Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hope in Death

(Note: This will be my last devotion of the school year.  Last evening I learned of the passing of my father-in-law in South Africa and will be traveling there today and won't return until after the semester ends. The devotion below I wrote just over a year ago after the death of a dear friend.  The words seem appropriate for today as well.  Jim)

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV)

Death has been on our minds a lot over the past week as the images from Tucson have dominated the media.  Death, public death especially, always shakes us.  As a late colleague once put it, death is an intruder.  It is an unwelcome reminder of our own mortality.  Sure, we know we’re going to die, someday; just don’t remind us.  Yet, we were reminded last week and we will be reminded again, sooner or later, for death is a reality of life in a fallen world.

Four the past four years, I have been reminded of this every week as I sat down for breakfast with my friend, Alan.  He had been battling an insidious form of cancer for over a decade when I first met him.  He averaged at least two surgical procedures a year and countless MRI’s.  He had one eye completely removed and poor vision in the other.  We used to laugh about his threats to his wife to get behind the wheel again.  

Alan had been facing his own mortality for years and spending all those hours over eggs and coffee helped me become even more comfortable with my own.  Last summer, after yet another surgical procedure, Alan knew his time was running out.  The cancer was now in a place where it could not be removed and his tolerance for aggressive and painful treatment was at an end.  The next months were still spent laughing and talking about everyday stuff, but now the conversation was sprinkled with talk of his impending death.  He was tired of the suffering; he was ready to go home to be with Jesus.  There was a tinge of sadness of leaving his wife and four sons behind, but he was ready and he was filled with much hope.

I saw Alan in the hospital the day before I left for our mission trip to South Africa last month.  I knew it would be the last time on this side.  He died three weeks later.  Death had intruded on my life.  There was sadness, but mostly there was hope.  Alan was now free from his suffering and with Jesus.  

In the years I knew Alan, I never saw fear.  He always lived with hope regardless of the pain or the specter of death hanging over him.  He reminded me that in Jesus there is no sting in death (I Corinthians 15:55), only hope.

Today, I have once again reminded you of your own mortality.  You may consider it to be an unwelcome intrusion, but it need not be.  For those who know Jesus, death is a mere passage into real life—life as it was originally created to be.  Life filled with joy and without pain or suffering.  A life my friend Alan is now enjoying, and one that we who know Jesus will one day experience as well.

© Jim Musser 2011

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Power of God's Love and Kindness

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7 NIV)

Charles Colson had reached the pinnacle of power, Counsel to the President, when Richard Nixon became president in 1968.  He was known as Nixon’s “hatchet man,” someone who could do the dirty work for the infamous president.  He was once quoted as saying he would run over his grandmother to get Nixon re-elected.  But when the Watergate scandal began to unfold, Colson was caught in the political and legal backlash.  He found himself under arrest and facing years in prison.  

In the midst of his fall from grace, Colson began to contemplate what had become of his once promising life.  He was in despair when he called an old friend, who just happened to have had recently become a follower of Jesus.  The friend told him his story and encouraged him to read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.  It wasn’t long before Colson turned his life over to Jesus and decided to plead guilty to the charges he faced.  He spent seven months in prison and then, for the next 30 plus years, went back time after time to minister to those behind the razor wire topped walls.  The founder of Prison Fellowship experienced the kindness and love of the Savior while serving his sentence and wanted other prisoners to experience the same.

Charles Colson died of a brain hemorrhage over the weekend at the age of 80.  He leaves a legacy of the power of God’s love and kindness to transform lives, often seemingly broken beyond repair.  There are many who doubt that power.   They believe people never really can change and are mystified or skeptical when they do.  Perhaps you are one of them.   

If so, then take a closer look at Colson’s life, or that of the Apostle Paul, or John Newton (author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”), or C.S. Lewis, or those of so many others, including my own, whose lives have been transformed by encountering the love of the Savior.  It is an amazing sight to see the power of God at work!

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Hope that Can Carry Us

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:11-12 NIV)

This passage really spoke to me this morning because it intersects with what is happening in my life right now, a not so uncommon occurrence as I daily read the Scriptures.  

