Friday, December 14, 2012

Wonderfully Made and Deeply Loved


(Author's Note: The Fall Semester officially comes to a close today, so I will be taking a break until the Spring Semester begins in January.  May you be filled with great joy this Christmas season!  Look for WftW to resume on January 14th.  Jim)

“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.  Right now, I am laying new flooring in our bathrooms.  I showed a friend my progress recently and he said, “Looks very nice.”  I appreciated the compliment, but I could tell he didn’t understand the work that had gone into it.  I know all the prep work that was necessary and every cut that was made.  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 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

No Resumé Building Needed


"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord'" (I Corinthians 1:26-31 NIV).

Imagine getting a letter from a close friend who, upon hearing of your recent job offer, wanted to offer his congratulations.  And in this letter your friend reminds you that you weren't one of the smartest guys in college and that you really didn't have a strong resumé.  He says that is probably why you were given the job.  You would be much easier to train and would be loyal because your success would be as a result of company training rather than your own expertise.

In essence, this is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  He was reminding them that their status as Christians, as part of God's family, was not based on their own accomplishments, on their resumé, but on God.  And if there was to be any boasting, it was to be about God's grace and power.  

It is easy in our world to get caught up in "resumé building."  We are told to garner work experience in our fields of education.  We are encouraged to seek out volunteer experiences to "pad" our resumés with good works, showing prospective employers that we will be conscientious workers. And when it comes time to look for a job, we put a lot of stock in our resumé.  

That may work well in the job market, but the principles governing your selection for the Kingdom of God are totally different.  Instead of choosing the most qualified, God most often chooses those without the proper credentials.  For example, look at the 12 disciples.  Not a theologian among them, not even anyone with a formal education.  Instead, they were men of low standing, unskilled in the ways of the ruling class.  Yet, of all the people of the world, the Lord chose them for the most important job in history.  Even Paul, the most educated man mentioned in the New Testament, was not chosen without first being humbled by divine intervention.

The tone was set with Micah's prophecy: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2 NIV).  And that prophecy was fulfilled some 700 years later in a feeding trough outside an inn.  Jesus did not come into our world in spectacular fashion.  And it was by design.  God was saying to us then, and is saying to us now, the trappings do not matter—whether we are smart, good looking, talented, popular or rich.  

Today, recognize what matters is that we humbly offer our lives to Him, just as he humbly offered His Son to us.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Heart Devoted to God


"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their 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 of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord'" (Luke 2:8-11 NIV).

When the President of the United States prepares to make an important announcement to the nation, beforehand he gathers important congressional leaders together to give them the news first.  Always the leaders are informed before the common folk.  

How amazing then it is that when God decided the time had come for the coming of the Messiah to earth, He didn't send his angelic representatives to appear to the High Priest of Jerusalem or to a group of Pharisees.  They were the religious leaders of the day.  Instead God chose a group of working class folk to whom to make His announcement.  

From this we can deduce that God is not interested in trappings, be they religious or socioeconomic.  He is concerned with the heart.   He demonstrates this throughout the Christmas story.  Mary was just a teenage girl and her fiancé, Joseph, was just a carpenter.  Their extraordinary child was born amidst stable animals because they could find no place else to stay.  Simeon, who prophesied about the baby in the Temple, was a devout man, but nothing else is mentioned about his status.  Anna, the prophetess, was an old widow who lived at the Temple.  Being a woman and a widow, she literally had no status in her society.  

Yet God chose to use these men and women to play key roles in this cosmic event.  A perusal of biblical history shows a definite pattern of God using what we might consider the most unlikely of people, David, Esther, and the disciples to name a few more.  

It is easy in a world where status is held in such high esteem to be found wanting in matters of the heart.  But if we want to be used of God, then we need to resist this temptation and become like the men of women of Scripture--having hearts that are, first and foremost, devoted to God.

Today, like the men and women of the Christmas story, seek after God, desiring to be the man or woman He wants you to be.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Real Story


"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn"(Luke 2:6-7 NIV).

During this time of year, many churches put on "living nativities", scenes of the birth of Jesus using real people.  Typically, those portraying Joseph and Mary look very relaxed and joyful, without a care in the world.  From the written record, I cannot imagine that is a correct portrayal of them. They were a very young couple who for the past nine months had been trying to explain how Mary had become pregnant.  They had just ended a long journey from Nazareth (imagine riding on a donkey in desert conditions when you are nine months pregnant!) to Bethlehem, upon which they found no soft beds awaiting them.  To top it off, they just became parents to "the Son of the Most High" whose kingdom would never end.  It is more likely that Joseph and Mary were exhausted and bewildered, and perhaps quite frightened about where they found themselves.

