Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Going Deeper


“In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well.”  (II Corinthians 7:13b-14 NIV)

There have been many times where I have felt like Titus—refreshed in spirit by spending time with Christian brothers and sisters.  I remember a prayer gathering in a rural Hungarian village, Christians praying in different languages, but united in a common bond.  I remember visiting in the Tennessee home of a former seminary classmate and his wife, having a delicious meal of homemade soup and bread and then talking for several hours in front of a fire about the Lord.  I remember semi-annual meetings at Denny’s with two colleagues to share about our mutual ministries and to encourage one another.  And I remember just recently sitting with friends and listening to how the Lord is changing the direction of their lives into a new area of ministry.  

And what I remember about these encounters and many, many others is how refreshing they were.  Not all our meetings with other Christians are necessarily refreshing.  Many, frankly, are often mundane with little spiritual encouragement resulting from them.  Often that cannot be avoided, but I think in many of our encounters with Christians we can strive for something better, deeper.  

It is easy to skip along the surface in our relationships with other believers.  Our conversations gravitate toward school, work, relationships, and the like.  There is obviously nothing wrong with these because they are part of our daily experience, but there is so much more if only we are willing to go deeper.  And it is at the deeper levels where we find true refreshment.  That is why they stick in our memories and we remember them so fondly.  

Today, make strides toward taking your conversations with fellow Christians deeper.  As you do, you will find greater refreshment and experience Christian fellowship at a whole new level.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In the Midst of the Storm


“Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.  They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away.  They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end.  

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.  He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.  They were glad when it grew calm, 
and he guided them to their desired haven.  Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.  Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
 and praise him in the council of the elders.” (Psalm 107:23-32 NIV)

Those of us living in the eastern quarter of the country are experiencing an historic storm.  From the Carolinas up the eastern seaboard, Hurricane Sandy is bringing record snow and rainfall, and record flooding. Fortunately, where I live we still have electricity, though the wind is gusting furiously and snow is falling sideways.  But other areas are not faring as well.  Damage from wind and flooding is extensive.  

It is in the midst of a storm like Sandy that we realize how small and vulnerable we are, and how dependent on the Lord.  When life is good, we can tend to feel secure and often that security leads us to a lack of appreciation for the Lord.  We can easily forget who is behind that security.  Like a small child who wanders off from a parent and turns suddenly to find mom or dad out of sight, we quickly realize our need for the presence of the Lord.  

This psalm, in its entirety, tells stories of vulnerable and needy people crying out to the Lord.  They are experiencing various storms in their lives and plead for rescue.  The writer tells of the Lord’s faithfulness in rescuing them.  He then encourages them to give thanks to God for saving them from the peril of the storm.

What about you?  Are you in the midst of a storm in your life?  Then cry out to God and He will come to your rescue.  And when you are once again safe, don’t forget to thank Him for what He has done, and let it be a reminder of how much you need Him. 

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

It Doesn't Matter What You Believe


“I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me.  I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:5-6 NIV)

I heard on the radio recently a writer discussing the religious view of a politician with whom she vehemently disagreed.  The man had said he believed a pregnancy resulting from rape shouldn’t be terminated because God had allowed that new life to form.  She said, “I just can’t believe in a God who would allow such things to happen.”  

She is not alone.  There are a lot of people who, because of one thing or another, refuse to believe in a God that does not suit them.  Typically, it involves some sort of suffering or tragedy.  They refuse to believe in a God who would allow a child to die, a violent storm to wreak havoc, or a loved one to contract cancer.  Or it may be the restrictions to living how they wish, such as couples living together, engaging in homosexual relationships, or just wanting to live lives however they choose.  They refuse to believe in a God who would dare restrict their freedom.

Their refusal to believe leads them down one of two paths—they either become atheists or they construct a God they can believe in.  They imagine Him as they want Him to be.  It may be a God that loves everyone and doesn’t care that much about how they live their lives.  Or a God who set creation in motion, but doesn’t involve Himself in the day-to-day details.  

But the reality is, it doesn’t matter what they believe, or what I believe. The beliefs of human beings don’t have any sway over who God is.  Just because an atheist doesn’t believe God exists, that unbelief has no impact on the truth of His existence.  Or if I choose to make certain attributions to God, doesn’t make it so.  

The truth is it doesn’t matter what you or I believe about God.  We do not determine who He is.  He is God and He defines Himself.  We can learn about Him through what He has created (Romans 1:20) and through the Scriptures (John 5:39-40), but we are not the determiners of who He is. We can choose to accept Him or reject Him, but we can’t wish Him out of existence or recreate Him into a more acceptable God.  He is God and there is no other.

