Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Being Thankful

(Author’s Note: As we begin the Thanksgiving Break on campus, I will be taking a break as well.  See you again on December 1st. Jim)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15 NIV)

As we approach our national day of thanksgiving, the Scriptures remind us that the attitude of thankfulness is not to be limited to one day a year.  Instead, it is to be a continual state of mind.  “And be thankful.”  The Bible is full of commands to give thanks and expressions of thanksgiving.  Just go to any online Bible site and search “thanks,” and you can see for yourself.

This is also not a conditional command.  It does not offer exceptions for when times aren’t so great or when life doesn’t go as planned.  The Apostle Paul writes in another place that we should give thanks in all circumstances; in fact, that it is God’s will for us to do so (I Thessalonians 5:18).  Why would that be?  I think it is because being thankful puts life in perspective.  How easy it is to complain about things and people, and to be enslaved to a “woe is me” attitude.  There are many times where I have to go to the Lord with my “thankful for” list in order to break the pattern of complaining about things.  

The reality is, if we really think about it, there is so much in life for which we can and should be thankful.  The challenge is to intentionally think about them so they are fresh in our minds.  So in honor of Thanksgiving, here is a list of some of the things for which I am thankful.  And I will challenge you to compile a list of your own so you can better follow the command of Scripture to be thankful.

*Jesus, who by His grace and mercy took hold of a badly flawed and insecure teenager and made him into a new person, and who continues to mold me into the man He created me to be.

*My wife, who over the past 9+ years, has loved me despite all my shortcomings, and has taught me much about grace, about intimacy with God, and being patient in the midst of life’s difficulties, particularly the little ones which always seem to give me more trouble than the big ones.

*The ministry to college students the Lord has given me.  What a joy to work with young people and watch them mature in the Lord in what seems to be right before my eyes.  

*Our new home after a yearlong search.  Thinking about the several homes we had an interest in or made offers on, I’m thankful the Lord kept us from making the wrong decision.  There is no doubt this is the best home for us at this point in our lives and ministry.

*Faithful supporters.  We raise nearly half of our income.  For years, people have generously provided for us.

*Our washer and dryer.  After spending a year without them, doing laundry at home is such a joy.

*The food and drink in our fridge and pantry.  We never go hungry or thirsty. 

*Our car and truck.   One is about to turn 200,000 miles and the other is not far behind.  But they both run well and are reliable.

*My new knee.  After enduring years with a bad knee, my new one is functioning well and allowing me to do things I haven’t done in decades.

*My five senses.  They all still work well (okay, my wife would disagree with me on the hearing) and allow me to experience life in such beautiful ways.

*My friends.  So many in different places spanning many decades.

Now go and make your own list.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014


“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.  Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.  Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.  Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.  Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.  Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.  Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.  Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the
Lord.  Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.  Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.  Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.  Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.” (Romans 16:1-15 NIV)

I think most readers of the Scriptures, when they come to a list of people, whether like this one that Paul made, or one of the many genealogy lists in the Bible, just skim it and move on.  “It’s just a list of names,” they might say.  “Nothing very interesting here.”  I confess I have done this in the past.

Our tendency is that we want action and drama.  Miracles, healings, interesting stories are what we typically look for. Jesus facing down the Pharisees; Moses parting the Red Sea; the earthquake that opened the cell door of Paul and Silas.  Lists of names don’t  really suit our interests, so we skim them or just skip them altogether.  But when we do that, we miss an important truth: life is not always action and adventure.  Most of the time, life is an interwoven fabric of ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Today, it seems, the focus is more on the “wow!” whether it be an event or a personality. Normal, steadfast, and faithful don’t garner a lot of attention.  Yet, when we think of the Body of Christ, that is the key to its functioning.  This is why I think Paul says that God gives greater honor to the lesser known and recognized parts (Acts 12:22-25), because our tendency is to laud the prominent ones.  I think it is significant that, like here in this passage,  we see individual names throughout the Scriptures with little or no comment about them.  The message I think is you don’t have to be famous or well known to be significant.  

In a culture that increasingly glorifies fame, and where more and more seek it, I find comfort in knowing my life can have significance just by being faithful to what the Lord has called me to do.  I don’t need to be well known or have people in awe of me.   Just going about my life, remaining faithful to what the Lord commands is enough.  And in doing so, I join with many others doing the same, and together, we make up the Body of Christ, all individual parts doing our best to bring glory to the Head, who is Jesus.  