It is not surprising, however, that the events of the Nativity are often, to use a very old phrase, "gussied up."  Just as we apply make-up to ourselves to make us look better than we really look, we often try to make events in the Scriptures look a lot better than they were.  Take the Crucifixion for example.  Most portrayals of this, with the exception of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, are very tame compared to the reality of it.  Jesus had been so badly beaten by the Roman soldiers that he was barely recognizable; yet most paintings present a very tidy (relatively speaking) Jesus on the cross.  The cross itself was an instrument of execution, comprised of two pieces of rough timber; yet what we wear around our necks and hang on the walls of our churches is quite different.  Our renditions of the cross indeed look lovely.

As we celebrate the coming of our Lord into the world, it is befitting of the event to remember it as it was, not as we would like it to be or as we have often been told it was.  For in doing so, we will recognize and honor the great sacrifices made on our behalf, as well as seeing the humanness of the characters.  During this season of celebration, take time to read the accounts of the birth of Jesus in Matthew (1:18-2:23) and Luke (1:5-2:39) with objective eyes.  Read them as if for the first time and allow the pictures of the events to unfold in your mind.  For our faith is not one based on myth, but on actual history, which is lived out on the pages of Scripture.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

That Gut Feeling


“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1-5 NIV)

You can hide it, but you can’t ignore it.  That feeling in your gut that just won’t go away.  You know you’ve done something wrong, but you don’t want to acknowledge it.  I can imagine David having it the morning after he slept with Bathsheba. (II Samuel 11) And Sapphira after she and her husband kept back part of the money they had pledged to the Church. (Acts 6) And John Mark after he had deserted Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 15:37-38

We know when we have sinned.  The question always is, will we be willing to confess it?  David used manipulation and, finally, murder in an attempt to cover up his sin.  In the end, however, after being confronted by a close advisor, he finally confessed and repented. And John Mark, too, obviously confessed and repented because, first Barnabas and then, Paul were willing to have him rejoin them in their evangelistic efforts.  Sapphira, however, failed to confess.  And she paid for that mistake with her life.  

The Lord won’t necessarily strike us dead if we fail to confess sin in our lives, but He does take sin very seriously. And that “gut feeling” is a way of getting our attention.  It is the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  He wants us to deal with our sin so that He can forgive it and clear it out of our lives.  

What sin lies unconfessed in your life?  Can you feel it in your gut?  Today, acknowledge it and lay claim to the promise of the Lord, “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)  Then begin experiencing the joy of a life unburdened by sin.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Finding Our Way to Animated Worship



“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit
 and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:1-12 NIV)

I had just finished my message on pursuing the heart of joy—God’s heart that is full of joy over His creation.  I challenged the students with basically the same message as my devotion yesterday.  There was energy in the room and I was excited to sing songs of praise with them. The worship band played and they sang with more enthusiasm.  I was encouraged.  

As the evening came to a close, to have a little fun, the band played “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  To my shock, the room literally came alive.  The voices were loud and the bodies animated, more so than at any other time during the night or the semester.  Students had their arms around each other and dancing and laughing as they sang.  My point during the message was our joy in the Lord should be reflected in how we live and how we worship.  Now I was seeing it demonstrated—in singing a song about a fictional reindeer.  I hope the students recognized the irony of that.

How is it we can be so animated at a sporting event—cheering, raising our hands in celebration—or so lively singing our favorite songs, but when we are gathered to worship the Lord of the Universe, who is abounding in love and forgives all of our sins, we are often as stiff and lifeless as a memorial statue?  

I honestly don’t have a definitive answer.  Perhaps it is how we were raised—religion is private and somber, or Baptists and Methodists just don’t do that.  Perhaps it’s just more comfortable because everyone gets excited at ballgames.  I don’t know, but even on the face of it, I think we must admit that something is amiss.  Should not the Lord of Creation, the Savior of our souls, generate more excitement within our hearts than anything else?

Today, join me in meditating on this.  Think about what holds you back from expressing the joy of the Lord when you have no problem showing excitement about other things.  Let us figure out how, like David, we can praise the Lord with everything we have within us.

© Jim Musser 2012



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Grace Worth Praising


“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Timothy 1:15-17 NIV)

Nothing will produce authentic praise and worship like humility.  When we realize how undeserving we are, how far short we fall of being truly godly, then the recognition of God’s grace towards us naturally and spontaneously generates praise.  

Paul was a notorious persecutor of the Church.  Then he became a famous leader of those he used to persecute.  Yet Paul never forgot who he really was—a sinner and a former enemy of the Lord.  Thus, he could not keep from bursting into praise when he thought of his former life.  

For those of us who grew up in a Christian home or became Christians many years ago, it is very easy to forget how lost we really were, and how dependent we are on God’s amazing grace to find ourselves where we are today.  

