Friday, August 31, 2012

Being Content with Our Weaknesses


“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:7b-10)

I can still remember the day when I was 14 years old and had taken a break from doing my homework.  I found three friends and we played a game of two on two football.  On one play, I attempted to tackle one of the friends who was twice my size.  I planted my left foot and tried to bring him down.  Then it happened—a pop and searing pain.  

Because I was from a small town and this happened in 1970, it took several years for doctors to figure out what had happened.  In that brief respite from homework, I had severely torn the ACL in my left knee.  It was six years before it was repaired, but it was never again the same. Thankfully, I could still be active and participate in most sports, but I always knew the injury would affect me more and more as I grew older.  I stopped running in my early 30’s and gave up all sports in my mid-40’s. Using an elliptical machine and walking are my only forms of exercise now.  

How I wish I could still run, play tennis, basketball, and Ultimate Frisbee. Working with college students, there are always opportunities to do these things, and I would love it.  But there is no cartilage left in my knee.  To do these things now is not a possibility, and I have had to learn to accept this fact, even as I yearn to be out on the court or field once again.

We don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know it limited him in life and he desperately wanted it removed.  Yet, the Lord refused to take it away because it made Paul more dependent on Him.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  

We often picture our perfect world as one without difficulties, and when they arise, we want them quickly resolved.  Yet, it is in our times of trials, times of weakness, that we most lean on the Lord.  Not being able to do the things I once did affects my pride and self-esteem.  My identity is easily determined by what I can do and can’t do.  And that is the point of this passage.  Our identities can easily be tied to other things and not the Lord.  Our weaknesses remind us of that.  And that is why the Lord often allows them to remain.  

Today, whatever weaknesses or difficulties you are experiencing, remember, though you would rather have them removed, the Lord might be content keeping them in your life so you will be solely dependent on Him.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Call To Love


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:43-47 NIV)

Something very interesting and refreshing happened recently at a church in Charlotte, North Carolina.  A local LBGT (Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Gay, Transsexual) group organized a protest against the anti-gay teachings of the FIRE Church.  Upon hearing of the planned protest, two members of the pastoral staff wrote open letters to the group leaders inviting them to their services and to sit down for dinner together.  They expressed their love for them and even extended an invitation to have a civil discussion about their differing views.  The result?  A small group of protesters showed up.  They were welcomed, given drinks and snacks, and after a few minutes the group left saying the church people were too nice and not deserving of a protest! (Read the full news account here: http://www.examiner.com/article/lgbt-group-cancels-protest-because-church-is-too-nice)

We currently live in a highly polarized, reactionary society, where verbal bombs are thrown with impunity, statements of disagreement are considered expressions of hate, and the “Golden Rule” (Luke 6:31) has been turned on its head—treat others as you think they deserve to be treated.  So to hear about a situation primed for an explosive encounter ending in expressions of love and kindness is very refreshing, and biblical.

Unfortunately, this is rare today, particularly in the church.  Increasingly, the church has been drawn into the cultural and political wars of our day, and with that, there is becoming less and less difference with the way believers interact with each other and with the world.  There is an increasing tenor for a call to arms instead of a call to love.  

The call of Jesus to follow Him is a call to love.  To love does not, as many assume, mean an abandonment of truth or a condoning of certain behaviors.  Instead, it means to align ourselves with the Lord, who loves the righteous as well as the unrighteous, those who love Him and those who hate Him.  The FIRE Church’s response to persecution, I believe, exemplified the call Jesus has given us.  

Today, consider how you deal with people, believers and non-believers alike, with whom you disagree.  Remember, it is not about how they treat you.  It is about how the Lord wants you to treat them.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Like a Farmer's Tan


"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28 NIV)

It happened last week.  As we were getting ready for bed, my wife woefully exclaimed, “You have a real farmer’s tan!”  There it was.  The truth of the matter had been laid bare.  Underneath the shirt laid a pasty-white torso.  To outsiders, who only see me with my shirt on, I appear to have a relatively decent tan; however, my wife knows the truth.  It’s only a farmer’s tan.

What is displayed in public is often far different that what is seen in private. Politicians often take public stands for one thing, but in private live entirely differently.  People will often greet someone cordially, but later in private talk critically or derisively about the person.  A married politician can proclaiming “family values” and, simultaneously, be carrying on an affair with another woman.  It is like someone with a farmer’s tan.  They look good in public, but when the shirt is removed, it is quite a different sight altogether.

Jesus is not impressed with who we are in public; He is more interested in who we are in private.  He is not so much interested in our outward displays of righteousness, but whether or not there is any consistency with how we act publicly and who we are in private.  What do we look like when we take our “shirt” off?

Today, consider whether your spiritual life is more like a farmer’s tan—it looks good until you take a look underneath.  Jesus is interested in the real deal, and, while you may fool others, you cannot fool Him.  Might it be time for some real Son exposure? 

