Friday, December 14, 2012

Wonderfully Made and Deeply Loved


(Author's Note: The Fall Semester officially comes to a close today, so I will be taking a break until the Spring Semester begins in January.  May you be filled with great joy this Christmas season!  Look for WftW to resume on January 14th.  Jim)

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you
 when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; 
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16 NIV)

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

We tend to view people’s handiwork as a whole.  We may admire it, but we don’t give much thought to the detailed work that went into it.  Most of us look at a painting, but don’t pay close attention to the particular brush strokes.  Or in touring a new house, we respond to the overall feel of it rather than, say, what went into laying those hardwood floors.  

But what you create yourself is a whole different matter.  You know every detail that went into it.  Right now, I am laying new flooring in our bathrooms.  I showed a friend my progress recently and he said, “Looks very nice.”  I appreciated the compliment, but I could tell he didn’t understand the work that had gone into it.  I know all the prep work that was necessary and every cut that was made.  That is the difference between being the creator and being an admirer.  The creator is fully invested in every aspect of the creation.  He is always going to have a greater appreciation for his work than someone who is merely admiring it.  

David beautifully describes God’s creation of a baby inside a mother’s womb.  And it reveals clearly His investment in His creation.  He knows every detail.  And from David’s description, we can almost hear God say, “It is good.”  The Creator appreciates His own work.  

This Christmas season we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. He came to make His home among us—evidence of His appreciation for that which He created.  We were in trouble and He came to save us.  We were in darkness and He came to lead us back to the Light.  He came because each of us is His handiwork and His appreciation of us is great.

Today, and every day, remember He came and made His home among us because we are each His creation, wonderfully made and deeply loved.

© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

No Resumé Building Needed


"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord'" (I Corinthians 1:26-31 NIV).

Imagine getting a letter from a close friend who, upon hearing of your recent job offer, wanted to offer his congratulations.  And in this letter your friend reminds you that you weren't one of the smartest guys in college and that you really didn't have a strong resumé.  He says that is probably why you were given the job.  You would be much easier to train and would be loyal because your success would be as a result of company training rather than your own expertise.

In essence, this is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  He was reminding them that their status as Christians, as part of God's family, was not based on their own accomplishments, on their resumé, but on God.  And if there was to be any boasting, it was to be about God's grace and power.  

It is easy in our world to get caught up in "resumé building."  We are told to garner work experience in our fields of education.  We are encouraged to seek out volunteer experiences to "pad" our resumés with good works, showing prospective employers that we will be conscientious workers. And when it comes time to look for a job, we put a lot of stock in our resumé.  

That may work well in the job market, but the principles governing your selection for the Kingdom of God are totally different.  Instead of choosing the most qualified, God most often chooses those without the proper credentials.  For example, look at the 12 disciples.  Not a theologian among them, not even anyone with a formal education.  Instead, they were men of low standing, unskilled in the ways of the ruling class.  Yet, of all the people of the world, the Lord chose them for the most important job in history.  Even Paul, the most educated man mentioned in the New Testament, was not chosen without first being humbled by divine intervention.

The tone was set with Micah's prophecy: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2 NIV).  And that prophecy was fulfilled some 700 years later in a feeding trough outside an inn.  Jesus did not come into our world in spectacular fashion.  And it was by design.  God was saying to us then, and is saying to us now, the trappings do not matter—whether we are smart, good looking, talented, popular or rich.  

Today, recognize what matters is that we humbly offer our lives to Him, just as he humbly offered His Son to us.

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Heart Devoted to God


"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord'" (Luke 2:8-11 NIV).

When the President of the United States prepares to make an important announcement to the nation, beforehand he gathers important congressional leaders together to give them the news first.  Always the leaders are informed before the common folk.  

How amazing then it is that when God decided the time had come for the coming of the Messiah to earth, He didn't send his angelic representatives to appear to the High Priest of Jerusalem or to a group of Pharisees.  They were the religious leaders of the day.  Instead God chose a group of working class folk to whom to make His announcement.  

