Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Repentance: Jesus' Loving Command


“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

’No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:2-11 NIV)

This has always been one of my favorite stories in the Scriptures.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees, full of self-righteousness, drag a woman before Jesus who they claim was caught in adultery.  One question I have always had is, where is the man with whom she was caught in the act?  Was he not, too, deserving of punishment?

They are seeking to test Jesus, to see if He will be faithful to the Law of Moses.  But Jesus knows their hearts and rebukes them in a fascinating way.  After the men drop their stones and leave, the woman is left standing alone.  Given what she had just been through, most of us I think would expect Jesus (in our 21st Century western mindset) to wrap His arms around her and tell her how much she is loved.  Yet, He did something entirely different.  He assured her He did not condemn her for her adultery.  But then He commanded her to change her lifestyle.  In other words, He told her to repent.

In much of today’s church, repentance is a forsaken concept.  It has been moved aside in favor of love and acceptance.  Yet, repentance is what Jesus commands of all sinners (Luke 13:1-5).  It is what Peter told those gathered at Pentecost to do if they wanted to be saved (Acts 2:37-38).

Did Jesus love and accept the adulterous woman?  Of course, but if we delve deeper we will see His command for her to repent flows from His love for her.  By definition, sin is going against what the Lord commands. But He gives such commands because He loves us and wants what is best for us.  So Jesus, out of His love for her, tells the woman to leave her life of sin.  

Today we have been deceived into thinking that to love someone is to accept them as they are, period.  It does sound very appealing, but we must realize Jesus went further.  He called on people to repent of their sins.  And doing so is not condemnation; it is love.

Today, know we are to love people regardless of their lifestyles.  But where sin is involved, we are also to encourage them toward repentance. This is true love and exactly what Jesus did.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

Revenge


“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” (Romans 12:18-20 NIV)

I read a story recently about the two brothers who set off the bombs at the Boston Marathon.  According to the article, the older brother had become increasingly disenchanted with life in America and began to believe our government was at war with Islam and killing innocent Muslims.  Thus, he and his brother took it upon themselves to exact revenge by killing and maiming innocent Americans.  In India, Muslims have done the same thing to Hindus, and Hindus have exacted revenge upon Muslims, as well as Christians.  And after being attacked by Muslims in Egypt last year, Coptic Christians sought revenge against their attackers.  

Seeking revenge is a human tendency that has existed since the Fall.  And, if we are honest, it is understandable.  We want people who hurt us to get their due.  Paul was writing at a time when the Romans literally dominated the world and they made sure everyone knew they were in control.  They often bullied and abused people.  No doubt, there were people in the church who wanted to seek revenge against them.  

But Paul commanded them against it.  Instead, like Jesus (Luke 6:27-28), he said they should treat their enemies with kindness.  Yet, he is clear that avoiding revenge is not letting people off the hook.  It is merely allowing the Judge to bring His justice in due time instead of attempting to do it ourselves.  In essence, acting in revenge is assuming a role that belongs only to God.  

If we step back a bit, it makes sense.  Whereas God’s judgment will settle things once and for all, revenge just stirs things up and perpetuates further violence and hatred.  There are a myriad of examples of this in cultures across our world, many of which have been going on for hundreds of years and even millennia.  

Today, consider that whomever you may consider your enemies, your response to them is to be love and acts of kindness, not revenge.  There is but one Judge and it’s not you.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

One Who Understands Your Struggle


“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.  For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.  But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 2:18-3:6 NIV)

I remember when my first wife left me many years ago I called a colleague who I knew had gone through the same experience.  It was so comforting to talk to someone who understood what I was going through. Various support groups exist around certain struggles for exactly the same reason.  It helps when we can lean on others who can understand what we are experiencing.  

Telling someone to trust in Jesus in a time of struggle is not viewed as helpful, perhaps because we know He is/was God and believe he had an advantage when He was on the earth.  It is often seen as trite, superficial, and insensitive.  Or perhaps it just sounds too spiritual.  

Yet, the Hebrew writer tells us that because Jesus was tempted (just like we are—4:15), he is able to help.  Yes, He is God, but when He was living on earth, He was fully human, just like us.  He got hungry, needed sleep, felt pain, and was tempted by sin.  He understands our struggle.

When it comes to temptation, Jesus understands.  He’s been there and experienced it.  You might say He is the perfect leader for a support group of those being tempted because He never gave in.  He understands not only temptation, but how to overcome it as well.

