Friday, March 29, 2013

The Only Mediator We Need


“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:37-38 NIV)

For most Catholics, access to the Heavenly Father comes through saints, the Virgin Mary, or the priest.  For Muslims, Allah is a distant god who communicates only through the Prophet Mohammed and the Koran. A relationship with Allah will only be decided after death if the heavenly scales tilt in favor of good deeds done on earth.  For ancient Judaism,  it was only the High Priest who had access to God, and then, only once a year as he entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple to offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the Jews. 

It is the latter that makes the torn Temple curtain between the Holy of Holies and the Court of Priests so significant.  At the death of Jesus, which served as the ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 10:11-14), the High Priest was relieved of his duties as the intermediary between God and man.  Indeed, Jesus through His death (and His Resurrection that validated His sacrifice), opened the way for direct access to God by becoming the sole mediator between God and man (I Timothy 2:5-6). We don’t need a priest, the Virgin Mary, Saint Patrick, or any other mediator to gain access to God.  Only Jesus.

At the moment of Jesus’ last breath, the Temple curtain tore and a new era began.  But since that time, men have been trying to turn back the clock, to go back to the olden days where God is distant and we must continue to rely on others to mediate on our behalf.  However, the truth remains that Jesus is the only mediator we need and the curtain is torn and no longer needed.

Today, heed the call and promise of the Hebrew writer: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  He is waiting, and through Jesus, nothing stands in your way.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Despised and Rejected


“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot,  and like a root out of dry ground.
 He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
 nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind,
 a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
 Like one from whom people hide their faces
 he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
 yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions,  he was crushed for our iniquities;
 the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
 and  by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
 and the Lord has laid on him
 the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:1-6 NIV)

At Florida Atlantic University last week, a professor of an intercultural communications class asked his students to write on a piece paper the name “Jesus” and place it on the floor.  They were asked to reflect on it for a minute and then the professor told them to stomp on it.  One student who refused to do it was cited for violating the university’s student code and told to report for a student conduct conference.  (After being contacted by the student’s attorney, the university apologized to the student and withdrew any punishment.  You can read the story here.)

While Jesus is often hailed as a great teacher, many, particularly among university professors and administrators, have long despised him.  I remember during a freshman psychology class, my professor mocked Jesus and told us that anyone believing in the resurrection is a fool. There is no doubt that some of this hatred is the result of the ways of the institutional church, which, to them, represents Jesus.  They see hypocrisy, bigotry, and greed, and vent their anger toward the one they see as a symbol for it.  

Yet, this isn’t the main reason Jesus is so despised.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  His rule is supreme and He claims absolute authority.  It is this that rubs people the wrong way.  In the West, people naturally resist authority.  We don’t like people in our business.  In the East, there are other gods or prophets, whose followers resent the claims of Jesus.  There are also those who believe there is no God, and so heap ridicule on anyone claiming to be God or knowing God.  

The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled 2000 years ago, but it still rings true for today.  Jesus is still despised and rejected by men and women.  Many of those who faithfully follow Him are subjected to the same treatment as their Lord.  They are ridiculed, mistreated, jailed, and even put to death because they make the great confession: Jesus is Lord.

Today, understand that claiming Jesus is Lord opens you up to ridicule and rejection.  But that is the path of a Jesus-follower, the same path the Lord took long ago.  But know that path leads to an eternity in His wonderful presence, enjoying the rewards of a life lived faithfully for Him.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Makes All the Difference


“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Corinthians 15:12-19 NIV)

When we read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we read them as we do all other books, from beginning to end.  What we often don’t realize, however, is, if these books had had different endings, they would have never been written.  In other words, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, there would have been no Gospels written.  In fact, the entire New Testament would not exist.  

Everything in the New Testament is written because of the Resurrection. Take away this historical fact and there would be no reason to write. Sure, there would have been biographies of Jesus written because of what He taught and did, but they would have differed little from those about other historical figures.  Nothing really would have set Him apart from them.  

It is the Resurrection that makes all the difference.  The entire New Testament is written looking back through the Resurrection.  It impacts everything.  

There are many who believe the essence of Christianity is its ethical and moral teachings, that the Resurrection is not important.  Perhaps this is true if one considers Christianity just another religion, equal among many. But if it is the “power of God for salvation for everyone who believes,” (Romans 1:16) then the Resurrection is absolutely essential.