Yesterday, I took my wife to the airport so she could fly to South Africa to be with her father, who appears to be living out his final days on earth.  He has suffered much in the past three years, beginning with a near fatal beating by a robber, which precipitated a slow but steady decline in his health.  While it is a sad time in many ways to think of losing him, we are filled with joy because his time of suffering is nearing its end and a new life will soon begin.  

As I was driving back home, thinking of these things, my nephew called to tell me that he and his wife had decided to follow Jesus and were baptized by my brother.  I remember, nearly 20 years ago, sitting in a restaurant with a then 16-year-old boy sharing with him my story of coming to faith, concerned about the direction his life was heading.  I can still recall his awkward smile as he told me he had some “wild oats” he still wanted to sow.   I have been praying for him to have a heart change ever since, and yesterday I finally saw those prayers answered.  

These stories find their connection in the words Paul uses to exhort us in living the Christian life—joy, hope, patience, and faithfulness.  Overriding everything that happens in our lives is the joy that comes from the hope we have in Jesus.  No matter what we face or how sad or discouraged we feel, that hope can carry us through it.  And that hope makes room for patience because we know we do not walk this road alone and we know better times are ahead.  And it creates an incentive to continue to pray because we know God listens to our prayers, though the answers may be slow in coming.  

In the midst of some difficult times, I am finding much joy because my hope lies in a God who is faithful in His love for us.  Today, I hope you can find the same.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Taking a Different Path

“On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Get up and stand in front of everyone.’ So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:6-11 NIV)

My wife and I were recently discussing her former job when she said something I found interesting.  She said the only people she ever had difficulties with, who didn’t like her very much, were the churchgoers.  I remember her talking about one woman who took her to task over not believing the King James Bible is the only inspired version of the Bible. Of course, my wife’s native language is Afrikaans.  Another tried to draw her into criticizing the music some of the workers listened to, and was not too happy when she wouldn’t join in.  

Religious people tend to be big on rules and judgment and rather lacking in love and mercy.  Those of us on campus routinely see this when the “preachers” come and proclaim God’s judgment upon the university. When those of us who minister to students seek to give them a different perspective on what the Lord is doing on campus, we, too, are summarily judged.  It is ironic that our God, who is “slow to anger and abounding in love,” (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3 Note that these are all from the Old Testament!) is portrayed as always angry and is represented by people who seem to be always angry.  

Jesus ran into the same thing from the religious people of His day.  They wanted judgment, not compassion and mercy.  They wanted Him to commend their own self-righteousness and He refused to comply.  And they hated Him for it.

Jesus was never casual about sin, but He always genuinely loved the sinner.  And He would never allow a rule to get in the way of showing love and compassion.  (Zacchaeus, Luke 19; the woman at the well, John 4; the woman caught in adultery, John 8) 

Today, remember that being a follower of Jesus is to follow His lead in being slow to anger and abounding in love, to genuinely love sinners and show them compassion and mercy.  There are already enough angry religious people out there; true followers need to demonstrate the way of the Lord takes a different path.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Knowing People

“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (John 2:24-25 NIV)

I have been thinking about this passage for a while as I think about people who make assumptions about me that I know are not true.  They base it on what they perceive, not on what they know.  

In our world of sound bites and video bites, we are all too quick to make judgments about people, whether they are politicians, professors, or neighbors, based upon very little information.  I remember, while attending seminary, several of us students complaining about a professor’s irritability when another faculty member informed us that this professor suffered from constant migraines.  Often it is helpful to know more about the person before we make any judgments.  

Wouldn’t it be great if we could be like Jesus and know what is in a person, to know her heart, his experience, her pain?  We could draw conclusions about a person based on facts, not on mere perception or assumption.  

Of course, none of us can be Jesus, but we can be more careful in drawing conclusions about people.  We can refuse to make quick appraisals of people.  We can commit to withholding judgment about who a person is until we know her a lot better.  We can practice grace with their shortcomings while at the same time getting to know their real character.  

