Friday, December 5, 2014

Quite a Stir

(Author's Note: The end of the classes has arrived and I leave tomorrow for a stint out of the country.  So this is my last WftW of 2014.  Look for the next one on January 12, 2015.  May you have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year!  Jim)

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” (Luke 2:4-15 NIV)

Frenetic activity ensued inside and out of our new home two weeks ago as our group of volunteers unloaded all of our earthly possessions. Cars lined the quiet street of our neighborhood leading one neighbor to drive by, wondering if someone had died.  The elderly lady living behind us called the woman next door to us in a panic, wondering about the work in the yard that we had already begun.  The man living on the other side of us wondered, “So who exactly is going to live here?”  Yes, it seems, our arrival in the neighborhood created quite a stir!

As I read about the birth of Jesus, it never ceases to amaze me how little of a stir the arrival of the Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Savior of the world, created.  When Immanuel, God with us, arrived in the neighborhood, the neighbors barely noticed.  

Imagine the President paying a visit to your neighborhood.  Streets would be blocked off and a motorcade of probably a dozen or more vehicles would roll down the street.  Everyone would know something big was happening. And, of course, there would be advanced notice. The VIP’s and the press would be there en masse.  It would create quite a stir.  

Yet, when Immanuel was about to arrive, the place prepared to receive Him was an old barn out back behind a small motel.  And after He arrived, the only notice given was to a group of lower-class men whose job it was to guard the sheep of wealthy ranchers.  Not exactly what you would expect for such a momentous event pertaining to such a momentous individual.  Yet, it does tell us much about the One we call Lord.

Jesus came to our world, our neighborhood, not to lord it over us or to demand attention respective to His status.  Instead, He came to live among us, shedding His glory, so we could better understand whom God truly is.  It speaks volumes as to the character of God that He would arrive in such a mundane way. 

Typically, people of status seek the perks and attention that come with their exalted position.  Kings, politicians, celebrities, and the wealthy arrive in style and live in luxury.  That is normal, expected, and admired. But God did the opposite.  He arrived without fanfare and to a place where only livestock were expected to stay.  

So what shall we conclude about this?  It seems to me the Lord set for us an example of humility from the very beginning.  Though He deserved everything for Himself, He demanded nothing.  Though He was Lord of all, He humbled Himself and became a servant to all.  He put aside His rights for the sake of a greater purpose.  There is much to learn from His example and that is exactly what He intended.

Today, and in the coming weeks, as you reflect on the birth of Jesus and its meaning, consider its implications for your life. Be prepared though, it may cause within you quite a stir.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Reason He Was Born

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.  He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.  He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:14-21 NIV)

Sometimes at this time of year, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is easy to get caught up in the baby Jesus and to forget the purpose for which He was born.  Porcelain nativities and live ones focus on the baby, and as any new parents realize, a newborn attracts all the attention in the room.  Yet Jesus was born for much greater things than just the oohs and ahhs of His birth.  In fact, early followers of Jesus didn’t even celebrate His birth.  It wasn’t until much later in church history that a tradition began to evolve into what we now know as Christmas.  They focused rather on the reason He was born.  

Jesus states that reason by quoting from Isaiah 61. He came to proclaim good news to people who experience very little of it in their lives.  He came to set free people who are in bondage or under oppression.  He came to restore sight to those who cannot see clearly. He came to proclaim that the world is entering a time of much grace and mercy from God.  And as He left this planet, He entrusted this message to us. (Matthew 28:18-20)  There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Jesus, but it misses the point if we get caught up in that celebration and forget to proclaim the message He came to deliver.  

Today, do you know anyone who needs to hear some good news?  Are there people in your life that are held captive or blinded by worldly desires?  Do you know someone who is under oppression either internally or externally?  If so, they need to know God’s grace and mercy are available to them, that He is for them and not against them. Indeed, He has come to set them free.  This is the message you have and what better time to share it than during the time we celebrate the birth of the One who first brought it?  

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Maintaining Your Investment

“Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:16 NIV)

When we began negotiations to purchase our new home, the previous owner thought he had a jewel to sell.  When we came to him with a much lower offer than his asking price, he was shocked.  Why was our offer so low?  Because the man had not maintained his house.  It was a solidly built house, and was probably very nice when it was built 15 years ago, but the owner had done little to it in that time, and his college-age son had abused it when the father retired and moved to Florida.  Yet, in his mind, his house was in great shape and worth every dollar he was asking.  Of course, reality set in when the inspection report came in and we refused to come even close to his asking price. As I told our realtor, you have to maintain your investment if you expect it to retain its value.  

I think this often happens to us in our spiritual lives, too.  We can easily get into the mindset that not much is required of us to maintain our relationship with the Lord.  We made that initial investment back when we acknowledged Jesus as our Savior and Lord and can expect to “cash in” on its full value when our lives come to an end.  But as with maintaining a home, that is not how it works.  

In the fallen world in which we live, everything is bending toward deterioration—houses, roads, cars, bodies.  If you don’t maintain them, they will go downhill gradually and then pick up speed.  The same is true with our spiritual lives.  We may start out on fire, ready to change the world for Jesus, but if we allow the things of life to distract us and consume our energy to the point we have nothing left to give to our relationship with the Lord, then it will naturally go south.  