From this we can deduce that God is not interested in trappings, be they religious or socioeconomic.  He is concerned with the heart.   He demonstrates this throughout the Christmas story.  Mary was just a teenage girl and her fiancé, Joseph, was just a carpenter.  Their extraordinary child was born amidst stable animals because they could find no place else to stay.  Simeon, who prophesied about the baby in the Temple, was a devout man, but nothing else is mentioned about his status.  Anna, the prophetess, was an old widow who lived at the Temple.  Being a woman and a widow, she literally had no status in her society.  

Yet God chose to use these men and women to play key roles in this cosmic event.  A perusal of biblical history shows a definite pattern of God using what we might consider the most unlikely of people, David, Esther, and the disciples to name a few more.  

It is easy in a world where status is held in such high esteem to be found wanting in matters of the heart.  But if we want to be used of God, then we need to resist this temptation and become like the men of women of Scripture--having hearts that are, first and foremost, devoted to God.

Today, like the men and women of the Christmas story, seek after God, desiring to be the man or woman He wants you to be.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Real Story


"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn"(Luke 2:6-7 NIV).

During this time of year, many churches put on "living nativities", scenes of the birth of Jesus using real people.  Typically, those portraying Joseph and Mary look very relaxed and joyful, without a care in the world.  From the written record, I cannot imagine that is a correct portrayal of them. They were a very young couple who for the past nine months had been trying to explain how Mary had become pregnant.  They had just ended a long journey from Nazareth (imagine riding on a donkey in desert conditions when you are nine months pregnant!) to Bethlehem, upon which they found no soft beds awaiting them.  To top it off, they just became parents to "the Son of the Most High" whose kingdom would never end.  It is more likely that Joseph and Mary were exhausted and bewildered, and perhaps quite frightened about where they found themselves.

It is not surprising, however, that the events of the Nativity are often, to use a very old phrase, "gussied up."  Just as we apply make-up to ourselves to make us look better than we really look, we often try to make events in the Scriptures look a lot better than they were.  Take the Crucifixion for example.  Most portrayals of this, with the exception of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, are very tame compared to the reality of it.  Jesus had been so badly beaten by the Roman soldiers that he was barely recognizable; yet most paintings present a very tidy (relatively speaking) Jesus on the cross.  The cross itself was an instrument of execution, comprised of two pieces of rough timber; yet what we wear around our necks and hang on the walls of our churches is quite different.  Our renditions of the cross indeed look lovely.

As we celebrate the coming of our Lord into the world, it is befitting of the event to remember it as it was, not as we would like it to be or as we have often been told it was.  For in doing so, we will recognize and honor the great sacrifices made on our behalf, as well as seeing the humanness of the characters.  During this season of celebration, take time to read the accounts of the birth of Jesus in Matthew (1:18-2:23) and Luke (1:5-2:39) with objective eyes.  Read them as if for the first time and allow the pictures of the events to unfold in your mind.  For our faith is not one based on myth, but on actual history, which is lived out on the pages of Scripture.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

That Gut Feeling


“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1-5 NIV)

You can hide it, but you can’t ignore it.  That feeling in your gut that just won’t go away.  You know you’ve done something wrong, but you don’t want to acknowledge it.  I can imagine David having it the morning after he slept with Bathsheba. (II Samuel 11) And Sapphira after she and her husband kept back part of the money they had pledged to the Church. (Acts 6) And John Mark after he had deserted Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 15:37-38

We know when we have sinned.  The question always is, will we be willing to confess it?  David used manipulation and, finally, murder in an attempt to cover up his sin.  In the end, however, after being confronted by a close advisor, he finally confessed and repented. And John Mark, too, obviously confessed and repented because, first Barnabas and then, Paul were willing to have him rejoin them in their evangelistic efforts.  Sapphira, however, failed to confess.  And she paid for that mistake with her life.  

