Friday, April 21, 2017

Thinking You're Right When You May Be Wrong

“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. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10 NIV)

Looking back to last year’s election season, one thing stood out to me more than any other—the lack of humility, not merely from the main candidates, but among the vast majority of social media commentators. People’s opinions were not couched in cautious terms.  There was rarely a hint of hesitancy that perhaps a person’s opinion might be wrong or not fully informed.  Their opinions were deemed as facts that were undisputed, regardless of which side they were on.

But are we always right?  Is every conclusion we reach irrefutable?  At a glance, it often seems so.  And I think it is the fruit of a seed planted more than two decades ago on many campuses—my truth is my truth. Put another way, when a person was confronted with an opposing view: “that’s your truth” became the defensive response.  The seed of the relativity of truth was planted and, long after, the bitter fruit is appearing in bunches.

Truth has become something that we each control. Personal truth has replaced Truth. We are now free to reach whatever conclusions we want and the expectation is we have the right not to be challenged on their veracity.

The question is, have we grown so arrogant that we are not even willing to submit ourselves and our views to God?  Are we so convinced of our opinions that we cannot even countenance the thought that perhaps we are wrong?

The bent of our culture reflects human nature. We are prideful and obstinate.  We want to believe what we want to believe and we want to do what we want to do.  I’m like that and so are you.  It is a fact that is inherent to each of us. It has been so since Eden. Thus, there is much cause for us to be vigilant against our pride. It is so natural to us that it will easily overwhelm us if we are not intentional about combatting it.  

As I look at many who profess to follow Jesus, what concerns me is the lack of awareness of this problem. Just because we say we’re followers of Jesus doesn’t mean we are always following Him in the proper way. We are sinners who all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is the greatest hubris to think we have everything right.

Today, recognize your truth is not necessarily or automatically the Truth. Because of your inherent pride, you may have some things wrong.  Let this fact lead you to submitting and humbling yourself before the Lord. The more you are willing to do that, the less likely you are to be wrong when you think you’re right.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Smell of Life and Death

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” (II Corinthians 2:14-16 NIV)

It was a faint smell at first emanating from our dining area, almost a sickening sweet smell to my olfactories.  But within a day, the odor was clearly identifiable—it was the smell of death.  A couple months earlier we had seen a mouse run for cover down a heating vent.  I put poison in the crawlspace and we never saw it again.  The unwelcome intruder, we suspect, died not far from where it last appeared, for that is where the smell was the most intense. For more than a year, my wife said she could still detect its lingering scent.

The smell of death is immediately recognizable.  There is never a doubt about what the odor is.  This is exactly the point Paul is making of his experience sharing the gospel.  Those whose hearts are open to it, like a pleasant aroma, are drawn to it.  Those whose hearts are hardened, like the smell of death, are repulsed by it.  

I was like that when I was young.  I thought true followers of Jesus were weird and I wanted nothing to do with them.  They repulsed me.  But then in my first year of college, I became acquainted with a few.  The love and joy I saw in their lives was very attractive to me.  I was drawn to Jesus through them.  

Salvation only comes through complete surrender of our wills to God. For many, that very thought outweighs the love and joy which accompanies the surrender.  The idea of giving up their will is repulsive. They cannot stand it and will reject any notion of it.  

In our culture today, one of the worst social offenses is to offend someone.  So we go out of our way to avoid offending anyone. However, the fact is the gospel is offensive to those who reject it and any attempts to make it more palatable so they will be more accepting dilute its message.  Neither Paul nor Jesus were concerned about offending people.  They just spoke the truth in love and accepted whatever response they received.  

Today, know the gospel will be offensive to people whose hearts are hardened.  In it, they smell the aroma of death.  It is to them a repulsive odor.  But others whose hearts are open will smell the scent of life and embrace it.  Regardless of the reaction you may receive, always be willing to share the message that to you smells so sweet.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

True Worship

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24 NIV)

Worship is a word whose meaning has been greatly diminished over the years.  “Reverent honor or homage paid to God or a sacred personage” is how Dictionary.com defines it.  For most believers today, however, it just means singing praise songs.  Worship leaders are, by definition, leaders of singing.  They will often, to open a set of praise songs, say to those gathered, “Let’s worship the Lord together.”  