Today, let us remember where we would be without the wonderful grace of the Lord.  And as that reality sets in, may praise and thanksgiving pour forth from our hearts!

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Walk, Run, Soar


“Do you not know? 
Have you not heard? 
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, 
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)

“I am so ready for this semester to be over!”  “I have so much to do in the next two weeks!”  “I’m so stressed!”   These comments and others I have heard recently as our campus approaches the end of the semester and final exams.  The student populace is generally stressed and worn out.  

But for the Christian there is hope.  We serve a God who does not grow weary and who gladly gives away His limitless strength to any who ask for it.  We do not need to be like all those around us who are dead tired and stressed to the max.  Our Lord offers us a different path, if we will only take it.

And that is the challenge.  It is much easier to go with the crowd. Everyone at work complains about his or her jobs, so it is easy for us to join in and complain.  And when a whole campus is stressed and anxious, it is very easy to get caught up in that.  Yet, I think as followers of such a powerful God, we are called to something higher than what is common and predictable.  

We have a God who has promised us an abundant life (John 10:10), not a life that is common to all humanity.  And He wants us to experience it, but that is dependent on how much we are willing to rely on Him and trust Him.  If we truly trust Him, He can lead us away from a life full of complaining, anxiety, and stress.  

Life is indeed difficult and challenging, but it need not always wear us down and stress us out.  The Lord is there from which we can drink deeply of His strength and endurance.  

Today, do just that.  Let Him renew you and lift you up so that you can walk, run and soar no matter what you face.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Freeing Power of Truth


“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32 NIV)

I can still remember sitting in the office of one of my seminary professors almost wailing in grief over the break-up with my girlfriend.  She was the love of my life and I was having a very hard time coping with the thought of living without her.  As I began to catch my breath, he asked me, “Jim, have you given this over to God?”  I think I muttered a “yes,” but it wasn’t true.  And it was months later before I would acknowledge the truth.  In the meantime, I struggled with school and with depression.  

Then one day, after a very tough morning, I exploded.  I screamed at God with great fury.  Why had he taken away the woman I loved?  Why was my life such a mess?  It was not fair!  And after my fury was spent, I sat, emotionally exhausted.  Then I heard these words in my mind, “Shirley is your idol.”  The truth had been spoken and at that moment, I owned it.  I had been in denial for months and had been in bondage to my idolatry.   When I was finally willing to tell the truth, I was set free. The depression began to wane, I finished strong in school, and I began to grow again spiritually.

I tell that story because so many of us hide behind lies.  Working with students, I see this frequently.  They want to portray an image of a solid believer, so they hide behind spiritual language.  They seek to sound like they are growing spiritually when nothing much is happening at all.  Or they have consistent sin in their lives they’re unwilling to confess, such as pornography or an impure romantic relationship.  Even when directly asked, they will deny anything is wrong with how they are living.  

They think they are keeping up an impressive image, when in reality they are enslaving themselves to the father of lies.  Through their lies, he weakens them spiritually, deprives them of joy and peace, and blinds them to the freeing power of the truth.  

And it is not just college students.  Adults in churches are guilty of the same thing.  So many wear the mask of spirituality on Sundays, but the rest of the week is a different story.  So many pretend life is going well, but behind the façades are aching hearts.  

Why is it so hard to admit to the truth of our lives?  All of us fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so why are we bent on leading people to believe we are better than we are?  It’s that age-old sin of pride.  It is just too humbling to admit we are not as good as we are pretending to be.  But by refusing to acknowledge the truth, we keep ourselves in perpetual bondage.  

Today, if there is a lie you are hiding behind, know you are in bondage to it.  And the only way to free yourself is to admit the truth.  Confess to God and confess to other believers what is really going on.  Though it may scare you to do so, you will be amazed at how free you will be.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Other Side of Grace


“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)

Grace is often thought of in terms of escaping punishment.  “I know I sin, but, whew, thankfully I am covered by God’s grace!”  This is indeed a correct view, but there is another side to it.  While we are wholly dependent on God’s grace, it doesn’t just come into play when we sin.  It also is to lead us into a purer, more godly life.  As Paul says, grace is to teach us how to avoid ungodliness and giving into worldly passions. 

If we are destined to eternal judgment because of our rebellion against God, then is our only response to Him to be a “Hey God, thanks. Appreciate it.”?  God does not show us grace just to let us off the hook. He shows us grace in order to give us the opportunity to draw nearer to Him and to become the man or woman He created us to be.  He is not obligated to do it; He does it out of His deep love for us.  But He will not be satisfied if His grace is accepted but there is no transformation in our lives.  

God’s intent for His grace is two-fold: to bring salvation and, secondly, to bring transformation.  They were never intended to be separated.  

