Friday, November 30, 2012

Stop Complaining


“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ 

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:4-13 NIV)

If the persecuted Jewish Christians of the 1st Century were looking for sympathy, they didn’t get it from the writer of Hebrews.  Though they were being treated terribly by the Romans, the writer points out that none of their blood had yet been shed.  Instead of complaining about their difficulties, he thinks they should view their hardships as discipline from the Lord, intended to mold them into holy people.  And like a coach gathering together his battered and disheartened team at halftime, he challenges them to get it together, lift up their heads, and get back out on the field.  This is not the time to feel sorry for themselves.  There is still a game to be played, and to win.

The true test of faith is how it holds up in the difficult times, yet it seems we are loath to endure them.  We complain, we mope, and we want our difficulties resolved immediately.  We fail to understand that through hardships God is seeking to shape us and refine us into the people He created us to be.  Just as we needed parental discipline as children in order to grow into healthy, well-functioning adults, we are in need of the Lord’s discipline to help us to become spiritually healthy.  Yet, so often, like the Jewish Christians, we are looking for sympathy and whining about the hard times we are facing.

We complain about how bad our boss is or how rough we have it in school.  We get upset at how the “liberal” media treats our faith, or how we Christians are being increasingly marginalized in our society.  We get frustrated and easily discouraged when things in life don’t go our way, whether it is a relationship, our plans for the future, or just day-to-day life.  

Well, the Hebrew writer would say something like this to us: You may be having difficulties, but they haven’t yet killed you.  God is trying to teach you some things through your hardship, not because is He is mean or gets some sick satisfaction out of it, but because He loves you and wants you to grow into the person He created you to be.  Now, pick yourself up and get back out there living your life for Him!

If you expect an easy life because you follow Jesus, you are badly mistaken.  Life will have many difficulties because that is how God trains us to become who He created us to be.  So if your life is hard and you’ve been complaining about it, get over it.  The Lord is at work through these things.  Accept it and move on, allowing Him to mold you into the man or woman He created you to be.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Worthlessness of Wealth


“Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” (Proverbs 11:4 NIV)

News coverage, as it always does, began to build this week as the Powerball jackpot climbed to over 500 million dollars.  National and local news reporters stood outside convenience stores interviewing people waiting in line to purchase tickets.  Facebook posts were made by supposed ticket holders encouraging readers to “like” their posts, promising to share their winnings if they won with those who responded.  And, not surprisingly, these posts were being forwarded throughout the FB universe.  

What is it about the prospects of extreme wealth that gets our hearts all a flutter?  Most people think a half a billion dollars would go a long way to solving their problems, but studies show that, more often than not, more problems are created than solved.  

Wealth has a way of doing that.  I recently learned of a man who is willing to disown his daughter in order to protect the wealth he has accumulated during his life.  The Apostle Paul says that money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10).  Jesus said that wealth, and the pursuit of it, can enslave us and replace God as the one we serve (Matthew 6:24).  And this proverb warns against the ultimate worthlessness of wealth.

At the end of our days on this earth, only one thing will be of any worth: our righteousness—that which we gain through the grace of God through Jesus (II Corinthians 5:21) and that which we live out in our daily lives (I Corinthians 3:11-15).  Everything else—our houses, our stock portfolios, all of our stuff—will be of no value in eternity.  

So we would be wise to heed this proverb’s warning and put our energies into pursuing things in life that have lasting value.  Because at the end of the day, even a 500 million jackpot will be worth nothing.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Very Strange


“They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Peter 4:4-5 NIV)”

I remember in high school when my girlfriend and I used to sit out on her parent’s front porch and listen to the “holy rollers” in the church across the street.  They even played drums in their worship services!  I thought it very strange.

I remember after becoming a follower of Jesus hearing others talk about serving the Lord overseas.  It was okay for them, but the thought of me ever doing that was very strange.  I couldn’t imagine it.  

As I was thinking about what to do with my life early in college, it never occurred to me to consider vocational ministry.  Me, a pastor or missionary?  Too strange.  

In reality, none of this was strange.  It was just my ignorance coming into play.  I didn’t understand the things of God nor His power to shape and transform lives.  I didn’t see clearly and, so, made a lot of wrong assumptions.  

There are people who come into a church, see people lifting their hands in praise and think it strange.  There are people who see the excitement and commitment of a believer and think it a bit too much.  There are people who think it strange to give up a summer and pay to go work in some Third World country.  

They think it strange because they are ignorant.  Ignorance makes the ways of God appear odd and different.  The key is to realize the potential of our ignorance to skew reality.  We need to understand that our perceptions may be wrong and in need of adjustment.

