Monday, September 30, 2013

Cleaning House


“Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord’s anger.  Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem.

The king gave this order to all the people: ‘Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.’ Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.

Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord. Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” (II Kings 23:19-25 NIV)

In the sporting world, it is known as “cleaning house.”  When the owner decides the team is headed in the wrong direction and big changes need to be made, he gets rid of all his coaching staff and brings in new leadership.  He cleans house.  In Josiah’s time, he became king of Judah after the 50-year rule of his father, Manasseh.  His father was the worst king in the history of Judah.  He turned away from the Lord and mandated idol worship, even in the Temple of the Lord!  For 50 years, he indoctrinated the people into the evil practices of their idolatrous neighbors.  

A few years after Josiah became king, the Book of the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) was found in the Temple.  Manasseh’s influential rule had made God’s Word irrelevant in Judean culture and the scrolls containing the first five books of our Bible were put aside and, eventually, forgotten. Josiah read the Word and was grief-stricken by how far his nation had moved away from the Lord.  He decided to clean house.  He ordered the removal and destruction of all idols set up in the Temple and throughout Judah.  He also ordered the deaths of all the pagan priests who led the people in idolatrous worship.  He literally got rid of everything associated with idolatry in his country, and led his people back to worshipping the Lord.  

I am sure it was a temptation for Josiah to compromise instead of being so radical.  He could have removed the most obvious abominations, the idol worship in the Temple, but left the rest so as not to disrupt everything. We are not told, but I wonder if this wasn’t some of the advice he was given by his advisors.  Politically, it may have been better for him to make compromises, especially with a culture so entrenched in idolatry.  

I think there is a lesson to be learned from Josiah.  I have seen believers countless times compromise on the things in their lives.  They listen to the voices that tell them they can have it both ways.  They can date or marry an unbeliever and it won’t matter as long as they love each other.  They can party heavy late in the week into the weekend and still worship God on Sunday morning.  They can love money, sports, or technology to the point of idolatry and still be a follower of Jesus.

Like Josiah, we need to realize that worship of the Lord must always be the first priority of our lives.  There can be no compromise, no matter how wonderful, fun, or exciting something or someone is.  The Lord is very clear: “You will have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Today, think about your life.  Is there anything in your life that you value more than the Lord?  A relationship?  A sport or activity?  A sin that you just don’t want to give up?  If so, it’s time to clean house.  Time to get rid of those idols in your life.  Humble yourself before the Lord.  Confess your sin and return to the Lord.  Then let the celebration begin!

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Expressing Love


“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 NIV)

Growing up, one phrase I never heard my parents say to me was, “I love you.”  I knew they loved me, but I never heard them say it.  They provided me a home, made sure I had plenty to eat, and cared about my grades. They obviously loved me, but they could never say it.  They were like a lot of people, particularly of their generation.  It was just uncomfortable to express love verbally.  

What drew me to Jesus was the expression of love I saw in those who followed Him.  And what I learned as I began to read the Scriptures is it was He who first took the initiative in reaching out in love.  In fact, the Bible is full of expressions of love for each of us.  

When I decided to follow Jesus, it was this fact that compelled me to write a letter to my parents telling them, “I love you.”  It was the first time I had ever expressed it.  Years later, after both had died, I found that letter as we sorted through my mother’s things.  She had kept it.  

When I was leaving home the first time after my conversion, I gave my mother a hug and said, “I love you.”  Again, it was the first time I had ever uttered those words to her.  I shook my father’s hand and said the same. Neither knew quite what to make of it and, in reality, it was awkward for them.  But my expression of love had an impact.  I began to see changes in them, an openness to the Lord that I had never seen before and a softening of their hearts.  They even began to express their love for me.  

Before they died, both my mom and dad made the decision to follow Jesus.  I am convinced their decisions began with my simple expression, “I love you.”  Though we may have love shown to us in a lot of ways, it is important to hear it.  I first heard it from Jesus and in turn I expressed it to my parents.  I expressed my love for them because He first expressed His love for me.