The power of our faith in Jesus is found in the fact that God raised Him from the dead.  It validates everything He said and did.  The Resurrection is our reason for hope today and for eternity.  This is why I prefer calling Easter “Resurrection Day” because it draws attention to where our hope lies—in the Resurrection.

Today as we approach the celebration of Resurrection Day, remember your hope is always tied to the fact the tomb of Jesus is empty.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Knowing the Truth


“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.” (II Timothy 4:2-4 NIV)

I watched “The Bible” last night, as I have the past several weeks, along with millions of others.  I had high hopes, given what the producers were saying before it began to air and the number of churches that were promoting it.  But, honestly, it has been quite disappointing.  Simple facts of biblical history have been left out, such as Aaron being the spokesperson for Moses. The film has Moses doing all of the talking to Pharaoh.  And last night, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, not by calling him out of the tomb as John 11 describes, but by entering into it and placing his hands on his uncovered head.  “Artistic license” doesn’t seem necessary in these instances.  

But what troubles me more is a scene showing Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper.  He says to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  It is a quote from John 14:6, but it leaves out the last part of what Jesus said: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This is a crucial part of the statement, yet it is left off of Jesus’ lips.  Why?  

We live in a culture that has no tolerance for absolutes, but what Jesus says in John 14:6 is an absolute statement—no one can have a relationship with God but through Him.  To an audience who admires Jesus as a great teacher, but believes His is just one of many ways to God, John 14:6 is too narrow and, for some, offensive.  For it eliminates all religions and good living as means to God.  And this does not fit with the cultural belief that sincere religious people, or non-religious good people will get to Heaven.  So, I can only conclude the producers sought to avoid offending their audience by making Jesus less than He claimed to be.  

Sadly, there is a lot of that going on today.  Sound doctrine has been eroded by efforts to please and be accepted by the culture.  Rob Bell recently stated that the church should abandon its teaching against homosexuality because, in his words, “that ship has sailed.”  Because the culture is now turning toward accepting homosexuality as a normal way of life, although the Scriptures do not (Romans 1:26-27; I Timothy 1:10), he is saying the church should follow suit.  This is what Paul warns Timothy to stand against.  Sound doctrine is not determined by cultural practice and belief, but by the Word of God.  

Today, be on your guard against beliefs and practices in our culture that are contrary to the Word of God.  Know the Word so you won’t be led away from the truth.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Jesus, Bars, and Parties


“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and “sinners”?’

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Mark 2:13-17 NIV)

A student once wrote to me asking what I thought about Christians going to bars and drinking with non-Christian friends.  She said she had received criticism from some Christians, but felt they were judgmental and legalistic.  She didn’t understand what the big deal was and quoted this passage of Scripture as evidence that Jesus, too, was hanging out in places frequented by “sinners.”  

I responded by asking her if her main motivation was to proclaim the light of Christ to her friends since that was Jesus’ motivation, to see people reconciled to God.  She never responded.

Most people who seek to use this passage as permission to hang out in bars or with their non-Christian friends at parties miss the main point—the reason Jesus was doing so.  He wasn’t doing it because He wanted to be popular or cool.  He wasn’t doing it because He was afraid people might think He was “holier than thou” if He didn’t.  He wasn’t doing it because He feared losing friendships established before He began His ministry. He was doing it solely because He cared about the lost and their spiritual well-being.  

They also miss the fact He was the Son of God, quite able to handle the temptations of the world.  Most who seek justification to hang out at bars and parties are spiritually immature and are prone to falling to temptation.

We indeed need Christians who are rubbing shoulders with sinners in places where they are likely to be found, but the questions we each must ask if we are joining them are: Is my motivation solely for the sake of seeing them come into relationship with Jesus?  And, am I spiritually strong enough to be a powerful witness rather than a hypocrite and at risk of damaging my own walk with the Lord?  

If we really want to use Jesus as a reason for going to bars and parties, then our motivation and our spiritual strength need to be the same as His.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013

Using Your Gifts


“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (II Timothy 1:6-7 NIV)

Every day I interact with students who struggle to do what God calls them to do, whether that be sharing their faith with others, loving people unlike themselves, or being able to manage their time in a way that enables them to live more stress-free, and thus more productive, lives.  They remind me of my own struggles while their age.  

It is believed Timothy was a young man in his 20’s when he became a protégé of Paul.  He was given charge of overseeing a church—a huge responsibility for one so young.  Yet, it appears he was very effective.  I think following this bit of wisdom from Paul may be the reason why.