Today, know that if you have accepted God’s grace and received salvation, that is not the end of the story.  He fully expects His grace to bring about a transformation in your life, where you are consistently and eagerly are saying “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions.  That is the other side of grace and it cannot be separated from the first.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Stop Complaining


“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ 

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:4-13 NIV)

If the persecuted Jewish Christians of the 1st Century were looking for sympathy, they didn’t get it from the writer of Hebrews.  Though they were being treated terribly by the Romans, the writer points out that none of their blood had yet been shed.  Instead of complaining about their difficulties, he thinks they should view their hardships as discipline from the Lord, intended to mold them into holy people.  And like a coach gathering together his battered and disheartened team at halftime, he challenges them to get it together, lift up their heads, and get back out on the field.  This is not the time to feel sorry for themselves.  There is still a game to be played, and to win.

The true test of faith is how it holds up in the difficult times, yet it seems we are loath to endure them.  We complain, we mope, and we want our difficulties resolved immediately.  We fail to understand that through hardships God is seeking to shape us and refine us into the people He created us to be.  Just as we needed parental discipline as children in order to grow into healthy, well-functioning adults, we are in need of the Lord’s discipline to help us to become spiritually healthy.  Yet, so often, like the Jewish Christians, we are looking for sympathy and whining about the hard times we are facing.

We complain about how bad our boss is or how rough we have it in school.  We get upset at how the “liberal” media treats our faith, or how we Christians are being increasingly marginalized in our society.  We get frustrated and easily discouraged when things in life don’t go our way, whether it is a relationship, our plans for the future, or just day-to-day life.  

Well, the Hebrew writer would say something like this to us: You may be having difficulties, but they haven’t yet killed you.  God is trying to teach you some things through your hardship, not because is He is mean or gets some sick satisfaction out of it, but because He loves you and wants you to grow into the person He created you to be.  Now, pick yourself up and get back out there living your life for Him!

If you expect an easy life because you follow Jesus, you are badly mistaken.  Life will have many difficulties because that is how God trains us to become who He created us to be.  So if your life is hard and you’ve been complaining about it, get over it.  The Lord is at work through these things.  Accept it and move on, allowing Him to mold you into the man or woman He created you to be.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Worthlessness of Wealth


“Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” (Proverbs 11:4 NIV)

News coverage, as it always does, began to build this week as the Powerball jackpot climbed to over 500 million dollars.  National and local news reporters stood outside convenience stores interviewing people waiting in line to purchase tickets.  Facebook posts were made by supposed ticket holders encouraging readers to “like” their posts, promising to share their winnings if they won with those who responded.  And, not surprisingly, these posts were being forwarded throughout the FB universe.  

What is it about the prospects of extreme wealth that gets our hearts all a flutter?  Most people think a half a billion dollars would go a long way to solving their problems, but studies show that, more often than not, more problems are created than solved.  

Wealth has a way of doing that.  I recently learned of a man who is willing to disown his daughter in order to protect the wealth he has accumulated during his life.  The Apostle Paul says that money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10).  Jesus said that wealth, and the pursuit of it, can enslave us and replace God as the one we serve (Matthew 6:24).  And this proverb warns against the ultimate worthlessness of wealth.

At the end of our days on this earth, only one thing will be of any worth: our righteousness—that which we gain through the grace of God through Jesus (II Corinthians 5:21) and that which we live out in our daily lives (I Corinthians 3:11-15).  Everything else—our houses, our stock portfolios, all of our stuff—will be of no value in eternity.  

So we would be wise to heed this proverb’s warning and put our energies into pursuing things in life that have lasting value.  Because at the end of the day, even a 500 million jackpot will be worth nothing.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Very Strange


“They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Peter 4:4-5 NIV)”

I remember in high school when my girlfriend and I used to sit out on her parent’s front porch and listen to the “holy rollers” in the church across the street.  They even played drums in their worship services!  I thought it very strange.

I remember after becoming a follower of Jesus hearing others talk about serving the Lord overseas.  It was okay for them, but the thought of me ever doing that was very strange.  I couldn’t imagine it.  

As I was thinking about what to do with my life early in college, it never occurred to me to consider vocational ministry.  Me, a pastor or missionary?  Too strange.  

In reality, none of this was strange.  It was just my ignorance coming into play.  I didn’t understand the things of God nor His power to shape and transform lives.  I didn’t see clearly and, so, made a lot of wrong assumptions.  

There are people who come into a church, see people lifting their hands in praise and think it strange.  There are people who see the excitement and commitment of a believer and think it a bit too much.  There are people who think it strange to give up a summer and pay to go work in some Third World country.  

They think it strange because they are ignorant.  Ignorance makes the ways of God appear odd and different.  The key is to realize the potential of our ignorance to skew reality.  We need to understand that our perceptions may be wrong and in need of adjustment.