Today, know I am not being trite or superficial when I say trust in Jesus when you are tempted.  He really does understand what you are going through, but even better, He knows how to overcome any temptation you face.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Purpose of Grace


“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 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 appearing of the glory 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)

When I arrived to take my current ministry position nearly ten years ago, the atmosphere among many Christian students was one of grace and freedom, particularly when it came to drinking and sexual activity.  There was the belief that since you were forgiven, or could receive forgiveness, you could do pretty much anything you wanted.  One ministry had a “kegerator” in their building’s kitchen and students would have weekly parties.  Two other ministries were well known to have leaders who loved to party.  And we had students in our ministry who would come to our large group meetings and, before leaving, would be planning parties for the weekend.  To Paul’s question, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1), they answered a resounding, “Yes!”

The fact Paul posed that rhetorical question to the Roman believers indicates the problem of followers of Jesus taking advantage of the Lord’s grace for their own selfish desires has been around since the beginning of the Church.  The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, “cheap grace.” 

It is easy to see the struggle.  The truth is, when we sin, we can be forgiven (I John 1:9) No sin, be it drunkenness, sexual immorality, or any other you can think of, is beyond the reach of God’s grace.  But, as Paul clearly states to the Romans and to Titus, the ultimate purpose of grace is to lead us away from sin instead of further into it.  Typically, the church falls into one of two traps, emphasizing obedience over grace or emphasizing grace over obedience.  The former is legalism; the latter is Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace.  And it is difficult to keep the balance, as two millennia of church history will attest.  Yet, we must attempt to do so.  

As I began to understand that some of our students had veered into “cheap grace” territory, I confronted them with these words from Paul (as did other campus ministers).   The purpose of grace is not to condone sin or to allow us to maintain living as we please, but rather to instruct us on how to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live lives that are self-controlled and honoring to God.

Today, know that God’s grace covers your sin.  But don’t use this wonderful gift as an excuse to do what you please.  That just cheapens the gift and misses the point of it all together.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Resisting Burnout


“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6: 9-10 NIV) 

What Paul is talking about here is what we typically refer to as “burnout.” When we have poured ourselves into something for an extended period of time, whether it is school, work, or “church,” we can reach a point where we are like the remains of a campfire—we are cold embers.  There is no fire; we are burned out.  

Many people respond to burnout by giving up.  They quit their jobs or drop out of school.  Or as is often the case with Christians, they just pull back from doing the things they had previously felt God leading them to do. The Lord didn’t change His mind; they just grew weary and quit.  Pouring my life into others—I’m tired of it; I need to focus on myself for a while. Giving my money to the church or to those in need—I’m tired of constantly depriving myself; I want to buy some things for ME!  People always have needs—I’m weary of them; I need some time off to focus on my own needs.  

How tempting it is in life when we are weary of giving of ourselves to pull back into a self-centered focus, to live solely for ourselves and what we want.  Yet Paul warns there is a price to pay if we do give up—we will reap nothing in eternity.  Salvation is not dependent on our work on earth, but the rewards are. We can choose to give up and live for ourselves, but it will be a costly choice.  We will miss out on a lot.  

Today, if you are getting burned out with doing good for others, don’t give up.  Hang in there because the rewards will be great if you do.  Allow the Lord to be your strength and the hope of eternal rewards your motivation when you are weary.  It will be worth it.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Caring About the Whole World


“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:1-2 NIV)

As one who has traveled to several parts of the world and interacted with people from different countries and cultures, it is easy to gauge how isolated Americans often are and how disinterested they are about the rest of the world.  When I talk with international people, I am always amazed at how familiar they are with what is happening in the world, particularly in the United States.  However, Americans, honestly, often couldn’t care less.  We tend to be very self-absorbed and turn a blind eye to the rest of the world.

There are a number of reasons for this.  We are a large nation with only two bordering countries.  We have been the big actor on the world stage for generations and, as with big celebrities, that tends to promote a big ego.  And most of the world seeks to imitate us.  They adore our fashion, our movies, and most speak our language.  So, there is not much incentive for us to really give much attention to the rest of the world when the attention is on us.  

Except if we are followers of Jesus.  John tells us that Jesus not only died to atone for your sins and my sins, but for the sins of the whole world.  If we follow Jesus and His attention and love are not confined to just us, then neither can our attention remain solely on our lives and ourselves.  We must care about the world and the people in it.  