Today, recognize God is who He is, and your beliefs about Him have no effect on His existence or His nature.  What really matters is that you get to know Him as He is and submit to His will for your life.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Living in Both Hope and Humilty


“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.” (Luke 5:8-10 NIV)

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (I Timothy 1:16 NIV)

These two passages reflect a fine line of how we are to view ourselves. Upon being in the presence of the Divine, Peter knew he was totally unworthy, recognizing how far short he came to the glory of God.  This was before he experienced His grace and he was scared and wanted nothing to do with Jesus.  

Paul also had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and was rattled by His presence, knowing what a rebel he truly was.  Yet he, too, experienced the mercy and grace of Jesus and, like Peter, was invited to join the Lord in His ministry to the lost on earth.  

What draws all of us to Jesus is the combined knowledge of our own sinfulness and His grace and mercy in spite of it.  Yet, it is a temptation to forget the sheer depth of our sinfulness once we cross over into grace.  It is easy to become prideful and look down on others who have yet to experience the freedom and forgiveness Jesus offers.  Thus, the judgment and condemnation of people and lifestyles that so often comes out of churches.  Or to go into the opposite direction and, because of the grace and mercy of our Savior, gloss over how offensive sin is to God as if it is not that big of an issue.  

The image of Peter’s fear in the presence of the Lord is a good reminder of how serious and deep our sin is.  Yet, Paul’s declaration that he, the “worst of sinners,” is an example of the depth of God’s mercy, is a proper counterbalance to the reality of our sin.  We need not despair, but we can never forget our need for mercy.  Thus, we can live lives with both hope and humility.

Today, never forget the depth of your sin and your desperate need for the Savior.  Yet, never forget how much He loves you and wants you to be a part of His redemptive work in the world.  Both are necessary in living a life following Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Producing Fruit


“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:16-26 NIV)

We are in the final weeks of the presidential election.  I know that because my phone keeps rings with automated voices of candidates on the other end making disparaging comments about the other political party, my mailbox is filled with letters and fliers from candidates telling me how terrible their opponents are, and my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds are filled with pointed comments about one or the other presidential candidates.  

I am not surprised for the most part.  This is the way politics is done in America and it’s been done this way for a long time.  I think what is more difficult to accept are those claiming to be followers of Jesus engaging in the same type of behavior.  I was talking with a friend the other day who witnessed a debate between two men running for state office.  One, my friend said, stated clearly that he was a Christian, but then went ahead and bashed his opponent and his party in harsh tones.  Sadly, there is a lot of that going on today, not only in the political spectrum, but also in everyday life—people claiming to know Jesus being very harsh in their comments and actions toward others.  

The question I want to ask is, what difference does Jesus make?  One can say, “I’m a Christian,” but how is that relationship with Jesus impacting your day-to-day life?  What difference is it making in what you say to others and how you say it?  Or in how you treat other people?

Paul is asking the same question of the Galatians, who were struggling with living the Christian life.  And he gives them a straightforward template of how their lives are to reflect the presence of Jesus.  He refers to them as the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  If they truly have Jesus in their lives, then they will have His Spirit as well.  Like an apple tree produces apples or a peach tree peaches, so does the Spirit produce fruit.  And, Paul said, the fruit of the Spirit should be present or emerging in anyone claiming to follow Jesus.

Today, examine your life, comparing it to the fruit of the Spirit.  If you are a follower of Jesus, then there should be ample evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life through the presence of His fruit.  If there is not, then it’s time to get serious about pursuing the One who can produce it.  It is His fruit and no one other than Him can make it grow.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A God Who Tends to Shrink


“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:17b-21 NIV)

In C.S. Lewis’ “Prince Caspian,” the second book in his “Chronicles of Narnia” series, Lucy, upon meeting Aslan on her second trip to Narnia, remarks that he is bigger.  Aslan replies, “It is because you are older.”  

As we age and mature, does our God get bigger or does He shrink? Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3), and that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children (Matthew 19:14).  Of course, He was not talking about physically being a child, but having the trusting attitude and the imagination of a child.  

Children are not doubters by nature; they just believe.  And they trust.  If Mom and Dad tell them there is a Santa Claus, they don’t doubt it.  When a boy says he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up, he has no doubt that is what he will be.  And they have wonderful imaginations.  My neighbors’ children are always out in their yard having some battle or on some adventure.  Children show little constraint in imagining a world far different than the one in which they are living.  

It is amazing sometimes how we have such trust in the Lord as children, but then as we grow up, that trust diminishes.  God shrinks instead of getting bigger.  Or even as new believers, we are enthralled with the Lord’s power and mercy, but as we move along in the Christian life, we are less enthralled, less moved.  He begins to shrink.  