Today, there may be people about whom you have made unfair and inaccurate conclusions.  Perhaps it would be good to take a second look at them, this time with the intent of getting underneath the surface, beginning to understand where they have come from.  And if you can’t do that, just to have the grace to let the Lord handle it and accept them as imperfect people like you who are created and loved by God.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unnoticed Body Parts

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I Corinthians 12:18-27 NIV)

During the past month, I have experienced much of what Paul is talking about.  We tend not to take much notice of our perfectly functioning body parts until they get injured.  We go about our day not thinking much about how the muscles in our legs are working or how the tendons in our fingers are working.  But if we injure something, our attention will immediately be drawn to them.  

For example, I never gave much thought to the little finger on my right hand until this past weekend when I smashed it while loading firewood. Since then, that little digit has commanded much of my attention.  At first by it’s throbbing and still now when I type or seek to tie my shoes, it reminds me of its presence and importance.  

I have also been noticing my right elbow of late.  Since Spring Break, where I spent several days cutting wood with a chainsaw, that joint has been complaining when I take the milk from the fridge, attempt to remove my left shoe, or lift a cup of coffee to take a sip.  Never before have I noticed my elbow so much.  

The parts of our bodies are so interconnected that when they are not functioning properly or are suffering, we immediately notice, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant the part may be.  This was Paul’s point to the Corinthian Church, which was full of spiritual pride and had been ignoring many of its members because they viewed them as spiritually inferior.  

The tendency is to elevate certain people to a higher spiritual status because their gifts are known and seen, such as the pastor or the leader of the worship band.  But Paul is saying the ones who rarely garner attention, like the people who maintain the church kitchen, or those that clean the building, or those that pray for the members of the church are just as important even if they are rarely noticed.  

This reminder is still needed today.  There are many who serve tirelessly in our churches and campus ministries, playing important roles in making them effective in the work of the Kingdom.  Yet, their efforts can be easily overshadowed by those “up front.”  Today, remember how important each member of the body is to the overall functioning of the church.  And take the opportunity to thank them for the important work they do.   

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Sacrifice of Praise

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16 NIV).

The sacrifices of the Old Testament were public affairs.  Only the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement made in the Holy of Holies by the High Priest were hidden from view.  One’s relationship with God was not a private affair in the Old Testament, and the Hebrew writer confirms it is not to be for us either.  

I grew up in a home where faith was private.  No one talked about it. Perhaps you were raised in the same way.  Yet, this is a distortion of what followers of Jesus should be doing.  Rather than being private about our faith, careful not to draw attention, we are to be quite public in our praise of God and in living our lives for Him.  We are not to be ashamed of proclaiming our love for God.

This is not to say that we go around saying, “Praise you Jesus” every time something good (or bad) happens.  I think the Hebrew writer is thinking more in terms of just natural conversation.  Talking about how good God is and how much He has blessed our lives.  Just as you might tell someone how much you appreciate what your parents have done for you, or a particular teacher, you can talk about the Lord in the same, natural way.  They are described as sacrifices because you do give something up—your comfort.  

Let’s face it, not many of us are nearly as comfortable talking about God as we are about school, relationships, work, or sports.  It is a stretch, a sacrifice, for us to do it.  But with such sacrifices God is pleased.  He wants His name and praise for Him to be on our lips for our friends, neighbors, and co-workers to hear.  

Our sacrifices to God should be heard and seen by those around us, not for our own glory, but for His.  Today, begin to make the sacrifices of praise to God and good works for others flow from your lips and your life. For with such sacrifices, the Lord is pleased.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

No Regrets

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (II Corinthians 7:8-10 NIV)

I picked up a book at a thrift store the other day.  Patti Davis, the youngest daughter of President Ronald Reagan, wrote The Long Good-Bye.  In it she writes of her journey back toward reconciliation with her parents as she and her family deal with her father’s Alzheimer’s disease. Much of her writing details wonderful memories of her childhood and a dad who taught her how to do many things and about life in general.  She writes through a lens of regret.

