Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Blame Game

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’

He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’

And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’

The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’

Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’

The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Genesis 3:8-13 NIV)

Whenever I can’t find something around our house—my car keys, my phone, a particular shirt—my instinct is to blame my wife.  It just comes naturally to me.  She must have put it in a different place.  On rare occasions that is the case, but most often it is I who am responsible.  I just couldn’t remember it was me who put a particular something in a certain place.  

This instinct can be easily traced.  We see in this passage that it had its beginning in Eden with the first man and first woman to exist.  Adam blamed God and Eve.  And Eve blamed the serpent.  Neither of them was willing to admit responsibility and take the blame.  

This trait is embedded in the human DNA and we see evidence of it every day, in the news and in our own lives.  Students blame professors for their poor grades in classes. Employees blame employers for their poor wages.  Spouses blame each other for their marriage woes. Politicians blame the media. The list could go on and on.  Of course, as I mentioned earlier, on occasion the blame is accurately placed, but only on occasion.  Most of the time, the one blaming is the one most likely responsible for the situation, or at least is an equal participant.

So why is it so easy to shift blame and seek to avoid responsibility in the many situations we face in life? The answer is simple: We were born that way. It is our pride. And as is often recognized by professional therapists, the first step to solving a problem is to recognize you have one.  We can either live life continually in the mindset we are never to blame, or we can humble ourselves and carefully begin to reflect on our individual responsibility in any given situation we face.  

Today, ask yourself this question: How often to do I seek to shift blame away from myself and onto others?  With that in mind, begin to observe when you are tempted to do this in everyday situations.  I am guessing you are going to be a bit surprised at how much of a problem it is for you, which of course is the first step to take in beginning to solve it.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Essence of Righteousness


“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25 NIV)

I remember during one of our church’s worship services, a woman announced she was collecting signatures for a petition to keep the Ten Commandments displayed in the county courthouse.  Our pastor added he would like to start a petition to keep the Ten Commandments displayed in people’s hearts.  

I am sure he has no objection with God’s Word being on public display, but realizes the power of it’s public witness is not in plaques or monuments but in the lives of those who claim to follow Him.  The temptation for us is to settle for the semblance of righteousness instead of its essence.  We place the emphasis on being in church rather than being the Church, or on having a clean reputation rather than a clean heart, or on spending time reading the Word rather than obeying it.   

The result is we develop a false sense of confidence that we are right with the Lord, and, as James warns, are deceived.  For true righteousness is that which flows out of a humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2).  

Today, examine yourself to see whether you are merely settling for the semblance of righteousness, the outward appearances, or the essence of it, which is a heart submitted fully to the Lord.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Grip of Envy

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30 NIV)

I grew up a fairly insecure person.  That happens when your home life is not filled with love and affection.  I had a few friends growing up, but I never ran with the popular crowd. I was a little backward socially, physically, and academically. For much of my young life, I was envious.

I was envious of those I knew who were picked first for teams, while I was picked near to last.  I wished math and science came easier to me as it seemed it did for others. In high school, I craved to be a part of the “in” crowd.  

Going into college, envy was a part of my make up.  And then I met Jesus as a 19-year-old and that began to change, very slowly.  As my confidence in His love for me grew, the more secure I became and the less I struggled with envy. However, it was a long road and there were areas of my life where envy stubbornly retained its grip—mainly in my desire for a romantic relationship and success in ministry.  Those held me for a long time, but now I am at peace because with maturity has come a proper perspective.  I no longer crave to have what others have; I am content with what the Lord has given me.

I work daily with young people who are on the same journey I have taken.  I see the insecurity and the longings they have for things that, at the moment, appear beyond their grasp—to fit in more, to have a special relationship, to have a defined career path, to live more righteously.  And I see and hear of the envy that comes with that insecurity. 

But envy is not merely a problem for the young.  Unless we recognize its grip on us, it will continue to be a problem when we’re much older. Peace will elude us because we will continue to long for what others have rather than being content with what has been given to us.  God is the giver of good gifts and our confidence in that can help us avoid living an envious life.  The Lord in His wisdom has created each of us unique and different.  Because we are created differently, we are not meant to all have the same things, whether it be the way we look, our personalities, our abilities, our station in life, etc.  God has created us to be unique and desires us to be content with that.  When we are, we will find peace.  When we are not, using the language of the proverbial writer, rot will set in and slowly eat away at our very being.

What is your thinking today?  Are you content with your life, what you have been given?  Or are you looking around at others and focusing on what they have that you do not? Know that you will only find peace when you eliminate envy from your life.  When you reach the point where you are content with your life as it is, then you will find what you have truly been longing for. 

© Jim Musser 2017 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Because

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:2-11 NIV)

When I was a young child, like most children, I asked “Why?” a lot. Why do I have to go to bed now?  Mommy, why do you have a big bump on your nose?  Why do I have to get a shot?  And like most parents, often I would get a one-word answer: “Because.”  Of course, that response is rarely satisfying to a child, so the follow-up question usually is, “Because why?”  Sometimes a more detailed explanation follows, but often parents respond definitively to cut off any further discussion: “Because I said so.” Or, “Because that’s just the way it is.”