I think Lewis was trying to say through Aslan that as we grow older and mature, God is supposed to get bigger.  We are to become even more enthralled with, more impressed by, and more imaginative with His power and mercy.  And this requires that we resist both the natural tendency and societal pressure to “grow up” which means to put aside “fairytales” such as someone dying for sin and being raised from the dead, people being healed through other than medical means, trusting God to provide, and so on.  We must recognize God is bigger and more powerful than what we could ever believe or imagine.  This is why as we are growing older, He should be getting bigger, because it takes a lifetime, or more correctly an eternity, to fully grasp how big He really is.  

Today consider, as you are growing older, is the Lord shrinking or getting bigger?  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Needing an Advocate


“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27 NIV)

We recently had new Internet service installed at our office.  When I returned from Fall Break, I found out I was unable to send e-mail from the Entourage program on my computer.  For a time, I searched the web for solutions, but none of them worked.  I then e-mailed the company (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) and received no response.  I finally called the tech support number and the automated voice gave me a website to access for help.  It didn’t.  I called again, rudely interrupting my automated helper by saying “tech support!”  The first tech person I reached told me he was not familiar with the email program I use and that the company doesn’t offer support on “third party platforms,” so I asked to be transferred to someone with greater knowledge.  I was told that privilege would cost me $99.  I hung up and called again, hoping to find someone more willing to help me, who recognized the unfairness of a company installing a service and then telling you, basically, good luck on solving that problem, because we won’t help you.  Again I was told the company doesn’t offer free support on anything involving “outside software.”  Frustrated, and still frugal, I hung up again.

I then asked my tech-savvy associate if we would take a look at the problem.  He agreed, but couldn’t resolve it either.  So he, too, called the company.  As I sat listening to his side of the conversation, he began describing the problem and all he had done to try to fix it and, literally, within a couple of minutes, she had given him the information needed to solve the issue, at no charge.  I sat dumbfounded and asked how he managed to do that, and he said he had previously worked for the company and just knew how to talk to their reps in a way to get things done.  He was a very effective advocate as a result.

Paul describes the Holy Spirit in a similar manner.  When we’ve reached the end of our own efforts to pray, when we are at a loss for words, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  He knows what to say because He is familiar with the Father and His will.  

Thankfully, our Heavenly Father is not anything like the Internet company with which I was dealing.  He is more than happy to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  But there are times when we just don’t know what to say or how to ask.  Such as when a devastating tragedy envelops our lives or when we reach a fork in the road and the choices are similar.  We just can’t find the words to describe our feelings or what to ask to get an answer to our question.  

It is then that the Holy Spirit does His best work.  He goes before the Lord on our behalf to express what we really need.  Words may fail us, but He will always know what to ask.

Today, if you are at a point where in your prayers you don’t know what to say, know that you have an Advocate who will pray for you, who will go before the Father on your behalf.  Do your best on your knees, but if you are still unable to get an answer, trust the Holy Spirit to help you.  He is very familiar with the Father and knows just what to say.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

What We Need to Hear


“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (II Timothy 4:1-5 NIV)

This was an encouraging message to me this morning.  In the midst of a volatile political season, the Chick-fil-A protests of the summer, and some of the reality checks of working on a university campus, I felt like Paul was writing this to me.  More and more, people want to hear what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.  Politicians know this and rarely speak the whole truth, regardless of political party.  Increasingly, the university culture is making policy that prohibits speech that students may find offensive.  In other words, proclaiming that certain behaviors or lifestyles are sinful may find you in trouble with the university if a student complains.   And in the church, pastors are often dismissed when they begin to confront issues of doctrine and personal conduct.  

As fallen human beings, we often have a hard time hearing and accepting the truth.  We much prefer hearing what we want to hear.  And there will always be people we can find to tell us soothing things.  And therein lies the danger.  The temptation is to run away from the one telling us the truth to the one who will tell us what we want to hear.  In the extreme, we want to prevent the person from saying anything we deem offensive to our ears.  

But the reality is, given we are fallen creatures and prone to error, we all need words of correction and they will not always be pleasant to our ears. As Proverbs 12:1 bluntly observes, “Whoever hates correction is stupid.” So the current trend of having the right not to be offended is troubling because it is easy for the church to get sucked into it, as I have already experienced with some students in recent years.  And what it does is inhibit our growth and maturity.  Like children who grow up without discipline, we remain immature and, for many, eternally lost.