The Lord won’t necessarily strike us dead if we fail to confess sin in our lives, but He does take sin very seriously. And that “gut feeling” is a way of getting our attention.  It is the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  He wants us to deal with our sin so that He can forgive it and clear it out of our lives.  

What sin lies unconfessed in your life?  Can you feel it in your gut?  Today, acknowledge it and lay claim to the promise of the Lord, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9 NIV)  Then begin experiencing the joy of a life unburdened by sin.

© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Finding Our Way to Animated Worship



“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit
 and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:1-12 NIV)

I had just finished my message on pursuing the heart of joy—God’s heart that is full of joy over His creation.  I challenged the students with basically the same message as my devotion yesterday.  There was energy in the room and I was excited to sing songs of praise with them. The worship band played and they sang with more enthusiasm.  I was encouraged.  

As the evening came to a close, to have a little fun, the band played “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  To my shock, the room literally came alive.  The voices were loud and the bodies animated, more so than at any other time during the night or the semester.  Students had their arms around each other and dancing and laughing as they sang.  My point during the message was our joy in the Lord should be reflected in how we live and how we worship.  Now I was seeing it demonstrated—in singing a song about a fictional reindeer.  I hope the students recognized the irony of that.

How is it we can be so animated at a sporting event—cheering, raising our hands in celebration—or so lively singing our favorite songs, but when we are gathered to worship the Lord of the Universe, who is abounding in love and forgives all of our sins, we are often as stiff and lifeless as a memorial statue?  

I honestly don’t have a definitive answer.  Perhaps it is how we were raised—religion is private and somber, or Baptists and Methodists just don’t do that.  Perhaps it’s just more comfortable because everyone gets excited at ballgames.  I don’t know, but even on the face of it, I think we must admit that something is amiss.  Should not the Lord of Creation, the Savior of our souls, generate more excitement within our hearts than anything else?

Today, join me in meditating on this.  Think about what holds you back from expressing the joy of the Lord when you have no problem showing excitement about other things.  Let us figure out how, like David, we can praise the Lord with everything we have within us.

© Jim Musser 2012



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Grace Worth Praising


“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Timothy 1:15-17 NIV)

Nothing will produce authentic praise and worship like humility.  When we realize how undeserving we are, how far short we fall of being truly godly, then the recognition of God’s grace towards us naturally and spontaneously generates praise.  

Paul was a notorious persecutor of the Church.  Then he became a famous leader of those he used to persecute.  Yet Paul never forgot who he really was—a sinner and a former enemy of the Lord.  Thus, he could not keep from bursting into praise when he thought of his former life.  

For those of us who grew up in a Christian home or became Christians many years ago, it is very easy to forget how lost we really were, and how dependent we are on God’s amazing grace to find ourselves where we are today.  

Today, let us remember where we would be without the wonderful grace of the Lord.  And as that reality sets in, may praise and thanksgiving pour forth from our hearts!

© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Walk, Run, Soar


“Do you not know? 
Have you not heard? 
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, 
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)

“I am so ready for this semester to be over!”  “I have so much to do in the next two weeks!”  “I’m so stressed!”   These comments and others I have heard recently as our campus approaches the end of the semester and final exams.  The student populace is generally stressed and worn out.  

But for the Christian there is hope.  We serve a God who does not grow weary and who gladly gives away His limitless strength to any who ask for it.  We do not need to be like all those around us who are dead tired and stressed to the max.  Our Lord offers us a different path, if we will only take it.

And that is the challenge.  It is much easier to go with the crowd. Everyone at work complains about his or her jobs, so it is easy for us to join in and complain.  And when a whole campus is stressed and anxious, it is very easy to get caught up in that.  Yet, I think as followers of such a powerful God, we are called to something higher than what is common and predictable.  

