Thursday, February 22, 2018

Your Calling

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 3:14-4:4 NIV)

Evangelist Billy Graham died yesterday at the age of 99. His last appearance on the national stage was shortly after 9/11 when he spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. at a memorial service for the victims of that dreadful terrorist attack. Among the students I work with, and even the many who have graduated in recent years, they have no memory of Dr. Graham. If they recognized his name, they knew little about him other than he was famous and very old. But like so many elderly people we know, Billy Graham had an extraordinary life, and the Lord used him to impact literally millions of people over his lifetime. 

He became a Christian in his teens and felt the call of the Lord on his life to be an evangelist by the time he was 20. Imagine that. And what can be said about him as we remember his life is that he was faithful to the calling he received and lived a life worthy of it. Was he perfect? Did he do everything right along the way? Of course not, and he freely admitted that. But what he did do was live out faithfully the call the Lord had given him and to trust Him. Growing up on a farm just outside Charlotte, NC, Graham could have never comprehended what his life would become. He just followed Jesus and proclaimed what he deeply believed and felt—that the Lord’s love for us is much greater and grander than we can fathom.

My life intersected with Dr. Graham’s life on a wintery night when I was 20 years old, at a missions conference attended by 18,000 college students. As he spoke about God’s call on our lives to surrender to Him and follow Him wherever He leads us, I listened with much unease. I had given my life to Jesus just a little over a year before that and I was terrified that God would send me overseas somewhere to live as a missionary. I was more than content staying in the good ol’ US of A. In fact, I had an iron-fisted grip on that idea. Until Graham challenged us to surrender our lives to the Lord’s will, whatever that might be, to trust Him not just with a portion of our lives, but all of it. That night, I surrendered my will with much fear and trembling for what might be looming ahead for me.

Some 40+ years later, as I reflect on both Mr. Graham’s life and my own, I see the hand of God; I see His love; and I see His incredible power to use people in ways that are truly unimaginable. Life trusting the Lord always turns out much different and better than if we shrink back in distrust and choose to live life on our terms. 

The sad thing is we will never know what we have missed by going our own way until our life is over. This is why I think Paul urges (pleads) that we live a life worthy of the calling we have received so we can know just how great the Lord is in loving us and transforming us. That terrified young man of the mid-70’s became one who has eagerly traveled to much of the world to help college students grasp the Lord’s love for all who live on this planet and how they can play a role in His mission to tell them, just as Billy Graham went from a farm boy to a global evangelist.

Today, what do you sense God’s calling is on your life? Are you shrinking back from it out of fear? Are you instead planning your life the way you want it to be? Then just as Dr. Graham challenged me and thousands of others decades ago, let me challenge you, plead with you, to trust the Lord and embrace His call to follow Him no matter where He leads. It may be terrifying, but you cannot even imagine the great things He has in store if you surrender all of your life to Him. This is the legacy of Billy Graham’s life. I hope it is the legacy I leave. And I hope it will be your legacy as well.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Great Deal

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
 their righteousness endures forever.’  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (II Corinthians 9:6-11 NIV)

Suppose I offered you $100 cash and asked only that in the next week you return to me ten dollars.  You keep 90% and give me back 10%.  I assume you would think that to be a great deal.  That is basically the deal God has offered us.  He gives us everything we have (Click here) and He asks us to give back at least 10% of that.  It is called a tithe, and while Paul says it is not obligatory, it was the baseline for giving in the New Testament Church.

Yet, most of American Christians don’t see it as a good deal for them. Only five percent tithe, and the average is two percent of their income. A lot of people are going reap very little!

There are a number of reasons for these dismal statistics—selfishness, greed, and debt among them—but they all have their root in a lack of trust in God.  We hoard what He has given us because we fear He will fall short in His promises.  If we give our money away, will we have enough?  Will our needs be satisfied?  Will what He provides be better than what we can buy for ourselves?  So we are inclined to tighten our grip on what He has so graciously provided.  And when people like me say what I am saying, we often get defensive and rail at how the church is “always talking about money!”

Yet, think about it.  Is God really asking so much?  He gives us everything and wants only a small portion of it back, and then says if we give Him that, He will give us even more! How is that not a wonderful deal?

Today, recognize how generous the Lord is with you.  Everything you have has come from His hand.  He has every right to demand all of it back, but instead He asks for only a very small portion.  Now that, my friend, is a great deal!

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Sacrifice of Regret

“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’

Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (Hebrews 10:15-18 NIV)

For years I internally berated myself for many of the sinful choices I made in my youth after I had decided to follow Jesus. I had no problem putting the sins of my pre-Christian days behind me, but found it very difficult to do so with those after I acknowledged Him as my Savior and Lord. I had not blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31), nor intentionally went on sinning (Hebrews 6:4-6). No, I just kept on sinning in ways that were appalling to me.

