Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving

(Author's Note: The University's Thanksgiving Break begins tomorrow, so, as per my custom, I will be taking a break as well. WftW will return on Monday, November 27th.  For those of you in this country, may you have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving holiday!  Jim)

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100 NIV)

It is the common tradition around many Thanksgiving celebrations to recount those things for which we are thankful. Going around the table or the room, people recount the things for which they are grateful—family members, a good job, freedom, financial security, the dream vacation they were able to take, good health, etc.  I have participated in these Thanksgiving rituals many times and they are a good exercise in recognizing how good our lives are and being grateful, even if they are far from perfect and not without struggles.

However, the flaw in this holiday ritual often is where the focus lies. Is it mostly on what we have been given or is it on the One whom has ultimately provided it for us?  Allow me to illustrate. On Christmas morning, children excitedly open their presents. Upon discovering what they have received, most will turn to their parents and say, “Thanks, Mom and Dad!”  But are they thanking them primarily because they are grateful to their parents for their love and generosity, or because of what they now have in their possession?

Notice in this psalm of David, the exhortation to be thankful flows from first recognizing the Giver for who He is, not for what He has provided. The Israelites had been given plenty, but the focus was first and foremost on the Giver and Him alone.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being thankful for all that we have been given and, in fact, that should be a consistent attitude we have. But if that is our sole focus, what happens when those things are taken away? I am so thankful to God for my wife whom I love so much, but could I remain thankful to God if she were taken away from me?  Could I continue to give thanks to Him if the home I so enjoy living in was suddenly destroyed? And would I remain grateful to Him if my health suddenly took a turn for the worse?

In honestly answering these or similar questions, we can get a truer sense of the focus of our thankfulness. Is it first and foremost on the Giver or on that which has been given?

Today and during this week of celebrating Thanksgiving, consider the reasons you are thankful. It is a wonderful thing, particularly in such a self-centered world, to acknowledge your gratefulness for what you have been given, but at the same time, do not forget the Giver of all things. He is the Source of all that we have been given; thus, He, and not merely His gifts, should be the object of our gratefulness.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

Please Forgive Me

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13 NIV)

Recently, in the news there have been numerous sexual harassment and assault charges made against movie producers, directors, actors, and politicians. The responses from the accused have ranged from apologies in one form or another to sheer denial anything untoward occurred.  What no one has said, at least publicly, is, “Please forgive me.” 

This simple request is rarely uttered by Christians or non-Christians today when they have committed an offense against someone else.  The usual response is, “I’m sorry,” and this typically only comes when one is confronted with the fact of a hurtful word or action. 

The problem I have with saying “I’m sorry,” is usually it carries the connotation of the burden of the offense being on the offended. In a way we’re only acknowledging that you think we did something wrong and, thus, we will apologize given that you view it that way.  There is no true admission that I was wrong, only that you think I was.

You may think I am nitpicking, but I have experienced this from both sides—the one who was wronged and the one who wronged someone. My experience with both is that it is much easier to say, “I’m sorry,” than, “Please forgive me.” I recall meeting with a student who was to be one of our leaders for that year who, right before school started, as our student leaders’ retreat was about to start, informed me via a text that she was going to leave our ministry for another one.  No explanation or apology was offered, just that fact.  When we finally met several weeks later, I confronted her on the way she had handled the situation. She immediately became defensive and sought to justify her actions. When I pushed back on her excuses, she exclaimed, “What do you want?  For me to say I’m sorry?  Okay, I’m sorry!”

This is an extreme example where the student was basically unwilling to even apologize, let alone ask for forgiveness.  But I’ve also had students willing to say that they were sorry, but very few to ask for my forgiveness.  To do so is to go against our flesh, which is full of pride. One cannot be prideful and ask forgiveness. It requires humility and that doesn’t come easily or naturally. 

Just recently I had to seek forgiveness from my staff for attitudes this semester that were not glorifying to the Lord and that were discouraging to them. It took me a week to defeat my flesh and do what I knew the Lord was commanding me to do—to say, “Please forgive me” and to acknowledge my sin.

Sadly, it is common in both campus ministries and local churches where people will leave communities or sever relationships—even using the cover of “I feel the Lord leading me”—because they are unwilling to admit they are in the wrong and seek forgiveness, or unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against them. It is our pride that so often stands in the way of true reconciliation.

Today, are you aware you have sinned against someone through what you’ve said or done? If so, are you willing to deny your flesh, your pride, to seek forgiveness? And if you are not aware of any sin you’ve committed against someone, are you willing to seek the Lord to be certain that indeed is the case (Psalm 139:23-24)? The Lord gave us a ministry of reconciliation, to lead others into reconciliation with God, but as Paul implies, that ministry has true power only when we are able to seek forgiveness from others and have a willingness to forgive others who have wronged us. “Please forgive me” needs to be spoken and heard much more often than it is.
© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

Praying Together

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-16 NIV)

Do you notice any theme in this passage?  When we are in trouble, what should we do? Pray.  When life is so good we just can’t help but smile, what should we do?  Pray prayers of praise and thanksgiving.  If we or someone else is sick, what should we do?  Pray in the name of the Lord for healing.  If we have sinned, what should we do?  Confess to one another so we can pray for one another.