I can recall one of our worship band members a number of years ago, sharing that she thought she had been worshipping when helping to lead songs, but realized during a mission trip that she wasn’t truly worshipping.  In other words, she learned worshipping God involves more than just singing songs of praise to Him.

The Jews and the Samaritans both believed worship was defined by place and ritual, like many today who believe worship takes place in a church building and through singing.  Yet, Jesus defined “true worship” as being done “in the Spirit and in truth.”  In the Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit and implies a relationship, a connection on a deep level with God. In truth means worshipping with honesty and authenticity of the heart rather than just going through the motions.  

True worship then flows from a real relationship with the Lord and a heart that is truly awed by who God is.  It indeed can be expressed through singing, but is far from limited to words combined with melodies.  We can worship the Lord through reading His Word, through how we conduct ourselves at work or in school, through how we treat our friends or our enemies.  We pay honor to God by how we live our lives day to day.  

Today, recognize your worship of the Lord is not limited to singing praise songs or hymns on a certain day in a certain place.  It is to encompass every aspect of your life.  And most importantly, it is to flow out of a real relationship with the living God.  Otherwise, it is not truly worship.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

From the Darkest Hour to a Bright New Dawn

(Author's Note: The University will be taking a break until April 19th, and so will I.  WftW will return on that day.  Have a wonderful Resurrection Weekend!  Jim)

“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he’s calling Elijah.’

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:33-39 NIV)

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’” (Mark 16:1-7 NIV)

It is often said that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn. Certainly, it was very dark, literally, as Jesus hung on the cross on that Friday.  Mere hours before He breathed His last, ominous clouds rolled across the sky blocking out the sun and creating a surreal scene--the Son of God, the Messiah, shamefully and powerless, hanging on a Roman cross.  There was no darker moment in human history.

But just as I’ve experienced this week taking out our friends’ dog in the early hours of the morning, before the dawn, it is dark but there is a sign of a dawn soon to break.  Stepping out into the cool air, my ears are besieged with the sounds of birds happily singing in anticipation of a new day.  Similarly, at the darkest moment of that day more than 2000 years ago, there was a sign of a new dawn to come.  The heavy and thick curtain that shielded the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple suddenly was ripped in half like a worn bed sheet.  Though no one understood the meaning of this at the time, three days later its meaning would become clear.

When the grieving women came to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid, good and unexpected news awaited them; a new dawn pushed back the darkness.  “He is risen! He is not here.” Three days earlier, they could never have imagined what they were hearing and seeing.  The darkness then was too overwhelming.  But there had been a sign indicating the hope that was soon to be fulfilled.  

Our lives will inevitably be visited by deep darkness during our time on earth. It is the way of life in a fallen world.  But in the midst of that darkness, there is a Source of hope so powerful that even Death itself cannot defeat Him! As He reminds us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)  

Today as we celebrate Good Friday, know that it is “good” because though it was the darkest moment in human history, it was a prelude to the greatest moment in history—the Resurrection!  So if or when you are facing a dark period in your life, take heart in the hope of the Resurrection.  If He can overcome Death, He can bring you through your darkest hours into a bright new dawn!

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When You're Not Feeling It

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” (Matthew 26:36-39 NIV)

To use today’s vernacular, Jesus just wasn’t feeling it, this called-to-die thing.  He really wanted a different path to take, so He cried out to His Father to give Him one.  He was feeling overwhelmed at what lay just ahead for Him and He wanted a way out.

We can all identify with the human struggle with which Jesus was dealing. None of us feels like going through difficult experiences.  If based solely on our feelings, we would choose the less painful path every time.  But there is more to making decisions in life than how we feel.  If Jesus had made the decision in the garden to follow His feelings, life in this world would be dramatically different.  But, instead, Jesus was obedient, and we are the beneficiaries of that obedience. 

