences if they fail to grow and mature in their faith along the way. Like the students who quickly dropped out of the world lit class, they are missing out on what God has desired for them.

Most students want easy classes and good grades, but if they get their wish, they will graduate from college with a degree, but without a true education. Great professors know this. In the same way, the Lord knows perseverance is required if we are to become mature (James 1:4). So His classes on life are often demanding and difficult, not because He is mean and uncaring, but rather because He loves us so much and wants us to experience the great riches of being spiritually mature, just as I believe my professor wanted his students to grow in their academic abilities. He has our best interests in mind.

Today, know being a believer, a student in the Lord’s classroom, will never be easy. The costs and demands are high. They are a designed as a test of our perseverance in order to help us become who He created us to be.  And if we indeed persevere, we will realize just how valuable it all was. But, if we choose just to get by or drop out, we will miss out on all of the benefits of a quality education.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Resolutions

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:18-25 NIV)

At the start of every new year, the commercials begin appearing on television and continue heavily for the next few weeks.  “I lost 40 pounds using. . .” Fill in the blank.  Weight-Watchers, Nutri-System, Jenny Craig, and dozens of other weight-loss companies know that with a new year comes resolutions and one of the most common is to lose weight.  So they flood the airwaves and the Internet with amazing stories of people losing large amounts of weight.  Of course, there are other resolutions people commonly make, like raising the GPA, spending more time with family or friends, getting out of debt, or improving on a personality trait.  

The problem with resolutions, however, is that we most often fail in fulfilling them.  As Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38) A review of long-term diet studies at UCLA revealed that two-thirds of dieters regained more weight than they had originally lost.  We have a lot of good intentions, but as Paul laments, what we don’t want to do, we do, and what we want to do, we fail to do. No wonder so many people are discouraged when they look back on their previous resolutions.  

So, what should we do?  Well, we could just give up and acknowledge our attempts at change are hopeless.  We could just give in to gluttony, to lust, to worry, to whatever keeps dragging us down.  Or we could make the one resolution that will make all the difference—to resolve to give ourselves wholly to the Lord and rely on Him to transform those things in our lives we know need to be changed.  Our flesh is weak, but He is not!

It may seem counterintuitive to stop making resolutions.  Shouldn’t I want to change, you may ask?  Of course, but we must also recognize our inability to transform ourselves in any truly significant way. Transformation is God’s business and He does it like no one else.

Today, if you truly want to change some things in your life, resolve to rely on the Lord to make the changes.  This will be the most successful resolution you ever make.     

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Just Because He Could

“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.’ So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:20-25 NIV)

After Christmas, my wife and I spent five days camping with some of her family in Kruger National Park, the largest park in South Africa. It is home to many of the exotic animals that draw millions of people to zoos—lions, elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, and hippopotamuses. And we had the privilege of seeing all of those and many more, such as a leopard, hyenas, cape buffalo, zebra, and a plethora of various types of deer, such as impala and kudu.  

What struck us was the immense variety of species, all unique and, if we really think about it, quite unusual. Just take a look at these various animals:                     







Seriously, what is the point of the various physical attributes of these animals? Sure, scientists can come up with some reasons, but who of us could possibly come up with these designs without any references, none?

They came from the mind of the Creator and He created them, first, just because He could and out of His own delight. And, second, for us to be able to share in the fruits of that power and delight. 

Being in Kruger and seeing so many animals in their natural habitat was indeed a delight. To see an elephant stride and flap its humongous ears, to see rhinos, hippos, and cape buffalo grazing nonchalantly because of their immense strength, to see zebra with their bizarre and visually radiating stripes, and the water bucks with their hairy necks and what looked like a target painted on their rears, all provided delight to us.

For me, those five days were a reminder of the awesome power of God and His deep love for us, His ultimate creation. He created everything originally for our enjoyment (I Timothy 6:17) and it still exists for that purpose. 

Today, although most of us do not live in areas with the exotic animals that draw us to zoos, we all can just look around every day and marvel at what the Lord has created for no other reason than that He could and wanted to. And He intends for us to be the beneficiaries of all of it—to bring delight to our eyes and joy and wonder into our hearts.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Peace and Joy

(Author's Note: I will be on an extended holiday beginning today. WftW will return next year on January 16th.  Until then, may you have a blessed Christmas season and a wonderful beginning to the New Year! Jim)

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:8-14 NIV)

I was walking out of Wal-Mart yesterday and a car was waiting for me to cross. Suddenly, a woman swerved around the car and turned right in front of me and sped to the next aisle where she saw an open parking space. If I had not been paying attention, she would have hit me.

Often, the holiday season brings out the worst in people. I talked with a friend the other day and he noted that few people seemed very happy in the store where he was shopping. They feel the stress of so many things needing to be accomplished—getting that perfect gift, having the right decorations and putting them up, planning parties and dinners, and the list of things to do goes on and on. Students are soon to be heading home for the holidays and many of them are stressed because of the situations they will encounter when they arrive. 

At a time when we are supposed to commemorate the arrival of good news—the birth of the Prince of Peace—and be filled with great joy, most of the time, despite portrayals of cheesy Christmas movies and commercials this time of year, there often seems to be little of either peace or joy.