Today, know the Lord honors any person or work, no matter how seemingly insignificant to the culture at large, that is faithful and glorifying to Him.  You don’t have to be famous to be significant.

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

An Anchor for Our Souls

“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:17-20 NIV)

In the past four months, two students, and likely a third, have committed suicide on our campus.  The university counseling center is overwhelmed with student requests for its services.  I recently attended a meeting with the Dean of Students and he said it was the worst semester of his 20+ years working in student development.  I asked him if our campus was an anomaly or if this was a trend across the country. He replied that universities across the country are facing the immense challenge of students unable to navigate the stresses of life.  He also said stress levels of incoming freshmen have been steadily increasing over the past 20 years.   

As I sat and listened to the dean, I realized that, while I have seen an increase in our students’ stress levels, I have not seen the heavy psychological toll that seems to be sweeping the country.  And I think I know why.

An anchor can provide a ship stability in rough seas.  Though the waves may batter it, it doesn’t get carried away by them.  The Hebrew writer describes the hope we have in Jesus as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  What a wonderful description of Jesus and His promise of overcoming the troubles in this world! (John 16:33) In the midst of trouble, as we are tossed about by the waves of life, Jesus is there to keep us anchored, helping us to retain our hope no matter the circumstance.  

It seems to me the reason the students with whom I work, though far from having a complete handle on dealing with stress in their lives, do manage it without giving into despair is the hope they have in Jesus. He is their anchor amidst the storms of life.  And while they may get battered by life, they yet remain firm and secure.  

The sad thing is our culture continues to move away from Jesus.  It could be argued that the trend of increasing stress among students correlates directly with the culture’s increasing marginalization of all things biblical.  Students, and the population as a whole, are being encouraged to find alternatives to the Anchor for coping with life—whether it be engaging in atypical lifestyles, pursuing material wealth or entertainment, etc.  The results of this are obvious on campuses and throughout the nation and the world.  Apart from Jesus, there is no anchor for our souls.    Only despair and hopelessness.

Today, in the midst of a troubled world, know there is an Anchor who can keep you firm and secure as the waves of life come at you, threatening to carry you away.  His name is Jesus and He has overcome the world.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Evangelism and Gimmicks

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” (II Corinthians 2:14-17 NIV)

The radio show, “This American Life,” did a feature a few years ago on “bait and switch” schemes, which included an interview with a self-described former evangelical Christian.  He told of using “surveys” on campus to initiate conversations with students, the goal being to lead the discussion toward talking about Jesus.  The reality is there was no real survey.  No data was being collected for research.  It was just a technique used to start a conversation. A former student e-mailed me and told me about the show and said she remembered how much I hated that approach to evangelism.  I still do.  

Many years ago, I was at home leading a Bible study group when the doorbell rang.  When I opened the door, in front of me stood a few high school youth.  They told me they were from a certain church and wanted to talk with me.  I told them I was in the midst of a Bible study and didn’t have the time.  I thanked them for stopping by.  As I was closing the door, one of the students said, “Can I ask you one question? If you were to die tonight, do you know if you would go to Heaven?” There it was.  The question they were supposed to ask.  Never mind I had told them I was a campus minister and was leading a Bible study group at that very moment.  It didn’t matter.  Their goal for the evening was to visit as many people as they could and ask that question.  I could have just found out there was a death in my family or I had just lost my job and I don’t think it would have mattered.  They were going to ask that question because that was what they were there to do.  

In Paul’s day, men were preaching the Gospel for the sole purpose of making money.  They weren’t interested in the people; they were interested in their enterprise.  It is the same with the “survey” and the question.  They become the focus and the people are mere objects to conduct our business.  Is it any wonder people are turned off by Christians trying to evangelize them, or Christians are repulsed or fearful to reach out to others with the Gospel?  

The Gospel is about bringing hope to people in need of it.  That’s it. And the most effective way to do that is by being authentic with people in telling them what Jesus has done in our lives.  As Peter instructs, give the reason for the hope that is within you (I Peter 3:15-16 ) in an authentic and gentle way.  It’s really that simple.  We don’t need, and people don’t want, gimmicks.  Make it personal; make it real.  Then the people with whom you share can freely decide what they want to do with it.  

Today, recognize true evangelism is not done by deceit or by some developed method.  And it’s not done to make you feel better or more spiritual.  It’s done out of love through the sharing of your life and the transformation Jesus has made in it. 