Today, as Paul encourages Timothy to do, keep your head in these times where truth is considered relative to one’s personal understanding.  Don’t get carried along by this deception.  The truth is found in the Word and we all need to be open to its correction.  For what we want to hear is not always what we need to hear.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Proposing


“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7-8 NIV)

My nephew recently proposed to his girlfriend.  He got down on one knee, presented her with an engagement ring, and asked her to marry him.  And after a short pause of shock, she said, “Yes!”  Good choice; she is going to marry a fine young man.  

Getting down on one knee to propose marriage is a long practiced tradition for men in our culture, perhaps because the symbolism is so powerful.  Taking to one knee is an act of humility and submission.  In ancient times, a vanquished foe took to a knee to indicate his willingness to accept defeat, and subjects often went onto one knee before their kings, acknowledging their submission to their authority.  To go onto one knee to propose is an act of humility, an acknowledgement of surrender of one’s self, of one’s bachelor life and all its freedom, for the privilege of joining in a partnership of love and the sacrifices that will come with it.  It is saying I value you so much that I want to relinquish my old life for the sake of a new one with you.

Submitting our lives to the Lord is very similar to a marriage proposal.  We come before Him in humility, acknowledging our willingness to surrender the life we have known and lived by our own terms in exchange for the privilege of a relationship with the Heavenly Father.  Our love and honor of Him is so great that we are willing to relinquish our old life for a new and very different one.

And this is not done without thought and deliberation of the costs.  My nephew didn’t just on a whim ask his girlfriend to marry him; he contemplated it first to decide if it was worth it to him to sacrifice his current way of life for a totally different one.  And love for her won out over love for himself.  

The same is true when we decide to follow Jesus.  We have to love God more than ourselves.  And when we do, we will find ourselves on one knee asking for that relationship that transcends all others.

Today, know the Lord is more than ready to accept your proposal of a permanent relationship with Him or a renewal of that relationship.  He long ago made His wishes known.  All He is waiting for is you to bend your knee and ask.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Veiled Hearts


“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 keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading 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, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (II Corinthians 3:12-18 NIV)

It happens every week, sometimes even for a lifetime.  People will hear the Word of God preached and leave totally unaffected.  I have known people who have been faithful churchgoers their entire lives whose only purpose for being there it seems is being there.  The only change that takes place in their lives is they grow older.  I have seen students involved in campus ministry for three, four, even five years that remain unchanged spiritually.  They come, they hear, they leave, totally unmoved by the Word.

How can people be exposed to years of teaching from the Word and remain unchanged by it?  Paul provides a clue.  For centuries the Word of God was read in the Jewish synagogues, but, as Jesus correctly pointed out (Mark 7:5-7), the hearts of the Jews were far from Lord.  He says a veil covered their hearts.  That veil is religious ritual, the performance of religious activity without any real life or belief behind it.  

There is only one cure according to Paul: Jesus.  Only Jesus can take the veil away.  Only a relationship with Jesus can open up the heart to be changed and transformed.  And the relationship to which we refer is ongoing and dynamic, not the “I once asked Jesus into my heart” kind where the beginning is in reality the end.  The prayer has been said and now there is nothing more to do.  

No, this relationship is like a marriage.  We fall in love, make a commitment and live it out the rest of our lives, falling deeper and deeper in love as the years go by and being transformed by the relationship as our hearts open wider and wider.  

I was a churchgoer much of my young life, but it meant little to me.  I really didn’t understand it.  I was there.  I sang the songs.  I listened to the sermon.  I left unchanged.  It wasn’t until I decided to give my life to Jesus that my eyes were opened and my heart unveiled.  Then my life began to be transformed.

In what state is your heart today?  Is it veiled by years of religious ritual? Does your life remain unchanged?  There is a cure and it is Jesus.  Only He can take a heart and infuse it with life.

© Jim Musser 2012 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Surviving the Roller Coaster of Life


“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (II Timothy 2:11-13 NIV)

It is that time on our campus.  Gone are the carefree days of the first week or two of the semester.  Students are stressed and tired.  Like a rollercoaster, they started the semester on top, but as the weeks have passed and the assignments have mounted, they find themselves plunging into a valley.  Last week’s Fall Break was a welcome respite bringing refreshment, but now they are back to the grind.  

Apart from school, life is like that.  We have our moments of great energy and motivation, but then they are followed by a plunge into a valley where we struggle and are stressed.  For the most part, this is the course of life, and of the faith journey.  Up and down.  

The challenge for us is to not to define our lives by the moment in which we find ourselves.  We can revel in the highs, but should never assume we will remain there.  And we can dislike the lows, but can be confident we will once again ascend to greater heights.  This is living a life of endurance.  As has often been said, life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Good times will come and go, bad times as well.  Our lives should never be defined by the moment.  