Timothy had been given the gift of evangelism (II Timothy 4:5) and Paul told him to put himself in situations to use that gift.  Sharing our faith with others can be particularly intimidating, but Paul reminds Timothy that the Spirit of God can give us power to overcome our fears.  

The lessons here are two-fold regardless of what spiritual gifts we are given.  First, we must put ourselves in positions to use them.  If we have a gift of service, then we need to seek opportunities to serve.  If it is a gift of administration, then we need to pursue opportunities to organize for the sake of the Kingdom.  By doing so, by using our gifts, we strengthen them and make them more effective.  Secondly, it is the Spirit of God that gives us the power to accomplish things with our gifts and to do the will of God. Far too often, we believe we must do things out of our own strength.   I see this with students all the time.  They burn out, they fail because they try to do things on their own without calling on the Spirit of God for help.

Though Timothy was young, he followed Paul’s counsel and was very effective.  Regardless of our age, we, too, can benefit from his words of wisdom.  If we want to live lives that are successful in doing Kingdom work, we need to be intentional about using the gifts given us and rely on the Holy Spirit for the power to be effective.  We simply cannot do it on our own.

Today, consider what gifts you have and begin putting them to use for the work of God’s Kingdom.  But remember, it is only through God’s Spirit that you will have the power to use them effectively.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Getting Out of the Slum


“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, 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.” (Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is this one from his book, The Weight of Glory: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Do you ever have the sense there must be something more when you attend church on Sunday, a large group ministry meeting on campus, or a small group Bible study?  Most of us, like the ignorant child Lewis speaks of, are content with our religious experiences, but I think there are times when we have a sense there should be something more, perhaps a lot more, than we are experiencing.  

If so, then this is the prayer we should be praying.  In times where we are just scraping by spiritually, robotically going to church but experiencing little of the joy of worship, we should fall to our knees and pray this prayer. When following Jesus seems to be all about doing activities and attending meetings, and we feel burned out, Paul’s prayer can lead us into a deeper understanding and joy.   Or if you lean toward thinking the world has a lot more to offer you than the Church, then praying this prayer can change your perspective.

The truth is Lewis is right.  Most of us are far too easily pleased.  We are content to accept far less than is offered.  And what is offered is so much more than we could imagine.  I have been in slums and I have had holidays at the beach, and there is no contest as to which is better.  

Today, if you want to get out of the slum and go to the beach, Paul’s prayer is the place to start.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Following the Spirit's Lead


“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ (Acts 8:26-29 NIV)

As I sat down next to the man, I felt a strong sense I needed to meet him. I have sat down next to a lot of strangers before, but rarely have felt the direction to meet them.  I waited for the traditional “meet and greet” time that is common in most churches (and one of the most uncomfortable minutes of any Sunday morning, but that will have to be addressed at another time), but it never came.  So as the service ended, I made sure to make eye contact with the gentleman to my left.  We greeted one another and I learned he was a professor and had three students involved in our ministry in his classes.  We talked for a short while and seemed to connect at a bit deeper level than one does in those circumstances. There are a number of possible reasons why the Lord wanted us to meet, and it will become clearer in the future, but there is no doubt He did want us to meet.  

There are times in our lives as followers of Jesus that the Lord will direct us in very specific ways involving other people.  In my life I have been directed to talk with certain people, give money to certain people, pray for certain people, and give books to certain people.  And none of these were close friends and many were complete strangers.  In some cases, the results, as they did for Philip, explained why God made such a request, but in others the reasons remain a mystery.  

It really doesn’t matter if the leading makes much sense.  What matters is that we are obedient to it.  I am sure Philip thought it rather odd that the Lord wanted him to go somewhere without a specific reason, and then, on his way, to be told to stand by the chariot of a royal official.  Of course, the Lord knew what He was doing and the result was an important official becoming a follower of Jesus and taking the Gospel to a new continent.  

Today, be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and ready to obey.  You never know what He might have in mind, but you can trust it is something significant.   

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No Fear of Death


“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:50-58 NIV)

Just before his death earlier this month, Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, mouthed to those around him, “I don’t want to die.  Please don’t let me die.”  According to the head of the presidential guard, who gave this account, he said those words because he loved his country so much.  I think there may have been another reason.  

I have known a number of believers who have died.  None have been begging in their final breaths to be saved from death.  In fact, all have embraced it because their hope for life extended far beyond the grave. Did leaving this world and their loved ones behind sadden them?  Of course.  But what lay ahead far outweighed what they were leaving behind.  There may have been a sense of loss, but there was no panic.  