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Being Intentional

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Romans 7:5-8 NIV)

Being successful requires living with intentionality.  Even the most talented athlete has to work at his sport to be successful.  In order to graduate, students have to discipline themselves to go to class, complete projects, and pass exams.  Careers are built with effort.  Few of us can gain much without really trying.

Being successful in spiritual growth and maturity is no different.  It requires effort and discipline.  Paul tells us that in order to live the way God wants us to live we must have our minds set on what He desires. There is a sense of focus and intentionality.  Our minds naturally go toward our human desires.  Without any effort in the other direction, our thoughts go toward lust, greed, envy, fear, hate, selfishness, etc.  If there is to be a change, we must intentionally set our minds in a different direction.  It is a lifelong struggle about which Paul writes later in this chapter.  It is the struggle to break the hold of our sinful nature on our lives. 

So how do we accomplish this?  First, we must recognize we cannot do this alone; we need the Lord’s help.  So we acknowledge the difficulty of the battle and ask for His help.  Secondly, we begin to shift what we are putting into our minds and filter what does come in through the truths of God’s Word.   Thirdly, when we are unable to prevent ungodly thoughts from entering our minds, we follow Paul’s instructions (II Corinthians 10:5) and take them captive and give them over to the Lord.  

Is this a lot of work?  Of course.  If you think following Jesus requires little or no effort, you are badly mistaken.  We face an enemy that seeks to destroy us.  When we change sides, do not think he will merely give up and let us go.  He will pursue us and harass us.  We will have to fight him.

Today, recognize if you want to grow and be successful spiritually, you are going to have to be intentional about it and work at it.  The Lord will help you, but you first have to set your mind to it.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Filling in the Blanks

“For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’  Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.  We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.  We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.” (II Corinthians 10:10-13 NIV)

This morning I read a post on Facebook from a mother who lamented her struggle with comparing her life to those seemingly perfect lives posted on Facebook and vowed to stop doing it.  She is far from alone.  

We all see the posts and images of our friends and acquaintances and it is easy to conclude their lives are perfect.  Husbands/wives are without flaws; children are always cute, adorable, funny, and never frustrating; friendships are wonderful without ever any tensions; vacations are always fun and exotic.  You get the picture.  

But in everyone’s life, there are always blanks that need to be filled in—with reality.  I think this is basically Paul’s message to the Corinthians. Some were comparing him with those among them that were claiming greatness for themselves in the areas of speaking and leadership.  I can imagine them sitting around boasting of their rhetorical prowess, painting a picture of how wonderful they were.  Who was Paul compared to them?  But Paul, echoing Jesus, warned them of boasting beyond proper limits.  In other words, beyond what their lives truly were. They were trying to paint a picture of themselves that was not reality and comparing themselves with one another.  Paul says they were unwise to do so. Perhaps because it smacked of arrogance and pride. Though he was derided, Paul was content with his life because he trusted the Lord and didn’t need to prove himself.  People boast out of pride and insecurity, but Paul knew his shortcomings and was secure in God’s love for him.  We would do well to follow his example.

It is not wise for us to look at Facebook and compare our lives with those portrayed there.  The impressions given by Facebook posts are, though usually unintentionally, a form of boasting beyond proper limits because they fail to project reality.  No life is perfect.  Spouses and significant others disappoint us, kids can test our patience beyond what we think we can bear, and friendships are sometimes fraught with challenges.  Life is often hard, frustrating, and disappointing, but one will rarely get that impression from Facebook. But if we struggle with pride or insecurity, we will be tempted to compare ourselves with these portrayals, feeling guilty and needing to keep up with them.

Today, as Paul wisely instructs, do not compare yourself with those who paint, intentionally or unintentionally, their lives in ways that are beyond reality.  Instead, fill in the blanks and know that everyone struggles and that no one’s life is even close to being perfect.  Instead of comparing yourself to everyone else, recognize you are loved by God and be content with the life He has given you.

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Grind of Life

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV)

There is a lot of weariness on campus these days.  The answer to “Are you ready for Thanksgiving Break?” is always a resounding “Yes!”  A life of classes, papers, and tests wears students down over the course of a semester.  It is a lesson for life in general.