In the 1970’s and ‘80’s, during her father’s prominent political career, Davis was one of his most outspoken critics.  While he was building up America’s nuclear arsenals, she was protesting at anti-nuke rallies.  While he was attempting personal reconciliation with her, she was writing novels about dysfunctional families that bore a great resemblance to her own. She became a rallying point for all those who detested the Reagan presidency. She admits she was angry and bitter and now (at the time of her writing in her 40’s) she wishes she would have acted differently.

Regret is something we all deal with once we begin to reach maturity. Through more adult eyes, we look back and see things differently, less selfishly.  It may be, as with Davis, how poorly we treated our parents, or how we treated a friend, or conducted ourselves in a romantic relationship.  It may be how we in general lived a certain period of our lives and the wreckage that was left in its wake.  We can attempt to go back and repair the damage, confessing our wrongs and asking for forgiveness, but sometimes it’s too late.  We lose contact with the people we hurt or they have already left this world before we can attempt to make amends.  Then what?

Paul recognizes the sorrow that comes with realizing we’ve done wrong, but draws a distinction between “godly” and “worldly” sorrow.  He says godly sorrow leads to repentance (change) and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow leads to death.  He doesn’t explain it more fully than that and I have wrestled with its meaning for years, because I admit to still cringing when I think of the things I have done in my past, particularly those that occurred after choosing to follow Jesus.  I still have regrets.

What I am realizing is this: Paul was writing to followers of Jesus.  Their sins had occurred in the midst of their journeys along the narrow path.  He says later they proved their innocence and I infer from this that they were still guilty but their innocence came from trusting Jesus for His forgiveness, which washed away their sins.  Worldly sorrow feels guilt, but allows no room for forgiveness, so the person becomes stuck on the side of the path unable to move forward.  Godly sorrow, while feeling the full impact of guilt, is freed from it by the immeasurable grace freely given to those whose trust is in Jesus.  The result is the freedom to move on down the path, to continue the journey of growth in becoming the people He created us to be.  

Are you stuck along the path by regret of things you have done in the past?  Then grab hold of the grace of the Lord.  He will pull you out of the mucky mire of your past so that you can continue on your way to becoming the person He created you to be—with no regrets.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Winning the Prize

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (I Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV)

In the coming weeks, students across the nation will begin their final exams.  For most, how they do on their exams will greatly affect their semester grade.  You won’t find students skipping out on their exams because a semester’s worth of study would be for naught.  And for those seeking high academic honors, they would disqualify themselves. It wouldn’t make any sense.  

For many Christians, the idea of winning the heavenly prize seems to involve just getting into the race.  “I became a Christian when I was eight years old, so I automatically qualify for the prize.  It doesn’t matter if I finish the race just as long as I enter it.”  It is akin to a student saying he deserves an “A” for just enrolling in a class.  

Paul talks about his fervent desire not to be disqualified for the heavenly prize.  From this we must conclude that getting the prize is not automatic upon entering the race.  So how do we get the prize?  We must finish the race.

We must realize the race is a marathon rather than a sprint.  Just because you look good for the first 100 yards doesn’t mean much in a race of 26 miles.  We have to finish it, and that means it takes a lot of training and willpower.  And the stakes are very high.  For those who do not finish will not receive the prize.  

Paul tells us to run in such a way as to get the prize.  Your running may not always be pretty.  You may stumble and fall along the way, but you can’t quit.  You have to keep running until you reach the finish line.  To quit in the middle of the race would be as foolish as a student deciding to skip his final exams.  The prize would be lost.  

Today, keep on running, living each day for the Lord until you reach the finish line.  Don’t be deterred from your ultimate goal—to win the heavenly prize.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

At Just the Right Time

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)

I first met my wife through a dating website.  She sent me a message after seeing my profile in a list of “people currently online.”   She was in the Ukraine.  I was in North Carolina.  

When I inquired eight years ago about a campus ministry position at the University of North Carolina, I was told they had already decided to hire someone.  However, the man said, he had heard a ministry at Appalachian State had a position open.  

They say timing is everything.  

At just the right time, I was online and my wife-to-be caught a glimpse of my profile, which interested her enough to send me a message.  At just the right time, I made a call to a person who knew of a ministry position open on another campus.   

