Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving: The Poor Stepchild of the Holiday Season

(Author's Note: I will be taking off the rest of the week for Thanksgiving Break.  WftW will be back on December 2nd.  Jim)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods. 

His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: 
His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders,

His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens, 
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
 His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—

His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,

His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;

His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1-9 NIV)

Have you noticed how every year in stores, there is the focus on Halloween and then, after October 31st, the attention turns to Christmas? It seems retailers treat Thanksgiving as the poor stepchild of the holiday season.  Yes, it’s there, but we aren’t going to pay it a lot of attention.  In fact, within a couple hours of the Thanksgiving meal, we are going to entice people to start focusing on Christmas.

I think this can be seen as a reflection of our culture as a whole.  We are much more interested in fun and receiving things for ourselves than we are giving thanks for what we already have.  In other words, life is about us, and retailers know it.  So they go from selling costumes to stocking their shelves with Christmas stuff.  And we shouldn’t expect anything else.  They are interested in their bottom lines and they are going to do what makes them lots of money.  

But as followers of the Lord, we need to resist getting pulled along by the culture into self-absorption and greed.  Being thankful is not to be merely a two-to-three hour focus on the last Thursday of November; it is a way of life.  All of Psalm 136 is about being thankful for what the Lord has done. It is a guide for us as believers. We are continually to look both to the past and present for the work of the Lord and be thankful for all He has done. We look up at the stars and give thanks to the Lord. We stand on a beach and we give thanks.  We ski down a mountain and we give thanks.  We give thanks for mighty creative power of God. We look at our lives and give thanks for His provision—in our clothes closet, in our pantry, in our checking account.  Even in our darkest times, we can still give thanks to the Lord for walking through it with us instead of being on our own.  As the Apostle Paul tells us: Give thanks in all circumstances. (I Thessalonians 5:18

Today, as you are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving, remember all the good things the Lord has given you, both in the past and in the present. And do it, not just on one day, but every day.  For while the world moves quickly on to the task of Christmas shopping, your heart should remain continually thankful.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mere Listeners

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25 NIV)

There are an estimated 350,000 churches in the United States and 118 million people who attend them (see this link).  This answer begs a question: If the 12 disciples of Jesus could have such a huge impact on the 1st Century world, why is it 118 million can have so little?  How can a mega church of 15,000 attendees not transform a city, or a church of 100 a small town?  

I think the answer lies with this passage.  The approach of most churches today is to teach what the Bible says.  But there is not much emphasis on teaching people how to put it into practice in daily life.  When Jesus was about to leave this world, He told the disciples to make more disciples, “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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)  Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you; not teach them everything I have commanded you.

This is the problem.  For a long time, churches have focused on teaching what Jesus (and the Bible) commands, but not how to obey it in everyday life.  Sermons, Sunday School, VBS, small group Bible studies all have focused more on what is commanded than how to obey the commands. And what this has helped create are millions of mere listeners, listening to sermons and lessons, but never putting them into practice.  So while millions may be in churches on Sunday, there is no real world impact because every week they forget what they are supposed to look like as soon as they exit the building.  

Today, recognize that merely knowing what the Bible says is not enough. Your life will not be transformed, nor those around you, until you put into practice what it says.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering Another November 22, 1963 Death

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; 
 the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:18-25 NIV)

He described himself as the most reluctant of converts to Christianity. And rightly so.  He was an intellectual giant.  He held prestigious positions in literature at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities and was an expert in medieval literature.  He was also, for the first half of his life, a devout atheist.  His name?  Clive Staples Lewis.  You might know him as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Today is the 50th anniversary of his death and is far overshadowed by the shocking assassination of President John F. Kennedy on the same day.  I remember exactly where I was on that day—in my second grade classroom—when the announcement of the President’s death came over the loudspeaker.  At the time, I did not know a man of perhaps greater historical influence over the lives of people had also died that day.

In the academic world where embracing a belief in a God who descended to earth, died, and then was resurrected is considered pure foolishness by the vast majority, Lewis found himself intrigued by the myth.  As time passed, he slowly came to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that the myth was true.  He chronicles his road to conversion in Surprised by Joy and details his rationale in perhaps his most famous and influential book, Mere Christianity.  