As we are told in other passages (e.g., Acts 2:42; Ephesians 6:18), the community of believers is to be praying.  Yet, this is one of the great struggles within the body of Christ.  We spend little time praying, particularly together.  Why would that be when it is so obvious in Scripture that this is to be a focused priority?  Two words—spiritual warfare.

The enemy knows the power of prayer and the devastating effect it can have on his schemes, so he works hard on persuading us not to pray. It’s too scary or weird. I don’t know how to pray. It takes too much time. I’m not good enough. The list can go on and on of the excuses we have for not praying.  The fact is, whatever the reason, the end result is a lack of prayer in our lives, which fits quite nicely into Satan’s strategy of weakening the Church.  I see this in the ministry that I lead. We have a weekly prayer time to which only a handful of students come. We also have a space during our large group meetings to which students can come for prayer. Rarely, anyone does. 

If this is to change, we need to acknowledge what is going on.  We need to confess our prayerlessness and begin to fight back.  We need to look for the opportunities to pray with one another, fighting through the fear and awkwardness.  Prayer is powerful and effective and we would be wise to put it to better use.

Today, consider how you can begin to cultivate a life of prayer with other believers.  Perhaps you can start with a question: How can I pray for you?  And then follow that up with, here’s how you can pray for me. Then pray.  It may be a little awkward, but the rewards will be great.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Savior Complex

“That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (I Timothy 4:10 NIV)

Have you ever had a friend or family member for whom you were very concerned and attempted to do all you could to help them, to rescue them from themselves? It is well documented that many children of alcoholics, domestic abusers, and drug addicts, tend to see their roles as savior and protector of other family members. Instinctively, when there is a perceived threat, they seek to save and protect. It’s referred to as the “savior complex” and it can easily creep into our thinking as believers. We sometimes think, perhaps because of our undying devotion, gifts, insights, etc., that we can be the primary change agents in people’s lives.

I observe this often with students. They have concerns for their friends and so they seek to be their primary helper or fixer. If they are anxious or depressed, they will be the ones coming to the rescue. If they are making stupid and destructive choices, they will be there to lessen the damage and help clean up the mess. They see themselves as their savior. However, it is a mistaken assumption. There is only one Savior, and they aren’t Him.

Paul writes to Timothy that our hope is in the living God who is the Savior of all people. And no matter the love and concern behind our intentions, it is a gross mistake to attempt to be anyone’s savior. There is only one Savior and He is the only one who can save people from themselves.  Can we be of comfort and assistance? Of course, but we cannot save anyone.  That is not our calling nor within our power.

Instead, our role in friends’ and family members’ lives is to help lead them to the One who can indeed save them from themselves. So, how do we do that?  The primary way is through continual prayer. We lift them up to the Lord who knows them thoroughly. He knows there needs and weaknesses and can meet them if they will let Him. We can also demonstrate with our own lives the value of depending on the Lord to care and provide for us, as well as being a witness to the joy of allowing Jesus to guide us in life instead of depending on our own efforts and wisdom.  And, we can be present, being used by the Lord to give the same type of comfort we ourselves have received from the Lord (II Corinthians 1:3-4) But, again, this is comfort designed to help lead them to be dependent on the Lord, not upon us.

Today, if there are people in your life that need saving from themselves, realize that you are not the one to do the saving.  It is not your job nor within your power.  That belongs to THE Savior—Jesus. He wants to use you, but only in a way that leads them to the One who can actually save.


© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Wisdom of Numbering Our Days

“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.  If only we knew the power of your anger!  Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10-12 NIV)

Sometimes when I look in the mirror in the morning or the pharmacist asks me for my date of birth when I pick up a prescription, I am reminded that I am not getting any younger.  And the old adage, “my how time flies” is so true.  It doesn’t seem that long ago I was one of the young guys in my field of ministry.  Now I am one of the oldest.  Most of those in my high school class are now becoming grandparents, and while retirement was for so long an odd thing for me to consider, I now see its shadow looming on the horizon.

As I read this psalm yesterday, it made me realize how the number of my days is rapidly shrinking.  Seventy is still a ways off for me, but it’s a lot closer than it used to be and life expectancy levels today still remain in the range the Psalmist declared several millennia ago.  Though I could conceivably die at anytime, my death is almost certain within the next 30-35 years.  While that is a long time, I am beginning to realize how quickly time passes and the need to heed the teaching of this psalm.

We often think it morbid to contemplate our own death; hence why so many are reluctant to draw up a will or talk about end-of-life issues.  We are a culture that is almost phobic about death, so we avoid thinking about it or discussing it.  But the reality is that death is coming to us all and, according to the Psalmist, we would be wise to consider our own mortality.

We see this truth played out in the testimonies of those who encounter a life-threatening experience such as cancer or an accident.  They tell how their perspectives on life changed, how their priorities were rearranged.  They came face to face with the realization of the finite number of their days and it changed the way they view and live life.  