Countless times over the years of writing these devotions, I have received comments from readers that what they read was perfectly timed for what was happening in their lives at that moment.  They came at just the right time.  

We serve a God whose timing is impeccable.  While the world might say things happen by chance or circumstance, the Scriptures tell a different story.  Through them we see God not merely as an observer of history, but an active participant in determining its course.  There is legitimate debate as to how much He determines, but there is no doubt He is intimately involved in history and in our history.  What a comforting thought!

At just the right time, Jesus died.  At just the right time, you will know the answer to your prayer.  At just the right time, you will know what you are to do next.  At just the right time, whatever you are worried about will become clear.  

As they say, timing is everything. How great it is to know it is in the Lord’s hands.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, April 9, 2012

Accessing the Power of the Resurrection

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:18-21 NIV)

We just celebrated the most extraordinary event of human history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So important is this event that Paul says if didn’t actually happen, we who believe it did should be the most pitied among all people because our faith is useless.  (I Corinthians 15)  The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Of course, it is a miraculous event, but its significance goes beyond the fact that without it, as Paul says, we would still be dead in our sins.  It is also a demonstration of God’s immense power.  And this power, he says, is also available to us!  The power that brought Jesus back to life after three days buried in a tomb is available to us!  Think about that for a moment.  

We tend to think we are powerless to overcome certain things in our lives such as the effects of having an alcoholic parent, a nasty divorce, a sinful habit, or a terrible tragedy.   We think we are helpless victims who have to cope with life’s ugliness as best we can.  

Yet, Paul paints a very different picture.  We have the power to overcome.  The same power that helped Jesus overcome death is available to us in the midst of life’s most grueling challenges.  All we have to do is avail ourselves to Him.  For the Lord is the Source of the power and we cannot access it apart from Him.

Today, as the celebration of the Resurrection is still fresh in your mind, know the awesome power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you in the midst of whatever challenges you are facing.  All you have to do is avail yourself to the One who can provide it.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hope in the Midst of Darkness

“Jesus went on to say, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.’  At this, some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’” and “Because I am going to the Father”?’ 18 They kept asking, ‘What does he mean by “a little while”? We don’t understand what he is saying.’

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, ‘Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me”? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.’” (John 16:16-22 NIV)

It is said that the night is darkest just before dawn.  For the disciples of Jesus, it was about to get very dark.  Within hours, they would see their Master arrested, interrogated and beaten, and a day later, crucified.  They would go into hiding out of fear for their lives.  Yet, in a very short time, things would grow much lighter.  

This is the hope the Resurrection gives us.  When things grow very dark in our lives, we can cling to the hope that light soon again will be dawning. This is why Paul proclaims, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55), and Jesus tells His disciples that their grief will soon turn into joy.  The Resurrection means there is hope even in the darkest of times.   The blackness will not last forever; light is on the horizon.  

I have had some dark times in my life—the premature deaths of my parents and my first wife leaving me, but it was the hope of the Resurrection that always brought light back into my life.  No matter the depth of the darkness, that hope can always break through and bring back the light.

Today, if life is pretty dark for you, know there is a hope that can bring back the light.  It may seem like it is far away, but it’s really just over the horizon.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Being God's Temple

“Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God's favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built the house for him. However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.  Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’” (Acts 7:44-50 NIV)

I met my wife for the first time in Switzerland. We spent a week getting better acquainted with one another while touring parts of the country.  We had been communicating online for several months from thousands of miles apart and decided to meet somewhere in the middle.  It’s a great story, but I’ll save that for another time!

While in Geneva, we toured the St. Pierre’s Cathedral.  It was a massive, beautiful structure with exquisite stained glass windows, hand-carved wooden doors and chairs, and awesome stone columns throughout.  But amidst all that beauty, there was still an overwhelming emptiness.  It felt as if, like a clam washing up on the sea shore, the vibrant life which this magnificent structure once contained had passed away. All that was left was the empty shell.

Stephen was speaking to people of a culture for which buildings held great significance.  Peter’s first reaction to seeing Jesus in all His heavenly glory (Matthew 17:4) was to say, in so many words, “Hey, let’s build a building in honor of this moment!” For the Jews, God resided in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies.  Pagan religions also built temples in which they believed their gods resided.  Even today, you will hear in many churches on Sunday mornings, references to being in “God’s House”.  