What do you find strange today?  Reading the Bible every day?  Having conversations about the Lord apart from church or a small group Bible study?  Spending the summer (or two weeks) in a foreign country serving the Lord?  Fasting?  Giving 10% of your money to the work of the Lord?  

Today, may you be open to the fact that your assumptions could be wrong; that, in fact, what you now see as strange is in reality quite normal for citizens of the Kingdom.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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 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 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Difference Does Jesus Make?


“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7 NIV)

Our campus ministry association recently met with the university counseling center staff to discuss the latest trends and concerns for students on campus.  They reported the number one problem for which students seek their help is anxiety.  Causes ranged from family issues, such as divorcing parents, to relationship issues and academic pressures.  They all agreed students are finding it increasingly more difficult to balance the demands and pressures of life in a healthy way.  

Working with students as well, I, too, see this trend.  But what I will often ask is: what difference does Jesus make?  I work mostly with students who claim to have a relationship with Jesus, but I see them often getting swept along by the current of the campus culture which seems to elevate “stress-outtedness” to a badge of honor.  Many times they seem to approach life’s difficulties no differently than do the students who claim no faith.   So the question seems to be appropriate.

Jesus is supposed to make a difference in our lives, right?  So why is it that it seems so often He doesn’t?  I think Peter gives us the answer here.  Humbling ourselves means acknowledging our weakness and our need for help.  When my father died while I was in college, my grief was overwhelming, but I attempted to be strong and handle it on my own.  It didn’t work so well because I refused to humble myself before the Lord and my brothers and sisters in the faith to ask for help.  I tried to handle it on my own.

People are often crumbling under the pressures of life because they refuse to acknowledge their weakness.  But Peter tells us (as does Paul—II Corinthians 12:8-10) this is the only way to manage what life throws at us.  And we can do this with confidence because He cares for us.  He’s not going to laugh at us or be annoyed with us because of our problems.  Instead, He will take our anxieties and comfort us.  

Today, as you consider your struggles, think about this: What difference does Jesus really make in how you are dealing with them?  He should make all the difference in the world if you are willing to acknowledge you can’t handle your problems without Him.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Expressions of Thanks

(Author's Note: With the Thanksgiving Break upon us, I will be taking a break as well.  WftW will return on November 26th.  May you have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday! Jim)

“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 made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (II Corinthians 9:10-12 NIV)

When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1863, the country was in the midst of civil war.  Much sacrifice had already been made and much more was still to come; yet Lincoln found there was much for which to thank God.  

What I find so encouraging is the leader of our nation in a time of war would humbly say, in spite of the circumstances, that he and his fellow countrymen had much for which to be thankful.  The entire country was making huge sacrifices, but in the midst of the hardship came thanksgiving.

As I read Paul’s words here, it comes to mind that generosity is, in essence, sacrifice.  When we give generously, we are sacrificing, and that generosity/sacrifice leads to thanksgiving.  So, in the midst of war and much sacrifice, Lincoln could declare a “Day of Thanksgiving” and people embraced it.  

In the midst of 1st Century hardship, the Corinthian Christians gave generously to help their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, and the result? Many expressions of thanks to God.  And when God sacrificed His Son, that generosity has resulted in centuries of thanksgiving to Him.  

As we approach our nation’s Day of Thanksgiving, let us remember that thanksgiving results from the sacrifices made on our behalf—those of parents, teachers, soldiers, fellow believers, and, most of all, God.  Let us recognize those and let us give generously of ourselves for the sake of others in order to continue the expressions of thanks to God.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

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.  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.  

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 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Counting the Cost


“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ’If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”

‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-33 NIV)

“Ilse” attended a workshop I taught on how to hold on to our faith in the midst of suffering.  Normally when I teach this to college students, questions are rare.  Many will tell me how much they appreciate what they heard, but very few will ask any questions.  Ilse was different.  She was not a Christian, not American, and she had a lot of questions.  I finally had to tell her that I was willing to address her questions later, but that I needed to cover material I was asked to present.  

Later we did talk and she explained the reason for her many questions. She was interested in Christianity, but had a lot of questions and she didn’t want to be in a relationship with Christ before making sure it was something she wanted to do and to which she could commit her whole life.  

Ilse gets it.  To make a commitment to follow Jesus is a huge decision.  It is not something to be entered into lightly.  To follow Jesus is life-changing and life-altering.  So often, by our language and our practice, we downplay the radical nature of the decision.  We talk in terms of “accepting Jesus” or “asking Jesus into my heart,” descriptions that bring to mind someone sitting in a chair rather than one in motion following behind their Master. By wanting to make it so easy for someone to become a Christian, we misconstrue what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  

Following Jesus, being a Christian, means to give up everything, to release our control, our ownership of every aspect of our lives.  They are now at the disposal of the Master, and He has the say over whether we keep them, change them, or get rid of them.  This is why Jesus tells us, before deciding to follow Him, to count the cost, to understand the fullness of the commitment.  He doesn’t just want our hearts; He wants our lives.  