As a kid, I hated that response. I wanted an explanation and, when it involved my behavior, I wanted a reason that was satisfying to me. But what I realize as an adult is that my parents knew much more than I did and there are many things where kids just have to accept the authority of their parents, whether they agree or not, or whether they understand or not. But that runs against our human bent.  From childhood onward, we want everything justified and explained.  The weight is on the authority to defend the demand. “Because I said so” never will do. The echoes of this have reverberated from Eden down through the millennia.

Today you see this in the rapidly changing culture in which we live. “Why shouldn’t we be able to do what we want to do?”  “If people feel that is what is best for them, why shouldn’t they be able to live as they please?”  These questions have been applied to a myriad of behaviors and belief systems and, less and less, is “because God says so” acceptable as an answer.  As many parents are challenged by their children, so too God’s authority is brought into question.  Who is He to demand such things and why is there need for such demands?

There may be reasonable explanations that God gives if people are willing to take the time to hear Him though His Word, but often, because His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours, we will not be able to fully understand why He commands certain things or works in certain ways. Like children, we will just not know enough to be able to comprehend His motives. We will just have to accept His authority and trust He has our best interests in mind.

Today, in a culture that increasingly dismisses the authority of God in our lives, realize that road is wide and leads to destruction. You instead must take the narrow road that trusts that God knows what He is doing whether or you fully understand or not. That is the road that leads to life

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Handling Difficult Times

“How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? 
How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6 NIV)

David often felt overwhelmed by his circumstances.  He had many enemies and his life was frequently in danger.  That kind of stress can wear on a person.  Light can quickly turn to darkness, hope into despair.  
We all long for a life that is easy and free of stress and hardship, and sometimes we tie our faith to the ease of our circumstances.  When things are going well, we are excited about God, but when things are going badly, we struggle.

David provides the perfect example of how to hold onto our faith when life is dishing out a major helping of stress or hardship.  When he felt overwhelmed, he expressed his feelings to God.  He poured out his frustration, his fear, and his anger.  He did not hold back.  He knew God was big enough to handle his emotions.  Having done that, then we see his heart and mind shift intentionally back to giving his situation over to the Lord.  

Sometimes, we need a safe place to vent.  Things build up and we need to express them.  David demonstrates for us that we can do this with God.  He's not going to cut us off by saying, "How dare you talk to me that way!"  But David doesn’t just vent and then walk away.  He says, in essence, “Okay God.  I have expressed how I feel, but I still love you and trust you in whatever happens, and I rejoice that you have given me new life and have been so good to me.”  

Life will often be difficult and frustrating, and we can learn a great deal from David on how to handle it.  Today, know that if you are unhappy with the way life is going, you can express that to the Lord.  He is big enough to handle it!  But then, as David did, you can continue to love and trust Him because of who He is and what He has done in your life.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Defined, Not by Our Sin, But by Jesus


“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

I was talking with some colleagues the other day and we were discussing church leadership and how some churches want perfect leaders, ones without any flaws.  One spoke up and said, “Yeah, if they could, they wouldn’t let David write the Psalms.”

David, you might recall, committed adultery, tried to cover it up, and then had the husband of his mistress killed.  Yet, David is described as a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22).  He faithfully led the Israelites, and he wrote beautiful poetry that has given encouragement and comfort to people for many centuries.  He was a man of Godly conviction and passion.  Yet, he committed adultery and murder.

Most, if not all, of us having read the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah (II Samuel 11) would find ourselves condemning David if we knew nothing else about him.  It is quite easy to be defined by one sin in our lives.  An abortion.  An affair.  A forged check.  It is very easy for us to define a person or be defined by one failure.

Fortunately, God does not do that.  He does not define our lives by our sin, but by whom we are in Jesus.  Thus, an adulterer or a murderer or a thief or any other type of sinner can still make a wonderful contribution to the Kingdom.  

The message of this passage is that your life need not be defined by the sin you have committed.  Your life need not be invalidated because of the mistakes you have made.  In Christ there is no condemnation.  

Today, take comfort in knowing God has forgiven your sin.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not condemned.  He still loves you and desires to use your life in the work of His Kingdom.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Testing God


"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' 
In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:8-10 NIV)

Call it a quirk, but I just love having things filled up.  I get a great feeling when the pantry and fridge are stocked full with food, and the bank account is replenished at the beginning of the month.  I suppose it is the sense of security it provides, knowing that I need not worry about running out.  Yet, there is also a danger that lurks in that desire for security.  It can become more important than God.

When Malachi spoke the words of God, the Israelites were holding onto all they had, fearing they could not spare anything.  Although they were back in their own land after years of exile, their memories were still fresh, like my parents who grew up during the Depression and were reluctant to part with anything.  They remembered when things were hard and scarce.  

Yet, God’s promise to Israel and to us is that He will provide abundantly for our needs.  We do not need to cling to everything as if we will never be re-supplied.  God’s storehouse is full and He wants to pour out His blessings upon us, and He calls us to test Him on this.  How?  By being generous with what we already have, not hoarding it for ourselves.  

Most of us would not consider ourselves rich, but the Lord wants us to be generous with what we have been given.  The tithe was a place for the Israelites to start, 10% of their income was to be given to the Lord. They were holding back and God said bring the whole tithe and I will richly bless you.  

Are you holding back on giving what the Lord has asked?  Know that your security is not found in material things, but in the Lord.  He wants you to trust in Him for your security. Test Him and you will not be disappointed.  

©  Jim Musser 2017