Friday, August 29, 2014

Plugged-In Lamps

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)

It really does start with us—you and me in an authentic, real relationship with Jesus, a relationship that flows from the heart, not from habit or moral standards or various religious activities and practices.  Without that, we are like lamps that aren’t plugged in.  We may look nice, but we are not going to bring any light into a dark place.  

This may explain why there can be so many churches in a community and, yet, they have little impact outside of their four walls.  And it gives us insight into how there can be so many ministries on a university campus and, yet, little noticeable influence on the student population as a whole. Too many of us who identify ourselves as Christians aren’t plugged in. We are lamps standing in the darkness unable to shine any light.  

Paul knew from his own life the key to making a spiritual impact in this world is not through religious activity and moral standards.  Jesus made that clear to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-31).  It was when he surrendered his life to the Lord and began developing an intimate relationship with Him that he began to bring light into the darkness.  So he prayed this prayer for his Ephesian brothers and sisters.  And so, too, should it be our prayer today, for our fellow believers and ourselves. 

If we can truly grasp the infinite measure of Jesus’ love for each of us, then that will draw us into a deeper relationship with Him.  And when we go deeper with Jesus, then He will increasingly fill us with the power of His Spirit.  We will be plugged-in lamps shining bright in the darkness.

Today, know the way you will spiritually impact others is by drawing near to Jesus.  Only through Him will you have the power to shine any light.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Divine Baggage Handler

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

This past summer my sister-in-law and her two daughters came to visit us from South Africa.  While they had a great visit, their experience with a certain American airline was anything but.  On their return home, a trip that was to take two days took five due to the airline’s incompetency.  If that weren’t bad enough, five of their eight bags were damaged beyond repair.  And to add insult to injury, the airline has yet even to acknowledge their claim for compensation.  

If you have flown much, you know airline personnel can often be gruff and less than helpful, and the baggage handlers far from gentle in handling passengers’ bags.  The whole commercial flying experience can leave folks feeling worn out, depressed, and resentful at how roughly they and their bags were treated.  Many fly only out of necessity and with feelings of dread each time they do it.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading this passage.  In so many areas of our lives, we are often treated roughly—perhaps by parents, teachers, government workers, bosses, etc.  We are not treated with care and neither is the baggage that we are often carrying.  Could it be that this common type of treatment we experience in our lives prevents us from seeing God as He really is—merciful and gentle?  

Most people I meet have a concept of God that more closely resembles an airline baggage handler than the One described in the Scriptures. They don’t see Him as gentle and caring, but rather as one who callously makes demands and metes out rough treatment on those who fall short. They might say they believe He is a God of love, but in reality they will not trust Him with their baggage.  Like the guy who takes the luggage off the plane, they believe God will handle their baggage in a rough and uncaring manner.  So they hold onto it.

So many are burdened by the baggage they carry.  If only they could hand it over to the One who will truly treat it with gentleness and care. Unlike His earthly counterparts, the Divine Baggage Handler cares about the owners of the baggage.   And because He cares about the owners, He will handle their baggage carefully.  

Today, know that whatever baggage you are carrying, you can hand it over to the Lord and He will be gentle with it because He deeply cares for its owner.  Unlike the typical experience with an airline, you can hand over your baggage and then find rest and peace.

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reaching the Next Generation

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.  One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.  They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.” (Psalm 145:3-6 NIV)

Our church had a time of prayer for those involved in ministry to youth and younger adults.  It was quite an amazing sight as dozens came forward who work with high school students, college students, professional singles, and young families, not only in this country but in many parts of the world.  Their mission, my mission, is to tell the next generation how great our God is, the wonderful things He has done in our lives and throughout history, in order that a new generation may carry on the Kingdom work of the previous one.  And among that group were members of the next generation who are busy at work among their peers.

When I was a college student, the people that influenced me most to become a follower of Jesus were of my own generation.  Scott invited me to a campus ministry worship service where I met some really cool people who did not fit my stereotype of Christians.  Don, my RA, spent time talking with me about spiritual things and encouraging me to think about who Jesus is.  Nan invited me to be a part of a dorm Bible study where I saw an example of what it meant to love and be loved.  In just three months after arriving on campus, I made the decision to follow Jesus.

As a campus minister for most of my post-college life, I know there were campus ministers, pastors, parents, and other adults motivating my peers to reach out to people like me.  For years, the older generation had been commending the great works of God to people of my generation and they responded.  Because they did, I came to know Jesus.

