Thursday, September 27, 2012

Defending God

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” (I Peter 2:21-24 NIV)

The president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, appeared before the U.N. General Assembly yesterday and said this regarding any insults of the Prophet Mohammed: “We reject this. We cannot accept it.  We will not allow anyone to do this by word or deed.”

The Muslim world is particularly sensitive to any perceived insult to their Prophet.  They believe it is blasphemy to speak about or portray him in a disparaging way.  In many Muslim countries, such things are punishable by lashings, time in prison, or even death.  And on several occasions, westerners deemed to have insulted Mohammed have been targeted for death.

The reaction is understandable to a point because when people speak ill of or mock Jesus, Christians can become deeply offended.  Yet, instead of retaliation when our Lord is insulted and mocked, we are called to respond as He did.  He absorbed the insults thrown at Him and did not respond in kind or with retribution.  In fact, He told His disciples this: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-13)

Rejoice and be glad?  The religious mindset is that we have to defend our God or gods.  The biblical mindset, however, is that God will defend Himself and in due time.  He is patient, wanting none to perish (II Peter 3:9), so He is willing to endure the insults and rejection and asks us to do the same.  By doing so, we, too, participate in the suffering that brought salvation to the world and we will be greatly rewarded for it.  

And He does not need us to defend Him. He is the Almighty and His judgment will stand when it is finally handed down.   Instead, He calls us to love those heaping insults upon Him and those who follow Him.  

Today, remember God doesn’t need you to defend Him.  Instead, He needs you to love those who insult and disparage His name.  For if Jesus didn’t retaliate against them, then neither should you.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Showing People They Matter

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:3-8 NIV)

A number of years ago, my wife was required to have her picture and fingerprints captured as part of the process to receive Permanent Residency. I remember when this was finished, she was asked to fill out a “customer service” survey.  One question was, “What service did you not receive that you would like to see provided?”  Her answer: “Smiles.” Through the whole process, none of the officials smiled.  They were “all business.”  As most of us have experienced, in governmental circles, friendliness and kindness are not necessarily job requirements.

But this is seen in other places as well.  Retail store cashiers will often hardly acknowledge you, let alone smile, and often will carry on conversations with others while you are checking out.  Wait staff will often act as though their service is an obligation.  There is a message that comes through when people employed to provide service act this way: You don’t matter.  You are an obligation, a burden, or a means to an end.  

Kindness is a way to demonstrably attribute worth to someone, and as followers of Jesus, kindness should just be a part of who we are.  We serve the Creator of the universe who created us and, out of His kindness, saved us from eternal death.  His nature should be reflected in the way we treat others.  

We should be the ones who greet the cashier with a smile and ask the restaurant server how her day is going.  We should be the ones leaving notes of thanks to those who clean up after us in the dorms or office.  We should be the ones who greet those standing alone in a church or campus ministry meeting.  In all of our interactions with people, we should be looking to communicate that they have worth, that they do matter.

Today, look for ways you can show kindness to people with whom you interact.  Even if you do not know them, they have value.  They, like you, were created by our loving God, and your mission is to help them know that.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

Missing Out

“A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother."’

 ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’

Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’

Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’

‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.’” (Luke 18:18-30 NIV)

What an experience it was years ago to stand on the summit of Longs Peak, 14,259 feet above sea level in Colorado.  Looking out over miles and miles of earth in all directions.  I will never forget it.  Yet, I almost never made it.  

About halfway up, in an area referred to as “the chute,” I came to a small rock wall covered with ice and just high enough that I couldn’t jump onto the ledge above.  My companions had no difficulty because they were taller, but I was afraid.  I told them I would just wait for them, but they kept encouraging me and, finally, with their help, I was able to get on top of this wall and continue the trail to the summit.  If I had given into my fear, I would have missed out on one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen.  

What would this rich man’s life and eternity have been like if he had not given into the fear of losing his wealth?  He would have experienced unimaginable joy following the footsteps of Jesus into Paradise, but he allowed his fear to get in the way.  Even sadder, is that he never realized what he had missed until it was too late.  

When I was a young Christian, I was scared by the idea of God ever wanting me to do mission work in a foreign country.  I was happy in the U.S. and planned to stay here!  But I finally acknowledged my fear to the Lord and He helped me overcome it.  Since that time, I have traveled to many parts of the world to assist in the work of the Kingdom.  I shudder to think what I would have missed out on if I had continued to allow that fear to reign in my life.  