Perhaps we have allowed our culture to shape and skew our view of what the Christmas celebration is supposed to be. Instead of the sentimentality in which it has increasingly been wrapped—of being with a loving family, the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning, a wonderful meal, and snow falling throughout—suppose we were to focus instead on why the Church has celebrated the birth of Jesus for centuries? Would it make a difference to focus on the fact that we each are sinners in need of a Savior and we could have no hope without His coming? Would we experience Christmas differently if we recognized that, while the Magi brought gifts, it was in the context of worshiping the King of Kings? The focus was solely on Him. Would it make a difference if we understood “peace” and “joy” not as feelings we have when everything goes right, but as the feelings we can have even at times when life is very difficult and far from what we would prefer it to be?

The coming of peace and joy, which the heavenly host announced, was not about our life circumstances suddenly improving, but in giving us hope in the midst of unfavorable, and sometimes dire, circumstances. The 1st Century was not a time of wonderful situations and happy times. Nor has any century since been such. Life in a fallen world has always been hard and will continue to be until the newborn King returns to make it right again.

Today, and throughout this Christmas season, remember the joy and peace promised on that first Christmas was not based on the shepherds’ circumstances changing for the better. Rather, it meant they now could have peace and joy in the midst of their hard and challenging lives.  That has not changed in more than 2000 years. So this Christmas season, let the knowledge of the Lord’s deep love for you, His mercy, and saving grace be your focus. Then all the stresses that seem to come with this time of year can be put into their proper perspective and, in turn, lessen their effects.  

May we all experience peace and joy this Christmas season as we celebrate the truly Good News of Jesus’ birth and focus on what it means for us. Peace and joy to you.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Reason He was Born

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.  He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.  He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:14-21 NIV)

Sometimes at this time of year, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is easy to get caught up in the baby Jesus and to forget the purpose for which He was born.  Porcelain nativities and live ones focus on the baby, and as any new parents realize, a newborn attracts all the attention in the room.  Yet Jesus was born for much greater things than just the oohs and ahhs of His birth.  In fact, early followers of Jesus didn’t even celebrate His birth.  It wasn’t until much later in church history that a tradition began to evolve into what we now know as Christmas.  They focused rather on the reason He was born.  

Jesus states that reason by quoting from Isaiah 61.  He came to proclaim good news to people who experience very little of it in their lives. He came to set free people who are in bondage or under oppression. He came to restore sight to those who cannot see clearly. He came to proclaim that the world is entering a time of much grace and mercy from God.  And as He left this planet, He entrusted this message to us. (Matthew 28:18-20)

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Jesus, but it misses the point if we get caught up in that celebration and forget to proclaim the message He came to deliver.  Today, do you know anyone who needs to hear some good news?  Are there people in your life that are held captive or blinded by worldly desires?  Do you know someone who is under oppression either internally or externally?  If so, they need to know God’s grace and mercy are available to them, that He is for them and not against them.  Indeed, He has come to set them free.  This is the message you have and what better time to share it than during the time we celebrate the birth of the One who first brought it?  

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wonderfully Made and Deeply Loved

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you
 when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; 
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16 NIV)

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

We tend to view people’s handiwork as a whole.  We may admire it, but we don’t give much thought to the detailed work that went into it.  Most of us look at a painting, but don’t pay close attention to the particular brush strokes.  Or in touring a new house, we respond to the overall feel of it rather than, say, what went into laying those hardwood floors.  

But what you create yourself is a whole different matter.  You know every detail that went into it.  My wife and I are proud of the way our house has been transformed over the past three years we have lived in it.  And when people come over, they usually express appreciation for how it looks. But they have no idea of the work that was involved to make look like it does. That is the difference between being the creator and being an admirer.  The creator is fully invested in every aspect of the creation.  He is always going to have a greater appreciation for his work than someone who is merely admiring it.  

David beautifully describes God’s creation of a baby inside a mother’s womb.  And it reveals clearly His investment in His creation.  He knows every detail.  And from David’s description, we can almost hear God say, “It is good.”  The Creator appreciates His own work.  

This Christmas season we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. He came to make His home among us—evidence of His appreciation for that which He created. We were in trouble and He came to save us. We were in darkness and He came to lead us back to the Light.  He came because each of us is His handiwork and His appreciation of us is great.

Today, and every day, remember He came and made His home among us because we are each His creation, wonderfully made and deeply loved.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

Proposing

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7-8 NIV)

Getting down on one knee to propose marriage is a long practiced tradition for men in our culture, perhaps because the symbolism is so powerful.  Taking to one knee is an act of humility and submission.  In ancient times, a vanquished foe took to a knee to indicate his willingness to accept defeat, and subjects often went onto one knee before their kings, acknowledging their submission to their authority.  

To go onto one knee to propose is an act of humility, an acknowledgement of surrender of one’s self, of one’s bachelor life and all its freedom, for the privilege of joining in a partnership of love and the sacrifices that will come with it.  It is saying I value you so much that I want to relinquish my old life for the sake of a new one with you.

Submitting our lives to the Lord is very similar to a marriage proposal. We come before Him in humility, acknowledging our willingness to surrender the life we have known and lived by our own terms in exchange for the privilege of a relationship with the Heavenly Father. Our love and honor of Him is so great that we are willing to relinquish our old life for a new and very different one.

And this is not done without thought and deliberation of the costs.  Most men don’t just on a whim ask their girlfriends to marry them; they contemplate it first to decide if it is worth it to sacrifice their current way of life for a totally different one.  And love for the woman wins out over love for themselves.  

The same is true when we decide to follow Jesus.  We have to love God more than ourselves.  And when we do, we will find ourselves on one knee asking for that relationship that transcends all others.

Today, know the Lord is more than ready to accept your proposal of a permanent relationship with Him or a renewal of that relationship.  He long ago made His wishes known.  All He is waiting for is you to bend your knee and ask.

© Jim Musser 2017