What do you find strange today?  Reading the Bible every day?  Having conversations about the Lord apart from church or a small group Bible study?  Spending the summer (or two weeks) in a foreign country serving the Lord?  Fasting?  Giving 10% of your money to the work of the Lord?  

Today, may you be open to the fact that your assumptions could be wrong; that, in fact, what you now see as strange is in reality quite normal for citizens of the Kingdom.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Unconditional Call of Jesus


“And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’  Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’” (Luke 9:22-24 NIV)

I hear it quite often from students who desire to go overseas on mission trips to countries where circumstances appear to be dangerous.  Their parents and other family members don’t want them to go.  I remember years ago a father sitting down with me to talk about an upcoming trip to Haiti in which his daughter wanted to participate.  I explained to him that I had taken students many times, and while I couldn’t guarantee his daughter’s safety, that the organization with which we worked took great care to avoid danger.  He still said no because a friend of his who worked for the State Department advised he shouldn’t let her go.

A few years ago, as we were putting together a team to go to South Africa, a dad called me about his daughter’s desire to go with us.  She was his “little girl” and he did not want her to be in any danger.  He was looking for assurances that I would ensure her safety.  

And recently I spoke with a student who is planning to go to a region of the world where human trafficking is rampant to help lay the groundwork for a ministry there.  The parents are resisting because they fear for her safety.

Many Christian parents want their children to follow Jesus, but they want conditions attached.  They want them safe, close to home, and earning a secure income.  In other words, they don’t want them to become missionaries.  But following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow on His terms, not our own.  And one of those terms is the willingness to lay down our lives.  Let us remember the cross was an instrument of execution in the days of the Roman Empire.  And the history of the Church is one of persecution and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel.   We in America have grown so accustom to our freedom of religious expression that we think it abnormal to be at risk for our faith.  But throughout history and today, that is the norm.  And from what Jesus says, we should embrace it rather than doing all we can to avoid it.

Today, consider what conditions you place on following Jesus or those upon your children who follow Him.  Remember, following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow where He leads, even if it leads us into danger or the possibility of death.  For to gain eternal life, we must be willing to lose the one we enjoy here on earth.

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Expressions of Thanks

(Author's Note: With the Thanksgiving Break upon us, I will be taking a break as well.  WftW will return on November 26th.  May you have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday! Jim)

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (II Corinthians 9:10-12 NIV)

When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1863, the country was in the midst of civil war.  Much sacrifice had already been made and much more was still to come; yet Lincoln found there was much for which to thank God.  

What I find so encouraging is the leader of our nation in a time of war would humbly say, in spite of the circumstances, that he and his fellow countrymen had much for which to be thankful.  The entire country was making huge sacrifices, but in the midst of the hardship came thanksgiving.

As I read Paul’s words here, it comes to mind that generosity is, in essence, sacrifice.  When we give generously, we are sacrificing, and that generosity/sacrifice leads to thanksgiving.  So, in the midst of war and much sacrifice, Lincoln could declare a “Day of Thanksgiving” and people embraced it.  

In the midst of 1st Century hardship, the Corinthian Christians gave generously to help their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, and the result? Many expressions of thanks to God.  And when God sacrificed His Son, that generosity has resulted in centuries of thanksgiving to Him.  

As we approach our nation’s Day of Thanksgiving, let us remember that thanksgiving results from the sacrifices made on our behalf—those of parents, teachers, soldiers, fellow believers, and, most of all, God.  Let us recognize those and let us give generously of ourselves for the sake of others in order to continue the expressions of thanks to God.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Praying Together


“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-16 NIV)

Do you notice any theme in this passage?  When we are in trouble, what should we do? Pray.  When life is so good we just can’t help but smile, what should we do?  Pray prayers of praise and thanksgiving.  If we or someone else is sick, what should we do?  Pray in the name of the Lord for healing.  If we have sinned, what should we do?  Confess to one another so we can pray for one another.

As we are told in other passages (e.g., Acts 2:42; Ephesians 6:18), the community of believers is to be praying.  Yet, this is one of the great struggles within the body of Christ.  We spend little time praying, particularly together.  Why would that be when it is so obvious in Scripture that this is to be a focused priority?  Two words—spiritual warfare.

The enemy knows the power of prayer and the devastating effect it can have on his schemes, so he works hard on persuading us not to pray. It’s too scary or weird.  I don’t know how to pray.  It takes too much time. I’m not good enough.  The list can go on and on.  The fact is, whatever the reason, the end result is a lack of prayer in our lives, which fits quite nicely into Satan’s strategy of weakening the Church.  

If this is to change, we need to acknowledge what is going on.  We need to confess our prayerlessness and begin to fight back.  We need to look for the opportunities to pray with one another, fighting through the fear and awkwardness.  Prayer is powerful and effective and we would be wise to put it to better use.