In my daily work with students, I see a lot of fear to let go and to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Fear of losing friends or a romantic relationship. Fear of disapproval by parents.  Fear of being asked to do what they don’t really want to do or think they cannot do.  And in giving into those fears, they miss out.  They miss out on the riches of deep, satisfying living, and, sadly, never even know it.  The ruler still had his wealth; I would have still probably had a good life.  But by overcoming my fear, I experienced something far greater, deeper, and richer.  

Today, consider what fears might be blocking you from experiencing unimaginable joy in following Jesus.  You will never know what you are missing unless you overcome your fear.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Tale of Persistence

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”

‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’

And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8 NIV)

It happened on Saturday.  A cable crew was burying a line across the road from our house.  A couple hours later, I went to use the Internet and had no connection.  I checked the TV—no signal there as well.  The crew had accidentally cut our line while burying the other.  Thus began a series of conversations with the cable company’s customer reps. I called immediately and was told the earliest appointment was late on Sunday.  I complained but got nowhere.  So Sunday afternoon comes and goes with no technician in sight and no courtesy call to say he will be late.  I call the company again.  The technician, they say, is running way behind.  I said a courtesy call would have been nice.  They say, “We understand Mr. Musser.”   The technician finally arrives and tells me what I already know, “Your line has been cut.”  He says he cannot repair it, but will call it in for a crew to come out in the morning.

Monday morning comes and goes with no crew showing up.  I contact the company again.  No appointment was ever scheduled.  The earliest appointment is now on Tuesday morning. I express my frustration.  “We understand, Mr. Musser.”  I call my wife Tuesday mid-morning to see if the crew had arrived.  I’ll give you one guess.  So I contact the cable company once again.  My appointment is now scheduled for a week later. I express my utter frustration at the lack of communication and the inability to get a crew to my house to fix a problem originated by the company.  “We understand your frustration, Mr. Musser.”  The agent then transfers me to her supervisor, who then puts me on hold to talk to the local office, which puts her on hold.  After 15-20 minutes, she finally comes back to me and explains the delay.  I told her the way this whole thing was handled is unacceptable for a company saying customer service is important to them. “We understand your frustration, Mr. Musser.”  She says she will note it in her report.

The next morning, three days after the line was cut, I hear the rumbling of a big truck coming up our road.  It is the cable crew!  A guy gets out and says, “They e-mailed me last night and told me to come out here and fix your problem.”  Within two hours, a new line was laid and our service restored.  

Reading this story probably gives you the sense of the persistence I had in getting this problem resolved.  If I had just made that one call and left it at that, we would still be without cable and Internet service.  But because of my persistence, I am convinced the cable company acted sooner than they had planned.  I refused to give up.

My story is similar to the one Jesus told about the persistent widow.  And the point Jesus was making is we should be just as persistent in prayer. Sometimes we really want something, so we pray—once.  Or we throw up a 30-second prayer a few times.  But He is calling us to emulate in prayer the example of someone in life who needs help with a problem and does not give up until they get it resolved.  Over a period of three days, I spent close to two hours communicating with the cable company.  I also know a woman who literally spent hours and hours over several weeks trying to resolve an issue with her insurance company.  That is the kind of persistence I think Jesus has in mind.

Today, if there are things in your life that need resolved or there are things you desire, then be persistent in asking for help from the Lord.  I guarantee He is much more open to helping than the cable company!

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Applying the Word to Life

“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)

This week, I gave a message on the God of peace to our students.  I spoke very frankly on how Jesus should make a difference in our lives in terms of how we deal with stress because He is the God of peace. Afterwards, I had two students thank me for the message, but, honestly, I feared it didn’t really impact them in any serious way.  I know a lot of pastors get thanked at the door for messages that, in reality, will have little impact on the way people live their lives.  

Yet, to my delight, the next day I began seeing posts on Facebook referring to my message and the Scriptures I used.  They hadn’t just listened; they were taking my words and the Word to heart and applying it to their lives—exactly what James is talking about.

If we grew up going to church or have been involved with a community of believers for awhile, the challenge always is to not only read or hear the Word, but to act on what it commands.  We are told repeatedly of the importance of “getting into the Word” and the expectation is for us, as believers, to be in church every Sunday to listen to the Word being proclaimed.  But according to James, that is of little real value unless we take what we read/hear and put it into practice.  

The danger for us is to grow content with just reading and listening to the Word.  It can feel good and we can get plenty of kudos for our commitment and discipline.  But James pointedly says we are deceived if we think this is enough.  It means nothing if we do not take what we’ve heard and apply it to our lives.  

