Friday, September 28, 2012

The Impossibility of Controlling What We Say


“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:1-12 NIV)

I experienced the truth of this passage the other night when I said something to a student that I shouldn’t have said.  I knew it as soon as the words came out of my mouth, but by then it was too late.  The words had already landed and the ill effects were immediate.  I asked for forgiveness soon after and we have worked through the situation, but it was far from a painless experience.  

James says it is impossible to control the tongue—for anyone.  Now reading that in the Bible is a little odd because it seems so hopeless. Nobody can control his tongue?  Really?  Gee, James, thanks for letting me know!  I guess that means we should just stop trying.  Well, not really.

I think James is setting us up for his point in the next chapter about the need to humble ourselves before God.  We humans are bent toward thinking we can do things on our own and that is why we fail so often.  By emphasizing our inability to control our tongues, James is taking us out of the equation.  Our only hope is to rely on God and that takes humility, often via the path of desperation.  We come to the end of ourselves and realize how much we need God.  With regard to controlling our tongues, James leaves no doubt our own strivings are useless.  We cannot do it. That was made very evident to me the other night.  

With that understanding, our only hope then is the Lord, and when we turn to Him, acknowledging our need for His help, He will lift us up. (James 4:10)  That is true with all of our struggles in life, but especially so with controlling our tongues.  We just can’t do it without the help of the Lord.

Today, realize it is impossible to control everything you say.  This is not meant to discourage you so much as to help you see the truth.  You need the Lord’s help, and if you don’t realize that, you soon will, just like I did.  

© Jim Musser 2012

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Great Power of the Lion


“Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:19-20 NIV)

The lion and hyena have waged a battle on the plains of the African continent for millennia.  Both are super predators who share the same battlefield.  As we learned this weekend at our ministry’s Fall Retreat from a former safari ranger, this battle has many spiritual applications.  

Lions are superior to the hyenas in every way, but they get into trouble when they are isolated from their pride.  Hyenas are relentless in their pursuit of prey and they often use overwhelming numbers to gain the advantage.  However, they will never take on a fully mature male lion regardless of their advantage in numbers.  He is just too strong and they are too fearful to engage him.  

As followers of Jesus, we can learn valuable lessons from this ancient battle.  One is never isolate yourself from other believers.  Instead, surround yourself with people of faith who will encourage you and hold you accountable to living a life pleasing to the Lord.  Second, when you are in trouble, call out to the Lord, the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5) for help and He will come to your rescue (II Timothy 4:18).  For, like the hyenas against the male lion, the devil is no match for our great God.  For a great visual of this, go to the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pda4zULB3EA

It can often seem overwhelming, this battle we face to stay on the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).  We face a relentless enemy and are constantly bombarded with temptations to take the wider, easier path. It may seem we are powerless to overcome him.  But in those moments of weakness, we need to realize we serve a Lord that is so much more powerful than our enemy.  He can rescue us and keep us safe.  And one day, He will crush Satan and put an end to his attacks and all the misery he inflicts.

Today, know the Lion of Judah is there to protect you.  You may feel you are surrounded and harassed, but your tormentors are no match for Him. Call out and He will come to your rescue.

© 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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Joy of the Lord


“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.’
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” (Nehemiah 8:9-12 NIV)

When you first fall in love, you feel like you can overcome anything—poverty, resistance from parents, anything that is thrown your way.  Love, as the saying goes, can conquer all.  

The Israelites had just returned to a Jerusalem in ruins.  There were no houses and few businesses.  Yet Nehemiah had felt the call of the Lord to rebuild the city and he had begun with the walls.  In these ancient times, a city’s walls were vital for protection and symbolized a strong and vital community.  Now that the wall had been built, Nehemiah had called the people to return.  