Post-college life can also wear us down.  There are the eight, ten, or 12-hour workdays and no three-month long summer breaks.  There are the stresses of finances in tough economic times.  There are the sleepless nights with sick children and the stress that comes with raising them into adulthood.  Add to that any number of possible crises that may arise along the way and even a good life can wear on us.

Weariness is something we will often have to deal with throughout our lives.  And the Hebrew writer has a simple solution in how to cope—look to Jesus.  Don’t try to handle it yourself; fix your eyes on Jesus. Look to Him for encouragement and strength.  

The context of the writer’s directive is persecution.  Followers of Jesus were suffering in many ways for their faith.  The writer knew the difficulty of their struggle and knew they were weary.  While you may not be suffering persecution for you your faith, his principle still applies.  The grind of life can best be handled by focusing on Jesus.

It is always easy when we are tired to focus on our immediate circumstances.  Problems become bigger and bigger as we grow more weary.  They can seem overwhelming.  That is why we need to take our eyes off our struggles and fix them on Jesus.  He proved He could handle any struggle and has promised to overcome ours (John 16:33).

Are you weary of the grind of life?  Then know Jesus is there to strengthen and encourage you.  What you have to do is fix your eyes on Him.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Stilling the Noise

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” (Psalm 46:10 NIV)

This Psalm is about the noise of upheaval and destruction.  There is trouble afoot.  There are earthquakes; mountains are collapsing; the oceans are roiling; nations are in the midst of upheaval and some are falling.  The world appears to be at the brink. But in the midst of all the trouble, the Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

This Psalm likely resonates with you because there is so much troubling noise in the world.  There’s the minor background noise of entrenched politicians who seem unable to act civilly or do what is in the best interests of the country; cable news shows that handle debate like third-graders; coverage of Kim Kardashian and other celebrities, and the constant din of social media, which typically is filled with plenty of snark. Add to that the noise of our own lives, the responsibilities and challenges we face.  Then add to that the serious noise of ISIS, Syria, Ebola, Ukraine, climate change, etc., and one can begin to feel life is one constant distraction or crisis, putting us in a mode of continual anxiousness.  Do we just tolerate it or is there a better way?

I find it comforting that the Lord takes it all in stride.  The world may appear to be falling apart or on the brink, the noise may be overwhelming, but God is not fazed.  “Be still.” “Know I am God.”  Like the father who grabs his child that’s stuck on a slippery rock in the middle of stream, saying “I’ve got you” as he wraps his arms around him, the Lord is saying to us, “Trust me, I’ve got you.”

No matter the noise in our lives, stilling ourselves to reflect on the bigness of God to handle any situation is always the best way to manage it.  Like focusing on conversing with one person in a crowded room, the noise of other conversations slips into the background.  The more we still ourselves to hear God, the quieter our worlds become.

Today, when your noisy world becomes overwhelming, remember the way to still the noise is to still yourself and focus on the Lord.  As you do, no matter how loud the noise, it will fade into the background and you will hear His comforting voice more clearly saying, “Trust me, I’ve got you.”

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bringing Jesus Down to Size

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9-14 NIV)

It happened again this week.  As the headline implied, there were shocking new revelations about Jesus.  Two scholars have written a new book claiming Jesus married the Virgin Mary and that they had two kids!  Absolutely shocking, isn’t it?  Who knew?  

I am never surprised or shocked when these claims appear in the media or in the classroom.  Ever since His resurrection, people have made attempts to diminish the divinity of Jesus.  The Jewish leaders were the first when they began spreading the story that Jesus’ disciples stole His body and hid it in order to perpetuate the fraud of His resurrection (Matthew 28:11-15) Many have followed.  

The 20th Century theologian Rudolf Bultmann claimed the resurrection of Jesus was mythical rather than historical.  In his view, the story gives Christians hope, but didn’t actually happen.  Some churches today, when they talk about the resurrection, view it from Bultmann’s perspective.  Some college professors seek to bring Jesus down to size by claiming His divinity was invented by the early Church, since the New Testament was written after His death.  A psychology professor I had in college called the resurrection and the miracles of Jesus “pure foolishness.”

Some are much gentler.  They call Jesus a great teacher and moral leader, but still deny His divinity.  C.S. Lewis dealt with this decisively when he wrote in his classic book, Mere Christianity: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

There are some today who do reject Jesus outright, claiming He never existed, except in the minds of those who made Him up. But most seek to make Him merely human.  In this way, by claiming He lived an ordinary life—with a wife and kids—He can be reduced to a mere man with no claims on us whatsoever.  And it is those claims that are so threatening.  If indeed, as John says, He came into a world that was His own, that it was made through Him, then the world and everyone in it belongs to Him.  In other words, He is Lord.  And, thus, why it is important for them to prove that to be a myth and untrue.  