Today, remember the Word of God is not a book merely to be read or listened to.  It is to be applied to your life.  And in doing so, you will be greatly blessed.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Graceful Transformation

“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21 NIV)

It was one of those occasions that I don’t like, but sometimes cannot avoid—confronting a leader’s sin.  As we sat together and I explained what I knew, the leader’s response was, “Well, we all struggle.”  

This is one of the ways we typically deal with sin in our lives.  This one attempts to excuse it.  “Everybody struggles.  I’m no different than anybody else.  Sin happens.  Let’s just move on.”

Another way is to focus continually on our sins.  Often, “accountability” relationships involve solely talking about our struggles with sin.  

Both of these approaches miss the mark in dealing with sin.  The first diminishes the seriousness of it by appealing to its pervasiveness. There’s so much sin that surely God isn’t serious about me actively and continually confronting it in my own life.  Surely grace bails me out of having to deal with it.  

The second approach makes the opposite mistake.  Instead of focusing too little on sin, it focuses too much.  The error in judgment comes with thinking the way to overcome sin is to focus on it and to try even harder to avoid it.  

I find in this passage the perfect balance.  As we sin, there is always sufficient grace to cover it, so we don’t have to be obsessed with overcoming sin, which inevitably leads us to focus exclusively on our sins.  But we should not merely see the power of grace as a means of avoiding the eternal consequences of sin.  Grace also demonstrates its power through righteousness.  Grace leads to transformation.  We are in the process of shedding our sinful selves and putting on Christ, and it is grace that makes that possible.  It provides the safety net while we are in the process of being perfected.  

Today, know that every sin is serious.  If not, there would be no need for grace.  But know, too, that grace is intended to turn your attention more and more to the Lord and less and less to sin.  Grace is meant to lead to your transformation into a new person, one that looks a lot like Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Choosing to Live a Productive Life

“Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.” (Titus 3:13-14 NIV)

I visited the local cable company recently to see if I could continue the discounted plan we were on.  As I was waiting on the lady to see what she could do for me, I heard a customer rep next to me tell a customer, “We’re no longer giving any deals.  As it stands now, your monthly bill will be $200.”  He was flustered for a moment, but then he acquiesced.  The lady helping me basically said the same thing, except my bill would be about half of that other guy’s.  I concluded the cable company is betting people will pay higher rates rather than doing without.  

A few days later I read this passage and it struck me how relevant this is to believers today.  Paul felt the urgent need to proclaim the gospel and there were many things standing in the way, particularly the physical hardships of believers.  He recognized the tendency of people to focus on themselves much more than the needs of others.  Obviously, Zenas and Apollos had some needs and Paul was reminding Titus it was up to fellow believers to provide for them.  But he notes the temptation is to serve our selves and, thus, lead unproductive lives.  In other words, we choose to serve our own perceived needs and neglect the needs of others.  

Right now there are many believers in need and from what I hear and read from missionaries, campus workers, and church leaders, giving is way down and they are struggling to meet the needs of the people they serve.  Of course, a lot of this is the result of the tough economic times in which we now live, but I think my cable company’s business approach sheds some light on the current reality.  Even when times are tough, people most often choose to budget for things that serve them.  They may be cutting back in a lot of areas including giving to Kingdom work, but they are still willing to shell out $200 per month for cable or a smartphone.  

The questions I am now asking myself are: Is cable a real need?  And, if so, how much should I spend on it?  Because I don’t want to spend money on myself that could better be spent on needs of Kingdom work. The cable company is betting I will pay whatever they demand.  It is probably a safe bet on the majority of people who now treat cable (or satellite) the same as electricity or water—they can’t live without it.  But I’m not so sure for me.  The needs of the Kingdom and my brothers and sisters in the Lord have to take priority.  If my entertainment bills are going to deter from that, then something has to change.

What about you?  In these tough economic times, are you cutting back on your giving to Kingdom work, but budgeting the same or more for cable and the like?  If so, consider Paul’s warning that to do so is to live a life that is eternally unproductive.  You may be continually entertained, but you will be storing up little that has eternal value.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Believing You Can Win

“They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.  But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.’