At the dedication of the wall, the Word of the Lord was read and the people were cut to the heart by the recognition of their sin.  For the Lord had allowed the city to be destroyed because of the disobedience of the Israelites. (II Chronicles 36: 15-19)  Their eyes welled up in tears of grief and fear.  But Nehemiah exhorted them not to grieve, but instead to celebrate.  He said, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

All of us have and will continue to experience difficult times, whether by things thrust upon us or by things of our own making.  In those times we will find ourselves very low, but we need not weep or mourn.  Like young people in love, the joy we have in the Lord can carry us through whatever we face.  For the Lord is above all things and our troubles, no matter how great they may seem, are, as Paul describes them, “light and momentary” (II Corinthians 4:17) The joy we have in the Lord far outweighs them all because we know there is coming a day when all our trials and sorrows will pass away.  So this joy, this hope, is a source of strength when times get really hard.

Today, if you are going through a difficult time, know the joy of the Lord can be your strength.  Regardless of what you are facing, His love can conquer it. 

© 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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Heaping Up Those Burning Coals


“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” (Romans 12:18-20 NIV)

Once again, countries in the Middle East are embroiled in protests against America.  People in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen have been calling for “death to America” in the wake of a trailer for an anti-Islamic film being uploaded on YouTube.  While there seems to be some evidence that the film was a mere excuse by political factions on the ground to seek to further destabilize fledgling democracies, there is no doubt many Muslims feel the need to stand up and protect Allah and Mohammed when they believe blasphemy has occurred.  

The Apostle Paul lived in similar times when people were quick to pull the trigger on defending their gods.  Acts 19:23-41 tells the story of a riot by the worshippers of the Greek goddess, Artemus.  They believed Paul and other Christians were blaspheming by advocating that Artemus was no god at all.  They rioted in defense of her deity.

So this passage is significant because of the times in which he lived and the times in which we live as well.  Paul is telling us that, unlike worshippers of other gods, we do not need to defend God or seek revenge on His behalf.  In fact, he takes it one step further.  Not only do we not need to defend God, we should respond with kindness rather than revenge toward those who are attacking Him. 

In the times that we now live, this should give us pause.  Who do we consider the enemies of God and how do we treat them?  Are we responding with thoughts, words, and actions of revenge?  Would we rather get back at them than be kind to them?  

Today, recognize the Lord is calling you to kindness toward His enemies rather than revenge.  He does not need you to come to His defense.  In due time He will set things right, but for now He wants you to start heaping up those burning coals of kindness on the heads of those against Him.  Sounds like a great plan.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Living by Faith


“For we live by faith, not by sight.”  (II Corinthians 5:7 NIV)

One of the great privileges of doing support-based ministry is you are forced to trust God to provide for you.  With it, there are no guarantees, particularly in the economy we have experienced the past four years. You are dependent on the generosity of churches and individuals, whose checks determine how much you get paid on a monthly basis.  And as humans do, sometimes they disappoint.  They commit to a certain amount, but then fail to follow through.  Or they forget to send their checks for a couple of months.  Or their circumstances change and they stop support altogether, but do not let you know.  The end result is that month in and month out, you have to trust God to provide.

Ultimately, there are no guarantees for anyone who has a job, as many have learned in recent years.  And there are no guarantees for students graduating with a college degree that a job in their field will be waiting for them.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all dependent on God, but not all live by faith.  

Living by faith is living in confidence that the Lord has your back.  You do not need to worry that He is going to leave you on your own because you know He is going to take care of you.  Living by sight, on the other hand, is wringing your hands and looking constantly for evidence that things are going to be okay.  And the only time you are content is when things are exactly the way you think they need to be.

Paul says we live by faith because there isn’t always clear evidence of what we believe and put our hope in.  This is why many I have known who have wanted to enter a support-based ministry have encountered great resistance from parents, family, and friends.  They think it is crazy to earn a college degree and then, instead of getting a steady paying job, go into something where you are, as many view it, begging for money.  In other words, they don’t understand living by faith.  And they don’t understand the many benefits of doing it.

Living by faith draws us into a deeper relationship with the Lord because we are placing our trust in Him.  And when we put our trust in Him, we experience how faithful He is, and the more we trust Him, the bolder we will live out our faith.  