How powerful it is to hear the words, “I love you.”  Today know that Jesus speaks them to you and He wants you in the same way to speak them to others.  They are words that can literally change lives.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Plague of Self-Righteousness


“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV)

Self-righteousness is an obvious plague among us.  All you have to do is go onto social media to see it played out in tweet after tweet, post after post.  Conservatives condemn liberals; Democrats lambast Republicans; gun control advocates deride the views of gun rights advocates and vice-versa.  For the most part, we think we are right and being right puts us on what we consider to be a superior platform.  Anyone who thinks or acts different than us is, in our minds, on a slightly lower level.  

This is true in the church as well.  It has been obvious for more than 20 centuries that many calling themselves Christians have felt morally superior to others.  This is the greatest and most frequent criticism of the church—Christians look down their noses at the world.  And it is easy to know why.  The church is afflicted by the same plague that affects the rest of human race—self-righteousness.  

It is obvious the church in Ephesus was afflicted with it because Paul reminds them of who they once were—people deserving the wrath of God for their sins.  They had fallen into the trap of thinking that because they had received God’s grace, they had somehow become better than everyone else.  Nonsense, Paul says.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  
While our bent is toward self-righteousness, let us not be deceived.  Each one of us is deserving of God’s wrath.  There are no truly good people—all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)  None of us have any claim to righteousness, only a claim on grace.  And that only because God first loved us. (I John 4:10

The church today is still criticized for being filled with hypocrites.  And that is mainly because, while continuing to struggle with sin, the people still view themselves as morally superior.  What is needed for this to change is the realization of our true position apart from the grace of God.  

Today, remember all have sinned and continue to sin.  You have no claim to righteousness apart from what has been given you through grace.  

© Jim Musser 20013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Place of Our Hearts


"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him." (Luke 8:16-18 NIV)

A friend of mine who is a professor told me recently that he received much more critical evaluations than ever before.  Having been a popular teacher for years, he concluded the change was due to his rules on texting and Internet surfing in his classes.  It had become such a problem, he had to create a policy in response.  Many of his students apparently didn’t like it.

When people really aren’t interested in something, they look for other things to distract them.  Recently, while sitting in a church service, a young couple in front of me spent the whole praise time talking to each other.  It was obvious their hearts were not into the praise of God.  They were there, but their hearts were somewhere else.

Jesus had just finished explaining his parable of the soils to His disciples when he spoke the passage above.  The parable was about the heart’s openness to the Gospel and this passage must be seen in that context. And the key quote is, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen.”  

It is easy for us to become arrogant about our knowledge of things. Students who would rather be texting than listening to the professor think either they already know the information or it is not really that important. They are in class only because that is what is expected and needed to earn their degrees.  Their hearts are elsewhere. The same can be true of people who consider themselves Christians.  They may attend worship services and do other religious things because that is what is expected, but their hearts are in a different place.  

Jesus came to teach what people needed to hear.  The crowds gathered because he was a popular rabbi in a religious culture.  But it is apparent most didn’t listen carefully to what He was saying.  Their hearts, too, were in a different place.  

It is not enough just to be in the seat in class or in church.  What Jesus says matters is the place of our hearts.  And while we may be able to hide that from those around us, we cannot hide it from Him.  He knows our hearts.  

Where is your heart today?  Is it open to what Jesus has to teach you? Know that it matters how carefully you listen to Him.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

He's in the Boat


“One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and set out.  As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.  ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples.  In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’” (Luke 8:22-25 NIV)

This is such an odd story at first glance.  A storm arises as Jesus and His disciples make their way across the Sea of Galilee.  Their boat is being swamped by the waves and the disciples are fearing for their lives. And Jesus—is taking a nap.  

Does that strike you as odd?  The boat is being violently rocked, the waves are swamping the boat with water, the disciples are likely yelling out in fear, and Jesus is asleep.  Was He just completely exhausted?  Did He have narcolepsy, perhaps?  No, I think His sleep had a divine cause.

Notice after Jesus was awakened and calmed the storm, He asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?”  He was present with them in the boat, yet they were panicking after the storm hit.  They didn’t trust His presence; they wanted His immediate attention.  

Are we not the same?  A storm comes upon us and immediately we cry out in a panic to the Lord for help.  We may know He is present, but want His attention to our plight.  However, what the disciples missed, and we as well, is the fact His presence is enough.  If He is present, He is in control.  Jesus may have been sleeping in the boat, but He was in the boat.  He was with the disciples in the storm.  That should have been enough for them.