Following Jesus means to follow His example.  In the garden, when His feelings were telling Him to avoid death at all costs, Jesus responded with obedience.  His desire to please His Father overrode the strong feelings He had to escape His fate.

Life is full of difficult, and even painful, decisions.  Our feelings are always going to lead us to take the easy way out.  It is always easier to walk away from a broken relationship than to stay and repair it. It is always easier to stay “in” with friends than to take a stand against their behavior. It is always easier to give in to temptation than to run from it. But life following Jesus is not about doing what feels good or is the easiest; it’s about being obedient.

Today, meditate on the example Jesus left us in the garden.  Even though that night He wasn’t feeling it, Jesus still was obedient to His Father’s will. Aren’t you glad He was?

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In His Time

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 NIV)

Sometimes we want to push things forward; sometimes we want to hold back.  As the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything, but we don’t always have the timing down right.  We’re ready for a romantic relationship and so we push for one; or we aren’t ready and so push one away.  We may have our eyes on a particular job or make plans for a dream trip, but it doesn’t work out the way we had hoped.  The timing was just off.

If you read the Bible thoroughly, you will find that God’s timing is perfect. The angel of the Lord stopped Abraham just at the right time from killing his son, Isaac.  He sent the fish to inhale Jonah just in time to save him from drowning.  And He timed Jesus’ arrival on earth and subsequent death to have maximum impact in the world.  

As we look ahead in our lives, we need not be anxious about how things are going to work.  When will I get married?  What will I be doing after college?  How long should I remain in my current job?  These are questions God will answer in His time.  We can give thought to them and make some tentative plans, but, as Proverbs 16:9 says, it is the Lord who directs our steps.  In His time.

Today, may you find comfort in knowing that God’s timing is perfect. You can trust Him to work things out—in His time.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Pragmatic View of Life

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’” (John 12:1-7 NIV)

I’m a very pragmatic guy. Just ask my wife.  She tends toward a “dreamer” approach to life.  Just the other day, she had an idea, and immediately I began a pragmatic dissection of it.  What about this? What about that?  That’s just the way I’m wired and my initial thought process with anything is always from a pragmatic point of view.

So in reading this passage, I can immediately identify with Judas’ point of view. Yes, as the narrator confirms, his motives were impure when he suggested the money be spent in a more practical way, but, in ignoring that minor detail, I see his point.  Why not split the difference and show deference to Jesus in some way, while saving the perfume and using it to help others?

This pragmatic view of things is not limited to Judas.  Many people have it and I have often been on the receiving end of questions similar to that of Judas.  Why spend all that money to go on a mission trip when you could just as easily spend it on needs here at home?  Or why not send the money instead of yourself?  Why do you want to earn a degree and then spend your life “begging for money” in a support-based ministry when you could rather be earning money?  Why do I need to spend time reading the Scriptures or praying or serving others when I have so much studying to do?  Why should I give a portion of my money to God’s work when I can barely get by with what I have?

In acknowledging my own pragmatism, I have also had to realize the Lord is not so concerned about what may make sense to us.  His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55). And He owns the whole universe.  We tend to be pragmatic because we seek to conserve resources and use them wisely, but the Lord has access to everything He needs at anytime. Waste, as we know it, does not exist for Him.  So though in a worldly sense Judas had a point, from the Lord’s perspective, Mary’s use of the perfume was right on the mark.  

Over the years of being a Christian, I have grown in my understanding and willingness to follow the Lord’s lead in overriding my pragmatic approach to life.  It has not been an easy journey and still at times my pragmatism can get the best of me. But I see more and more how living by faith means being less pragmatic and more obedient to be more free with my resources—time, money, wisdom, abilities—than often seems to me the reasonable course. I have had to learn to trust Him for His provision in my life.  Even if He asks me to do “crazy” things with my resources, He will replenish them in some way. That is, in essence, living a life of faith.  

Today, if the Lord is asking you to do something that seems to be a waste of your resources, remember the pragmatic thing to do is not always what He wants you to do.

© Jim Musser 2017