Stephen makes clear, as does Paul (I Corinthians 6:19), that God does not live in a man-made temple or cathedral.  He does not reside in the sanctuary at the center of a mega-church campus, or in the small, white clapboard church out in the country.  He lives in us, if we are believers following Him.  We are a temple, a cathedral, a sanctuary.

But there is a parallel with our “temple” and those built by the hands of men.  All can become relics of the past, lifeless reminders of what once was.  Like those of past cultures, people today still look at church buildings and cathedrals as representing God.  And at places like St. Pierre’s, I think they see emptiness and an archaic faith with little relevance to their lives. And herein lies the lesson for us as believers. We are literally the temple of God.  If we claim God lives in us, what do people see when they gaze upon our temple?  There is a real danger of Christians, too, becoming relics where all that is left is a shell that promises life, but when examined is found to be empty and lifeless.

Today, know many are looking at you as a representative of God.  May your temple be full of life and not just an empty shell.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Growing Comfortable with Our Sin

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4 NIV)

(WARNING:  The following illustration may gross you out.)  

So I am in my office the other day and I need to use the toilet.  I go to the men’s room in our office building and get grossed out.  Someone forgot to flush after a number two event.  I almost had a gag reflex.  I immediately flushed the toilet and then I sat down and got to thinking.  I am never grossed out by the sight or smell of my own toilet visits.  Why is that? Probably because it comes from me and I am comfortable with it.  But if I walk into a restroom with a lingering odor or an unflushed toilet, I am likely to fight against gagging.  

As gross as this may be to you, isn’t there a parallel here to how we deal with sin?  We are often comfortable with our own sin while at the same time condemning others for theirs.  We look at other people’s sin and cringe, while viewing our own as perhaps unpleasant, but something we live with.

Paul’s point here is we all need God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience, for we all are sinners.  And when we judge others harshly and let ourselves off the hook, we ignore the seriousness and depth of our own sin.  We are in need of God’s grace just as much as those other “sinners.”  

Paul is echoing Jesus here.  This was His criticism of the Pharisees. They were quick to judge others, but viewed themselves as righteous, ignoring the extent of their own sin.  The problem wasn’t pointing out sin. It was doing so in a self-righteous manner.  They were comfortable with their own sin, while condemning the sin of others.  

Today, recognize the depth of your sin.  You may be tempted to think it is not as bad as that of others, but you would be wrong.  You may have grown comfortable with it, but the Lord still finds it disgusting.  The truth is you are in as much need for His patience and grace as anyone else.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Being a Fool

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:  ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  Brothers and sisters, 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. God 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.” (I Corinthians 1:18-29 NIV)

A student shared with me recently about an impending discussion with his professor about faith in God.  According to him, the professor is an atheist and he was concerned about coming off as a fool because he believed in God.  I told him if he did, that he was in good company.  

Looking back over the Scriptures, those who demonstrated faith in God were often viewed as fools.  Noah building the ark in a desert.  Fool. Caleb wanting to cross into Canaan. Fool.  David taking on Goliath.  Fool. The disciples at Pentecost.  Fools.  Good company indeed!

From the world’s perspective, having faith and following after Jesus is a foolish thing.  It makes no sense and is a fool’s errand.  But they base their views on their own knowledge and wisdom, which is significantly limited compared to that of the Creator of the universe.  As Paul says, the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.   And that is what we need to remember.

It can be tough living amongst people who view us fools, but we need to remember their lens is skewed.  They are looking at us through worldly eyes and very limited knowledge.  We, on the other hand, serve the God of all wisdom.  We may not have all the answers, but we serve a God who does, whose vastness of knowledge and wisdom are incomprehensible to mere mortals.  So, as Paul notes, to be called a fool for following Jesus is truly an honor.

Today, do not fear being seen as a fool because of your faith.  You are in good company.  And if one is a fool for following the God who created everything out of nothing, then so be it.  I can’t think of a greater honor.  

© Jim Musser 2012