Today, if a storm has struck in your life, don’t panic.  Jesus is in the boat with you.  Even if it appears He is asleep, His presence is enough.  He has everything under control.

© Jim Musser 20103

Monday, September 23, 2013

Growing in the Hard Times


“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)

If I were to tell you in the midst of some crisis you are facing that you should rejoice in it because it is making you a better, stronger person, how would you react?  Likely, you would think I didn’t understand and you definitely wouldn’t feel I empathized with your situation.  

Yet this is exactly what Paul is telling his fellow Romans.  Our bent is never to see anything good in the midst of suffering.  We complain, wring our hands, and shed tears, but rarely do we rejoice.  However, often when we look back, having come through a very difficult time, we see how much we have grown and changed.  Without a doubt, I can say the suffering I have endured in my life has made me a more mature and godly man.  And while suffering is never easy, I think Paul is saying that hope can keep us putting one foot in front of the other as we walk through it.  

I came to realize a long time ago that if you are going to go through something very difficult, you might as well learn something through it. Otherwise, not only is it a painful experience, it is a wasted one as well. 

As Paul says later in his letter to the Romans (8:28), God works everything together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  Not that everything is good, but He will take whatever happens in your life and bring good out of it—including suffering.   

Today, if you are going through a difficult time, ask the Lord to teach you through it what you need to learn.  While it may be hard right now, He is there with you, and you can come through it closer to becoming the person He created you to be.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

Truth Telling


“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:15-16 NIV)

At our student retreat this past weekend, our theme was “Naked Narratives.”  Each of our staff shared their spiritual journeys.  Each contained confessions of much sin.  It was one of the most spiritually significant retreats I have ever experienced.  As one of my staff shared her story, tears rolled down my cheeks as God’s grace and redemption were powerfully revealed.  As I shared my own story, I was reminded so vividly of the Lord’s love and kindness to me, the worst of sinners.  

This week a student came up to me and thanked me for the type of community we have.  He said the vulnerability of the staff had moved him and led him to realize he needs finally to tell his own story of sin and brokenness, one in which he has kept hidden for years.  I am going to hear his story next week.  Another student told me our stories made him realize their spiritual leaders are not perfect people, that they have had struggles and far from perfect lives.  He found this very encouraging.

Is this not what the Church is to be?  Are we not to follow James’ command to confess our sins to one another?  And will not that, as has happened with our students, heal and encourage people’s lives?  Yet, when was the last time you heard someone in a church service, or even a small group, confess sin?  It is rarely done.  Even when people are given the opportunity to request prayer, the vast majority of requests deal with physical illness, and usually someone else’s.  No one wants to talk about his or her sin.

What we have done is create communities that are often friendly, even loving at a certain level, but that are not real.  Members of our churches are dealing with failing marriages, hypocrisy, pornography, bitterness, gossip, etc., but few if any are willing to admit it.  They are lonely, hurting, desperate, but they continue to smile lest people think they don’t have it together.  Instead, we gather together, sing our praise songs, hear God’s Word preached, and then go out the door unmoved and unchanged.  

Our students are getting a taste of what the Church is to be like.  Sin is not hidden; rather it is exposed.  Their leaders are not hiding behind the masks of perfection, but rather living in the truth of who we are and the struggles we have and have had, that we are sinners in need of His wonderful and glorious grace.  

Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  His teaching includes confessing our sins—telling the truth about our lives.  If we do so, He promises we will be set free.  For truth allows God’s grace to flow.  

Today, what sins have you been keeping hidden behind that mask of perfection?  Why be held in bondage one more day?  Find a brother or sister in the faith, or a group of them, and tell your story of disobedience and rebellion.  Taking off the mask, telling the truth, is the only way you will ever be free.  And who knows, maybe your truth telling will help set others free as well.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Crying Out for Help


“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
 he heard my cry for mercy.  Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.  The cords of death entangled me, 
 the anguish of the grave came over me; 
 I was overcome by distress and sorrow.  Then I called on the name of the Lord:  ‘Lord, save me!’  The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.  The Lord protects the unwary; 
 when I was brought low, he saved me.  Return to your rest, my soul, 
 for the Lord has been good to you.” (Psalm 116:1-7 NIV)

It takes a lot for most of us to cry out for help.  We usually look first for our own solutions.  In biblical history, it seems the Israelites always had to reach a point of desperation before they cried out to God for help.  Not much has changed. 