Today, recognize how big God’s love is; it encompasses the entire world. If it is that big, then you have no choice as one who loves Him to become more concerned about people from other nations.  Jesus’ sacrifice was just as much for them as it was for you. 

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Doing the Unimaginable


"As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:15-18 NIV)

Have you ever thought of someone as beyond hope?  Your image of them is such you could never imagine them having a change of heart and coming to the Lord?  This is how the first Christians viewed the Gentiles, or non-Jews.  In their minds, they were beyond hope, and even if there were a few who converted to Judaism, they were second-class Jews. This helps explain the reaction the Jewish Christians had to Peter’s story of his visit to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10).  God had granted EVEN the Gentiles salvation!

God has a way of blowing away our pre-conceived ideas about people. No Christian in his right mind would have anticipated the Jewish zealot Paul going from persecutor to believer.  John Newton was a slave trader. No one could have imagined he would turn to the Lord and expose the change in his heart through the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”  C.S. Lewis was an atheist Oxford scholar whose conversion not only shocked his colleagues, but even himself, saying he was the most reluctant of converts.  And who could have imagined the hostile Auca Indians of South America, having killed four young Americans desiring to tell them the Gospel, would commit their lives to Jesus on the testimony of their widows? (See the story here.)  

Peter says God’s desire is for no one to perish into eternal death (II Peter 3:9).  Because of that desire, no one is beyond the hope of salvation regardless of how it might appear.  That includes the roommate who scoffs at your idiotic beliefs, the father who is abusive, the professor who is hostile, and anyone else you cannot imagine ever becoming a Christian.  EVEN they are not beyond embracing salvation from the Lord.

Today, don’t think anyone is beyond hope.  Pray for them.  Ask the Lord to open their hearts to Him.  He has been doing the unimaginable in people’s hearts for millennia and He is still doing it today.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

The God Who Holds Your Hand


“All who rage against you
 will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
 those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.  Though you search for your enemies, 
 you will not find them. 
 Those who wage war against you
 will be as nothing at all.  For I am the Lord your God
 who takes hold of your right hand
 and says to you, Do not fear; 
 I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:11-13 NIV)

As I write, the television is on in the background reporting on the events happening in Boston.  It is being reported that two Chechen/Russian/Kyrgyzstan (it keeps changing) brothers are responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, killed an MIT police officer last night, shot another, and while one of the brothers was killed, there is a massive manhunt going on for the other.

Regardless of the outcome, the fact that these men are foreign will undoubtedly create a sense of fear that terrorists may be living amongst us and could strike at any time.  I remember vividly the days after 9/11 and the fear that pervaded the country.  I suspect these recent events may spur similar feelings.

I had a conversation with a student recently who expressed concern about a fellow student going overseas to an Asian country.  It’s just too dangerous, he said, for an American to be there.  I told him, statistically, it was probably more dangerous for the student to drive to the airport.

In the world in which we live, it is easy to be overcome by fear, but we can take heart in these words God spoke to Israel.  In a dangerous world, the Lord has hold of our hand.  Whatever situation we may be actually facing or just imagine in our own minds, there is no need to be consumed by fear.  For the Lord of the universe has hold of our hand and will take care of us.

Today, as events unfold and your fears may rise, take heart that the Lord has hold of your hand and remains by your side.  You have nothing to fear.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do Not Be Ashamed


“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.  That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (II Timothy 1:7-12 NIV)

At the time Paul wrote his second and final letter to Timothy, he was imprisoned in Rome and was facing certain death.  He wanted to make clear to his spiritual son certain things before he was executed.  One was not to cower from or be ashamed of his identity as a follower of Jesus.  It was a dangerous time for Christians.  Rome was stepping up its persecution of believers, the Jews were not at all fond of this burgeoning spiritual movement, and the culture of the day viewed followers of Jesus in two extremes—either as hapless fools or dangerous interlopers.  It was a time when many believers were losing their courage, as Paul personally experienced (1:15)

So Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed of the Gospel or those associated with its message.  Instead of avoiding the suffering that comes with proclaiming the Gospel, he encourages him to embrace it.  While the world may be coming against believers, Paul tells Timothy there is no reason to be ashamed because he has confidence in the Lord.  He had given his life over to the Lord and trusted Him to protect his soul and spirit.  It had to be his soul and spirit to which he was referring, rather than his life, because he knew he was about to die.  

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)  I think Paul had this promise in mind as he wrote to Timothy.  