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Recognizing the Battles We Face


“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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV)

Just within a week of school starting, there are roommate issues, people are discouraged, and students are already feeling stress.  Spiritual warfare, anyone?

Some will probably scoff that these are anything other than the typical problems of college life, but I would argue that is just another scheme of the devil—to deceive us into ignoring his work behind the scenes.  Paul is clear that our struggle in this life is not against “flesh and blood,” that which we can easily see and understand, but rather against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” and the dark powers of this world that are influenced by them.  The problem with ignoring the source of many of the things we face is we will attempt to apply the wrong remedy. Like when one gets a splinter and the area becomes infected.  If you merely treat the infection, the source of the infection, the splinter, will remain.  But if you remove the splinter and treat the infection, the treatment will be successful.

In our world, people often ignore the deeper causes of things.  People easily get stressed by the demands of school or work, or just by how current circumstances in their lives are going to work out.  However, Jesus tells us not to worry about the things of our lives (Matthew 6:25-34).  Thus, this becomes a spiritual battleground.  The devil wants to draw us into thinking and believing we cannot trust God and His promises to provide for our needs.  In other words, to worry.  Paul, however, is calling us to engage in spiritual battle by taking up “the shield of faith” to extinguish the enemy’s “flaming arrow” of worry.  

The same can be applied to the other issues we face in life.  They are spiritual battlegrounds and God has given the weapons with which to fight them.  

Today, consider what is going on in your life.  Are the things you’re facing perhaps not just mere struggles, but instead spiritual battles?  If so, there are weapons available to you to use and now would be a good time to grab hold of them.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Not Who You Once Were


“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV)

Over the weekend, my wife and I had the privilege of eating dinner with six former students.  The evening was full of laughter and joy as we shared many memories and what the Lord had done in our lives.  Around that table were former drunkards, liars, thieves, and almost all had been sexually promiscuous at some point in their lives.  That’s what we once were, but no more.  The people gathered for that meal all have been changed by Jesus.

There is a deepening belief in our culture that people can never truly change.   The idea homosexuals can change is now viewed as “junk science.”  Anyone speaking at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting begins by saying, “My name’s _______ and I’m an alcoholic.”  

Upon the death last spring of Charles Colson, infamous for his role in the Watergate scandal of the early 1970’s, but who came to a relationship with Jesus while in federal prison and soon after founded Prison Fellowship, there were many who posted comments on his obituary that referred to him as a liar and a criminal.  That’s who he was, but he became someone entirely different.

Paul was writing to believers who once were sexually immoral, in same-sex relationships, thieves, drunkards, and cheats, just to name a few.  But he says they were changed.  They were not those same people anymore.  Were they perfect?  Not even close.  In fact, Paul was writing them because they were having a lot of struggles.  However, there is a big difference between struggling with something (fighting its influence) and being completely controlled by it to the point it is your identity.  

The hope there is in Jesus, if one truly has a relationship with Him and is filled with the Holy Spirit, is we are no longer owned and identified by our sin.  Peter was once a liar (Mark 16:66-71); Paul was once an accomplice to murder (Acts 8:1); Zacchaeus was once a cheat (Luke 19:8).  But that’s what they were and then they became different people.  They became, what Paul describes as, “new creations” (II Corinthians 5:17).  The old passed away and the new came.  Freedom.  Transformation.  All because of the blood of Jesus and the power of God.  

You may believe that you can never change, or that what you have done in your past defines who you are now and forever.  But today, know through Jesus you can become someone totally different.  Your sin, or past sin, needn’t comprise your identity.  In Jesus, you can indeed be someone very different than who you are or once were.  I can attest to this fact, my wife can, my former students can, as well as many others because we are not who we once were. 

© Jim Musser 2012



Friday, August 24, 2012

Speaking Truth in Love


“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘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: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”’

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’

Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10:17-22 NIV)

Yesterday I wrote about Jesus’ lack of concern in offending people when it came to telling the truth.  But one thing I wanted to emphasize is Jesus told the truth because He loved people.  This passage makes that abundantly clear.

Sometimes people want to use truth as a bludgeon, as a way to beat others down.  What they say is true, but the motive behind their words is to injure or malign, so as to lift themselves up.  We see this often in our society, but this is not what Jesus did.  He spoke truth to people because He loved them.  He told this wealthy man to give away all he had, not because he held a grudge against rich people, but because he saw the man’s wealth had become his idol.  His possessions possessed him. The only remedy was for the man to free himself from them.  It was a truth he could not swallow.

And that’s the way it often goes when we tell the truth, even when love is our only motive.  People will reject it and sometimes be offended.  But if our only motive is love, that we truly want what is in the best interests of the person, then regardless of their reaction, we can walk away with a clear conscience.