During the past few weeks, our ministry has really struggled financially.  Paychecks have been held back, bills have been paid late, and each trip to the mailbox is fraught with both hope and anxiety.  I have prayed, but honestly I’ve spent more time trying to figure out how we can find additional financial support.  I’ve contacted people about our need and some money has come in, but not enough.  Yesterday, still hopeful that additional money was about to arrive, I went to our mailbox only to find it empty.

Driving home, I knew I had no choice but to fall to my knees and cry out to God.  And that’s what I did.  I poured out my fears, my frustrations, and asked for His help, which I so desperately needed.  My sense from the Lord was: “What took you so long?”

I didn’t get any immediate calls promising support and I have no idea what I will find today in the mailbox, but that time on my knees crying out to the Lord did bring me comfort and peace.  For in reality, everything I have comes from the Lord.  I am totally dependent on Him, whether or not I always recognize it.  And that is exactly where He wants me to be.  As a child depends on his parents to provide for his needs, the Lord wants me to depend on Him.  Unfortunately, sometimes that takes getting to the point of desperation.

Today, if you are finding yourself in a place where you need help, then ask God for it.  Get on your knees and cry out to Him.  He is gracious, full of compassion, and wants to help you.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The God Who Surprises


“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)

I confess that I am a person who likes routine.  That is my natural bent, but I have grown to appreciate the surprises that come in life.  I realize how constricting my desire for the routine and the expected can be, particularly when it comes to my walk with the Lord.  I, like Philip, have found Him to be a God who is full of surprises.  

Philip was a disciple of Jesus and living in Jerusalem.  Jesus had ascended into Heaven and the Holy Spirit had come on him and his fellow disciples.  Those were heady days as they performed many miracles and people responded to the message of the Gospel.  Then, suddenly, Saul of Tarsus, a prominent Pharisee, struck hard against the believers, forcing them to flee Jerusalem.  Philip fled to Samaria, where God used him to perform many miracles.  I am sure Philip was surprised by the turn of events, but quickly realized what God was up to.  Yet, I wonder if he wasn’t taken aback by the Lord’s call to leave Samaria soon after he arrived.  Another surprise was in store.

Philip meets “an important official” from Ethiopia and it turns out he is a seeker.  He desires to know God.  Philip is told not to miss this opportunity to explain the Good News.  Hours later, the Ethiopian is baptized into Jesus!  And then, surprise, Philip is whisked away by the Spirit to another town to preach to others.  I am sure, by then Philip’s head was spinning.  

God’s surprises weren’t limited to Philip.  Think of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  Think of the woman caught in adultery (John 8). Think of the women arriving at Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 28).  None expected what they encountered.  God surprised them. And blessed them.  

Today, know that the Lord is a God who surprises and often calls us out of our routine into something new.  When that surprise comes, embrace it. For with it comes a great blessing.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Perspective


“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’  Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5: 1-11 NIV)

Perspective depends on where you sit.  I never considered myself rich until I met people who were truly poor, who literally did not know where their next meal would come from.  You might consider yourself a decent athlete until you go up against a professional; then you will recognize the true limits of your abilities.  

Our perspectives in life are often so limited because we lack exposure to things that are different.  As a result, we develop skewed views of reality and we fool ourselves.  Peter was a devoted Jew and a hard worker.  It is easy to see why he would think he was a good man compared to others around him.  Yet, when he encountered Jesus and saw first-hand His power, he immediately recognized his true state as a sinner.  In the presence of the Lord, gone were any illusions of goodness.  The Light had exposed his darkness.

In order to become who God created us to be, our perspective must change.  We must realize who we truly are—sinners in need of a Savior and spiritually weak people in need of God’s strength.  Yet, we so often are in denial of this.  We look around and compare ourselves to others. From this perspective, we convince ourselves we are okay, or at least better than a lot of people.  And we resist any challenge to our view by others.  Who are they to judge?