Those who hope in the Lord do not approach death terrified, clinging to this life.  Instead, they hold on to the hope Paul describes in this passage—the hope of the resurrection.  The disciples were devastated after the death of Jesus on the cross, but that all changed three days later when they saw Him alive!  From that point on, they knew there was life after death.  And what made the followers of Jesus so different from the rest in their culture was they had no fear of death.  They willingly placed themselves in dangerous situations in order to proclaim the good news about the hope there is in following Jesus.  

Yet, for those who have no hope, death is feared and dreaded.  This earthly life is all there is.  “Please don’t let me die” are the words of a man without hope.  Chavez had great power and was adored by millions of his countrymen, but, in the end, that appears to be all he had.  Without hope, he feared death.  

Today, as we approach our annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, know if you have embraced the hope of eternal life, you have no need to fear death.  For all who believe, it is truly the beginning of life.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meeting Needs


“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13 NIV)

Shortly after we arrived in Oklahoma for our Spring Break trip, I overheard a conversation between a leader of the ministry with which we were serving and one of her interns.  The young woman was seeking to find a way back to Atlanta and they were discussing flight possibilities.  We had an extra seat in our van so I said we could take her to Knoxville if she could find a ride the rest of the way.  She didn’t respond.

Several days later, I asked her if she was going to ride back with us.  She said, “Were you really serious?  I thought you were joking!”  I assured her that I was really serious about my offer and, by the end of our week there, she had decided to accept it.  As we had a sharing time on the way home about our experiences during the week, she told about how the Lord had spoken to her through my offer of a ride and how it helped confirm His desire for her to return to Atlanta.  However, what struck me was her surprise that brothers and sisters, though strangers, would offer to help her.  She was truly amazed, which I found somewhat sad.

One of the great witnesses of the early church was its willingness to meet the needs of fellow believers.  Acts 4 says believers shared everything in common and that many sold their possessions in order to provide for others in need.  Paul refers many times to those who helped him along his missionary journeys, providing both money and places to stay.  Meeting needs was a primary attribute of the early church.  

So I found it sad when this young woman seemed so shocked by our generosity toward her.  Before we parted, I told her that meeting the needs of brothers and sisters is what the Church is to do.  She said that had not been her experience, which made me even more sad.  She had grown up in a single-parent family, which had a lot of needs.  From her experience, the church didn’t care much.

Unfortunately, I think this an all too common experience that brings shame and dishonor to the Lord.  We as a body are too caught up in our own concerns and agendas, and have lost sight of the simple commands of this passage.  Today, ask the Lord to give you a heart to help people in need and to practice hospitality.  Meeting needs was a defining attribute of the early church.  It still should be today.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

Expectations


(Author’s Note: Spring Break begins tomorrow, so I will be taking next week off from writing to lead a group of students on a mission trip to Oklahoma.  Look for a new WftW on March 18th.  Jim)

“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 3:20-21 NIV)

I must admit my expectations were low.  I mailed my computer in for service on Tuesday and expected to get it back late next week while I was gone on Spring Break.  The case around the battery charger port was cracked and the port had stopped working.  My hope was they would fix the case and replace the port.  The computer was returned to me yesterday (Thursday), two days after I mailed it.  Not only were the case repaired and the port replaced, but I also had a new keyboard and trackpad!  The company had decided they were not working properly and replaced them—for free!  To say this company exceeded my expectations is an understatement.

Often, I think we have low expectations of people and entities that have a certain amount of control over our lives.   We just don’t expect a whole lot from people in authority or power.  We assume they will not do more than they are required and they won’t do that necessarily very well.  And I think this often flows over into our thinking about God.  We don’t expect much.  Likely, because we don’t consider ourselves worthy.  We think He’s too big to bother with “little ol’ me.”  So we come to expect merely the crumbs falling from His table.

Yet, Paul gives us a promise onto which we should grab and not let go: “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.  In other words, we should expect a lot more of God!  Not only will He save you from eternity in Hell, He will transform your life here on Earth (II Corinthians 5:17).  He will help you overcome your troubles, not merely endure them (John 16:33).  In the most difficult situations, He will give you a peace that will be beyond your understanding (Philippians 4:7).  No matter what you experience in life, He will bring good out of it (Romans 8:28).  And He will give you a life that is full rather than boring or mundane (John 10:10). 