For those of us working in the world of academia, Lewis deftly demonstrated what so many consider foolishness is actually quite logical and true.  And he provided the intellectual heft to back it up.  

Today, while most of the nation is focused on remembering a slain president, I will be remembering my gratitude for a man who has influenced me far more.  He helped me, and so many others, see that while the vast majority views the Gospel as foolishness, there are good, solid reasons to believe it is true.  If you still have doubts about that, then along with your Bible, read Lewis’ Mere Christianity and see for yourself.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Sobering Reminder

“Why should I fear when evil days come,
 when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?  No one can redeem the life of another
 or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly,
 no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever
 and not see decay.  For all can see that the wise die,
 that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others.  Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves.  People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish.  This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.

They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). 
Their forms will decay in the grave, 
 far from their princely mansions.  But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.  Do not be overawed when others grow rich, 
when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them.  Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, 
 who will never again see the light of life.  People who have wealth but lack understanding
 are like the beasts that perish.” (Psalm 49:5-20 NIV)

On university campuses across the country, almost every building has a specific name attached to it.  The university library might be something like the “Shelby R. Smith Library.”  The education building could be the “Frances L. Stephenson School of Education.”  The names are of people, usually of great wealth and/or accomplishment, who have given a sizeable gift toward the construction of the facility.  

The honor of having one’s name on a building is intended to be a memorial to that person’s work and generosity and is sold that way by university officials to potential donors.  Obviously, it works because every university expands its campus by this method.  And it works primarily because people want to be recognized and remembered.  But the reality is very few are remembered for long.  Ask students on any campus about a building’s namesake, and only a few, if any, will know who the people were or anything about them.  To students, it is just the name of the building.  

The Psalmist gives us a sobering reminder that in the grand scheme of God’s eternal Kingdom, acquired wealth and fame mean very little.  As he writes, “Do not be overawed when others grow rich, 
 when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them.  Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, 
 who will never again see the light of life.”

Yet, isn’t that what a lot of us do?  We want to one day be rich and famous.  We want people to praise us and recognize us for our achievements.  And maybe some of us, as we grow older and begin to recognize the limits of our days on earth, hope for some monument to our accomplishments so as to recall the memory of whom we were and what we’ve done.  

The Psalmist is very direct in calling this foolish thinking.  We will take nothing of our wealth or recognition with us when we die.  If we trust and revel in our earthly accomplishments, he says our destiny will be the same as an animal living only by instinct.  In other words, while lots of money, the adoration of many people, and buildings built in our honor may feel really good, they gain us nothing in the eyes of the One whose opinion truly matters.

Today, recognize what the world considers of great value is, from the eternal perspective, of little or no value at all.  So you would be wise to set your goals and aim for achievements in this life that truly will accompany you into the next one.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Two Ways To Go

"It is freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all" (Galatians 5:1-2 NIV).

During the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee stripped Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan of her Olympic gold medal because she took cold medication that contained a banned substance.  Although acknowledging Raducan was unaware of what was in the medication and that it in no way enhanced her performance, the Committee said she violated the rules and thus, must be punished.

The law provides no mercy.  Judges, perhaps, but not the law.  You either follow it to the letter or you break it.  When I am driving 71 mph on the interstate in a 70 mph zone, I have broken the law.  The speed limit is not 70-75; it is 70.  If a state trooper wants to ignore my violation, that is his prerogative, but I have broken the law, regardless.

The Jews of the First Century believed the way to be in good with God was to follow the Mosaic Law.  The first converts to Christianity were Jews and many found it difficult to give up this idea.  They wanted to follow Jesus, but they also did not want to discard their old ways.  Many proclaimed to the Gentiles (non-Jews) that following Jesus meant keeping the Law, of which circumcision had become a sign.  A Gentile wanting to become a Jew was circumcised.  So, Gentile Christians in Galatia were being pressured to be circumcised.  Paul saw the trap.

The message of the gospel is that we are saved by the work of Jesus on the Cross, not by our own work.  If we accept the view that we can get in good with God on our own merit, then we discount the significance of what Jesus did.  We place our fate back in the hands of the Law, by which we are sure to be condemned because we are lawbreakers, whether by a little or a lot.  And our fate is assured—we will be condemned and punished.