The Kingdom of God is expanding as history moves along because generation after generation proclaims the greatness of our God.  The prayer of our church focused on a continuation of that proclamation.  It is the prayer of all who are working with the next generation.

Today, consider your role in commending the works of God to the next generation.  Are you a college student?  Then whom among your peers can you share with?  Are you an adult?  Then who are some young people in your sphere of influence with whom you can pour into with the love of the Lord?   For this new generation to know of the great works of our God, it will take all of us, young, old, and older, doing our part to make His works known. 

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Important Parts of the Body

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I Corinthians 12:12-27 NIV)

Every night, my knee and the muscles surrounding it remind me of their presence.  Until my knee replacement surgery last spring, I slept peacefully, never giving my knee a thought.  Not anymore.  A similar thing occurred many years ago when I fractured my femur.  I never gave a thought to my quadriceps when I turned over in the middle of the night until then.  With every move, those muscles screamed with pain.  

We tend to take the parts of our bodies for granted, until they cease to function the way they are supposed to or are injured.  No one notices how their legs perform until they break one.  The hamstring doesn’t garner much attention until it is pulled.  Fingers are functioning appendages toward which we give little thought until we jam one or a joint is afflicted with arthritis.  The smooth functioning of our body parts leads us often to have a lack of appreciation for their importance to our daily lives.  

The same is true for the Church.  Paul tells us it is made up of many parts that are all necessary for the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ. Yet, as the Corinthian Christians proved, how easy it is for us to lack appreciation for many of the parts.  In today’s church, there is an overemphasis on the pastor or pastoral staff, and on the worship leaders. They are the most visible and, thus, get most of the attention.  But just like the human body, the Church is made up of many parts and all of them are important to the healthy function of the Body.

While the pastoral staff or worship leaders might get much of the attention, crucial roles are being fulfilled by those serving the children and the handicapped, by those visiting the elderly and the sick, by those making sure the meeting place of the church is functioning and looks presentable, and by those providing a listening ear to ones suffering under the burdens of life.  

There are many parts of the Body of Christ and not one is insignificant, regardless what the “Christian culture” might imply.  While our attention may be drawn to those most visible parts, God gives equal attention to the less or nearly invisible ones.  We may be impressed with a pastor’s preaching or his latest book, but the Lord may be even more impressed by the one who is wiping the runny nose of a child, speaking words of encouragement to a disheartened mother, or cleaning the toilets on a Saturday night.  The parts of the Body are not equal in function, but they are equal in value.

Today, don’t be deceived by the apparent superiority of certain roles in the Church, which may have led you to believe you have no important part to play.  All parts of the Body, like those of the human body, serve crucial functions even if they are very different from one another. Whatever gifts you have been given are intended by God to serve an important role in the functioning of the Body.  For there is no other kind.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Doing a New Thing

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

“I just fell back into being the person I used to be over the summer.”  This honest confession by a student recently is something I think we can all relate to—the spiritual fallback.  Seeing progress and growth, then, with a change of scenery or a life event, we fall back into acting like our old selves, the person we used to be before meeting Jesus.  It may happen quickly or be a slow slide back, and at some point we realize our position has shifted. 

This is a recurring theme in the Scriptures.  Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter, all outstanding men of God, each had their moments of retreat from the Lord. The Israelites, about whom the Lord is speaking in this passage, sometimes seemed in perpetual retreat. In each instance we see God receiving them back and enveloping them with His mercy and grace.   And to emphasize this point, Jesus tells the story of a rebellious son who is welcomed back into the family by his merciful father after wasting all that was given him (Luke 15:11-31).

When we fall back into our old ways, life can suddenly seem to be a wasteland—opportunities for growth lost and much time wasted on worthless activities.  And we are filled with guilt and shame.  Our instinct is to believe there is no way back, that we are stuck where we are, or if we head back in the right direction, things still will not be the same as they were before.   

But God is not who we instinctively picture Him to be.  He is very different. Instead of mulling over our sins, He is ready to move on, to start afresh.  Do not dwell on the past?  How hard that is!  Yet, this is our God. His focus is on the present and the future.  If you are willing to come along with Him, then the past is the past, never to be brought up again!

If you find yourself in a spiritual wasteland, know that with the beginning of this new day, you have the opportunity to start afresh.  The Lord is ready to do a new thing in your life.  Are you ready to let Him?