Faith in and faithfulness to the Lord are what carry us through the ups and downs of life.  But even then, sometimes our faith may not be enough to sustain us.  Our faith may just run dry.  It is at that moment we have a choice: we can disown the Lord, saying He is not worth all the trouble, or we can just keep on trudging along, one foot in front of the other, allowing the Lord’s faithfulness to push us along.  “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.”  What a promise!  And what a relief!

When I come to the end of myself, to the end of my faith, the Lord is there to carry me.  It doesn’t all depend on me.  As long as I don’t give up to the point of disowning Him, He will remain faithful even when I have lost faith. And, thus, that gift allows me time to regain my faith and keeps me from having that momentary loss of faith define my entire life.

Today, remember life is very much like a rollercoaster, and when you plunge to depths far greater than your faith, the Lord will be there to lift you back up.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Going High


“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.  Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.  Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1-9 NIV)

Like millions of others on Sunday, I was glued to my computer screen watching Felix Baumgartner’s jump from 24 miles above the earth.  A giant helium balloon had carried his tiny capsule to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere where, in a pressurized suit, he would climb onto a platform and jump back toward earth.  For one, who as a kid once dreamed of becoming an astronaut and watched the first moon landing, this took me back to those exciting days of space exploration.  

As Baumgartner climbed onto the platform of his capsule and prepared to jump, he said, “Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.”  And then he was gone, disappearing rapidly back into the wide expanse of the earth, a tiny dot on a giant canvas.  

There is something about going high that puts one’s life into perspective.  I remember the astronauts of Apollo 8 reading Genesis 1 as they orbited the moon and looked back at the blue planet hanging in space.  They and many around the world realized in that moment how small we really are compared to God and the universe He created.  I have that same feeling when flying at 36,000 feet and looking out on the earth below.

David writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers…who is mankind that you are mindful of them…?”  In pondering the immense creation around him, David realized, in spite of the power and position he held, how small he truly was.  By going high in his mind, he gained a proper perspective.

A former astronaut who watched Baumgartner’s jump said the high perspective one gets from space helps you to realize the world doesn’t revolve around you.  Perhaps we all need to have that experience!

Today, though you may not be able to reach the height of space, look up and around to gain a higher perspective.  See how truly small you are compared to God.  Life, as Felix Baumgartner realized 24 miles above the earth, is not about us.  We are so small.  No, it is about Him who is so great and so majestic, and who from His lofty perch, looks down upon you and me with love and mercy.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Evidence of the Creator


“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25 NIV)

The sun had just set when I noticed a heron silhouetted in the orange, rippling water of the Currituck Sound.  We walked closer to get a better look.  The elegant bird was out for some evening fishing.  He waded in the shallow water, extending his long neck out to look into the water for his prey.  Barely moving, he waited.  Then suddenly his head shot into the water and he grabbed a sizeable fish.  He held it for a while as it flapped, but then it grew still.  He stuck it back into the water a couple times, presumably to see if it was still alive.  Then with a quick flick of his head and neck, the bird swallowed the fish whole.  We could see the fish quickly slide down the bird’s throat, and then it went back to look for another.

If my wife and I had been filming a documentary for Animal Planet or National Geographic, I can imagine the narrator explaining that the heron had adapted to its environment by developing its long neck and sharp beak in order to catch fish.  For this is the common narrative to explain the creation around us.  Credit is given to the created rather than to the Creator.  

Yet it seems obvious to me that the evidence of the Creator is all around us.  The distance of the earth from the sun is exactly the right distance to sustain life.  The earth’s rotation is exactly the right speed to maintain proper gravity.  The atmosphere is perfect for our bodies.  Do these facts not tell us of an awesome Creator, meticulous in His design?  Or what about the vastness of the universe, glimpses of which we have seen from the Hubble Telescope or the intricate design of atoms and molecules that we have seen from the microscope?  Or the intricate and unique design of human beings, male and female?  Is there any question we were designed for one another, for procreation and pleasure?

It is clear then why Paul says we are without excuse if we deny the existence and supremacy of God.  The evidence is all around us and unmistakable.  Yet to those whose hearts are rebellious against Him, they will continue to believe a lie and devote their hearts to that which is created.  And their thinking is carrying the day right now and that means there is danger for those of us who worship the Creator.  We will be tempted to compromise, to appear less strident in our views, to accept this other narrative as plausible while still claiming to follow the One who is over all creation and through whom all things were created (Colossians 1:15-16).  Paul is very clear about the dangers of doing so.