It is only when we truly encounter Jesus that our perspective can change. He leaves no doubt who we truly are and our deep need for Him.  And if we respond like Peter, with humility, wonderful things can begin to happen.  Peter went from a mere fisherman to a man who led the Church. Once his perspective changed, so did he—in radical ways.

Today, consider the perspective you have of yourself.  Do you recognize who you truly are—a sinner in need of the Lord every moment of every day?  If you think that is ridiculous or over the top, then you need an encounter with Jesus.  That will definitely change your perspective and your life.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

He's Always in the Story


“You have searched me, Lord, 
 and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue
 you, Lord, know it completely.  You hem me in behind and before, 
 and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? 
 Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
 if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
 and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:1-12 NIV)

This past weekend at our Fall Retreat, the ministry staff each shared their stories.  We termed it, “Naked Narratives.”  The idea was to be honest and vulnerable, sharing how God’s characteristics were threads in our life stories.  Each was a powerful testimony to God’s immeasurable love and power to overcome sin and darkness.  My wife shared about the Lord’s pursuit of her even when she was wasn’t looking for Him.  Another told the story of God’s faithfulness throughout her life.  And another told how the Lord spoke truth to Him when He was living a lie.  

As I was praying before my talk yesterday morning on God’s comfort and strength, a clear thought came into my mind: “He’s always in the story.” As I had reflected on each staff story, the one consistent thread was God was always in the story.  Sometimes, He was front and center, but often He was in the shadows, having been pushed aside or ignored.  But He was still there.  The same is true as I look back on my story.  When I had no knowledge of Him, He was there.  When I invited Him into my life, He was there.  When I rebelled and was disobedient, He still remained in my story.  When tragedies struck, He remained a steady presence.  

Whether I realized His presence in my story at any given time or not, when I look back, I see He was there all the time.  As David acknowledges, there is nowhere the Lord is not present.  We can run from Him; we can hide from Him; or we can find ourselves in the darkest of places.  He is still present.  He is still in our story.  As we told our stories, this was the greatest encouragement and comfort.  No matter how far we had wandered or how dark life got for us, the Lord was still there, watching over us and continuing to woo us with His love.

Today, know regardless of where you are in life right now, the Lord is present with you.  He always has been and always will be.  There is nothing you can do or anything that can happen which will prevent Him from being a part of your story.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Being the Judge


“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.’ 

Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ 
‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.

‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’

Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said." (Luke 7:36-43 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself assuming the role of judge. And from what I can assess about others, it is a fairly common role we all assume.  

I once had a professor in seminary who always seemed irritable and on edge.  We students were very critical of him.  I think another professor heard the complaints and one day explained to his class that this professor dealt with ongoing migraine headaches.  Some days, he told us, he could barely open his eyes, yet never cancelled his classes.  

How easy it is for us to judge someone.  I know it is a constant battle for me.  Why is that?  Why do we so easily fall into the role of judge?  I think, for me, it is that continual need to feel secure in my own righteousness or goodness. I don’t necessarily consciously think that; it is just the underlying motivation when I am critical. I am judging in order to declare myself innocent of more serious charges. Hey, at least I am a lot better than that guy!

Simon, the Pharisee in this story, was doing the same thing.  He was trying to reassure himself that he was better than both the woman and Jesus.  Better than the woman because he lived a much more righteous life than she did.  Better than Jesus because, though He was a religious teacher, He was allowing this sinful woman to touch Him.  Simon was feeling pretty good about himself until Jesus responded to his thoughts.  

I find it interesting that Jesus uses the word “judge” to commend Simon’s answer to His question.  Judging is not necessarily wrong; it is that so often we render the wrong verdict out of our own selfish interests.  Like a political trial whose only purpose is to make the government appear in a good light, truth and justice have no role.  It is only about self-preservation.  

When confronted by Jesus, Simon judged the situation correctly.  The sinful woman felt the heavy load of her sin and knew Jesus had lifted it. She, in response, loved Him deeply.  Simon, on the other hand, felt little weight from his own sin.  He considered himself a righteous man in no need of a Savior.  He had judged correctly that the person who does not understand how big of debt is owed will not feel much love toward the one who forgave it.  