Today, consider how you can begin to cultivate a life of prayer with other believers.  Perhaps you can start with a question: How can I pray for you?  And then follow that up with, here’s how you can pray for me.  Then pray.  It may be a little awkward, but the rewards will be great.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Counting the Cost


“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.

‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”

‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-33 NIV)

“Ilse” attended a workshop I taught on how to hold on to our faith in the midst of suffering.  Normally when I teach this to college students, questions are rare.  Many will tell me how much they appreciate what they heard, but very few will ask any questions.  Ilse was different.  She was not a Christian, not American, and she had a lot of questions.  I finally had to tell her that I was willing to address her questions later, but that I needed to cover material I was asked to present.  

Later we did talk and she explained the reason for her many questions. She was interested in Christianity, but had a lot of questions and she didn’t want to be in a relationship with Christ before making sure it was something she wanted to do and to which she could commit her whole life.  

Ilse gets it.  To make a commitment to follow Jesus is a huge decision.  It is not something to be entered into lightly.  To follow Jesus is life-changing and life-altering.  So often, by our language and our practice, we downplay the radical nature of the decision.  We talk in terms of “accepting Jesus” or “asking Jesus into my heart,” descriptions that bring to mind someone sitting in a chair rather than one in motion following behind their Master. By wanting to make it so easy for someone to become a Christian, we misconstrue what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  

Following Jesus, being a Christian, means to give up everything, to release our control, our ownership of every aspect of our lives.  They are now at the disposal of the Master, and He has the say over whether we keep them, change them, or get rid of them.  This is why Jesus tells us, before deciding to follow Him, to count the cost, to understand the fullness of the commitment.  He doesn’t just want our hearts; He wants our lives.  

Today, think about what it really means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  Ilse has and she is counting the cost to see if she really wants to pay the price.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Imitating God


“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2 NIV)

Children are great imitators.  They will say things they hear their parents say.  They will do things they see their parents do.  And they will imitate their heroes, whether they are television or movie characters, or an athlete. They will try to sound like them, look like them, and act like them. 

It is in the nature of children to imitate those they admire. It is, in a way, an attempt to honor them and demonstrate respect. Paul tells us in this passage, as children of God, to imitate our Heavenly Father, and specifically, to imitate His kindness and compassion by forgiving others. By doing so, we honor and respect Him.

I recently read an article citing the increase of atheism in this country and in Europe.  The writer concluded this increase was due to the fallout of the 9/11 attacks and the so-called “culture wars” over abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage.  People, the writer said, were concluding that religious faith is the cause of much trouble in the world and we would be better off without it. 

I agree, at least to the point that religion causes a lot of problems.  If you question that, just read any of the four Gospels and pay close attention to the dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day.  He did not have much good to say about their practice of religion.  

Paul is not saying, nor did Jesus preach, that we should imitate God by becoming more religious.  We are instead to imitate His character and the actions that flow from it, specifically kindness and compassion, the traits that lead Him to forgive us. 

What people see from many “religious” people is not a reflection of God’s character.  They see almost the opposite.  It is understandable why they might think the world would be better off without God.  But I wonder if some would change their minds if they saw God’s children imitating Him as He really is.

Today, realize that imitating your Heavenly Father’s kindness and compassion is not only a way to honor Him, but also a means to show the world what He really is like.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hand of Discouragement


“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.  I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.  Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west.  No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

‘Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’" (Joshua 1:1-9 NIV)

Discouragement can come in small amounts or in heavy doses.  It can come after an extreme high (think Elijah), or after a long, difficult period (think Joshua).  We are never immune to discouragement, no matter our circumstances.  I think this is why God exhorts us through the Scriptures ten times directly, “Do not be discouraged,” and indirectly many more times through the descriptions of His power and character.  Life in a fallen world can be very discouraging.  People disappoint us.  We disappoint ourselves.  Events go different than we planned.  Unforeseen things like illness and death plop down into our lives like uninvited guests.  Any of these can weigh on us and bring down the hand of discouragement to rest on us.     

The Scriptural prescription is always the same: Know the Lord your God will be with you.  Even under its full weight, the hand of discouragement need not crush us.  God is there and He will protect us and lift us back up.  The key is not to wallow in our discouragement, but to allow the Lord to lift us out of it.  Like a drowning man, we should not flail about in the water and keep the lifeguard at bay.  He is there to save us, but he can only do it if we cooperate with him.  

Today, if you are discouraged, do not lose heart.  Put your trust in the Lord because He is with you, and He will never leave you or forsake you, no matter your circumstances.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Do You Need?