Today, take a look around you.  See clearly how God reveals Himself through that which He created.  It tells us something, that there is only one God. He created everything just as He wanted it, and He is supreme over everything that is created.  If you choose to believe otherwise, you will be without excuse.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Avoiding an Embittered Heart


(Author's Note: Tomorrow begins ASU's Fall Break, so I am taking a break as well.  WftW will be back on October 15th.  Jim)

"Then Joseph said to his brothers, 'Come close to me.'  When they had done so, he said, 'I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping.  But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.  He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.'" (Genesis 45:4-8 NIV)

The account of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50) is one of my favorite stories of the Bible.  It is chocked full of intrigue and suspense, and the plot has several unusual twists and turns, particularly for those accustomed to the plots of Hollywood.  For if Hollywood had written the story of Joseph, you can bet it would have been much different.  Potiphar's wife would likely have seduced Joseph.  He would have probably led a revolt while in prison, and he would likely have gained revenge upon his brothers through torture or death.  His character would be very sympathetic because he is the ultimate victim, betrayed several times by those closest to him.  

Yet, a fair reading of the actual account shows Joseph acting anything but a victim.  He sees himself as a servant of God, doing His bidding.  What an attitude!  And it is this attitude that saved Joseph's brothers from a terrible fate.  Rather than seeing them as betrayers, he saw them as instruments of God's will to serve a greater purpose.  The great irony being that their act of treachery led to the saving of their own lives!

Joseph faced choices all along the way in his life.  In Potiphar's house, he could have accepted his wife's advances, justifying it by the fact he had been ripped off in life and deserved a little pleasure. He did not. He could have sulked in prison, doing nothing good for anybody, just wallowing in his bitterness and resentment. He did not.  Upon being promoted to Pharaoh's household, he could have used his power to exact revenge on the people responsible for imprisoning him and his brothers.  He did not. Rather, He chose to trust God and see his life as being in the Lord's hands.

Your life may not be going the way you had planned, but know that God has everything under control and that His plans are much bigger than yours.  Today, trust him with the direction and happenings of your life, believing, as did Joseph, that in the end God will work all things for the good in your life (Romans 8:28).  By doing so, you can avoid the terrible fate of an embittered heart.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The God Who Cares about the Little Things


"Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  He called out to them, 'Friends, haven't you any fish?'  'No,' they answered.  He said, 'Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.'  When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!'  As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, 'It is the Lord,' he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far form shore, about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread." (John 21:4-9 NIV)

I can still remember the smell of bacon frying in my mother's kitchen on Saturday mornings as I awoke.  What a pleasure it was to have breakfast awaiting me when I got up!  It was a little thing in the whole scheme of life, but what a wonderful memory it is for me.

Sometimes we think God only cares about the big things--His Word being proclaimed, people being saved, justice being done.  Yet, God has shown time and time again that He cares about the little things, like breakfast. Picture this: The Son of God, the One by whom everything was made (Colossians 1:16) on a beach making breakfast for a bunch of tired, smelly fishermen, men that He knew and loved.  It is such a small thing, but such a BIG thing given that it is God who is doing the cooking.  And it made an impact because John chose to record it in his biography of Jesus.  The man who was known for His extraordinary teaching, for His powerful miracles, and for His death and resurrection, is also remembered for His fresh fish and bread breakfast!

This tells me something about Jesus: He cares deeply about each of us and at His core is the nature of a servant.  My needs, even the smallest ones, are important to Him.

Today as you go about your day, think of Jesus on that beach making breakfast and remember how much He cares about your needs, even the smallest ones.  What a wonderful God we serve!

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Allowing God to Lead


"Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." (Psalm 55:22 NIV)

There I was with my two hiking companions just below the summit of Long's Peak (14,255 ft.) in Colorado, making my way down the only way I knew how--on my butt.  The descent down "the chute" was a 70-degree grade and I was very unsure of my footing.  I wasn't alone.  My companions and several others were taking the same approach as well.  

As we scooted our way down to more level ground, I heard an unfamiliar voice behind me and turned to see who it was.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  A man was walking upright confidently and swiftly descending from the summit.  He was obviously a very experienced climber.  What was even more amazing was that he was guiding a woman who appeared to be a novice.  Holding his hand, she carefully followed his exact steps.  When she hesitated, he gently reassured her.  As they passed us "scooters", he said, "The footing is not that bad," and then they quickly went on their way down the mountain.

I expect that couple was off the mountain several hours before us because he was confident in his abilities and she trusted him and kept up with his pace.  We, on the other hand, had no such confidence in ourselves and no leader to show us a better way.  We were all tentative on that mountain.  If the woman had been with us, she likely would have sat down, too.  She stood only because she had someone in whom she could trust and followed his lead.