We have a God who has promised us an abundant life (John 10:10), not a life that is common to all humanity.  And He wants us to experience it, but that is dependent on how much we are willing to rely on Him and trust Him.  If we truly trust Him, He can lead us away from a life full of complaining, anxiety, and stress.  

Life is indeed difficult and challenging, but it need not always wear us down and stress us out.  The Lord is there from which we can drink deeply of His strength and endurance.  

Today, do just that.  Let Him renew you and lift you up so that you can walk, run and soar no matter what you face.  

© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Freeing Power of Truth


“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32 NIV)

I can still remember sitting in the office of one of my seminary professors almost wailing in grief over the break-up with my girlfriend.  She was the love of my life and I was having a very hard time coping with the thought of living without her.  As I began to catch my breath, he asked me, “Jim, have you given this over to God?”  I think I muttered a “yes,” but it wasn’t true.  And it was months later before I would acknowledge the truth.  In the meantime, I struggled with school and with depression.  

Then one day, after a very tough morning, I exploded.  I screamed at God with great fury.  Why had he taken away the woman I loved?  Why was my life such a mess?  It was not fair!  And after my fury was spent, I sat, emotionally exhausted.  Then I heard these words in my mind, “Shirley is your idol.”  The truth had been spoken and at that moment, I owned it.  I had been in denial for months and had been in bondage to my idolatry.   When I was finally willing to tell the truth, I was set free. The depression began to wane, I finished strong in school, and I began to grow again spiritually.

I tell that story because so many of us hide behind lies.  Working with students, I see this frequently.  They want to portray an image of a solid believer, so they hide behind spiritual language.  They seek to sound like they are growing spiritually when nothing much is happening at all.  Or they have consistent sin in their lives they’re unwilling to confess, such as pornography or an impure romantic relationship.  Even when directly asked, they will deny anything is wrong with how they are living.  

They think they are keeping up an impressive image, when in reality they are enslaving themselves to the father of lies.  Through their lies, he weakens them spiritually, deprives them of joy and peace, and blinds them to the freeing power of the truth.  

And it is not just college students.  Adults in churches are guilty of the same thing.  So many wear the mask of spirituality on Sundays, but the rest of the week is a different story.  So many pretend life is going well, but behind the façades are aching hearts.  

Why is it so hard to admit to the truth of our lives?  All of us fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so why are we bent on leading people to believe we are better than we are?  It’s that age-old sin of pride.  It is just too humbling to admit we are not as good as we are pretending to be.  But by refusing to acknowledge the truth, we keep ourselves in perpetual bondage.  

Today, if there is a lie you are hiding behind, know you are in bondage to it.  And the only way to free yourself is to admit the truth.  Confess to God and confess to other believers what is really going on.  Though it may scare you to do so, you will be amazed at how free you will be.

© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Other Side of Grace


“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)

Grace is often thought of in terms of escaping punishment.  “I know I sin, but, whew, thankfully I am covered by God’s grace!”  This is indeed a correct view, but there is another side to it.  While we are wholly dependent on God’s grace, it doesn’t just come into play when we sin.  It also is to lead us into a purer, more godly life.  As Paul says, grace is to teach us how to avoid ungodliness and giving into worldly passions. 

If we are destined to eternal judgment because of our rebellion against God, then is our only response to Him to be a “Hey God, thanks. Appreciate it.”?  God does not show us grace just to let us off the hook. He shows us grace in order to give us the opportunity to draw nearer to Him and to become the man or woman He created us to be.  He is not obligated to do it; He does it out of His deep love for us.  But He will not be satisfied if His grace is accepted but there is no transformation in our lives.  

God’s intent for His grace is two-fold: to bring salvation and, secondly, to bring transformation.  They were never intended to be separated.  

Today, know that if you have accepted God’s grace and received salvation, that is not the end of the story.  He fully expects His grace to bring about a transformation in your life, where you are consistently and eagerly are saying “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions.  That is the other side of grace and it cannot be separated from the first.

© Jim Musser 2012