Many would rather live as lord of their own lives than to submit to the Lord of life.  So they must bring Jesus down to the human level; make Him a mere man and strip Him of His authority.  

So today, don’t be surprised when people try to make Jesus merely a man.  It is their way to deal with Him so they can continue to be lord of their own lives.  But know one day they, along with all of humanity, will bow down and confess who He truly is—Lord of all (Philippians 2:9-11). In the meantime, if you have received Jesus, know you are His child, secure in His loving arms.

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Maintaining an Image

“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIV)

It turns out image was everything for Andre Agassi.  The tennis great revealed in his autobiography, Open, that he hated tennis for much of his life, considered a loss in a French Open final a win because his faux hair piece didn’t fall off during the match, and lied about the reasons for a failed drug test because he was embarrassed by his crystal meth use.

In his prime, Agassi was the main spokesperson for Canon and the iconic line he repeated in commercial after commercial was, “Image is everything.”  From revelations in his book, we now know that was more than a slogan he mouthed in exchange for a multi- million-dollar endorsement.  It was his modus operandi for life.  He projected a love for tennis while passionately hating the game.  His famous locks were beginning to fall out by age 20, so he got a hair weave in order not to disappoint his fans.  While appearing very much in control of his life, he was actually going down a dark path in which he turned to a recreational drug in order to cope.  

Like so many, Agassi carried his burden alone.  Few knew of his internal struggles and none sought to help him.  For much of his life, he maintained an image of a reality that didn’t actually exist.  And he fooled everyone.

Agassi is really no different than many of us.  We seek to maintain an image of what we think people will like or need to see, while the reality for us is very different.  I recall a student whose father was a pastor. Early in his collegiate career, he was involved in our campus ministry. As time went on, he began to party, but still was somewhat involved. Then he pretty much dropped out altogether.  After graduating, he told friends he was done with Christianity and that his spiritual commitment had been an act because his dad was a pastor.  Keeping up the image finally became too much for him.

We fall into the trap of maintaining an image because we fear what people will think if they know the truth about us—that we’re depressed, that were struggling with some sin, that we are experiencing something that is causing us to doubt God.  Thus, we pile another burden, maintaining our image, on top of our existing burden. 

The burden of maintaining an image that does not fit the reality of our lives is a heavy burden indeed and grows heavier the longer we seek to maintain it; thus, there is much wisdom in Paul’s words to the believers in Galatia.  We are not meant to carry our burdens by ourselves.  We need others to help us.  Yet, in order for others to help us, we must let them know we have a need for help.  

Today, if you are carrying a heavy burden, don’t pretend that everything is okay.  Don’t maintain an image that doesn’t match reality.  It will only make your burden heavier.  Instead allow others to help you.  The only image you need to maintain is one that is real.

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Loving the Lord More than Life

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39 NIV)

America has fallen in love with its soldiers and veterans, or so it seems. At almost every professional sports event, soldiers and veterans are honored in some way.  Yesterday, ESPN aired a five-minute clip of dozens of surprise visits of military fathers and mothers to their families at home.  In airports, soldiers in uniform often have strangers approach them to thank them for their service.  

I laud the positive attention.  It is so much better than what soldiers returning from Viet Nam faced.  But doesn’t seem a little over the top? Is it possible we’re trying a little too hard to show our appreciation? And, if so, why is that?  Could it be out of a sense of both relief and guilt? Relief that it is not us or those we love risking their lives for the sake of the nation?  Or guilt from not wanting to take those risks and let others do it instead?

I ask these questions because of what I see in our culture.  We dearly hold onto life and most are adverse to taking any risks or allowing others to take risks that may result in injury or death.  So many laud those who volunteer for military service, while at the same time discouraging those they love from doing the same or even contemplating such service for themselves.  The fear of risk is palatable.  

I see the same fear in the Church.  We often laud missionaries who serve in faraway lands, perhaps in dangerous circumstances, but would we ever consider such a work ourselves or encourage our children to take such a path?  From what I have experienced, the answer is no.  It is even difficult to get people to sign up for a short excursion into a mission field, let alone to make a career of it.  