Today, though your expectations of what God can do in your life may be low, know He has made a promise to do much more than you can even ask or imagine.  Perhaps you should take Him up on it.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Grace You Need

"And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.  And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us"  (II Corinthians 8:1-6 NIV)

A lot of times we think that if we just try harder, we can achieve what God wants us to do.  Guys know they are not supposed to lust, so they try harder to avert their eyes.  Girls know they are not supposed to find their self-worth in the way they look, so they try hard to convince themselves they are okay just the way they are.  But the reality is we live in a culture rampant with pornography addiction and eating disorders, and this not just limited to unbelievers. 

Trying harder, relying on our own strengths and abilities, is not a good strategy, but it is the one on which most of us depend.  Whether it be doing better at controlling our anger, avoiding the gossipping tongue, or desiring to be more kind, we tend to rely on ourselves to achieve it.  Typically, that doesn't work out so well.  So perhaps we should try something different.

The Macedonian churches did something extraordinary in the 1st Century: they were generous beyond any reasonable, including Paul's, expectation.  They were being severely persecuted and were very poor as a result.  Yet, they wanted to help the poor in Jerusalem.  I doubt this generosity came automatically.  I can imagine their struggle with figuring out how, while being so poor, they could be generous.  And Paul doesn't indicate anywhere they worked hard to achieve it.  Instead, He said God gave them grace. 

Grace, by definition, is a free gift.  It is not something we earn or try hard to get.  In this case, God gave the Macedonians a heart of generosity.  What preceded it was a willingness to accept it.  They knew it was beyond them to be so generous, but the desire was there.  Rather than trying harder to figure out a way, they opened their hearts to God's grace.

There is a lesson here for us.  Instead of trying harder to achieve what we know is right, we acknowledge our inability on our own to achieve anything truly good.  By doing so, we open ourselves up to the opportunity of receiving God's grace to accomplish it.  If you want to be generous, then acknowledge your need of God to do it.  If you want to be more compassionate, the same.  Whatever it is that you desire to do or overcome, you will need God's grace to do it.

Today, recognize your need for God to become who He wants you to be.  This will open the way for you to receive the grace you need. 

© Jim Musser 2013



Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Not in Vain

"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (I Corinthians 15:57-58 NIV)

There is probably nothing more frustrating to a student than to take a class on a subject he will never put to use in his life. Putting the time in to go to class, to research papers, and to study for tests is a real struggle because it seems so useless.

It is hard to get motivated about something when it seems irrelevant to our lives. For those who believe life ends here, they have little interest in a God who promises eternal life. They think the idea of an eternal God was made up by those who can't face reality--death is the end of things and there is no alternative.

There were many in Paul's day who were of the same mind. They considered the claim of eternal life a fairy tale. For them, the resurrection of the dead was nonsense. It was better to "live for today, for tomorrow we die." Of course the end result of this fatalistic thinking was that people lived for themselves--a direct contradiction to the Christian life.

To live the Christian life, we have to have hope. For hope is what makes being obedient to Christ relevant. For as Paul says, if there is no resurrection, then we are to be pitied more than all men (I Corinthians 15:19). For why make the sacrifices of time and money? Why give up many of the pleasures of this world? Why put ourselves in positions to be ridiculed by others? If there is no hope for eternal life, then there is no reason to live as a follower of Jesus.

In the midst of all of the world's troubles and life's woes, it is easy to lose perspective and to be overwhelmed by a sense that our faith is irrelevant. It seems more myth than reality. Yet it is to this thinking that Paul speaks. We will each face death. That is a fact about which there can be no denial. But Jesus has overcome death. And for His followers, victory over death will be theirs as well. That is the motivation for not letting the world move us away from Christ and gives us the confidence that our obedience is not in vain. For He is the way, the only way, to live forever.

Today know that following Jesus is not lived in vain. For at the end of your days awaits a life that will go on forever.


© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Difficult Times, Growing Times


"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." (Hebrews 12:4-11 NIV)


I still remember a world literature class I took in college.  On the first day of class, the professor lambasted students who had yet to purchase the texts for the class.  If they couldn't show more interest in the class, he said, they could find another to fill their schedules. He demanded those chewing gum immediately leave the class, saying he would not tolerate such impolite behavior in his class.  And he warned students, if they were going to be late to class not to bother to show up. When the class met again, a class of 25 had been reduced to 10.  