Our world is not much different than that of the 1st Century in terms of persecution of Christians.  And even in our country, while we are not yet facing the prospect of death for our faith, there is an increasing hostility to those of us who truly believe.  There is pressure from without and within to cower in fear and be ashamed of the Gospel.  It may come in the form of a hesitancy to proclaim Jesus as the only way to God, acquiescence to the cultural narrative that any behavior is acceptable as long as it is not hurtful to someone else, or a reluctance to acknowledge that you are a follower of Jesus for fear of being rejected by friends or family.  In the midst of those fears, Paul tells us not to be ashamed because the God in whom we believe is faithful to protect us.

Today, do not be ashamed of Jesus or of the Gospel.  Rather, rely on the power of the Spirit to make you bold and unafraid of the suffering you might experience because you follow Jesus.  He has promised to protect your soul and spirit and He is faithful.  He will do it.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Keeping It Real


“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.

Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.” (Acts 5:1-6 NIV)

Have you ever offered to pray for someone after they have shared some difficulty they are going through without really intending to actually pray for them?  Have you ever been on a retreat and during the personal devotion time acted as though you were reading and praying, but in reality you were just passing the time until the next activity started?  Or have you ever raised your hands in praise of God and at the same time have been thinking about what you have to do after the worship service is over?

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is one of the most interesting in the New Testament.  At that time, Christians were selling land and possessions in order to give the money for the Church to use.  This couple, desiring to impress those around them but without similar generosity, lied about how much they sold their property for.  They wanted to appear more generous, and thus more spiritual, than they really were.  They were seeking to impress people and, in doing so, lied to God. And they paid an extraordinarily heavy price.

Now I have never known anyone putting up a spiritual pretense having been struck down by the Almighty, but this account does tell us God takes our authenticity seriously.  As Peter noted to Ananias, God does not force us to give Him anything.  He has freely given to us and we are free to do with it what we want.  What it seems He has is a very low tolerance for pretense.  If you don’t intend to pray for a person, you don’t have to.  Just don’t say you are going to in order to appear spiritual.  If you would rather do other things than read the Scriptures and pray, then do it.  Just don’t pretend to read and pray because you fear others will think you are less of a Christian.  And if you are lifting your hands in praise, let it be real, not just a display for others to see.  

Because the Church was brand new, it seems the Lord was sending a very strong message that His people were to be authentic.  If we read further, we see the message was received loud and clear.  It is a message we Christians need to hear again and often.  Drop the pretense and let our faith be real.

Today, examine how you project yourself to others.  Are you real, or do you fall to the temptation of trying to impress others with how spiritual you are?  From what we learn from Ananias and Sapphira, the Lord definitely wants us to keep it real.

© Jim Musser  2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Living in a Troubled World


“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

Jesus had just warned his disciples of the terrible things to come.  “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” (John 16:2-3)  His words would have special meaning to them because they all faced persecution after Jesus ascended, and all but John were put to death because of their faith.  (John lived the latter years of his life exiled on the island of Patmos.)  

Terrible things are still happening, as we all witnessed yesterday in Boston, and, if we've kept our ears open, have heard on the news almost on a daily basis since we were old enough to understand such things.  While there is much good in the world, it has always been full of trouble—wars, murders, torture, abuse, kidnappings, horrendous auto accidents, plane crashes, deadly fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, avalanches, terminal diseases, divorce, infertility, and injustice.  

While we all hope and long for untroubled lives, there is no doubt trouble will visit us.  Jesus said so.  Yet, He also gives us hope, something onto which to cling: “Take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  No matter what we encounter in our lives, Jesus is stronger.  Since He has overcome the world, He can help us overcome whatever troubles we face.

Today, what trouble are you facing?  Whatever it is, take heart!  Jesus can help you overcome it.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Acting Kindly


“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25 NIV)

Walking up the 10th fairway at Augusta in yesterday’s Masters’ playoff, Angel Cabrera turned around and gave a thumbs up to his competitor, Adam Scott.  Scott returned the gesture.  Both had hit excellent shots to the green and both had a good chance at the coveted green jacket.  The pressure must have been immense, which makes Cabrera’s gesture that much more significant.  In the competitive world of golf, where steely concentration is needed to make pressure shots, Cabrera still took a moment to acknowledge Scott’s great effort with an encouraging gesture.  
Kind words and gestures are too often in short supply in our world.  Every day, the news media, sports media, and social media are filled with harsh words.  And as we fill our lives with these, then it is a natural result that the effects can bleed into our own lives as well.  There can be coarseness to our words and tone that we don’t even realize.  I just read a Facebook post from a believer who commented on the story of a man committing suicide at the NRA NASCAR race in Texas.  “Texas. Nascar. NRA. I might just shoot myself too!” I think it was intended to be funny, but I know there is nothing amusing about it to the man’s family or anyone who witnessed this tragedy.  And there is definitely nothing funny about suicide, regardless of one’s political beliefs.  