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Dangers of the Familiar

“So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“These people honor me with their lips, 
 but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; 
 their teachings are merely human rules.”  

‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’  And he continued, ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, “Honor your father and mother,” and, “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’” (Mark 7:5-13 NIV)

“Light the Fire,” I heard from beside me as we gathered around a bonfire enjoying a beautiful summer’s night and singing songs.  The leader had just asked for requests.  “Light the Fire,” I heard again.  The two freshmen didn’t know any of the songs we had previously sung and their request was a desire to sing something familiar, something that reminded them of their youth group back home.  “We miss it so much,” they told me later. “We just wish we could be back home with our church and our pastor.”

For freshmen, the first weeks of the college experience can be very difficult.  Everything is new and unfamiliar.  Sometimes the longing for the familiar is so great, new students will return home every weekend or even drop out of school so they can move back home.  

The unfamiliar is uncomfortable and, sometimes, threatening to our sense of wellbeing.  We tend to recoil from it rather than embrace it.  The human tendency is to settle into routine and tradition and to resist change. Sometimes, as with the Pharisees and other religious folks, the need to cling to the familiar supersedes even the commands of God.  

If traditions and the familiar can command such sway in our lives, then we should be aware of their dangers and alert to their negative influence on our lives.  

This is not to say that traditions are always bad, just that they have a way of impeding our growth and even leading us into disobedience.  For example, my wife and I have taken students to South Africa to serve with missionaries there.  Several years we took this trip over the Christmas Break.  Often, parents objected if their children wanted to participate because it interfered with the family’s Christmas traditions.  It would be only one Christmas missed, but even that was too much.  They never considered what the Lord might want; keeping the family tradition was what mattered.  

Many church splits are the result of traditions being threatened.  A typical scenario is a new pastor attempts to change some things.  There is resistance from members of the congregation, which eventually leads to the dismissal of the pastor and his supporters follow him, or those against the changes will leave the church.  

The end result of this is people miss out on opportunities to grow and mature, and, sometimes, can even be led astray by clinging to the familiar.  “Come, follow me” is not an invitation to remain comfortable, but to venture onto an unfamiliar path led by One who knows where He is going.  

I encouraged the freshmen to “hang in there” and not to give into the lure of the familiar because I know their current uncomfortableness will give way to growth, maturity, and joy if they will embrace the changes happening in their lives.  Jesus never promised us comfortable lives, but did promise to give us life to the full (John 10:10).

Today, recognize clinging to the familiar can be an impediment to your spiritual growth.  Following Jesus means we often have to leave familiar territory and embark on an unfamiliar path.  The end result, however, will be far greater than we could ever imagine.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Hard Work of Rehab

“If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.  Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.  That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (I Timothy 4:6-10 NIV)

During the pre-surgery consult with my orthopedic surgeon last spring, he told me he would replace my knee and then his work was done.  “The recovery is up to you,” he said.  

In all of my research prior to the surgery, what the doctor told me was confirmed.  Successful knee replacement surgery is dependent on the patient’s willingness and commitment to do the rehab.  A friend recently told me of a relative who was not progressing well after her TKR surgery. The problem, he said, was her lack of interest in doing the rehab exercises. 

In our church culture, there is a lot of emphasis on getting saved, but often little recognition of the damage done by our lostness.  To draw a parallel to my TKR surgery, becoming saved is the operation to give us a new heart and new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26), which is followed by a long rehabilitation period.   We are new creations, but we are far from godly. As Paul tells Timothy, godliness comes by training.  

Too often, we have the false impression that turning our lives over to Jesus initially is all that is needed, but that is like me thinking getting my knee replaced will make everything better.  It merely lays the groundwork for vast change in lifestyle and quality of living, but there remains much hard work to be done for that to happen.  The rehab is the key.

For decades I walked on a bad joint and my leg was terribly bowed.  The surgery replaced the bad joint and realigned my leg.  My physical therapist told me that most of my recovery would involve retraining my muscles after years of firing from a certain position.  Now they are in a different position and unaccustomed to it. Without training, they will attempt to function as before.  

Prior to knowing Jesus, there were years of godless thoughts, habits, and actions.  They were ingrained in us and came naturally to us.  Yes, we were given a new heart and new spirit, but our flesh is unaccustomed to our heart’s new alignment.  It must be trained if we are to see the results we have been told are possible.   