It is so tempting to want to go the way of the law instead of the way of grace.  It seems fairer—you get what you deserve.  But as breakers of God's law, we deserve death (Romans 3:23; 6:23 ) and with the law, there is no mercy.  There is no other option if we forsake Christ's work in favor of our own.  We fall short; He doesn't.  

Today, if you somehow think you can make it to God on your own, give it up and recognize Jesus is the only way to God.  And that way is paved with mercy, not condemnation and punishment.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No Better Alternative

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60-69 NIV)

My wife and I sat in the waiting room for the ICU awaiting news about one of our campus ministry alumni who had collapsed at work just two days before.  I overheard his mom say, “I don’t know how people handle things like this without faith.”

In the face of difficult times, we have a choice: We can embrace God and trust Him or we can walk away from Him in anger or dismay that He would allow such a thing to happen.  The people in that waiting room made a conscious choice to trust the Lord with the fate of someone they held dear.  It is never an easy one, but what is the alternative?

Jesus had just finished teaching and His words were not setting well with His followers.  He had told them “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:53-54) It was just too weird and too hard to fathom, so many turned away from Jesus and never looked back.  They were done with Him.  Yet the Twelve remained.  Why?  Because they fully understood the teaching and embraced it?  I don’t think so.  I think they found it just as weird and difficult as the others did.  Yet they stayed.  So the question remains, why?

Peter gives us the answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  The Twelve concluded there was no better alternative.  They believed Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life and they would trust Him even if they didn’t understand or fully agree with what He said or did. 

The Apostle Paul says we live by faith, not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). Things may not be going the way we want or think they should, but in those moments we trust God regardless of doubts, worries, or fear.  As Peter realized, what is the alternative?  Do we follow the advice of Job’s wife and curse God (Job 2:9) in the midst of our severe trials?  Do we walk away in anger and bitterness?  To what?

In that waiting room, the people didn’t like what was happening.  They were scared and perhaps even questioning God, but they made the conscious choice to trust Him anyway.  

Today, if you find yourself in a situation where you are doubting the Lord and thinking of walking away from Him, consider this: To whom shall you go?  Will you find anyone or anything better?  God is trustworthy whether you understand what He does or not.  There is no better alternative.  The Twelve knew it.  I know it.  And so do millions of others who trust Him regardless of their circumstances.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Avoiding Stupidity

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1 NIV)

By this definition, I have encountered a lot of stupid people in my life.  A few months ago, I was talking with a fellow pastor who lamented the inability of any church to correct anyone.  “They’ll just go somewhere else,” he said.  

This has been my experience as well.  People can tolerate a lot of things, but few will accept being told directly that they are wrong.  I once had a student get upset with me who said she was leaving our ministry, but that she did love me.  I responded that if she truly loved me as a Christian brother, then she would honor me by being open to my attempts to reconcile with her.  She never responded.   

Hating correction is stupid because it prevents us from growing.  If you can’t accept being corrected, you will never grow.  I remember sitting across from my seminary professor in his office crying (literally) over a lost love.  It was not the first time I had been in his office to talk about my broken heart.  He looked at me and said, “Jim, have you given this over to God?”  It was a corrective question and it needed to be asked.  And because he asked it, I began to see how this relationship had become an idol in my life.  

An unwillingness to be corrected demonstrates both arrogance and insecurity.  We delude ourselves into thinking the way we live life is perfect (not in need of correction) because we are terribly afraid to admit our faults.  

We need to see correction as a gift rather than an offense.  It enables us to become the person God desires us to be.  And there is no greater friend than the one who will lovingly correct us when needed, if only we have the courage to accept it.  That will lead us away from stupidity into wisdom and growth.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013


“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:12-16 NIV)

We live in a world where becoming famous is a worthwhile goal and many seek to achieve it.  Some want to be well known through a remarkable achievement, while others just want to achieve fame.  Millions upload videos to YouTube hoping theirs will be the next to go viral.  Tens of thousands line up for auditions for contest shows such as “The Voice” and “American Idol,” hoping this will lead to fame and fortune.  People join Twitter with dreams of getting millions of followers. 