Have you ever felt that way, guilt-ridden, ashamed, and stuck in a vicious cycle of sin and self-condemnation? It is a miserable place to be and, during my early life, I spent much time there. And it is where our enemy desires us to remain. He wants us to be so overwhelmed by our sin that we feel ashamed, guilty, and hopeless. He takes advantage of the sorrow that naturally follows for anyone who has a good conscience. We feel bad, but then what?

Paul identifies two types of sorrow—godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. He says the former brings repentance, salvation, and leaves no regret, while the latter brings about death. (II Corinthians 7:10It is easy to conclude that he is referring to the experience we have when we come to Christ and give our lives over to Him. That’s how I once interpreted it. However, repentance is not a one-off thing; just as we sin repeatedly as believers, so also we are called to repent of these various sins, and then move on without regret. This is only possible if we truly believe and understand what we read in this passage in Hebrews. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice through His death on the cross, nothing more is needed on our part but to humbly accept the grace that is freely offered to us.

Yet, what we often do, just like I once did, is to offer up repeatedly to Him our sacrifice of regret. We are so, so sorry and we tell Him as well as ourselves long after the sin has been confessed, and forgiven. We act in a way that suggests His sacrifice was not enough; that more is needed. So we offer up over and over the sacrifice of regret. It feels right because we feel so bad. This is the worldly sorrow Paul speaks of, and if we remain there, it only leads to a deep emotional and spiritual dark hole that will eventually destroy us. 

Today, if you find yourself feeling ashamed of your sin and in the habit of offering the sacrifices of regret, know they are not necessary or wanted by your Savior and Lord. The sacrifice He made on the cross was sufficient. No other is needed. As John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9 NIV) That is all that is required of you, and if you can do that, then you can move on in freedom and grace without regret.

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dealing with Anxiety

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV)

“Anxiety: 100 %.”  This is what a student posted about a personality test she had recently taken on Facebook. The test divides an individual’s personality into 16 traits, one being anxiety.  I am not surprised, because university counseling centers across our nation are overflowing with students whose presenting problem is anxiety. But with a masters degree in counseling psychology and personal experience, I know these traits are not fixed and can move to a more balanced position, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I also know present-day realities can influence one’s answers on such personality tests. 

For most students, and many adults, life is perpetually overwhelming. They view anxiety as normative for them and unavoidable. I interact with a lot of them on a regular basis. The interesting thing is most of those with whom I associate are believers, or at least claim to be. So the question is, in the face of their persistent anxiety, how do they respond to the commands of Scripture, such as those the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Church? Do they take into consideration, from a human perspective, that Paul is writing as one who five times received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one; three times was beaten with rods; once was pelted with stones; three times was shipwrecked; spent a night and a day in the open sea and was constantly on the move; was in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from his fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers; labored and toiled and  often went without sleep; knew hunger and thirst and went often without food; had been cold and naked; and faced daily the pressure of his concern for all the churches? (II Corinthians 11:24-28)

If in the midst of his life circumstances, Paul can say, “do not be anxious about anything,” then shouldn’t that give each of us pause when we want to excuse our anxiety because of what life is currently throwing at us? Should any of us accept that anxiety for the follower of Jesus is normal, or worse, an integral part of our personality?

There is no doubt that all of us are prone to anxiety; thus, the reason for Paul’s command. It is a trait of fallen humanity, but it is far from unchangeable. Following Jesus is a walk of obedience, and the more we are obedient, the easier it becomes. As Paul says elsewhere, we walk by faith, not by sight. In other words, regardless of what we think or feel, we obey. Thus, when we feel anxious, which we will, then we recognize the command of Scripture and obey. We put our anxiousness aside and go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him, pleading with Him to give us strength to cope and thanking Him for how He has blessed us in our lives. And we do it daily or even more often. We do it alone and we do it together with our fellow brothers and sisters. This was Paul’s way of dealing with the overwhelming circumstances in his life. It should be ours as well.

Today, if you are overwhelmed and anxious, instead of accepting it as normative, remember Paul’s life and heed his words. Take your anxiety to the Lord. Then you can have peace in whatever overwhelming circumstances in which you find yourself.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

Unity and the World

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)

Earlier this week, I spent time in Nashville, TN with a small group of campus ministers from two branches of a unity movement that began in the mid-18th Century and, as typically happens with these things, split up over several doctrinal issues. I won’t bore you with the history, only to say that this gathering was an attempt to begin dismantling a wall that was created by our ancestors over issues that no longer seem relevant or important to people many generations removed.

It was a great time to meet people passionate about Jesus and helping college students find their joy and purpose in Him. What the others and I discovered is we similarly believe and are committed to the fact Christians belong to the same body and Spirit. While there may be differences in practices and even some doctrine, our hearts and minds are together on the main thing—Jesus is Lord and the Bible is His Word for all generations. Thus, brothers and sisters, even if they are from other branches of the faith, have the same Lord and are family.