The context of Paul’s admonition is some the believers in Philippi have reached a spiritual plateau—a danger zone where proper maintenance is required.  Their spiritual high is receding and they are leveling out, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Spiritual highs are great, but they don’t last forever.  But the danger lies with the downward momentum. Sometimes, if we are not watchful, it can carry us off the plateau into the valley.  And Paul was well aware of this.  So he challenges them not to go backwards, but to maintain where they are.  

So what does that look like?  Here are some examples:  If you have begun to read the Scriptures or to pray on a regular basis, don’t stop.  If you have begun to tithe, don’t give into the temptation to cease when things get a little tough financially.  If you decided to end a relationship because it was spiritually unhealthy for you, don’t pursue another similar relationship even if the person is extremely attractive.  If you have recognized a lie the devil has been telling you, don’t go back to believing it once again.

Today, recognize, like everything else in life, your relationship with the Lord has to be properly maintained or it will naturally deteriorate.  As Paul admonishes, at least live up to what you have already attained. But better yet, pursue even more.  The value of your investment will be determined by what you put into it.

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Understanding God

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

‘Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

‘Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”?’” (Job 38:1-11 NIV)

Recently a student said she had spent most of the semester trying to figure God out and had finally just accepted that wasn’t going to happen.  Good choice.  

God is just too big for our minds to get hold of.  When beset with all his troubles, Job tried, but the Lord reminded him just how small and limited he really was.  It is always tempting to try to figure Him out and some, in their ignorance, seem convinced they have done it.  But there is no greater fool than the one who thinks he can fully explain God as if describing some character in a movie.  

I was thinking yesterday evening as I was driving home from campus, passing residence halls, apartments, and homes.  In each there are many rooms and behind each door to each room there is a unique person.  No one else in the entire world is exactly the same.  And God knows that person intimately. (John 2:25)  Now expand that to the town of Boone and the surrounding areas.  Go even further to the entire country—over 300 million people.  Or to China—over one billion people! Each person unique; each known by God.  

Think of the intricacies of creation.  Millions of scientists around the world for decades have been studying its various aspects and have learned much, but any credible scientist will confess their research still only scratches the surface of what there is to know and learn.  God is just too big, too awesome to even come close to fully understanding.  

So today, if you have been trying to figure God out, recognize it is a fool’s errand.  He is just too big and too far beyond you.  But do know this:  He has given us enough of a glimpse of who He is through His creation and through His Word to know that we can trust Him even when we can’t figure Him out.

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cleaning Up

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (II Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV)

Every wall in the home we just purchased needed painting.  I presume the previous owner got a great deal on paint because every inch of wall space was painted light pink!  Thankfully, we had many volunteers from our church and campus ministry help get most of the walls painted with one coat of paint.  But there is still plenty to do and my wife and I have been occupied over the past week painting as much as we can.  

Yesterday, while I was painting in the living room, she was cleaning up after painting the downstairs bathroom.  I overheard her telling a guest that she couldn’t figure out how I got brushes and rollers so clean.  I yelled out, “Patience.  Lots of patience.”  

I can’t even imagine how many brushes and roller covers I have cleaned over my adult life.  I have owned five houses and have done major painting in all of them, plus I have done dozens of mission trips, most of which included some painting.  And where there is painting, there is the necessity of cleaning brushes and roller covers.  I usually volunteer to clean them because I have seen so many ruined by poor cleaning.  And good brushes, particularly, are expensive to replace.  So, whether they are mine or belonging to a ministry, I don’t want them to have to be replaced.  

The problems usually come down to poor technique and impatience. You have to get all the paint out and that takes time.  And if you don’t know how to do it properly, then it takes even longer.  Most people don’t have the patience.  Cleaning comes at the end of painting.  Anyone who paints knows how tired you can be when you’re finished.  Then you have to clean up.  Most are ready to be done already.  

I think we can fall into that trap spiritually as well.  While we are justified (forgiven of our sins) in a split moment, being transformed into the people the Lord created us to be takes a lifetime.  I have known people who become followers of Jesus but remain frustrated with the struggles they continue to have in certain areas that were struggles before coming to know the Lord.  Sometimes they become so frustrated, they just give up and their lives are ruined.  

We can tend to treat others with this type of impatience, too.  We can often welcome folks into the family of God with open and loving arms, but, if after several years they are still struggling in big ways, the reaction can be, “Hey, you got to get your act together.”  And sometimes people withdraw from them because they are not where they think they should be in their Christian lives.  

Like novice painters, we often don’t understand the nature of cleaning up.  Whether it is a brush, a roller cover, our life or someone else’s, cleaning up takes a lot of time and patience.   Thankfully, the Lord has a lot of it.  That is called grace and we are in great need of it, both for others and ourselves.

Today, recognize spiritual transformation is a long process.  We haven’t been transformed; rather we are being transformed, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year.  And as we deal with our own struggles and those of others, we should learn from the Master of cleaning up lives.  It takes a lot of time and patience. 

© Jim Musser 2014