Today, you may be finding yourself on a steep slope and unsure of your footing.  Perhaps you are scared of the new challenges you will face in the coming weeks or when you graduate.  Or perhaps you feel God is leading you into very unfamiliar territory.  A lot of people are in the same spot, but many of them proceed with tentativeness and fear.  It does not have to be that way for you.  Know that God can be trusted.  He will not let you fall.  Take hold of Him and you can confidently face whatever challenge is in front of you.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

Avoiding Becoming a Fool


“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” (Proverbs 26:11 NIV)

It happens every fall.  The mice begin looking for a cozy place to nest for the winter and they seem to think my storage shed is an ideal spot.  My strategy every year is to put a number of traps in the shed.  So far this year, I have had about five kills, but I had one critter make a bold escape.  

Not finding a trap where I had placed it, I searched the shed suspecting the critter had caught its foot in the trap and had drug it somewhere else, fully expecting to find a dead mouse.  However, what I found at the opposite end of the shed was an empty trap, well, almost empty.  A piece of the tail was still there surrounded by gnaw marks.  The mouse had chewed off its tail in order to escape the trap!  Smart mouse, or so I thought.  

I set the trap again, placing it in the same location, and checked it the next day.  Once again, I had caught a mouse.  As I picked up the trap to dispose of the critter, I noticed half of its tail was missing.  The same mouse had returned to the same trap, but, unfortunately for it, the results were different this time.  Not such a smart mouse after all!

How often do we escape a bad situation only to return to something similar again?  I remember getting out of a bad relationship in college shortly after deciding to follow Jesus, but against the advice of many, decided to return to it with even worse results.  According to Solomon, I was a fool, and I would wholeheartedly agree.

By his definition, all of us have been fools at one time or another, repeating the same mistakes over and over.  Parolees are notorious for committing crimes within months of being released from prison.  There are students who, despite their falling GPA’s, refuse to discipline themselves in their studies, opting rather to continue the lifestyle that contributed to their academic decline in the first place.  I know people who have struggled financially for years, but continue to make the same poor economic choices.  

The challenge is to take a step back and examine the bad choices we sometimes will inevitably make so we will not repeat them.  However, that is much easier said than done.  If it were easy, the world and our lives would be more perfect because we would learn from our mistakes and those of others.  Yet, the overwhelming evidence is we don’t learn so easily.  So what do we do to avoid becoming fools?

The Psalmist gives us an answer: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”  (Psalm 111:10)  Having fear of the Lord is not being afraid as much as having a deep respect for our position in relation to God.  We are far inferior and having a fear of the Lord is recognizing that.  And when we do, we realize how much He has to teach us.  That willingness to listen and obey is what will help keep us from being fools.

Today, recognize it is not enough to just get out of a bad situation.  The question is how can you avoid getting into a similar one that may have even worse results?  Humbling yourself before the Lord and gaining understanding from Him is a good place to start and the best way to avoid becoming a fool.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taking the Time To See the Lord at Work


“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)

I sometimes wonder if the majority in Jesus’ day ever realized the significance of the time in which they were living.  Did they take note of the extraordinary things He was doing and saying, or were they so busy with the details of their daily lives that they barely noticed?  Were they more like Mary, who knew she was in the presence of the Divine, or Martha, who was so focused on the tasks at hand that it barely registered who was visiting her home that day? 

I suspect it was the latter.  The daily grind of life consumes us and our vision is narrow.  We see only what is in front of us.  Martha saw only the task of preparing a meal and completely missed the significance of the moment she was in.  I think this is a common occurrence today, as well.  I experience it frequently with students, who are so consumed with their studies and social lives, they fail to see what the Lord is doing around them or wants to do in their lives—the healing and transformation in people’s lives, the encounters with people in need, or the opportunities to use their lives for the furtherance of the Kingdom.   

One of the things I often encourage them to do is to look for “God sightings.”  As they go about their daily lives, I tell them to look for God at work.  It is amazing what we can see the Lord doing if only we are taking the time to look.  

We live in a world where God is very active, but our lives are so easily filled up and distracted that we are blinded to what He is doing.  This is what Martha allowed to happen, but Mary chose differently and Jesus commended her for it.  

Today, take the time to see God at work in nature, in circumstances, and in people’s lives, including your own.  You will be amazed at what you see.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Keeping Your Posture Straight


“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19 NIV)

I have the picture somewhere, but I haven’t seen it in a long time.  It is of me getting my diploma at my high school graduation.  My posture is terrible.  I am slightly hunched over and my neck and head are pitched forward.  I’ve always thought I looked like a turtle. Seeing that picture was my first realization of how bad my posture was.  It was then that I became determined to improve it.  