We each owe a big debt that is impossible to pay back.  It does not matter who we are or how we have lived.  Our debt is the same and we each are in desperate need for a Savior.  We will more easily judge correctly if we always keep that in the front of our minds.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Amazing Grace


“Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: ‘Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Say to him, “This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?” Then say to him, “This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!”’  Ahab said to Elijah, ‘So you have found me, my enemy!’

‘I have found you,’ he answered, ‘because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.  He says, “I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.  I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.”

‘And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.”

‘Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.’

(There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.  Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: ‘Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.’” (I Kings 21:17-29 NIV)

Ahab was an evil and despicable king.  Just prior to this passage, the story is told of his desire for a garden owned by a man named Naboth. He wanted it so bad, that after Naboth refused to sell it to him, he allowed his wife to arrange for his murder.  Over a garden!  The writer of Kings says there never was anyone as evil as Ahab at the time of his writing. He could easily be compared to the despots of more recent history such as Sadaam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.

Yet, when Elijah confronted him with the murder of Naboth and the impending consequences, the evil and powerful Ahab humbled himself. And the Lord took notice.  James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (4:10) That’s all it took for Ahab to change his position with the Lord.  And that’s all it takes for us, no matter what we’ve done or are guilty of.  

When you think about it, this is amazing!  Murderers, thieves, pimps, adulterers, child molesters, drug dealers, and even horrible despots can find grace from the Lord! Grace is available to anyone, no matter how evil, if they will only humble themselves before the Lord.  

Today, take heart that no matter what you have done in your life, the Lord is willing to forgive if only you will humble yourself before Him.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Faithful No Matter What


“They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’ This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’

When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"’

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’" (Luke 7:16-23 NIV)

Have you ever wondered why God was doing amazing things in other people’s lives, while leaving you seemingly on your own to struggle?  In my twenties, I remember attending weddings of many friends, celebrating with them, but wondering when God was going to bring the perfect woman for me.  It might be for you a longing for friends whom the Lord seems to bring in abundance to others, but not to you.  Or perhaps it is a great job that He gives to others, but you are stuck in a lousy one.

John the Baptist was in Herod’s prison, fairly certain, I am sure, he would die there.  His disciples come and tell him about the amazing things Jesus is doing.  John is wondering, given his situation, if Jesus really is the Messiah.  His question arises from a sense of unfairness.  “If Jesus is doing all these great things among others, why am I stuck in this cell waiting to die?”  

It is very easy to tie our faith to our experience.  And if our experiences are bad, it is easy for us to lose faith.  John was at this point.  He had served the Lord faithfully his whole life, but now things weren’t going well.  He had begun to doubt.  

Jesus’ response was to affirm all John had heard. And then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”  In other words, blessed is the man who continues to follow me even when he is not experiencing the blessings he sees others receiving.  This is the hard truth of discipleship.  We follow Jesus no matter where He takes us.  We trust Him regardless of our current circumstances.  

Jesus later described John as the greatest person who had ever lived (Mt. 11:11).  He remained faithful to the end.  The challenge for each of us is to do the same no matter what we face in life.  If we do, our reward will be great.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How To Love


“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)

Yesterday I wrote that love within the church is what makes an impression on those outside of it.  But what does love truly look like in that setting.  For those whose only understanding of love is viewed through the lens of romance, it can be difficult to comprehend.  Yet, the Apostle Paul lays it out quite simply.

Love is patient and kind.  There are always going to be brothers and sisters who frustrate us for any number of reasons.  They may be unorganized, annoying in their behavior, or slow to understand some things we find obvious.  To love these folks is to be patient with them and not go off on them out of frustration.  Treat them as you would want to be treated.

Love does not envy, boast, exhibit pride, nor is it self-seeking.  Many church fights and splits occur because of jealousy and arrogance. People want what they want and when they have it, they often boast about their influence or position, and if they don’t get it, then they throw a fit.  Often this involves seeking roles of leadership and authority, or desiring the music or d├ęcor that most suits their tastes.  In the end, everything is self-focused.  Love is just the opposite.  It’s not about us; it’s about serving others and bringing glory to the Lord.