“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV)

Perceived needs are very relative.  For a toddler, it may be a beloved stuffed animal.  For an older child, it may be getting a new bicycle or computer game.  For a college student, it might be getting a coveted internship or entering into a romantic relationship.  

“In everything” covers the whole gamut of what we think we need and what we really, really want.  God wants us to come to Him with all of our requests.  Objectively, many of them may be less than crucial to our lives, but I don’t think any of us intentionally ask the Lord for foolish things.  In the moment they are important and I think God understands that.  

Good parents take into consideration the maturity level of their children when considering their requests.  When a three-year-old is begging for her stuffed bear that’s in the washer, Mom doesn’t say to her, “Oh grow up!  You don’t need that stupid bear!”  No, she takes her seriously, because to the child this is a crisis.  Years later she will laugh at the story her mother tells, but not now.  

As children of God, our Heavenly Father respects where we are in our spiritual maturity.  He does not demand from us adult thinking when we are still children.  And if truth be told, none of us will ever be spiritual grown-ups in this world.  Our requests, even as we grow older, still will often be rather immature if we look back from a heavenly perspective. Still, God will always be patient with us.  And, like a good parent, He will say “No” when He needs to in order to protect us from ourselves and our own ignorance.

Today, know that God wants to hear your requests, no matter what they are.  You are His child.  He will never turn you away or ridicule you.  So what do you need today?  He is waiting and listening.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Noise


"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10 NIV)

I remember talking with a young man who grew up in a large city, but had come to a Midwest farm as part of Christian leadership experience.  I asked him what it was like to live “in the middle of nowhere,” and he said one of the hardest things to deal with was the quietness of the country. He was used to the noise of the city, the constant noise.  

A few years ago during a retreat, I asked students to spend 30 minutes of silence in the woods around the retreat center.  No talking, no i-pods, just silence.  I don’t think any of them managed to do it.

What is it about silence that makes us so uncomfortable?  In part, I think it’s because we rarely, if ever experience it.  Our lives are full of noise nearly 24 hours a day.  Think about it.  When do you ever experience complete silence (the absence of artificial noise)?  And if you occasionally do, how do you respond?  Uncomfortable?  Do you seek to immediately fill the void with some type of noise?  Most of us do.  And that leads to the second reason silence can make us uncomfortable.

In the silence, God can be known and heard.  When our heads are not filled with noise, God’s still, small voice can be heard.  When we are not distracted, our focus can be entirely on Him.  As my wife likes to remind me, if I am on the computer or watching TV, I cannot fully listen to her at the same time.  Silence enables God to have our full attention.  

Today, will you accept this challenge?  Find 30 minutes sometime this week where you can spend it in complete silence and undistracted by your computer and cell phone.  Perhaps by a lake or on a mountain overlook, or maybe a walk on a trail or country road. Or maybe just alone in a room.  Be still and listen.  Instead of the usual noise, let God fill the void with His voice and presence.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Praying for Those Who Lead Us


“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)

It is finally decision day for the United States.  Today the majority of citizens go to the polls to elect a president, a new Congress, state governors, state legislators, and other state and local officials.  By tonight or early tomorrow morning, we should know who our leaders will be.  And then the only responsibility left for us is this: to pray for them.

Many will find this difficult if their candidate loses.  If social media is any indication, there is a lot of disgust and even hatred for the opposing candidates.  It will be much easier to despise and mock them than to pray for them, just as it has been during the past four years.  

It is always easier to pray for those we love, for those with whom we have a connection or a history, for those with whom we share similar values and concerns; yet the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy challenges us to stretch ourselves beyond what is comfortable and easy.  

The emperor of Rome at the time of Paul’s writing was the infamous Nero, who had his first wife beheaded because she was unable to bear him a child, who crucified followers of Jesus and then set them on fire to light his garden, and who burned Rome and blamed believers as a means to destroy them once and for all.  When Paul urges Timothy to pray for “all kings and those in authority,” he was not living in some alternate universe where leaders were docile and kind.  He was living under the ruthless rule of Nero!  

Think about that.  During the past 18 months, billions of dollars have been spent trying to convince us how bad the other candidate is and why he or she should not get our vote.  Countless tweets and Facebook posts have been made mocking Obama or Romney.  Countless hours have been spent in debating why one or the other should be elected and the other should not.  But how much time has been spent in prayer for these men and women who lead us or seek to?

Regardless of who wins the election today, whether the ones you voted for or not, you have the responsibility to pray for those elected to lead our nation, your state, and your local community.  You may think he or she is a liar, a cheat, or is going to lead in the wrong direction, but surely that leader could be no worse than Nero.  If Paul urged Timothy to pray for the likes of him, then there is no excuse for any of us not to do the same.

© Jim Musser 2012