Today, remember the motive for Jesus telling the truth was simply that He loved people.  When you desire to share the truth of the Word with others, if that is not your motive, it would be better to refrain from saying anything at all.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Offending People


“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’  Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ 

For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:60-66 NIV)

I sometimes wonder how Jesus would have fared in our culture, because He never seems to care if people are offended by His words.  He doesn’t go out of His way to offend or use offensive language to merely get attention, but He doesn’t shy away from speaking truth regardless of what people might think, those opposed to Him (Matthew 15:12) or even those devoted to Him.  

Imagine the tweets or blog posts if Jesus were to say no one could have a relationship with God apart from a relationship with Him (John 14:6). Imagine the reaction if He said a woman should forgive her rapist or a child the murderer of his father (Luke 6:37).  Imagine the fallout if He said we should love those who hate us and do good things for them (Luke 6:37).  

We naturally like to hear what validates our views and feelings, but that isn’t always what we need.  Yet, our fallen natures often react very negatively to the truth.  We often are offended by what we need to hear. In our culture, “offensive speech” is considered one of the worst transgressions a person can commit.  I don’t think Jesus would have cared.  He would still speak the truth because that is what people really need, even if it isn’t what they prefer.  And, likely, He would be crucified for it.  

Today, recognize following Jesus means speaking the truth He has given us through His Word.  Like Him, we don’t share it harshly or in a mean-spirited way, but we share it because that is what people need to hear. So what if they are offended?  That didn’t seem to bother Jesus.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Transformative Power


“But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (I Corinthians 4:19-20 NIV)

Recently, in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, comedian Chris Rock talked about how his comic routines were influenced by his grandfather, a local church pastor.  He said his grandfather had many “tricks” to hold the attention of his audience, and that he incorporated some of those into his comedic routines.  He also said he still enjoys listening to sermons by some of the popular TV preachers and looking for their tricks as well.  But what caught my attention was when he described his grandfather as a foul-mouthed womanizer, as if he were just another man in a world where such things are commonplace.  It became clear that he viewed preachers as entertainers and sermons as the routine.

Sadly, I don’t think his view is far from most in our culture, those outside the church and those inside as well.  The vast majority outside view the message with skepticism, on the lookout for the tricks used to draw people in.  Those on the inside are often just looking to be entertained. 

It has long been the conclusion of biblical scholars that Paul was not a great speaker, but what he lacked in eloquence, was more than made up for by the power he had through the Holy Spirit—healings, the casting out of demons, and, most importantly, the transformation of lives as a result of his preaching.  In fact, when the Corinthians questioned his credentials as an apostle, Paul pointed out that they themselves were the proof of his qualifications (II Corinthians 3:1-3).  In other words, their transformed lives.

The preaching of the Gospel is not about entertainment or tricks to draw people in, it’s about power—the power of God at work in transforming people’s lives from those dying to those alive in Christ.  That is what will truly draw those from the outside, like Chris Rock.  It is when they see people involved in mega churches on down to the little country churches living radically different lives, not just occupying a certain space, that will convince them the message is more than mere entertainment or trickery.  

Think about what it is you look for in the preaching of your pastor, campus minister, or anyone bringing a message from the Word of God.  Is it primarily to be entertained, or are you looking for the transforming power of the Word for your life.  

Today, recognize the Kingdom of God is not about entertaining words, but transformative power.  Without it, you might get a nice talk, but there will be no change.  And isn’t transformative change what will get the world to take a serious look at Jesus?   

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Getting A Fresh Start


“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them 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 on 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)

The start of the school year is always a new beginning, something akin to a significant birthday, such as a 25th or a 40th.  It offers the opportunity for a fresh start.  And oh how we so often need a fresh start!  

For students, summers always are brimming with excitement and promise, but often fall short of expectations.  They can return to campus wounded and weary from disappointment—in themselves.   Temptation, fueled by their own evil desires, as James describes (1:14-15), dragged them into sinful situations where they fell hard.  Instead of returning with a lift in their step, there is a limp.  

For the rest of us, we may not be starting anything new, but it is quite likely we are limping, even if it is barely noticeable.  We, too, are feeling the effects of acts of disobedience, self-inflicted wounds that have accumulated over time.  

For all of us, this psalm offers a remedy, a healing balm that will soothe what ails us.  David was reluctant to confess his sin and he found himself in misery.  What changed everything was his willingness to confess what he had done wrong.  So often it is our pride that prevents us from owning up to what we have done, to God and others.  We have an image to maintain, so we hide our sin, but, as David discovered, we do so at our peril.  

Today, if there is a limp in your step from the self-inflicted wounds of sin, know that confession is the means by which you can be healed.  You don’t have to remain in misery.  Like David, you can have a fresh start.

© Jim Musser 2012