These thoughts were spurred on by a recent discussion with a student.  We were talking about how success is defined in the Kingdom of God.  While the world defines success in terms of numbers and popularity, Kingdom success is defined by faithfulness to God.  If you are faithful, you are successful whether or not anyone takes notice.  Last year, this student was a small group leader and he had one student sign up for his group.  It would have been easy to tell him just to cancel the group because only one showed up.  Instead, we told him to meet with the guy weekly throughout the semester.  He was faithful in pouring his life into this student.  Instead of being viewed as a failure, we considered his “group” a success because he was faithful and the other student gained so much through their meeting together. 

As we look at the list of the 12 disciples, how many are mentioned in the rest of the New Testament beyond in a similar list?  Of course, Peter is mentioned often, as well as James and John.  Matthew wrote his own gospel, but he is not mentioned outside the gospels.  Thomas gets some press for his doubts, but he disappears after that.   We know about Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), but not much more.  And what about Bartholomew, the other James, Simon the Zealot, or Judas (not the traitor)?  We know nothing about them except they were chosen by Jesus to be his first disciples.  Yet, we can assume they were faithful men whom Jesus loved. 

If the Scriptures are any indication of the importance of fame and recognition, then we get a sense of how upside down our world actually is.  If many of the original followers of Jesus are but names or numbers in history, what does that tell us about the importance God puts on being known in the world?

Many seek to be known in the world because it gives them a sense of importance and value.  But of what eternal value is having fame?  It matters not to God how famous or popular we are in the world.  What He recognizes and rewards is our faithfulness to Him. 

Today, know that being successful in the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with fame and fortune, but everything to do with your faithfulness in living your life for the Lord.  Even if you are never famous on this earth, you will hear these words in Eternity: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Picked

“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)

When I was a kid and we were going to play basketball or baseball, I was usually one of the last ones chosen for a team.  My skills were not up to par with most of kids I played with.  For every kid who finds himself in the position of being chosen last, every game reinforces that “you aren’t good enough.

Peter, James, and John were fishermen by trade, but they would have been something else if they had been good enough.  Growing up in a Jewish culture, they at one time were in line to be picked by the rabbis of the day for religious instruction and mentorship.  But they were never picked.  They weren’t good enough, and so they had to find another vocation.

They had met Jesus and probably found him intriguing, but the thought never crossed their minds that they, mere fishermen, would be candidates to be His disciples.  They knew they weren’t good enough, and Peter’s response to Jesus after the miraculous catch is evidence of that.  They were unrighteous sinners.  What rabbi would want them?  As it turned out, they were just the type of men Jesus was looking for. Men who knew they were sinners and fell far short of the glory of God. 

The rabbis and religious leaders of the day, on the other hand, were proud of themselves, self-righteous men who thought they had it all together. Their hearts were hardened to the idea they were no different than the rest of the sinners they walked among each day.  They had been picked for their prestigious positions and they wore their pride in the same way they wore their flowing robes.  Much to their shock and chagrin, Jesus never gave them respect or much positive attention.  

Later in Luke 5, Jesus tells them that He didn’t come to call the righteous, but rather sinners, people like Peter, James, and John, along with prostitutes, thieves and cheats, the brokenhearted, and the physically broken.  Jesus came to build His Kingdom not with the “perfect” people, but with the far from perfect—people like you and me.

Today, know that Jesus is not looking for perfect people to use for His work, but people who know they are far from perfect—sinners who know they need a Savior.  You may look around at others and think you are not good enough, but that is exactly the attitude that qualifies you to be picked.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Promise of God

“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10 NIV)

One charge by those who are not too fond of God is He is so intrusive. He is always in your business telling you what to do.  Now, granted, God does give a lot of instructions on the way we are to live our lives, but do you know of anyone born with a Bible attached to them?  Perhaps as a child you were forced to read the Bible or go to church, but God was not doing the forcing.  In fact, God gives us the freedom never to pick up the Bible, never to go to church, never to seek Him at all.  God never forces Himself upon anyone.  He has, however, given us enough evidence of His existence and love that we are without the excuse we didn’t know He was even there. (Romans 1:20)  It is then our choice what we do with the evidence.

If we choose to seek Him, we will find Him and can have the confidence He will never forsake us.  Sometimes we will be tempted to feel abandoned by the Lord when things go wrong.  I have known people who start out walking faithfully with the Lord, but then struggle to trust Him when things go bad for them.  The reality is He never promised us a trouble-free life; in fact, He promised just the opposite. (John 16:33)  What He did say is, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)  He will walk through the valleys with us.  