Over the years, it has improved, but I still struggle.  I will see pictures of me from the side and there is that head and neck pitched forward and the shoulders hunched over.  Crap!  I remind myself.  My wife reminds me; yet, still, I struggle to maintain a proper posture.  It is literally a moment-by-moment thing, a constant need to remind myself.  The problem is that I get distracted.  My focus during the day turns to other things and away from my posture.  I may adjust it one moment, but the next my attention is elsewhere, and, crap, my posture returns to its normal bad state.   I have concluded I will always struggle with my posture because it seems my posture is just naturally bad.

It is the same way with sin.  It comes naturally to us, and though we can overcome it, as soon as we are distracted, crap!  We are right back at it. Thankfully, as Paul later exclaims (vs. 25), we are rescued from the eternal effects of our sin by Jesus.  Yet, the struggle continues.  And when we are distracted, we will regress to our natural state.  Paul never stopped struggling.  He pressed on (Philippians 3:14) and continued to fight.  Because of his knowledge of God’s Word and his fellowship with believers, I think he was constantly reminded of the dangers of sin and when he had fallen.  They served constantly to help him adjust his “posture.”  

Today, recognize your natural inclination is to sin.  Constant reminders coming through the Word and through others are the only way keep your “posture” straight.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Only One Savior


“’You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, 
‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me
 and understand that I am he.
 Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.

‘I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.  I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. 
 You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, “that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. 
 No one can deliver out of my hand. 
 When I act, who can reverse it?’” (Isaiah 43:10-13 NIV)

If you are on Facebook, even if you don’t watch television or listen to the radio, you know we are in the midst of a presidential election.  Posts regarding the merits or faults of either one of the candidates make regular appearances on my wall.  Just this morning, a post appeared saying how evil the Republicans are and that surely Jesus would have been a Democrat.  Of course, my Republican friends have countered that Democrats basically voted God out of their platform.  I guess they infer that if Jesus were a Democrat, no one in the party would vote for Him because they didn’t believe in Him.  And so it goes.

I think people get so agitated because they place so much value on what they think one candidate can do for the country.  I think the attention and hope are misplaced.  

Four years ago, on the night Barak Obama was elected, there was dancing in the streets all across America.  As every politician does, he promised hope and a better way.  Surely, the throngs thought, he was going to do it.  Four years later, we realize it was an empty promise, as are many of the promises politicians make.  

We too often are looking for a president to be a savior, someone who is going to fix most of the problems and make our lives better.  To use a phrase of candidate Obama four years ago, that is way above any human’s pay grade.  For there is only one Savior and it is not Barak Obama, Mitt Romney, or any other presidential candidate, past or future. It is the Lord and there is no other.  

Today, I encourage you to exercise your right to vote in this year’s election, but recognize that neither the President nor his challenger, if elected, is going to save this country.  The only hope for that will come in recognition that God is Lord and there is no Savior apart from Him.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Only One Deserving Worship


“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)

Laura Story has been in pretty heady territory recently.  The singer/songwriter won a Grammy this year for her song, “Blessings.”  She won Best Song, Best Album, and Best Pop/Contemporary Song at the 2012 Dove Awards, and she has been nominated three years in a row for Female Artist of the Year.  With these honors has come increasing notoriety and popularity.  Yet, in a radio interview I heard over the weekend, she said that at the end of the day, in spite of her popularity, she is still a sinner and her name belongs nowhere near the Name in receiving adulation.  

In a culture that worships celebrity, where the number one goal of many teens is to become famous, and where people often know more about the lives of celebrities than those of their neighbors, it is refreshing to hear a celebrity reject the perpetual fawning that comes with growing fame. Story made it clear there is only One who deserves to be worshipped.  It is a good reminder in this world of celebrity in which we live.

Whether it be a superstar athlete, an A-List actor, a reality TV star, or even a popular Christian singer, all are mere human beings and fallen ones at that.  Their faces may be well known, they may be extraordinary at what they do, and they may be very wealthy, but at the end of the day, they are sinners just like the rest of us, falling far short of the glory of the One who made them.  

Many people have exchanged worship of God to worship of human beings.  And, sadly, many who are worshipped embrace it as though they somehow deserve it.  Even sadder, many long to become like them, to be worshipped as well.  The world desperately needs more Laura Storys, who, in spite of their fame, reject any notion they are deserving of worship.  For there is only One Name at which our knees should bow in adulation and which eventually all knees will bow.  That name is Jesus.

Today, examine your heart.  Is there anyone or anything you worship besides Jesus?  Recognize He is the only One deserving of your worship.  Nothing else even comes close.

Jim Musser 2012