Kindness is part of the character of God (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 2:6-7) so it makes sense that we should seek to emulate it.  But like so many things of God, the world seeks to take us in the opposite direction. Coarseness instead of gentleness; meanness instead of kindness. 

Today, consider how you can give a kind word or gesture to someone. There are a lot of people out there who are struggling with the stresses of life.  An act of kindness can go a long way to cheer them up. 

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Transformation


“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (II Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

I like watching shows like “Income Property” and “Restaurant Impossible” where the shows’ hosts take rundown properties and renovate them. These types of transformations literally take only a few days and, on television, only an hour to complete.  So it is easy to underestimate the time it will take in doing one’s own home renovation project.  I recently started to redo our kitchen.  So far, in two days of work, I have done the prep work for the first step of painting the cabinets (purchased the supplies I need, removed all the cabinet doors and hardware, taped off the surrounding areas, and cleaned the cabinets) and put a primer coat on one half of them.  At that rate, I will be completely done by the end of the summer.

What I am learning is there are two types of transformation—those on television where crews of dozens do the work and those done by folks like me with little help and marginal skills.  For the latter, transformation is more like watching grass grow.  It happens very slowly.

After I surrendered my life to Jesus, these words of Paul were some of the first I committed to memory.  And like most new believers, I often took Scriptures too literally and out of context.  According to Paul, I was a transformed man, a new creation, and the old guy was gone.  But my experience was, in fact, he had yet to leave the building.  This was very frustrating and brought on a lot of guilt.  Was I truly a follower of Christ if I was not completely changed?  

As I matured, however, I began to realize there are two types of transformation.  One is what theologians call justification.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the penalty for my sins has been paid.  In choosing to submit my life to the Lord, I have been justified.  In other words, it’s as if I am sinless in terms of eternal punishment.  Thus, I am a new creation with a new future.  Yet, I still live in the present and deal with that ever-present problem of sin.  

And this is where the second type of transformation comes in.  It is what theologians refer to as sanctification—the process of becoming more and more like what the Lord originally created us to be.  Paul refers to this earlier in his second letter to the Corinthians: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (3:18)  This is the slow, watching the grass grow, type.  

Sometimes, like house transformations, we can confuse the two types of spiritual transformation.  While justification is instantaneous, sanctification is a life-long process.  It can be frustratingly slow, but that is where we daily rely on the grace of the Lord to carry us.  

Today, though you may have once thought following Jesus meant instant transformation, recognize it is in reality a much slower process.  Yes, you are a new creation, but the old guy is still in the building.  But don’t worry. While he still may be hanging around, he’s no longer in charge and change is happening.  Slowly, yes, but it is happening nonetheless.    

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The True Foundation


“For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:9-11 NIV)

“When I came to college, I thought I was a Christian.”  In my years of campus ministry, I have heard this statement many times.  It comes from students who have grown up in the church and pretty much accepted whatever they have been taught by parents, Sunday School teachers, and youth ministers as true; yet have never embraced it personally as their own.  They have a lot of knowledge, but little or no personal faith that is lived out in daily life.  

We are all created in the image of God; we are, as Paul says, His building.  It is, however, our choice as to what will serve as our foundation.  The danger for many who have been raised in the church is their foundation is the faith and practices of their parents, not Jesus Himself.  They consider themselves Christians because they have grown up believing and doing things that are consistent with what Christians do, but they do not understand that faith and practice which does not have Jesus Christ as its foundation is eternally worthless.  It is like the Pharisees, whom Jesus described as “white-washed tombs.”  There is the appearance of life, but, in reality, there is none.  

The Christian life can only be built on the foundation of Jesus as Lord of our lives.  Complete surrender to Him is a necessity; it cannot be substituted with intellectual beliefs and religious activities. Students who I have heard make the statement, “When I came to college, I thought I was a Christian,” came to realize this and surrendered their lives to Jesus. They made Him the foundation of their lives, and then took much of what they had learned and incorporated it into their “building” as Christians. They realized there is no other true foundation on which to build their lives.