This is the promise Christians down through the centuries have clung to. While being persecuted and killed for their faith in Jesus, they have held fast to the promise that God is with them and can be trusted.  When Horatio Spafford lost all four of his daughters in a ship collision in the Atlantic, he expressed this trust with the words, “It is well with my soul.”

Today, know if you seek the Lord, you will find Him.  And know if you are seeking Him, He will never abandon you even in the midst of great trials. For many who have come before you have found Him trustworthy regardless of what life brings them.  If you seek the Lord, you will as well.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


“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.” (Matthew 10:28-31 NIV)

Back in the day when Andre Agassi was a force in men’s tennis, he was a spokesman for Canon cameras.  The slogan used in his commercials was, “Image Is Everything.”  Years later he revealed in his autobiography, Open, that this slogan summed up his life.  Early in his career, he was known for his long flowing hair.  He writes that as his hair began to fall out, he began wearing a wig.  He blamed that wig for a loss at Wimbledon because it began to come loose during a match and he worried that it would literally fly off in front of everyone!  His book reveals how different his life was from the image he portrayed and was portrayed for him, and he admits he was miserable trying to keep up the image.  

What motivates us to strive for a certain image?  We may never be famous, but the creating and keeping of an image is not restricted to celebrities.  We can construct images for our friends, our families, and our employers.  And sometimes those images are contradictory.  I have known students who, to their families, they are upstanding, godly people, but have a vastly different image among their friends on campus.  What is it that drives us to create certain images of ourselves for other people?  

Jesus, I think, gives us a hint in this passage.  We are fearful of what people are going to think about us.  For the student who is living a duplicitous life, she does not want to disappoint either her parents or her friends.  So she creates a dual image in order to please both of them.  

Jesus says, in essence, we should be much more concerned about our image before God, what He thinks, than the opinions of anyone else.  For it is He who has our eternal destiny in His hands.  But He also says something else that is so important to hear: He values us more than anything else in all of creation.  He loves each of us deeply.  So we should care most about what He thinks of us.  Other people can think what they want.

Today, what image are you trying to convey and whom are you trying to impress?  If it is anything but the real you and for anyone other than the Lord, then know you are missing the mark.  For it is God that holds you in the highest value and it is He who holds the keys to Eternity.  What He thinks of you is really all that matters.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Apart from God

“Keep me safe, my God, 
 for in you I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’  I say of the holy people who are in the land,  ‘They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.’

Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. 
 I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
 or take up their names on my lips.  Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. 
 With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:1-8 NIV)

There is always pressure to conform to the standards set by a particular culture or cultural subset.  On the college campus, “normal” college life is viewed to include a lot of drinking and sex.  Those who refrain from participating in these activities are viewed as oddities.  In the world of science, those who believe in a Creator who has designed the world and universe in which we live are often castigated as fools and considered outliers by their colleagues.  I read an article recently written by a well-known news reporter and commentator who became a follower of Jesus.  As she began to feel the pull of the Lord, she dreaded becoming “one of those people.”

This prayer of David was written in a time when people were worshipping other gods and engaging in unholy behavior.  It wasn’t a lot different from the times in which we now live.  David and other followers of the Lord felt the pressure to conform.  

Yet David did what is necessary to survive with our faith intact when we live in a culture and are surrounded by people whose view of life is so different from our own.  He recognized the truth and reminded himself of what He truly believed.   To me, the key phrase is, “apart from you I have no good thing.”

David recognized that all good things come from God, that, as Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).  David reminded himself that he was totally dependent on the Lord.  The lie of his culture, and our culture as well, is that we have no need for God; we can get along in life without Him.  Yet the truth is, and David knew it, is we are ultimately dependent on the Lord for every breath we take, for the food we eat, for all that is necessary for life.  If not for God, we would cease to exist. 

So he gives praise to God and recognizes all the good things He has given him.  He also commits to keep his eyes on Him, like an ancient mariner keeping his eyes on the North star, in order to navigate his way through life without going off course and getting lost.  He knows He can trust God to guide him.  And he knows the course he is taking will lead him to a delightful end.  