The wisdom of numbering our days is the recognition that they are limited.  Whether you are still a teenager or 20-something, middle-aged, or nearing retirement, your life on this planet is drawing to a close.  The sooner you recognize that, the wiser you will be in how you live out those years.

Today, understand your life on earth is finite.  One day you will die and that day is not as far off as you may now think.  Time is going to fly by. Be wise and recognize this fact, so you can set priorities now that will insure a life well lived.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Atmosphere for Worship

“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:22-25 NIV)

It seems these days everywhere you turn there is evidence for the need to hype up worshipping God. People are drawn to the mega-churches because of the big crowds and the energetic atmosphere. Worship concerts are also a popular thing, with Hillsong and other well-known worship bands drawing huge crowds night after night in arenas all across the country. And, increasingly, to attract young people to their ministries, youth groups sponsor and promote Christian concerts where “God is going to do awesome things.” 

As I have reflected on this trend in recent years, this story of Paul and Silas continues to resonate with me and I think it is a much needed correction to the majority thinking that somehow we need to create the ideal conditions for worshipping God—which once was believed to be austere and reverent, but which now has flipped to being loud and energetic.

Roman jails were far from what we might conceive when thinking of modern jails and prisons.  They were closer to the dungeons portrayed in movies. They were dark, dank, and rat-infested. Prisoners were chained inside their cells.  Not exactly what we would consider anywhere close to the ideal conditions for worship.  Consider also that Paul and Silas had been terribly beaten prior to their incarceration.  Yet, here they were, hours later, worshipping God through prayer and singing.  

The truth is, we can worship the Lord anywhere under any conditions if our hearts are right. It is a gross mistake to think worship is in any way dependent on outside conditions. Worshipping God is by definition an external expression of an inward reality. To attribute worth to God, which is worship, doesn’t require a professional-sounding band, certain lighting, or a large crowd. It doesn’t require waking up feeling great and close to God on a Sunday morning. It merely requires a grateful, thankful, and humble heart. With that, whether we are amidst a large crowd of fellow worshippers or all alone in a dark room, we can worship unhindered because at the heart of worship is the condition of our hearts.

The reality is that followers of Jesus over the millennia and in many places today did and are experiencing suffering and persecution while still worshipping the Lord their God. They worship in secret, or in drafty buildings with wooden benches, often with no instruments, or with merely a few people making up their church. By believing that we need an ideal setting for worship, we totally misunderstand the very nature of worship, and, thus, will be unable to truly worship.  

What worship, I fear, has become for many is an emotional feeling enhanced by the atmosphere created precisely to produce those feelings.  And with that is created a sense that one cannot worship apart from the atmosphere and the accompanying feelings.  If that is true, then how do we explain the worship of believers over the centuries in conditions almost unimaginable to us? And how do we explain Paul and Silas’ ability to worship in the conditions in which they found themselves? 

Today, let the example of Paul and Silas, as well as others who worship in the midst of very difficult circumstances, help you to understand the ability to worship is not based on the external conditions in which you find yourself.  Rather it is based on the attitude of your heart at that moment.  If it is right, then you can worship the Lord fully and enthusiastically anywhere and under any conditions.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017

Longings

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16 NIV)

Are you weary of the struggles of daily life? Are you tired of the pain, sorrow, and loss that seem to cast a constant shadow upon the world? Are you emotionally drained by the brokenness that surrounds you or that you experience within yourself? Deep down, do you long for something far better than what life has offered you thus far?

If so, then the 11th Chapter of Hebrews is for you. The writer spends the entire chapter extolling the faith of those well known and others who lived in obscurity, who found this earthly life difficult and challenging, but held onto their faith through a longing for a long-promised country that does not exist in this earthly realm. 

In our rush to admire the saints of old, we tend to forget or fail to recognize how hard their lives were. As the chapter summarizes, they faced many challenges, including persecution and torture, depravation, loneliness, and uncertainty, as well as hope deferred. What they had been promised, they never experienced in this life.  

In our immediate gratification world, we are not accustomed to waiting long for what we want. So the temptation is to satisfy our deepest longings with things much more temporal. Our deepest longings are those for which we were created. They come from the spiritual realm and our ability to grasp them is elusive in this fallen world. But they are meant to, over our lifetimes, to draw us closer to the One who can ultimately satisfy them.  Rather than grow accustomed to what we experience in the here and now, these longings seek to make us dissatisfied and restless for something far greater and better.

The danger to us, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, is that we are far too easily pleased with that with which we are familiar, rather than something promised which we have never experienced. Like the one who longs to be loved settling for mere attention when a true lover waits in the wings. Or like the one who settles for mere knowledge when wisdom beckons. Tamping down our longings in favor of gratification in the moment will always prove unsatisfactory in the long run.

What the Hebrew writer is seeking to convey is, like the saints of old, we should cultivate rather than ignore the deep longings we have. We should not settle for what this world offers, but rather seek that which is far superior—a better country of which we as believers are already citizens.  

Today, think about your deepest longings, those that make your heart ache for something more than you have ever truly experienced.  These are the things which only God can satisfy. Let these longings move you to pursue the One who can ultimately fulfill them.  Don’t settle for less. More is far better in the long run.

© Jim Musser 2017