Today, think about what it really means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  Ilse has and she is counting the cost to see if she really wants to pay the price.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

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 long way 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 30-40 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, 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 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Imitating God


“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2 NIV)

Children are great imitators.  They will say things they hear their parents say.  They will do things they see their parents do.  And they will imitate their heroes, whether they are television or movie characters, or an athlete. They will try to sound like them, look like them, and act like them. 

It is in the nature of children to imitate those they admire. It is, in a way, an attempt to honor them and demonstrate respect. Paul tells us in this passage, as children of God, to imitate our Heavenly Father, and specifically, to imitate His kindness and compassion by forgiving others. By doing so, we honor and respect Him.

I recently read an article citing the increase of atheism in this country and in Europe.  The writer concluded this increase was due to the fallout of the 9/11 attacks and the so-called “culture wars” over abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage.  People, the writer said, were concluding that religious faith is the cause of much trouble in the world and we would be better off without it. 

I agree, at least to the point that religion causes a lot of problems.  If you question that, just read any of the four Gospels and pay close attention to the dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day.  He did not have much good to say about their practice of religion.  

Paul is not saying, nor did Jesus preach, that we should imitate God by becoming more religious.  We are instead to imitate His character and the actions that flow from it, specifically kindness and compassion, the traits that lead Him to forgive us. 

What people see from many “religious” people is not a reflection of God’s character.  They see almost the opposite.  It is understandable why they might think the world would be better off without God.  But I wonder if some would change their minds if they saw God’s children imitating Him as He really is.

Today, realize that imitating your Heavenly Father’s kindness and compassion is not only a way to honor Him, but also a means to show the world what He really is like.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hand of Discouragement


“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.  I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.  Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west.  No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

‘Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’" (Joshua 1:1-9 NIV)

Discouragement can come in small amounts or in heavy doses.  It can come after an extreme high (think Elijah), or after a long, difficult period (think Joshua).  We are never immune to discouragement, no matter our circumstances.  I think this is why God exhorts us through the Scriptures ten times directly, “Do not be discouraged,” and indirectly many more times through the descriptions of His power and character.  Life in a fallen world can be very discouraging.  People disappoint us.  We disappoint ourselves.  Events go different than we planned.  Unforeseen things like illness and death plop down into our lives like uninvited guests.  Any of these can weigh on us and bring down the hand of discouragement to rest on us.     

The Scriptural prescription is always the same: Know the Lord your God will be with you.  Even under its full weight, the hand of discouragement need not crush us.  God is there and He will protect us and lift us back up.  The key is not to wallow in our discouragement, but to allow the Lord to lift us out of it.  Like a drowning man, we should not flail about in the water and keep the lifeguard at bay.  He is there to save us, but he can only do it if we cooperate with him.  

Today, if you are discouraged, do not lose heart.  Put your trust in the Lord because He is with you, and He will never leave you or forsake you, no matter your circumstances.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Shoring Up Your Weak Points


“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV)

The key to a strong military is recognizing not only strengths, but weaknesses as well.  The British knew they had overwhelming superiority over the colonists in terms of armaments and manpower, but their striking weakness was their inability to adapt to the colonists hit and run attacks.  Their failure in this was one of the main reasons they lost the Revolutionary War.  

As followers of Jesus, we, too, are soldiers in an army at war with a powerful enemy.  And like any worthy opponent, he probes for weaknesses.  The question is not will he find any, but rather will he find them totally unguarded.  

As a young believer, one of my weaknesses was being totally controlled by my feelings.  I would feel down one day and immediately conclude something was wrong with my relationship with the Lord.  Or I would fall into sin and confess it, but still feel guilty and ashamed.  Satan exploited this weakness and kept me on a spiritual rollercoaster for several years. Another was my insecurity as a man, which led me into relationships with women that were unhealthy.  I was desperate for affirmation and approval and sought it through romantic relationships.  Again, the enemy took advantage of this weakness time and time again before I finally recognized it.  

It is the recognition of our weaknesses that is the key to winning the spiritual battles we face.  We all have them and they need not be fatal. For the Lord says, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).  But we must recognize them in order to successfully fend off the enemy’s attacks.

So what are your weaknesses?  A sordid past that the devil keeps reminding you of?  An uncontrolled temper?  A bent toward worrying or fear?  No matter what weaknesses you have, the Lord is more than able to help you overcome them.  But the first step is to recognize and acknowledge them.  You cannot shore up your defenses if you are not aware of your weak points.  