Today, consider on what foundation you are building your life.  Is it truly Jesus, or have you mistakenly substituted it with something else?  A true Christian is one who builds his life on Jesus Christ as Lord and nothing else.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Bad News About the Good News


“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (II Corinthians 7:8-10 NIV)

While a seminary student, I remember my professor of Missions saying that sometimes the Gospel is “bad news” to people.  As you might guess, many of us were taken aback.  He went on to explain that the Gospel calls people to repentance and, for some people, this is not good news because they want to hold on to their lifestyles.  The Good News is God loves us and wants to restore His relationship with us through the blood of Jesus.  The “bad news” is that requires a change of life on our part.  

The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22) wanted to follow Jesus, but when he was told what it would cost him, the man went away sorrowful because he was unwilling to give up his wealth.  Notice the man was sorrowful, but this didn’t lead to a change in his life.  

There are many who feel bad about their behavior, including many claiming to be Christians.  They may even approach God and ask forgiveness, but they are unwilling to change.  This, I believe, is what Paul means by “worldly sorrow.”  People often sincerely feel bad about the way they live, but it does not lead them to repentance.  Instead, it places them on the road to death because without repentance there can be no salvation.  

I know of one man who had felt guilty about his behavior for several years.  He claimed to be a Christian, but his life didn’t really reflect it. He’d hang around Christians and go to church, but he had one foot firmly planted in the ways of the world.  Then came the moment when his sorrow led to repentance, and his life changed.  Freed from guilt by a repentant heart, he experienced the joy of salvation for the first time and it showed.  Now, instead of living in constant regret, he is living in the freedom of true forgiveness and experiencing real, abundant life.  

Today, recognize that sorrow over sin accomplishes nothing unless it leads to repentance.  That’s the bad news.  But if you repent, you can truly live and experience life without regret.  That’s the Good News!

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

When We're Treated Badly


"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV) 

It was my day off and I was napping when my phone suddenly rang. Being deep in sleep, I was too late to get it before it went to voice mail. Not recognizing the number, I curiously listened to the message.  It was from a man who did some repair work for us earlier in the year saying he had yet to receive payment.  Instead of leaving it at that, he went on to accuse me of trying to cheat him out of his money.

It was an honest mistake on my part; I had assumed my wife had paid the bill at the time of his service call.  I felt bad, but then I felt angry.  How could he just jump to the conclusion that I was trying to cheat him?  I thought about calling him and telling him what I thought.  I thought about including an angry note with my check.  These were fleeting thoughts, but then I quickly came to my senses and realized the Lord would not want me to return this man’s anger in kind.  Rather He would want me to love this man and I sensed that meant writing an apologetic note (he did deserve the money on time) and even express appreciation for the good work he did.  

Although this man was not persecuting me because I’m a follower of Jesus, I think the feelings that welled up in me after hearing his message are relevant.  As Christians, we don’t deserve people treating us badly, but Jesus calls us to love them anyway.  That can be very difficult because of our sense of injustice when it happens.  Yet our example is Jesus on the Cross saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV)  If Jesus, in the final hours of an agonizing death, can continue to love those supporting his death sentence, then we really have no choice but to love those who treat us badly.

Today, remember that God extends His love to everyone, including those who, for whatever reason, treat you badly.  Your response to them is to be a reflection of God’s response to us.


© Jim Musser 2013


Monday, April 8, 2013

Pressing On


“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14 NIV)

I returned late last night from a beach retreat for the men in our ministry. Short on sleep and tired from the hours of driving, I awoke really in no mood to write a devotion this morning.  It seemed like a good idea to troll through my archives this morning and find something I could easily send out.  As I was doing so, this passage came to my mind, as did the words “just press on.”  

I can imagine there were many times, in the midst of all his trials and sufferings, Paul just wanted to take the easy path.  I am sure he was tempted to placate the Jewish leaders in order to avoid their wrath, or to recede from public view in order not to draw attention from the Roman government, or just retire from his missionary life and live out his remaining years in relative peace and safety.  

I believe this because he says here that he is “straining” and “pressing on” toward his goal of being united with Jesus in Heaven.  These are words that evoke struggle and resistance, like a long-distance runner in the middle of a race who is tiring but continues his pace, or a hiker climbing over that last ridge at the end of the day who continues to put one foot in front of the other.  The temptation to give up is great, but it is the goal that keeps them going.  