Jesus said to go into all of the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), but there are so few willing to go, particularly to dangerous locations, or who will allow their adult children to go. They think it too dangerous and they would prefer having their children and grandchildren safe and close.  

This is why the Church in America needs to hear these words of Jesus. If we insist on holding onto our lives or the lives of those we love, we risk being on the wrong side of Eternity.  “Whoever loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  Do you love your parents so much that even if the Lord is calling you to a different place far away, you will not go?  Do you love your son or daughter so much, that even if the Lord is calling them to live far away, even to risk their lives for His sake, you will fight to have your way instead of His?  And do you love your life so much that you will hold onto it rather than risk danger or being uncomfortable if the Lord were to command you to take a different path?  

These questions may seem extreme, but they must be posed because they come from the Lord.  What does it mean to take up one’s cross other than to be willing to risk one’s life, to be uncomfortable, and perhaps to suffer as a result?  Many of us have turned the cross into a shiny ornament, something to wear around our necks or display in the front of our church buildings.  We forget that it was an instrument of suffering and execution and that we as followers of Jesus are supposed to pick it up and carry it.  

Today, as we honor those men and women who were willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of our country, consider whether you are willing to put your life at risk, or allow those you love to do so, for the sake of obeying the Lord.  Do you love Him more than all that is precious to you?

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

When All Is Lost

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15 NIV)

Over the weekend, I was working on our finances.  Having switched to a new software program, I was attempting to get everything current, adding some transactions and deleting others.  Suddenly, I noticed our checking account was gone!  Ten years of transactions and tax information vanished in a moment.  Because I was working with a new computer and a new program, I hadn’t yet backed up anything. Feelings of dread washed over me as I vainly attempted to undo whatever I had done.  Nothing worked. I spent the next several hours in shock as I contemplated the consequences.  What of all the hours I had put in over the years?  What if we were audited by the IRS?  What proof would we have of our deductions?  

As my wife and I drove to another town, I prayed for the Lord to intervene and rescue us from this disaster.  And then I remembered I still had the old program disk in storage!  That glimmer of hope carried me through the rest of the day.  The next morning, I went to our storage unit, praying that, among all of the boxes, I could find the one containing the disk.  I opened the unit and spotted what I thought was the box it would be in.  Within a couple minutes, I had that precious disk in my hand.  Returning home, I installed the old program on my old computer and then retrieved the financial files off our external hard drive.  Within a few minutes, our finances were back in order and I was breathing again!

I discovered a lesson in this. Just as my financial data vanished in a flash, and its disappearance was totally unexpected, so, too, can our lives or the lives of those close to us.  We, as James describes, “are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” And when death occurs to those we love, we are overwhelmed.  Shell-shocked.  All seems to be lost.  Or we cringe in fear at the thought of our own lives coming to an end.

But when it appears and feels all is lost, there comes a glimmer of hope: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)  Something to cling to as our hearts quake with fear and dread.  The life that was lost will be restored!  In Jesus, nothing is lost forever.  Separation is temporary.  

In this hope comes freedom.  We do not have to be enslaved by fear of the death of someone we love or by our own.  We do not have to be imprisoned by overwhelming grief.  Though life vanishes, it does not cease to exist.  Like my financial data, it is backed up, not on some computer disk or the cloud, but in Heaven by the blood of Jesus.  

Today, know that your life and the lives of those you love are but a mist that won’t last all that long.  But there is no need to be enslaved by fear or dread.  The promise of Jesus can sustain us.  We may vanish from this life, but we are saved and will continue to live in Eternity.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

Idols Among Friends

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

At a time when Michael W. Smith’s “Friends Are Friends Forever” was the theme song at many high school graduation ceremonies, I attended a concert by the late Rich Mullins. I remember him saying that he hated the song because friendships are often just for a season and not forever.  He thought the song sappy and unrealistic.  If only Rich were still with us.

We live in time where, particularly among teens and twenty-somethings, friendship often comes close to idolatry.  I recently read a Facebook post lauding a friend as “one who completes me.”  From all that I read in the Scriptures, it is only God who can complete us, and make us who we were meant to be.  

Idolatry, by biblical definition, is anything we worship or value above the Lord.  And I have seen many, am seeing many, who embrace the idolatry of friendship.  Their identity and their self-worth are found in their friendships.  The priorities and opinions of friends are the most important to them.  Pleasing their friends is a greater priority than pleasing God.  