Today, take some time to think about areas of your life in which you are vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.  Make a list and take it to the Lord, asking Him for help in defending these vulnerable areas.  This will not necessarily stop the attacks, but will insure that you are much better prepared to defend against them.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Do You Need?


“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV)

Perceived needs are very relative.  For a toddler, it may be a beloved stuffed animal.  For an older child, it may be getting a new bicycle or computer game.  For a college student, it might be getting a coveted internship or entering into a romantic relationship.  

“In everything” covers the whole gamut of what we think we need and what we really, really want.  God wants us to come to Him with all of our requests.  Objectively, many of them may be less than crucial to our lives, but I don’t think any of us intentionally ask the Lord for foolish things.  In the moment they are important and I think God understands that.  

Good parents take into consideration the maturity level of their children when considering their requests.  When a three-year-old is begging for her stuffed bear that’s in the washer, Mom doesn’t say to her, “Oh grow up!  You don’t need that stupid bear!”  No, she takes her seriously, because to the child this is a crisis.  Years later she will laugh at the story her mother tells, but not now.  

As children of God, our Heavenly Father respects where we are in our spiritual maturity.  He does not demand from us adult thinking when we are still children.  And if truth be told, none of us will ever be spiritual grown-ups in this world.  Our requests, even as we grow older, still will often be rather immature if we look back from a heavenly perspective. Still, God will always be patient with us.  And, like a good parent, He will say “No” when He needs to in order to protect us from ourselves and our own ignorance.

Today, know that God wants to hear your requests, no matter what they are.  You are His child.  He will never turn you away or ridicule you.  So what do you need today?  He is waiting and listening.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Reality of Your Life


“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down—this leaning wall, this tottering fence?  Surely they intend to topple me from my lofty place; they take delight in lies. 
 With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.  Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:1-8 NIV)

Within the church there is a culture of pretension.  We want to give the appearance that we are dedicated to the Lord and we know the “Christian” things to say, but often the reality is much different.  I have had countless students in my ministry over the years tell me how much they want to grow in the Lord and how they are trusting Him for their futures, but then a guy or a girl comes along and, suddenly, their trust is placed in someone else.  I have known people who said they are trusting God for their finances, but they’re wringing their hands each day they go to work. And I’ve known individuals that have melted under the heat of persecution.  Appearances don’t matter much when reality hits.

David’s use of the word “truly” is important in this passage.  He is not offering up mere spiritual platitudes.  He is declaring that his soul does find rest in God, that God indeed is his rock and salvation.  And the proof is not in his words, but in his life when reality strikes.  Men are seeking to topple him from his throne.  He finds himself in a time of crisis when words don’t matter much, but instead in how we respond.  And in this crisis, he remains true to his words.

While a seminary student, I gave the pretense of one seeking after the Lord and trusting in him, but a break-up with my girlfriend revealed something quite different.  In reality, I was an idolater who worshipped this woman much more than I did the Lord.  It was a humbling admission, but a much needed one.  And while on this narrow path, there have been other humbling times where my words haven’t quite matched the attitude of my heart, and that was revealed by the reality of life.   Thankfully, we serve a God rich in mercy and grace.  

Today, consider how you present your faith to others.  Is it consistent with the way you actually live your life?  One way or another the truth will be revealed when reality strikes.  The question is, will you be vindicated or humbled?

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Noise


"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10 NIV)

I remember talking with a young man who grew up in a large city, but had come to a Midwest farm as part of Christian leadership experience.  I asked him what it was like to live “in the middle of nowhere,” and he said one of the hardest things to deal with was the quietness of the country. He was used to the noise of the city, the constant noise.  

A few years ago during a retreat, I asked students to spend 30 minutes of silence in the woods around the retreat center.  No talking, no i-pods, just silence.  I don’t think any of them managed to do it.

What is it about silence that makes us so uncomfortable?  In part, I think it’s because we rarely, if ever experience it.  Our lives are full of noise nearly 24 hours a day.  Think about it.  When do you ever experience complete silence (the absence of artificial noise)?  And if you occasionally do, how do you respond?  Uncomfortable?  Do you seek to immediately fill the void with some type of noise?  Most of us do.  And that leads to the second reason silence can make us uncomfortable.

In the silence, God can be known and heard.  When our heads are not filled with noise, God’s still, small voice can be heard.  When we are not distracted, our focus can be entirely on Him.  As my wife likes to remind me, if I am on the computer or watching TV, I cannot fully listen to her at the same time.  Silence enables God to have our full attention.  

Today, will you accept this challenge?  Find 30 minutes sometime this week where you can spend it in complete silence and undistracted by your computer and cell phone.  Perhaps by a lake or on a mountain overlook, or maybe a walk on a trail or country road. Or maybe just alone in a room.  Be still and listen.  Instead of the usual noise, let God fill the void with His voice and presence.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Praying for Those Who Lead Us


“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)

It is finally decision day for the United States.  Today the majority of citizens go to the polls to elect a president, a new Congress, state governors, state legislators, and other state and local officials.  By tonight or early tomorrow morning, we should know who our leaders will be.  And then the only responsibility left for us is this: to pray for them.