Today, recognize that in order to become godly, you must be willing to do the work.  It will not happen naturally or without effort.  After any operation, there is a period of recovery and rehabilitation.  The same is true after we accept Jesus as the Lord of our lives.  Much work awaits if we are to make a full recovery.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just Keep Pedaling

“Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’” (Luke 13:18-19 NIV)

The first time I went for physical therapy after my knee replacement surgery in May, the therapist had me get on a stationary bike.  At that point, my range of motion didn’t allow me to pedal a full circle.  I just went slightly forward and then back.  I returned two days later and did the same thing.  A little forward, and then back.  A little forward, and then back. After a few minutes, suddenly the pedals completed a rotation!  It was a major accomplishment on my road to recovery.

From then on, I began spending more time on the bike.  For the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t pedal fast enough to turn on the machine.  I was pedaling in full circles, but hardly fast enough for the bike to light up and ask, “Are you ready for your workout?”  To be honest, it was a little embarrassing amongst all the people around me pouring sweat and working at levels 10 and above on their machines.  I couldn’t even get mine to turn on!

While it was frustrating, my efforts were not in vain.  In those times of pedaling so slowly, I was still building strength.  It was imperceptible at first, but as I went along the speed of my pedaling increased—10 rpms, then 20, 30, and, finally, at 40 the machine lit up and stayed on!  And as my speed increased, so did my stamina.  I am now doing 30 minutes at an average of 80 rpms with one-minute sprints of 100+ rpms mixed in.  

My recovery process has taught me much about faith.  Jesus says faith is like a mustard seed (Luke 17:6). When it is planted in our lives, it may not seem like much is going on.  We look around at people who demonstrate great faith and we feel embarrassed at how small ours is, and may think we could never have such faith.  But if we nurture it with obedience, the little faith we had when we first turned control of our lives over to Jesus will grow into a strong faith unmoved by the trials of this world.  It is the small steps that lead to great things.  

If you feel like your faith is such that it can’t even turn on the machine, don’t be discouraged.  Just keep pedaling!  Be obedient to the Lord in those little things of life, like turning your eyes away from the scantily dressed woman rather than lusting after her; refusing to join in on the gossip among your friends; risking ridicule by choosing to read your Bible or pray in public; choosing at the prompting of the Lord to give the $20 you intended to spend on yourself to support a missionary or someone in need.  These are the little steps of faith that can lead to much greater faith later on.  

Today, know that the Lord can grow your faith into something large and significant.  It may begin very slowly, but in time it will grow if you just keep pedaling. 

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Lack of Imagination

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21 NIV)

“If you were to have told me last year that I would be sitting here, I would have thought you were crazy.”  “My life has changed so much.  If you had told me when I was a freshman what it would be like, I never would have believed it.”

These are quotes from two of our student leaders who made these comments during our weekend leaders’ planning retreat where we gathered to finalize plans for the new school year.  Their lives have changed in ways they couldn’t have imagined because they began to grasp the breadth of God’s love, not only for themselves, but for the world as well.  And they submitted to Him, stepping out of their comfort zones to be obedient to Him.  

Both had plans for their lives—the typical plans of finishing their degrees and getting jobs in their respective fields.  Both had attended church much of their lives and got involved with a campus ministry when they came to college, but their faith was on the fringe of their lives.  Like so many, it was a part of their lives, but did not define them.  And, as a result, they had little idea of what the Lord wanted and could do in their lives.  

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is a powerful one and informs us of what is necessary for our lives to be truly transformed—far beyond what we could ever imagine.  First, Christ must dwell in our hearts.  The word “dwell” conveys a sense of permanency and primacy.  Jesus must move in and establish permanent residency in our lives.  He is not just dropping by for a visit; our lives are not just a place He spends the weekends. Second, we must realize the breadth of the Lord’s love for us.  Child psychologists have long established that a child’s sense that he is loved is the key to growing into a healthy and secure adult.  When we truly recognize the fullness of Christ’s love for us, we are able to trust Him when He calls us out of our comfort zones.  For the two students, obeying His call to go to Uganda this summer was far from comfortable, but they trusted Him and their vision of the Kingdom was greatly expanded.  

So many of us settle into life being guided by our expectations, or by those around us, be they our parents, our friends, or the culture in general.  We fail to realize God has so much more for us if we are willing to trust Him.

Today, realize how much the Lord loves you.  Give Him a permanent home in your life.  Allow Him to direct your life.  If you do, like these two students, you will be saying in years to come, “If you had told me…”

© Jim Musser 2014