Today, you don’t have to do the work I do to live by faith.  You can do it by trusting the Lord to provide for you no matter your circumstance, no matter what things look like at the moment.  To live by faith is simply having the confidence God is going to work things out and then living in a way reflecting that.  

© 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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Not Only Forgiven, But Forgotten


“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
 after that time,” declares the Lord. 
 “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. 
 I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, 
 or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
 because they will all know me, 
from the least of them to the greatest,”
 declares the Lord 
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34 NIV)

My brother recently had a bad bicycle accident and I talked with him directly for the first time last night.  I had heard some details of what happened, but not from him.  What I had heard was a dog had ran out in front of him, he locked up his brakes and went flying over the handlebars of the bike.  He said that was only speculation because he couldn’t remember anything that happened.  He knows something did because he was found lying in the road, but the exact details are unknown to him.  

I commented it might be better he doesn’t remember because of the trauma and pain obviously involved based on his injuries.  He agreed.   Once his body is healed and he climbs back on that bike, it will be like the accident never happened.  

Most of our memories are very good, particularly when it comes to sin. We tend to remember the bad things we’ve done, and those memories impact our lives.  They often fill us with deep regret or bitterness and enslave us, holding us back from experiencing the freedom that comes with knowing God.  But imagine if we had no memory of them.  Imagine if we could somehow get on with life without our memories getting in the way.  

What is striking about this passage is that God says, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”  My first thought is, surely not.  But there it is, He will not remember our sins.  This is the promise of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13), that through Jesus there is forgiveness of sin and, once forgiven, God will have no memory of them. Amazing!

So, like my brother, though we have fallen, we can get back up as if nothing had ever happened.  There may be wounds needing to be healed, but the memory of our sin is gone.  It is like it never happened.

Today, recognize knowing Jesus comes with the promise of not only having your sins forgiven, but for them to be forgotten as well.  

© 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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Faith Enough To Forgive


"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:3-6 NIV)

What strikes you about this snippet of conversation between Jesus and His disciples?  Is it the audacity of someone who might actually sin against you over and over in the same way and continue to ask for forgiveness?  Or might it be Jesus’ claim that one doesn’t need much faith to do big things?  For me it is the disciples’ response.  They are totally flabbergasted.  

Now I might expect this response to a request from Jesus to feed 5,000 people or to heal a blind man, but to forgive someone?  Why would that take a lot of faith?

One has to remember the disciples lived in a Jewish society that required payment for wrongdoing.  An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth.  It was not forgiveness that led to peace between parties; it was compensation and, sometimes, retribution.  And even if the matter was settled, there were still likely to be hard feelings and resentment between people.  Peace, yes; forgiveness, ah, maybe not.  

Forgiveness does not come naturally.  We may not seek revenge, but letting go completely of a wrong done to us is a very difficult thing to do. Imagine forgiving someone who has raped you, or a father who abused you as a child.  Imagine forgiving someone who spread a lie about you or who stole your identity and ruined your credit.  Imagine them coming to you and asking for forgiveness and truly meaning it.  Could you truly forgive them?

I think when we put ourselves in any of these situations or a myriad of others where we have been deeply hurt by someone else’s actions, we begin to understand the disciples’ response.  Forgiveness is very difficult. But it only takes a small amount of faith in the God who has so graciously forgiven us.  If we are willing to place our trust in Him in any hurtful situation, we can find the power to forgive.

Today, consider those in your life whom you have not forgiven.  Jesus is clear that, as His followers, we must offer forgiveness to those who repent.  And even to those who don’t (“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34).  It only takes a little faith in the God who has done the same for us.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Gospel Too Cheap


“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-27 NIV)

A neighbor told me how he once had some land for sale that just sat there.  There was no interest.  Then his realtor suggested that he raise the price of the land by $10,000.  He was skeptical, but the realtor told him that the price was too low and prospective buyers wondered if there was something wrong with the land.  Otherwise, they were thinking, it wouldn’t be selling so cheap.  He followed the advice and within a week his land sold.  