Many will find this difficult if their candidate loses.  If social media is any indication, there is a lot of disgust and even hatred for the opposing candidates.  It will be much easier to despise and mock them than to pray for them, just as it has been during the past four years.  

It is always easier to pray for those we love, for those with whom we have a connection or a history, for those with whom we share similar values and concerns; yet the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy challenges us to stretch ourselves beyond what is comfortable and easy.  

The emperor of Rome at the time of Paul’s writing was the infamous Nero, who had his first wife beheaded because she was unable to bear him a child, who crucified followers of Jesus and then set them on fire to light his garden, and who burned Rome and blamed believers as a means to destroy them once and for all.  When Paul urges Timothy to pray for “all kings and those in authority,” he was not living in some alternate universe where leaders were docile and kind.  He was living under the ruthless rule of Nero!  

Think about that.  During the past 18 months, billions of dollars have been spent trying to convince us how bad the other candidate is and why he or she should not get our vote.  Countless tweets and Facebook posts have been made mocking Obama or Romney.  Countless hours have been spent in debating why one or the other should be elected and the other should not.  But how much time has been spent in prayer for these men and women who lead us or seek to?

Regardless of who wins the election today, whether the ones you voted for or not, you have the responsibility to pray for those elected to lead our nation, your state, and your local community.  You may think he or she is a liar, a cheat, or is going to lead in the wrong direction, but surely that leader could be no worse than Nero.  If Paul urged Timothy to pray for the likes of him, then there is no excuse for any of us not to do the same.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Odd Expressions


“Now King David was told, ‘The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.’ So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. 

As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, ‘How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!’

David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.’ And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.” (II Samuel 6:12-23 NIV)

There is man in our church who is mildly autistic.  He does not like to be touched and he rarely will speak unless spoken to.  But when the worship music is played, he never lacks expression.  He raises his hands, claps, and, yesterday, he went up front and danced during one song.  

I am sure some people thought it odd and maybe some were even uncomfortable.  In the church we tend to prefer a more structured, dignified worship service.  There is nothing wrong with preferences, but sometimes we can allow our preferences to dictate our feelings towards others who desire to worship in a different way.  And then our preference can become a judgment.  

David’s wife, Michal, serves as a warning of this.  She thought David’s dancing in celebration of the Ark’s return to Jerusalem was undignified for someone of his stature and position.  Her preference became judgment and turned her heart against her husband.  

Satan is always looking for ways in which to disrupt the unity of the church and preferences in worship is one of them.  I think what we can learn from this story is heart-felt worship will often seem undignified by traditional norms, but if it is an overflow of joy we would do well to respect it if not embrace it.  

Today, recognize there are many preferences in worship.  Some may seem odd, even undignified to you, but don’t be quick to judge.  The expressions of a heart overflowing with joy can lead people to do some interesting things.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Getting Rich


“This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.  They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd
(but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
 Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.  Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life. People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish.” (Psalm 49:13-20 NIV)

The History Channel has been airing a series it calls, “The Men Who Built America.”  It chronicles the rise and influence of J.D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. Their wealth at the time was beyond compare.  All five men are depicted as inventive, but ruthless and greedy as well.  They pursued wealth for the wealth itself.  They could never have enough.

Watching several of these episodes reminded me of how little the heart of man changes from generation to generation.  The desire for wealth is just as strong today as it was a hundred years ago and even 2500 years ago. Most of us dream of “striking it rich” even if we think it unlikely.  We observe the rich from afar and many of us are envious.  Like those before us, we think life would be much better if we were wealthy.  

But wealth is a double-edged sword and most of us look at only the one side—all the benefits of wealth.  The other side, however, demands our attention.  Jesus called wealth a master and that we could not serve it and God at the same time (Matthew 6:24).  Paul tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10) and is a disqualifier for spiritual leadership (I Timothy 3:2-3).  And the Psalmist tells us that no wealth (or the benefits from it) gained in this life will follow us into the next. In fact, he warns that those who embrace wealth as their security are no better than the cattle that perish every day to become the burgers and steaks on our plates.  

Our culture promotes wealth as the panacea for all our difficulties and as the path to happiness, and so many pursue it or at least dream about it. But the Scriptures warn of the dangers of this path and we would all be wise to listen.

Today, recognize that while the culture promotes acquiring wealth as the ideal for life, the Scriptures tell a very different story.  If your dream is to get rich, make sure it is of the eternal kind; for those are the only riches that will last and that you will be taking with you.

© Jim Musser 2012