As we memorized and studied this passage together, I was convicted by Paul’s command to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” I confess I have not done this. On my campus, I have no animosity toward any of my fellow believers, but I have made little effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. I have not sought them out to pray with them or find ways to have the students in our ministry work with theirs to create more of a sense of unity.

What I realized is I have given way to life’s general busyness. I have thought about it many times, and years earlier had participated in some “unity events” that left me discouraged because, while we may have been occupying the same geographical space, students sat and talked with their own groups. I suppose I have made efforts, but the “every” has been lacking.

So you’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with me?” Well, prepare yourself because I’m about to tell you. This passage, I believe, applies not only to various groups of Christians, but to individual relationships as well. Think for a minute, are there any relationships in your life that are broken? Can you honestly say that you have made every effort to repair them?

Relationships between believers are very important because Jesus says this is how the world will know what to believe about Him (John 17:23). In our current political environment, it should be obvious that strong impressions are being formed by how believers across the political spectrum relate to one another. Acrimony, expressions of disgust, and hateful social media posts leave the world shaking its collective head at people whose Lord says people will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).

It is impossible to change everyone’s perceptions of Christians or Jesus, but if we dedicate ourselves to making every effort to be united with those believers within our circles of interaction, we will be doing our part to making the Lord’s love known because we are living it out. However, it will not be easy because it may require us to humble ourselves, which we are often loathe to do. Yet, we must push through any hindrance to fulfilling the Lord’s command.

Today, consider the steps you can take to be reunited in the Spirit with a brother or sister in Christ. Then make every effort to do so. It may not be easy, but following the Lord usually never is.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Training Wheels

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  By no means! (Romans 6:11-15 NIV)

I remember as a kid learning how to ride a bicycle.  My dad bought me a bike and put training wheels on it.  It gave me the freedom to learn how to pedal and balance at the same time, while not having to fear I would fall.  But even though, like every kid, I was more comfortable with them, I was under no illusion that the training wheels were there forever. They were there to train me to become a competent rider.  I knew one day they would be coming off.

The grace of God is a little like the training wheels we have on our first bikes as kids.  While God’s grace will never be removed (we will always need it in this fallen world), it is there to train us how to live righteous lives, to learn without the fear of condemnation hanging over us. However, it is not an excuse to continue to live as we once did before we came to know Jesus and decided to follow Him.  

Too often we get comfortable with the grace of God, with its protection. Like a kid on a bike with training wheels, we can grow so comfortable with being protected that we fail to learn how to live righteously.  We can continue to think and act much the same as we did before we became Jesus-followers.  

Paul tells us that grace is meant to teach us how to live righteously.  It is not meant to be a means by which we continue to ingratiate ourselves in sin.  Grace is given to those who desire to please God but have yet to master righteousness.  It allows us to learn and to grow.  Yet, we cheapen it if we view it only as a means to be saved but to live however we want.  

Today, meditate on how you are using the grace of God.  Is it training you in how to live righteously or is it merely keeping you comfortable in your sin?  

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Unconditional Call of Jesus

“And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’  Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’” (Luke 9:22-24 NIV)

I hear it quite often from students who desire to go overseas on mission trips to countries where circumstances appear to be dangerous.  Their parents and other family members don’t want them to go.  I remember years ago a father sitting down with me to talk about an upcoming trip to Haiti in which his daughter wanted to participate.  I explained to him that I had taken students many times, and while I couldn’t guarantee his daughter’s safety, that the organization with which we worked took great care to avoid danger.  He still said no because a friend of his who worked for the State Department advised he shouldn’t let her go.

A few years ago, as we were putting together a team to go to South Africa, a dad called me about his daughter’s desire to go with us.  She was his “little girl” and he did not want her to be in any danger.  He was looking for assurances that I would ensure her safety.  

And recently I spoke with a student who is planning to go to a region of the world where human trafficking is rampant to help lay the groundwork for a ministry there.  The parents are resisting because they fear for her safety.

Many Christian parents want their children to follow Jesus, but they want conditions attached.  They want them safe, close to home, and earning a secure income.  In other words, they don’t want them to become missionaries.  But following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow on His terms, not our own.  And one of those terms is the willingness to lay down our lives.  Let us remember the cross was an instrument of execution in the days of the Roman Empire.  And the history of the Church is one of persecution and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel.   

We in America have grown so accustom to our freedom of religious expression that we think it abnormal to be at risk for our faith.  But throughout history and still in many parts of the world today, that is the norm.  And from what Jesus says, we should embrace it rather than doing all we can to avoid it.

Today, consider what conditions you place on following Jesus or those upon your children who follow Him.  Remember, following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow where He leads, even if it leads us into danger or the possibility of death.  For to gain eternal life, we must be willing to lose the one we enjoy here on earth.

© Jim Musser 2018