Love is not easily angered, nor does it keep a record of wrongs.  Life rarely goes the way we want it.  People choose to do things differently than we would prefer.  And often those choices can hurt us.  Love in these times is full of grace.  It lets most things roll off and the harder things it forgives.  As Paul says to the Colossians,  “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13 NIV)

Love rejoices in the truth and never wavers from it.  It is fashionable these days to make love very generic and divorced from truth.  Love, in this view, accepts any beliefs or lifestyles as legitimate and valid.  Such an understanding of love fails to comprehend God as both love and truth. We must love people as described above, but never rejoice with them in beliefs or lifestyles that contradict what God says is true.  

Today, if you want to love your brothers and sisters, then Paul has given you a fairly straightforward way to do it.  It won’t be easy, but it will make quite an impression.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

How To Make an Impression

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

I grew up going to church, but it never impressed me much.  Most of the adults I remember were nice, but nothing really differentiated them.  The people going to church were very similar to everyone else I knew.  Jesus was talked about, but He didn’t seem to make much of a difference in people’s lives.

That impression changed during my freshman year in college.  A friend invited me to a Bible study in her dorm and I was taken aback by the love these students had for one another.  They were very different from other students I had met and different than the people I had met in my local church.  That night my life took an entirely new direction.  I decided if this group of college students had this kind of love because of Jesus, then I wanted to follow Him, too.

Love is the most powerful tool we have in drawing others into the Kingdom of God.  As the Apostle Paul says, churches can have many things—a great worship band, a coffee bar, a hip pastor, solid biblical teaching—but if they do not truly love one another, they really have nothing (I Corinthians 13:1-8).  And love goes well beyond friendly.  It truly cares about others and invests time and other resources in meeting physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.  It is a love that can literally transform lives, such as the one of a 19-year-old student long ago on a November’s evening.

Today, whether you are involved in a local church or campus ministry, know the best way to make an impression on those outside the faith is to love those in your fellowship of believers.  Indeed, this is the only way they will truly know you follow Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

Everything Is Spiritual


"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'” (Acts 17:24-28 NIV)

Have you ever thought of the act of going to class or doing homework as spiritual?  How about going to work, playing soccer, or going for a hike? We typically think of spiritual acts as those involving prayer, meditation, Bible study, or going to church.  What Paul says to the Athenians, and to us, is that all of life, every act, is spiritual because “in Him we live and move and have our being.”  

Because of God, we live.  Every breath we take is because of God. Everything we do in life is the result of God’s infusion of life into us and His sustaining of it.  Nothing we do would be possible without God.  Thus, every aspect of our lives is spiritual.  

Life is easy to compartmentalize.  We have our academic life, our social life, our work life, our family life, and our spiritual life.  We tend to rank them in order of importance depending on the day.  When our GPA is in the tank, we tend to make academics a priority.  When we make some great friends, social life becomes our main focus.  Thus, we view life as made up of separate spheres that we seek to manage and keep balanced.  

However, what Paul tells us is this is a false understanding.  Not only are these spheres not separate, they all actually fall into one.  All of life is contained within the spiritual sphere.  In other words, life is spiritual.  He says elsewhere, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

Today, recognize that everything you do today is spiritual.  Thus, live in a way that honors the One who gave you breath and life.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pursuing What You Need


“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’  Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

‘Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.  Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.  And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.’  Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.” (I Kings 3:5-15 NIV)

The temptation to desire what we want rather than what we may need is great.  I remember as a young man desperately wanting to have a romantic relationship.  I asked the Lord to give me that special woman.  I didn’t ask for contentment because I so desperately wanted a relationship.  In the end, I waited a very long time to get what I wanted because, I think, I didn’t seek what I really needed.

Imagine God saying to you, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Would you ask for what you wanted—perhaps fame, wealth, the man or woman of your dreams?  Or would you ask for what you knew you really needed?  The temptation is obviously the former, and the likely choice we would make.  And that’s what makes Solomon’s decision so extraordinary.  He was a young man who had just been given the kingship of Israel.  It was something like a twenty-something today being President of the United States.  Suddenly, he had all this power and authority.  Now what to do with it?  We would expect him, as a young and inexperienced man, to indulge himself to the fullest.  And God gave him the opportunity to do just that.  But he chose to seek what he most needed—wisdom.  Recognizing the huge responsibilities he had just inherited, he knew he was not up to the job.  