All across America, churches are seeking to transform their communities by the proclamation of the Gospel, but most are failing in terms of real transformation.  Churches dot our nation’s landscape, but by anyone’s measure, our society is becoming less and less “Christian.”  And so many churches themselves show little transformation.  Divorce rates among Christians are equal to those of the rest of society.  The lifestyles of Christians vary little from the way Americans live in general.  In reality, the Gospel seems to make little difference in the lives of many who claim to embrace it, and does not seem to attract the attention of others who may know little about it.  

I am wondering if the real estate principle applies here: By making the cost of becoming a Christian so cheap—just say a prayer and nothing more is required—we have unintentionally devalued the Gospel.  We have made it so cheap, people are convinced something is wrong with it.  

I recall my mother asking my brother, who struggled with motivation and grades in high school, why he did so much better in college.  His reply: “Because I’m paying for it.” 

It appears from this passage and others that Jesus says there is a cost to following Him.  And I think I know why.  It is the nature of things that we value more those things in which we have an investment, which cost us something.  

The question for you today is, what is the cost for you to follow Jesus? Write it down.  If the page is blank, then you will know the price was too cheap.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thinking Before You Post


“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)

With the advent of social media over the past few years, there has been an increase in hubris of those who post their tweets and Facebook statuses, and in the comments on the many blogs.  Many people seem to have trouble filtering their thoughts.  Perhaps the urge to make their point or to say something memorable is just too great to pause and consider what they are typing.  The end result is often a lot of arrogant posts and tweets.

Again, like all areas of life, Jesus followers need to be on their guard. There are many times when I scroll through my Facebook wall, look at Twitter, or read comments on news column posts, I am very tempted to fire off a reply that will set people straight.  But I resist because, for one, I know my comment will likely add more fuel to the fire than extinguish it, and, second, I am called to pursue unity and peace.  And, thirdly, I am called to humility.

It is this last reason that I think is most important because it goes to the heart of the issue.  While ten years ago, our opinions were limited to talking with our friends, writing letters to the editor, and posting on message boards with few readers, now we can voice our opinions almost instantaneously to hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions if we place the right hashtag at the end of it.  And there is a strong lure to that, one that strokes our egos because our opinions can be out there for the world to see.  

I sense this temptation even as I write and post this devotion every morning.  Thus, I need to check my heart daily as I write.  The truth is we all need to check ourselves before we post online.  What are our real motives and are they aligned with what Paul lays out in this passage?  

Today, before you update your Facebook status or send a tweet, ask yourself this: Are the contents worthy of the calling I have received from the Lord?

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Real Hope and Real Change


“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (II Corinthians 3:12-18 NIV)

Four years ago, Barak Obama spoke about the hope his election could bring to the country and the change he could wrought if the American people would elect him.  On election night, millions celebrated in anticipation of a new era of government and politics.  Now four years later, the hope has nearly evaporated and, by all accounts, there has been no real change in government or politics.  

Twelve years ago, America (or some would say the Supreme Court) elected a professing Christian who promised to bring compassion back into government.  Many Christians were excited and hopeful to have a “true believer” in the White House.  Eight years later, George W. Bush left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in recent history.  

Now we are in the midst of another presidential election and Mitt Romney is promising not only to create jobs, but also reclaim America’s status as the greatest nation on earth.  President Obama, meanwhile, is promising a better future than the Republicans can offer.  And believers once again are lining up on both sides declaring their candidate is the best option for moving this country forward.

The reality?  No politician is going to transform this country or our lives. To coin a phrase the president used in the last election, that is way above his or her pay grade.  Only the Lord is truly in the position to fulfill hope and bring about change, because only He can truly transform us.  
We will always be disappointed when we place our hope in another human being or political party because we humans are flawed.  Only God is perfect and only He can bring about true change.  

Do exercise your right to vote this November; just don’t get your hopes too high. Instead, know that real hope lies in the Lord and real change takes place only through Him.  

© Jim Musser 2012