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’  But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’  And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’" (Numbers 13:26-33 NIV)

September 1, 2007 will be indelibly etched in the minds of those living in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Boone, North Carolina.  It was the day the Division 1-AA Appalachian State Mountaineers went into the “Big House” of the University of Michigan Wolverines, filled with 109,000 fans, and pulled off what is being called the greatest upset in college football history. Nobody thought it was possible.  Some Michigan fans had even complained before the game about scheduling a “cupcake” team as a tune-up for the rest of the season.  Even the most ardent Mountaineer fans expected only a good showing, not a win.  Yet, Coach Jerry Moore saw something that the fans on both sides didn’t—a flaw in the Michigan defense his team could exploit.  

Of course, Coach Moore did not publicize his observations.  Nobody would have believed him if he had.  Michigan was Division 1, the winningest program in college football, a team with three All-American candidates, and home of the largest football stadium in the country.  Yet, despite this, Moore believed his team could win.  And they did, to the shock of the nation.

As I read this passage, it seems the Israelites viewed themselves as Division 1-AA and the Amalekites as Division 1.  They were big and powerful and no way would they be defeated.  Yet, Caleb saw something different—a weakness.  He saw the Amalekites living life without God. The Israelites had God and He had promised them the land the Amalekites were occupying.  

True, the Amalekites were big and strong.  If this had been a football rivalry, no one would have given the Israelites a chance.  And most of the Israelites believed the press and did not want to take them on, but Caleb never doubted because he knew God would be with them.  

Sometimes we give into our own fears and believe God is not big enough to handle a big foe in our life.  It looks too big to overcome and so we run from it or concede defeat.  What are these foes, these big strong temptations that loom domineeringly over you, just daring you to challenge them?  Are they worry and stress?  Are they sins that have a tight grip on your life?  Whatever they are, though it may seem impossible to defeat them, today know they all have one weakness—they cannot overcome the power of God, which is available to you (Ephesians 1:19).  As a follower of Jesus, you can exploit that and win!

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Desperate Times

“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’

When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.  One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’”  (Luke 17:11-19 NIV)

There is an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, recognizing the fact that when people are in desperate situations, they cry out to God. They have encountered circumstances beyond their control and they cry out for help.  Like when the roar of a tornado is bearing down, the car is sliding out of control, or the medical test comes back positive.  In desperate times, there are few who do not realize their dependence on something greater than themselves.  

But what is also true, once the desperate situation passes, is for most nothing really changes.  People go back to their lives as before.  The lepers were desperate.  Shunned and scorned by society, they cried out to Jesus for help.  And He graciously responded.  Yet, once they were healed, nine of the ten just went on with their lives without acknowledging the Source of their healing.  

I remember in the days following the 9/11 attacks people were filling churches, attending prayer services, and reflecting on the meaning and value of life.  Desperate people were crying out to God.  But within weeks, church attendance returned to normal levels and life resumed with most people looking for answers, not from God, but from politicians.  

The desperate situations we encounter are a window into our true reality: we are totally dependent on God.  The tornado, the car wreck, the illness only serve to amplify the fact we are not in control of our lives.  But like the nine lepers for whom the Lord provided, we so often go on our way without acknowledging what He has done for us.

Today, recognize, even if life is going well for you right now, how dependent you are on God, how much He has provided for you.  Like the one leper who was healed, take the time to thank Him for all He has done for you.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Truth Is You Are Not Good

“A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’” (Luke 18:18-19 NIV)

This week I spoke to our students about the purity of God’s heart.  I pointed out that we often feel pretty good about ourselves because we are in the habit of comparing ourselves with others.  By that standard, we each can seem to be a good person.  And you will hear that a lot, particularly at funerals and when tragedy strikes.  People will lament that death or tragedy came to such a good person.  

Yet, as I told the students, using others to gauge our goodness is not the correct measure.  God is the standard by which we are to compare ourselves and to which we all fall short (Romans 3:23).  In other words, no one is good but God alone.

This is important to understand because of our innate tendency toward pride.  We naturally want to have something on our life’s résumé about which we can boast.  We want to have something to point to that legitimizes our goodness and of our deserving a heavenly reward.  And when this becomes our focus, we ignore the very One who wants to reward us, not because we’re so good, but because He loves us so much.  

James tells us if we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up (4:10).  Humility is the key and we will get a huge dose of it when we stop comparing our lives to others and begin to examine them in the light of the One who is perfect.  It is at that point when we truly see our desperate need for Him, when we see our goodness is not quite as good as we thought.  

Today, recognize how far short you fall of God’s perfection.  No matter how good you think you might be, you are not good enough.  Only God is good and the sooner you acknowledge that fact, the better.  For only then can you truly receive His love.

© Jim Musser 2012