Following Jesus is full of struggle and resistance, both from the inside and out.  If we are not willing to strain and to press on, we will easily give in to the pressures to give up.  For Paul, what kept him going was his goal to please Jesus and to live with Him in Heaven.  He refused to let it go and, as a result, he kept going.

Today, whatever struggles or resistance you are facing, whether from within or without, remember your goal as a follower of Jesus—to stand before Him one day and to hear these words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”   Don’t give up!  Keep pressing on!  In the end, you will be so glad you did.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, April 5, 2013

Safe in Midst of the Storm


“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We're going to drown!’

He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’" (Matthew 8:23-27 NIV)

I have read this story hundreds of times (because I’m old and have had many years to do it!) and I have always read it the same way—Jesus will calm the storms of my life.  But this morning the Lord helped me see this story with fresh eyes.  

The storm arises while Jesus is sleeping, but He is still present.  The disciples are terrified of the storm and want Jesus to do something.  He chastises them for their lack of faith.  Did they not believe He could save them from the storm?  They probably did because they woke Him up, but they didn’t know how.  So when he calms the storm, they are amazed and that is where I have always placed their lack of faith.  They didn’t think Jesus could do something like that.  

But as I read it today, it struck me that Jesus calmed the storm immediately after He rebuked them for their lack of faith.  Why?  Might it be that they couldn’t see themselves surviving the storm?  Jesus had grace for them by removing the source of their fear, but in reality, they had been safe all along because He was there with them.  They just didn’t have the faith to believe that.  

In life we will find ourselves experiencing many storms, some fiercer than others, but all able to shake our world.  The temptation is to see our rescue coming from the complete calming of the storm instead of trusting that we can ride it out because Jesus is present.  It may be a life-threatening illness, a job loss, the ending of a relationship.  Whatever it might be, we need to know Jesus is present even when it seems like He is not.  That is where faith comes into play, knowing Jesus is present in whatever circumstance, and that very fact means we are safe.

Today, know whatever storms you may face in life, Jesus is present with you, and because of that, you will be safe no matter how bad it seems.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Learning from an Expert on Dealing with Anxiety


“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

In a meeting last fall with the staff of the university counseling center, the psychiatrist reported the number one presenting problem of student clients was anxiety.  She said they are anxious mainly about school, relationships, and their futures.  I see the same thing with many of the students with whom I work.  They are anxious much of the time about what life is throwing at them.  

If we want to learn about something, we seek out an expert.  If we want to learn how to do woodworking, we will seek to be taught by someone with those skills.  If we want to learn how to fly fish, we seek out one who has done it for a while.  And if we want to learn how to deal with life’s anxieties, there is no better person from which to learn than Paul.  

His life, after his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) was full of stress and trouble.  Here is how he sums it up: 

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (II Corinthians 11:23-27 NIV)

And we think we have it rough?  I cannot think of anyone with more experience with stress and anxiety than Paul.  So his words to the Philippians carry a lot of weight.  How does he tell us to handle what life throws at us?  It is, honestly, a very simple approach.  In every situation he says we need to pray.  We need to come before the Lord specifically seeking relief and giving thanks for where we find ourselves, no matter how difficult the circumstances are.  

Fairly simple, eh?  But so hard to do.  Instead, we often find ourselves totally consumed by our circumstances.  Stress and anxiety eat us up. Yet, if we truly want to live lives that are not dominated by anxious thoughts, then an expert has told us what we need to do.  

Today, as those anxious thoughts seek to dominate your life, go to the Lord and give them over to Him.  He is listening and He cares.  And don’t just do it once; do it again and again and again.  For the promise if you do is having the peace of God in your heart regardless of what is happening in your life.  Don’t take my word for it.  Listen to the expert.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Forgotten Command


“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)

I recall conducting an interview several years ago with a woman interested in joining our staff.  Since discipling students will be a large focus of the position, I asked her about her experience with discipleship. She said she had never heard of it until she went to college.  This from a woman who, by her own admission, had grown up in a strong Christian home and had been involved in the church her whole life.  

Back in 1978, LeRoy Eims wrote a classic book called, The Lost Art of Disciple Making.  Obviously, it is still a lost art because most don’t understand what it is and even fewer have experienced being discipled. Instead, the emphasis of the Church has been to make converts, to “get people saved.”  The question is, saved for what?  

If it is Eternity, then we must realize it begins now.   And here’s why. Eternity is the Kingdom of God.  And the Kingdom of God is everything under God’s authority.  When we become a follower of Jesus, we submit ourselves to God’s authority, thus joining the Kingdom of God.  So, when we start to follow Jesus, Eternity begins for us.  