Today, remember that no matter what people are saying and doing around you to discourage you from following the Lord, He is your one true hope. Nothing you are being offered compares to what the Lord has given you and will give you if you remain faithful to Him.  Fix your eyes on Him and never forget that apart from Him, there is nothing in life that is truly good.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

Finding Freedom in the Truth

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

Because I have been sick most of this week, I have watched a lot of television to pass the time.  And as a result of all the news about the Obamacare rollout, I found myself intrigued by how the president’s press secretary, his cabinet secretary overseeing the program, and the president himself have handled the outrage over his promise that “if you like your current healthcare plan, you can keep it. Period.” which turned out not to be true.  It made me cringe to hear their answers, as they tried every way they could to avoid admitting the president had not told the truth.  

Now I know there are political reasons why they are so reluctant to admit a lie.  There always are for politicians.  In this case, the administration understandably doesn’t want to give the Republicans any more ammunition in seeking to end the health care law.  Yet, regardless of their motives, they are squirming now because people know the truth and are just waiting for them to admit it.  

This is just a new version of a very old story, which began in the Garden of Eden when lies and deception first entered into our world. (Genesis 3) Since then, lying in order to get what we want or to avoid taking responsibility has been part of this life.  Yet most liars will admit after the fact that they became slaves to their lies.  Covering lies takes a lot of effort, not only mentally when we have to think through everything we say in order to continue the cover-up, but emotionally as well because we have been created by One who is Truth.  Unless our conscience has been totally seared, telling and living lies is extremely draining.  This is why so many who lie finally admit to it because they grow weary of trying to cover it up, or express relief when their lies are finally exposed.  

Lying is natural in this fallen world, but our Creator does not lie; thus, lying exacts a price—slavery.  We are held captive by the lies we tell until we confess the truth.  By doing so, Jesus says we will be set free.  

Today, are there any lies that you are living?  If so, are you tired of bearing the burden of them?  Know there is only one way to be freed from it—to tell the truth.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

More Than a Club

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (I Thessalonians 2:8 NIV)

At all universities, campus ministries are considered clubs.  They are supposed to elect officers each year, have a constitution, and have meetings.  That’s what clubs do.  And like clubs, pretty much anyone can join.  Prospective members are not voted on.  If they want to be involved, they can be.   But there is a major difference.   While club members may gather because of a shared interest, most don’t develop deep relationships with others in the club.  With campus ministries, as with the Church, the common commitment to Jesus leads members to deeper, more committed relationships with one another.  We share not only a common interest, but our lives as well.

It is with this in mind that I often experience sadness when I see how easily Christians can walk away from a community of believers.  They’re around, they’re involved—and then they’re gone, typically with no explanation.  Obviously, I am experiencing this from a pastor’s point of view.   People in whom I have invested leave without so much as a good-bye.  It’s as if they belong to a club instead of a family, which is what the Church is.   This is why we call each other brothers and sisters.  

Of course, students graduate and leave.  People get new jobs and re-locate.  These are expected and understandable.  What is more perplexing are those who leave because they’re “burned out,” or “it’s time for others to step up,” or they’re “just too busy,” or they just “don’t get much out of it anymore.”  

I suspect these are more just excuses than true reasons.  There may be a desire to take a different path in life or guilt over something they know does not please God.  But I think mostly it is a lack of truly sharing their lives and being known.  When that is happening, it is much more difficult to walk away.  

Today, recognize that the local church or campus ministry is more than just a place to gather around a common interest and participate in activities.  It is a community in which we are to love each other in such a way that we are delighted to share our lives with one another.  When we do that, it will be very difficult to walk away.  As it should be in any family.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Condition of Our Hearts

“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)

Years ago, I learned there were students coming to our large group meeting who afterward would stand in the parking lot planning their next drinking party.  These are the kind of people I think God is speaking about.  

As humans, we seem prone to seek cover for our sin through religious rituals.  I have known faithful churchgoers who have had affairs, embezzled money, cheated employees, abused their wives and children, and have been addicted to pornography.  Even the infamous BTK serial killer in Wichita, Kansas was a faithful member of a local church.  

All who are involved in a local church or campus ministry struggle with sin.  The Lord is not speaking of those who struggle; He is speaking of those whose hearts are not committed to Him yet who seek “spiritual cover” through church or ministry involvement.  There is a major difference between those who are truly seeking the Lord and fail sometimes and those who are bent on living life for themselves and seek to appease God or their consciences through religious rituals.  