Nearly two-thirds of the original class decided it wasn't going to be worth enduring this professor's attitude for an entire semester, so they dropped the class.  Though no fan of world literature at the time, it was one of the best classes I took in college.  I learned about good writing, how to analyze what I was reading, and how to write well.  It was a very difficult course and the professor, though he lightened up a little after he was satisfied he had room full of students who wanted to learn, was very demanding.  But I know I learned so much because so much was demanded of me.


Most of us, if we had a choice, would choose the easiest path every time, whether it be through school, at work, or in relationships.  That is our human bent.  However, if I chart the growth periods in my life, the peaks do not come when things were the easiest, but when they were the most difficult.  


The Hebrews were complaining about how difficult their lives were.  They were being persecuted, sometimes quite severely, but the writer in essence tells them to "man up," to stop complaining and to realize the difficulties they are going through will help them to learn and grow.  It is the same counsel we need to embrace when times are tough.  Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and whining about how rough we have it or seeking to avoid any path with the potential for difficulty, we need to embrace hardship as God's way of helping us to grow and to become more like He created us to be.  


Today, if you are experiencing some hard times, begin to ask the Lord what He wants to teach you through them.  While they may be difficult now, later you may look back and realize they were some of the best times for your personal and spiritual growth.


Jim Musser 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

Compelling Reasons


"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." (II Corinthians 5:10-15 NIV)

We live in a culture that says one of the worst things to do is to offend someone.  Almost daily, you will hear news of someone being offended and seeking an apology, whether it be from a government official, a school teacher, an entertainer or an athlete. And this definitely has spilled over into the realm of proclaiming the Gospel.

Because there are many who feel they have been "put upon" by the church and religious teachings, or believe there are many truths and many ways to God, they are offended when we as followers of Jesus seek to tell them about the Lord we love.  The mere mention of Jesus or an invitation to church will elicit a negative response.  So our response is increasingly just not to say anything for fear of causing offense.  And the result is fewer and fewer attempts to share the Gospel.  In essence, we have decided it is better not to offend than to share how others can escape judgment.

The Gospel was offensive to the Jews of the 1st Century and considered foolishness by the Gentiles.  Yet Paul says two things compelled him to press ahead to share the good news of Jesus despite the resistance to it: the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ.  Paul was convinced that each person will one day stand before the Almighty God to be judged.  The recognition of this is the fear of the Lord. But he also recognized that Christ's love, demonstrated through His death on the Cross, provides the mercy to avoid the eternal consequences of the Judgement.  Both fear and love compelled him to speak.  

Our world is not that much different than that of the 1st Century.  The Gospel is still offensive and often viewed as foolishness by those around us.  But, like Paul, that should not deter us from sharing it because we fear the Lord and we have experienced the mercy of His love. 

Today, consider the fate of each person if they do not know Jesus.  And remember the mercy you have been shown by God through Jesus.  These are two compelling reasons to seek to engage people with the Gospel.  

Jim Musser 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Creator Behind the Creation


“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:  ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’  Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” (I Corinthians 1:18-25 NIV)

I was in a meeting recently in a common area of the student union. Nearby, a professor was meeting with his small class.  I overheard him talking about Intelligent Design.  He obviously had doubts about the veracity of a belief in a Cosmic Designer of the universe and all that is contained within it.  He asked his students this question: “If some biological mechanism is believed to be evidence of design, is it truly designed or is it that we have yet to understand it?”  

Today, many scientists believe the existence of God in the minds of people is there only because of ignorance. There is a knowledge gap that is naturally filled with a concept of God, but if the cosmos is explained, then God is no longer needed.  Can the same be said of da Vinci, Rembrandt, or van Gogh?  Once we learn the secrets behind their techniques, then should their artistic creations be viewed without acknowledgement of their creators?  A creation of Rembrandt, then, is no longer “a Rembrandt.”  It becomes just a painting to be admired for, well, its existence.  

Whether it be art, woodworking, photography, or any other creative form, even if we understand the techniques used, we are still drawn to admire the creation and the creator.  Our knowledge of the work and how it was made does not diminish our acceptance that an artist created it.  

We live in a world enamored with the expertise of scientists and scholars, and many of them tell us that belief in a Creator is foolishness. Yet, I would daresay if they have art hanging on their walls, they acknowledge it has a creator.  

Today, as you walk about the canvas of our Creator, appreciate what He has made and understand it is a reflection of who He is.  Often thinking foolishly is the most sensible. 


© Jim Musser 2013