Discipleship is the process of learning what it means to live in the Kingdom of God; in other words, under God’s authority.  It is not something that comes naturally, as is evidenced by so many Christians who commit to Jesus and then continue to live for themselves.  

Jesus’ last command on earth was for us to make disciples, baptizing those who want to follow Him (a sign of the death of an old life and the beginning of a brand new one) and teaching them to obey all that He taught.  This is discipleship and, for much of the Church, it has been forgotten.

Today, think about how you are living your life.  Are you living it in submission to God’s authority? If not, it is time to get some help; it’s time for you to be discipled. If you are, are you passing that along to others desiring to follow Jesus?   For this is what Jesus commanded us to do—to make disciples.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Faithful


“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples,
 a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.  On this mountain he will destroy
 the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
 the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
 The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
 he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
 The Lord has spoken. 

In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.
 This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:6-9 NIV)

I read a story this morning in the Washington Post about fans of the Washington Nationals, the early favorites to win this year’s World Series. Not many years ago, the Nationals were a 100-loss team.  Yet they had some faithful fans who just appreciated major league baseball returning to the capital city after decades without it.  They stuck by them losing season after losing season.  Now the Nationals are winners and fans are coming out of the woodwork.  Yesterday, on Opening Day, one couple arrived at the stadium early and marveled at all the newcomers who are now diehard Nationals fans.  Their thoughts?  “We were here at the beginning and those people are coming now.”  

As I read this passage, my thoughts immediately went to this story. People are always quick to jump on the bandwagon of a perceived winner, but it is only the faithful who will endure years (decades even—think the Chicago Cubs!) of losing and still not give up.

At this point in biblical history, the Israelites were losing.  They were divided into two kingdoms and both were being threatened.  Their kings were not following the Lord and the vast majority had lost their way.  But out of this darkness, Isaiah speaks of hope and a time that is coming when the Lord will prepare a great feast and celebrate the end of sorrows and death, and the ones who will be invited will be those who were faithful, who trusted in the Lord even when things looked bleak and people were turning away from Him in droves.  

I take heart in this passage because we are living in a culture today that, by and large, has turned away from God.  They will only tolerate Him on their terms, making Him into what they desire Him to be and their ways into His ways.  I admit it is tempting just to give in and go with the cultural current.  It would be a lot easier and much more acceptable, but I have this picture in my mind that Isaiah paints.  No more death.  No more sorrows.  A feast prepared by the Lord of the universe.  And only those who remain faithful, who continue to trust in Him, will be invited.  Those of us who follow Jesus faithfully may be the losers right now and not very popular.  But a time is coming when we will be generously rewarded.  

Today, hold onto that promise and continue to trust in the Lord.  For the day is coming when many of those who stand against us will recognize the Lord as the winner and will be lining up outside His Kingdom, hoping to be acknowledged as His fans.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

Being a Fool


“Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, ‘We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD! We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm.  But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.’" (Jeremiah 44:15-18 NIV)

Every time I read this passage, the statement, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD!” leaps off the page and I shudder.  The audaciousness of the statement is something to behold.  And it reminds me of once in my own life when I did the same thing.  

I was in love with a woman.  She had broken off the relationship, but then she seemed to be open to getting back together.  We had struggled in our physical relationship when we were dating and I knew it was displeasing to the Lord; yet, when I was about to travel to see her, knowing I would be staying at her house, I told the Lord I was going to let happen whatever happened.  Just as the men and women of Judah were afraid of displeasing the “Queen of Heaven,” I was afraid to disappoint this woman. I loved her more than the Lord.  I was a fool.  

Just as it ended badly for the Jews in Jeremiah’s day, any hope of reuniting with this woman ended that weekend.  I had dared to tell God that I would intentionally disobey Him and I paid the price.  

On this April Fool’s Day, know there is absolutely nothing more foolish than to deliberately and calculatingly disobey the Lord.  Everyone sins, and we often are aware of it, but it is different to be calculating in our sin, to plan it out.  On occasion I have spoken the message of repentance to college students and I have seen or heard of the derision of some to the message.  It makes me shudder because of the words of the Hebrew writer, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

Only a fool would deliberately disobey the God of the Universe and think there will be no consequence.  Today I am so thankful that God’s grace overcame the folly of this one-time fool.

© Jim Musser 2013