During my years in ministry, I have watched students who are seeking the Lord be sidetracked by their devotion to friends.  They may continue to talk the talk, but it is clear where their priorities lie.  They withdraw from other relationships and refuse to make any effort to develop new ones.  Their worlds revolve around a very small group of people, perhaps just one or two.  Like players at a poker table, they are “all in.”  

But as in poker, going “all in” with certain friendships carries risks.  You may lose in a very big way and the odds are you will.  

What Rich Mullins realized and what we need to understand is friendships never remain the same over time.  Life happens.  Marriage. Kids.  Careers. Changes in location.  And friendships will have to adapt or die.  Sometimes, the changes are just too dramatic for them to last.  I can hear the screams coming, “No, never!  Not our friendship!” Those are the cries of idolaters.  When you are determined that nothing come between you and your friend(s), not marriage, not your children, not even God, you, my friend, are caught in the grip of idolatry.  

And idolatry always comes at a steep price.  It never tolerates competition, so when life does happen or when a friend recognizes there is too much devotion to the other friend and not enough to God, friendships end bitterly.  What was meant to be a wonderful gift is crushed by holding onto it too tightly.  And one or both friends are left with the realization of time and energy misplaced and wasted.  

Today, realize friendships are a wonderful gift from the Lord, but they are never, ever to replace Him as your source of meaning and purpose in life.  When they do, they have become idols and both your friendship and your relationship with God are at risk.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Complaining to God

“I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.  I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.” (Psalm 142:1-2 NIV)

Complaining seems to be a normal practice for people.  We complain about most everything—school, work, the government, the weather, our kids, other people’s kids, other people.  And to whom do we complain? Likely, to other people.

The Scriptures are very clear as to the Lord’s displeasure with this type of complaining (Numbers 14).  So, naturally, we would tend to conclude it is wrong to complain to God.  Yet, here we have David speaking of complaining to the Lord without any hint of remorse.  Are we to conclude, then, that it’s okay to complain to God, just not to others? I think so.

When we are unhappy with our lives, or some aspect of them, and complain to others, we are dishonoring the Lord who created our lives. Complaints about life are essentially complaints about Him.  So complaining to others about life is like complaining to others about the Lord.  

How do you feel when others complain about you behind your back? Wouldn’t you rather have them come directly to you with their complaints?  Now does it not become much clearer why the Lord is okay with David complaining to Him?

While we may have a hard time dealing with people upset with us, God is big enough to handle our complaints.  He is not going to strike us down because we dare complain.  Rather, He will listen and then gently respond.  

Earlier this week, as I drove around town, I was complaining to God about a situation in my life.  He did not force me off the road into a ditch or strike me blind.  He listened and then gently brought to mind how actually this situation benefits me in terms of eternity.   In other words, He let me vent and then we had a conversation—just like a child and a grown-up.  

Likely, if we practice this approach, we will complain less because we will quickly see how ridiculous it is to complain about a lot of these things.  But when we feel we have a legitimate complaint, we know the Lord is open to hearing it and we can go to Him and vent.

Today, know the Lord is open to hearing what is troubling you.  He would much rather hear you complain to Him than to other people.

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

True Rest

“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.  These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.’  They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them…

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:6b-13, 30-34 NIV)

Sometimes our bodies and minds cry out for rest and solitude, and just when we think we are going to find it, something or someone demands our time.  We think we are going to get a weekend off, but a professor or boss gives us more work to do.  Or perhaps we plan on going to bed early and a friend needs to talk—now.   

The disciples had just returned from a demanding time of ministry away from Jesus and returned to find themselves in the midst of more ministry.  So Jesus attempted to lead them away for some R and R, but they couldn’t get away from the people.  And Jesus saw their need and began once again to minister to them.  

There is a lesson here that may be surprising.  Sometimes I think we live in a culture addicted to both work and to leisure.  We bounce from the one to the other.  When we work, nothing gets in our way and we can push ourselves to exhaustion, and when we relax, we don’t want to be bothered.  We just want to veg out with no demands on us.  But life rarely works well that way.  It’s not all or nothing.  

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  The disciples were weary, but they were with Jesus.  And Jesus, in the midst of their weariness, gave them the strength to continue to do ministry when it was needed.  The lesson is that they were with Jesus.  That is the difference.  They allowed Him to lead them.  At that time, He saw fit to give them more work to do and the strength to do it.  At other times, He led them away and others’ needs did not interrupt their rest.  