And what did the Lord do?  He made him the wisest human being to have ever walked the earth.  And then He gave him wealth and honor far beyond what Solomon could ever have imagined.  He received what he wanted after he asked for what he needed.  

I think there is a lesson in this.  If we seek from God what we truly need—a deep relationship with Him, wisdom to discern His will, and humility to follow Him wherever He leads us, then He will bless us with what we want, provided (and this is important to understand) it is within His will for us.  We don’t need to grab for the things in the hope of getting what we want.  In fact, as it was in my younger days, by grabbing for a romantic relationship, it eluded me even longer.  No, seeking after what we truly need is the best way to get what we want.  

Today, what are you wanting in your life?  What you can learn from Solomon is the best way to get what you want is to first pursue what you really need.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Noticed


“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 NIV)

I was trying to catch ground squirrels that had become a nuisance around our house.  I set up a trap, baited it, and forgot it.  A week later I remembered and went to check the trap.  Inside I found a sparrow sitting very still.  It had been dead several days.  We enjoy birds around our house and have feeders to attract them.  I felt bad that one had died in the trap because I failed to check it.  

This passage reminds me that God took notice of that sparrow, too, and it did not die unnoticed.  How amazing is that?  The God who created the entire universe would take notice of one sparrow He created!  

Of course, Jesus’ emphasis is not so much on the value of sparrows, but of each of us.  If God takes notice of a sparrow, how much more each of us?   

On a campus of thousands, in a city of millions, or in a world of billions, we can feel pretty small, unnoticed and unvalued.  But Jesus is saying to us, “I know you.  You are of great value to Me.”  

Today, know how valuable you are to the God of the universe.  Your life has not gone unnoticed.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ashamed of the Name


“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:26-33 NIV)

I recently heard a story of a pastor of a well-known church calling out a popular worship band that had come to his church.  He noticed they sang songs referring to God, but none that mentioned the name of Jesus. When he confronted them, they told him they were more into “pre-evangelism” and didn’t want to sing songs referring to Jesus because they might make people feel uncomfortable.   When he doubled down on his criticism, they told him he was “old school” to want to sing about Jesus.

We walk on very shaky ground when, for whatever reason, we are reluctant or afraid to mention the name of Jesus.  If we claim to be Christians, then it is Jesus who is the foundation of that claim.  For the term “Christian” means “follower of Christ.”  A Christian who is reluctant to speak the name of Jesus is akin to a dessert chef who is ashamed to talk about sugar.  

If we are afraid or ashamed to talk or sing about the person who is the very essence of our faith, then the question must be: what is it that we truly believe?   Do we believe He is indeed Lord of all (Acts 10:36)?  Do we believe He is the only way through which we can have a relationship with the Heavenly Father? (John 14:6)  Do we believe that His name is above every name, and that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? (Philippians 2:9-11

If not, then Jesus warns that we will not hold much value to Him.  If we disassociate ourselves from Him, He will do likewise to us.  A sobering thought indeed.  

Today, if you are a follower of Jesus, then don’t be afraid to speak His name.  It is the name above all names and one day it will be on everyone’s lips.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

Belief and Unbelief


“A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’

‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’  ‘From childhood,’ he answered.  ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’

‘”If you can”?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:17-24 NIV)

I have to admit; sometimes I share this man’s confliction.  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  Belief is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice.  It’s one thing to hold a certain belief; it is quite another when that belief is put to the test.  For example, do you believe the Lord will provide for your every need?  If so, will you still believe it when you are without a job and the bills are coming due?  Do you believe the Lord is truly your ever-present friend?  If so, will you still believe that when you find yourself in the midst of great loneliness? 

Like the man in this passage, we probably know the right answer, but living it out is much more difficult.  I believe, but help me overcome my unbelief! 

I take comfort in Jesus’ response: Everything is possible for one who believes.  My responsibility is to believe and when that belief is put to the test, He makes it possible to pass it.  Like the father when his faith was tested, we can cry out for the Lord’s help. 

Today, if you find your beliefs being tested and your faith shaky, cry out to the Lord for help.  Everything is possible for one who believes.  As the Apostle Paul tells us, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:2)

© Jim Musser 2013