God’s favor cannot be earned or purchased.  It is by His grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And we receive His grace by putting our trust in Him and surrendering our hearts to His will.  If our hearts are far from Him, then going to church or a campus ministry, putting money in the offering basket, or being in a Bible study will not gain us anything.  

Today, recognize being involved in ministry activities serves no purpose if your heart is not committed to the Lord.  It will not earn His favor.  He desires only a heart devoted to Him.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Pharisaical Mindset

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)

I think there comes a time in every believer’s life where there is a struggle with the Pharisaical mindset.  You know the one, where we believe we’ve come to a sense of enlightenment that should be emulated by everyone else. Jesus summarized this thinking through His story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).  The Pharisee looks down on the tax collector and thanks God he is better because of his great righteousness. Jesus, of course, takes apart this self-exulted attitude and lauds the tax collector for his humility.  

The problem with Pharisaical-minded people is they are arrogant and have forgotten their own shortcomings.  They adopt a superior view of themselves and believe everyone should listen and follow their point of view.  They are quick to tell others what they should be doing and quick to judge when they don’t do it.  

I remember back in my early days as a follower of Jesus, struggling with the idea of baptism.  Some of my Christian friends questioned whether I was truly a believer; while others cited their favorite Scripture verses about baptism, telling me I was being disobedient.  I became so frustrated with them and resented their judgment of me.  However, after studying the Scriptures myself, I came to the conclusion I did need to be baptized. Months later, I was working at a summer camp and the topic of baptism came up among the counselors.  At that point, I entered my Pharisaical mindset and began to argue and judge in the same way my friends had done to me just a few months earlier.  Sadly, I stayed in that mindset for several years.

Our pastor once said, “It is better to be kind than right.”  To the Pharisaical-minded, that is blasphemy, but I think this is what Paul is telling the Colossians.  The mindset of condemnation and judgment has its birth in our forgetting we have the same need of forgiveness as anyone else.  Once we become “enlightened” about spiritual matters, we tend to forget that.

Do you realize how much you need the forgiveness of the Lord?  If you don’t, then you are in danger of, or may have already entered into, having a Pharisaical mindset.  Remember the words of the Lord at the conclusion of His story: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Today, bear with those with whom you disagree.  Have grace for them and forgive them, just as the Lord has done for you.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, November 1, 2013

Living in a Culture of Stress

“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)

One constant working with college students is they are stressed much of the time.  And I rarely notice much difference between those who say they follow Jesus and those who don’t.  The college campus is a culture of stress that the inhabitants reinforce among each other.  Like adults who constantly talk about how busy they are, often seemingly wearing it as a badge of honor, so do students talk about how stressed they are.  

I don’t doubt they are, but what puzzles me is they never seem to seek a solution to how to deal with stress.  It’s as if they think, “I am a college student, therefore I am stressed out.”  And many seem to think once they graduate, life will become less stressful, which those of us on the other side of the diploma know is not true in the least.  So what concerns me is this culture of stress is producing people where “stressing out” will be the norm for their lives. 

Paul offers a solution, one not frequently embraced, but a biblical command nonetheless.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  “Anything” and “every” are comprehensive words; they don’t leave much room for interpretation.  A paper due or an exam to be taken? Included.  Plans for the future? Included.  A relationship issue? That, too. A serious illness or tragedy in your family?  Yep.  No matter what you are facing currently in your life that is causing you stress, or what you may face in the future, the solution to dealing with it is the same—going to the Lord in prayer and, with thanksgiving, presenting your needs to Him.  

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But we know it isn’t because, if it were, the vast majority would be doing it.  Rather, it is quite difficult because it involves letting go of our perceived control over a situation.  If we are stressed about a situation, it gives us a sense of control, but if we give it over to God, then we need to trust Him to take care of it.  Much harder to do.  

But the reality is if we follow Jesus, by default, we are to trust in Him.  So while stress will always be a part of our lives, how we handle it is to look much different from the world.  In the midst of stressful situations, we are to have a sense of peace because we have handed over our anxieties to the Lord, trusting He is in control so we don’t need to be.  

Today, what are you stressed out about?  By following Paul’s command, you can set yourself free from the constant anxiety life brings and exchange it for a peace that comes when you entrust the Lord with control of every aspect of your life.

© Jim Musser 2013