Today, recognize you can find true rest only in being with Jesus.  You can trust Him to lead you.  If that is rest without interruption, then enjoy it.  If not, then know He will give you the strength to do what is required.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Replacing Anger with Tears

“Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:17-21 NIV)

In every political season, there are those who seek to divide political parties, candidates, and supporters into the good and evil categories. Each seeks to portray the other side as wrong or evil. But it seems there is a lot of that going on far beyond politics.  This past weekend, Christians protested in Houston against gays, many wearing t-shirts saying they have the right to refuse service to LGBT’s.  In recent years, Christians have also protested against Muslims building mosques in their cities or neighborhoods.  And for decades there have been protests in front of abortion clinics by believers committed to the sanctity of life.  

But in all of these protests, there is little, if any, weeping.  They are usually more characterized by anger.  Of course, that is usually how we respond to people we perceive to be our enemies.  We get in their faces (or from a distance) and remind them and others how bad and wrong they are.  

But Paul’s comments to the Philippian believers raises an interesting question: If we truly believe that the stands our enemies take have eternal implications and consequences for not only the culture, but for themselves as well, why is there no weeping for their lostness?  Tears filled Paul’s eyes as he acknowledged the many “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  And when Jesus was standing overlooking Jerusalem, He was filled with anguish at the lostness and rebellious of the people dwelling in that city (Matthew 23:37).  It is not hard to imagine tears were in His eyes.  

Yes, Jesus did get angry on occasion, but His anger was directed at the religious leaders, not the pagans.  And the same is true of Paul.  He reserved his wrath for the Jewish opposition and fellow Christians who were behaving in ungodly ways.  Both loved and had compassion for their enemies.  They recognized their lostness and the fate awaiting them if they did not repent.  Instead of anger, there were tears.

Could that be what is missing from the various fronts of the cultural wars upon which we find ourselves?  Instead of being angry at the homosexuals, the abortion doctors, Muslims, the Bill Mahers of the world, should we be not be weeping for their lostness? Should we not be filled with compassion and praying that the blind might see?

Today, if you find yourself angry with those who are enemies of God, those who advocate beliefs and lifestyles contrary to the Scriptures, recognize the compassion of Jesus and Paul towards those who were lost.  Instead of anger, we see tears.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

Open Praise

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15-16 NIV)

We live in increasingly hostile times where religion is concerned.  Most recently, radical Islam has really stoked a backlash against religion. People, like Bill Maher and other outspoken critics, point to all the problems in the world arising from religion.  They cite the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, the Westboro Baptist Church (the late Fred Phelps), and the current spread of ISIS as evidence the world would be better off without religion.  

While this may still be the minority view, there is a growing sense that we would be better off if we kept our faith to ourselves or at least restricted to among like-minded people.  The message is, “if you must have faith, just don’t push it on us.”  But many of us have experienced what “push it on us” really means.  It means, “don’t display it or talk about it in front of me.”  Thus, there can be a dampening effect on expressing our love for Jesus.  It is easier and less awkward if we just keep it to ourselves.

But look at what the Hebrew writer says.  We are to continually offer God “a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”  “Openly” is the key word here.  Our praise of God, of Jesus, is not to be limited to behind closed doors or merely among like-minded believers.  No, it is to be out there for all to hear and see.  And given the context provided by the verses coming before this, we should expect harassment and ridicule, just as Jesus did.

Now I don’t think the Hebrew writer has in mind for his readers to go out and scream the name of Jesus in public places, or to stand on the street corner holding signs or reading Scripture aloud.  Rather, I think he means for us to be natural with our praise. It shouldn’t ever be fake. Our praise should come from what we actually think and feel.  Like when we fall in love, we cannot help talking about that person.  Some people might get tired of hearing it, but we never grow weary of expressing our love for him or her.  

The second part of this, and equally important, is that our praise be backed up by our deeds.  I can talk much about how I love my wife, but what will really impress people (and her) is if the way I treat her actually reflects what comes from my lips.  If we are openly praising the Lord while living an exemplary life, the latter gives legitimacy to the former.  

Today, consider how you might openly praise the Lord.  Perhaps it could be with friends or co-workers, the bank teller, a professor, or the convenience store clerk. Remember, there should be no shame in praising the One we love, regardless of what others may think. 

© Jim Musser 2014