Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sowing and Reaping


“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25 NIV)

Fall is in full swing and in this part of the country, that means apple orchards and pumpkin patches are buzzing with activity.  The long labor of the farmers during spring and summer is coming to fruition with the fall harvest.  That is the nature of farming—one plants and later one reaps. There is a spiritual lesson in this as well.  

There is much agricultural metaphor used in the Scriptures.  Jesus used numerous parables involving terms farmers would easily understand: sowing, reaping, weeds, thorns, and fruit.  It would seem there are many parallels between the agricultural and the spiritual.  And one that stands out very clearly is this concept of sowing and reaping.  There is a direct correlation between what is planted and what is harvested.  In speaking about false prophets, Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them,” and then adds this rhetorical question: “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”  (Matthew 7:16)  The spiritual truth here is by the fruit of people’s lives you can tell what is planted in them.

So, when Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, these are expected results of having the Holy Spirit planted in us (Ephesians 1:13).  As followers of Jesus, then, we must examine whether or not this fruit is apparent in our lives.  It should be, if we truly have committed our lives to Jesus.  If not, then something is wrong.  An apple tree that doesn’t bear good apples is a sick tree and needs attention.  In the same way, if our lives are not consistently marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then we are inhibiting the Spirit’s work in us (I Thessalonians 5:19).  We cannot escape the fact our lives should reap the fruit of the Spirit if indeed He is planted within us.  

Today, examine your life and look for the fruit of the Spirit.  Is it growing and flourishing in your day-to-day life?  Or does it barely show?  If it is the latter, then something is wrong because the seed of the Holy Spirit always produces His fruit.  The challenge for you is to find out what in your life is inhibiting its growth.  And the best way to do that is to ask the Lord to show what you are doing to inhibit the Spirit's work in your life.

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Developing a Taste for Rich and Strong Fellowship


“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

It probably began on my first trip to the African continent—getting a taste of really good coffee.  Kenya AA, if my memory is correct.  I have loved coffee since I was a young teenager.  I remember staying up late on weekends, after my parents had gone to bed, and sneaking into the kitchen to make instant coffee.  I did it secretly because our doctor had told my mom it was bad for me to drink coffee at my age.  

As I grew into an adult, I drank lots of coffee, and all of it either Folgers or Maxwell House, the most popular blends sold in America.  And, as I learned later in life, it was very weak coffee, but everyone drank it that way because that was the way it was served in restaurants and homes. No one knew there might be better coffee out there or a better way to brew it.  

But then I visited Kenya and got a taste of a better coffee.  And through the years, I tasted various coffees from Rwanda, Haiti, and Honduras, and developed a taste for better and stronger coffee, to the point where I now can hardly stand the poor, weak coffee of my youth, which is still served in many places across our nation.  Years ago, I became acutely aware of the difference between good, strong coffee and the poor, weak kind, and I decided I would never be satisfied with the latter again.  

I have also found the same thing at work when it comes to the fellowship of believers.  Many are satisfied with the fellowship of Sunday mornings around coffee and donuts or bagels, and talking about yesterday’s game, the weather, or the latest world news.  That is what they know and they have never tasted anything different.  But there is a fellowship that is so much deeper and more satisfying than what most of us are experiencing. It is the fellowship experienced by those early believers in the 1st Century.  It is centered on sharing together in the Lord’s Word, in His goodness, in prayer, and in living life together, loving one another as Christ has loved us.  

Once you have experienced this, you know the difference.  Many churches offer “fellowship dinners” and “fellowship hours,” and they may promote many activities as means to “good fellowship,” but an honest assessment of these is that most serve up poor and weak fellowship, nothing even close to that of the New Testament church.  And, if you have experienced the latter kind, you can immediately tell the difference.  

Unlike coffee, it is harder to find that rich and strong fellowship.  In fact, it is rare.  In our ministry, we are trying to change that.  Every week, students gather in small groups to eat a meal together and discuss the Scriptures, its application to life, and to pray together.  This is rich and strong fellowship and we want them to develop a taste for it, to the point of not being satisfied with the vast offerings out there of the other kind.

Today, consider the fellowship that the early believers experienced.  Are you experiencing anything close to resembling it?  If not, then seek it out with like-minded believers who are weary of the weak version served up by so many churches.  Like good, strong coffee, once you’ve tasted it, you won’t want to return to the poor, weak kind.   

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

What A Friend!


“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV)

Yesterday, I quoted out of Colossians 1, where Paul describes the centrality of Jesus to all of life and creation.  Everything, as Paul so eloquently describes, was created through Him and for Him.  But, as the Scriptures tell us repeatedly, the Lord’s ultimate creation—human beings—rejected His superiority over them and decided to live for themselves and by their own rules and convictions.  

In the face of such rejection, it would be natural to think, from our perspective, that the Creator would not tolerate such rejection and exact brutal punishment.  Yet, instead of coming in vengeance, He came in humility to live among us and live like us in order to create a path to reconciliation for all who desired it.  

But He also did something else.  By living among us in the flesh, Jesus experienced life as we do.  He experienced all the trials, temptations, and joys of life in this world.  He understands us and our struggles.  So not only did He pave the way for us to be reconciled to God and live in Eternity, He also is present to help us now while we make our way through life in this world.  

Today, recognize, just as that old hymn reminds us, what a friend we have in Jesus!  He knows what you are going through.  He understands the difficulties of your life.  And He is ready and willing to help you through them.  All you have to do is ask.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Meaning of Life


“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20 NIV)

We can make life about a lot of things—school, friends, romance, children, grandchildren, career, hobbies, charitable causes—but it truly is, and always has been, about one Person—Jesus.  “All things have been created through him and for him.”  Many search for the meaning of life; there it is in one sentence.  It’s about Jesus.

Of course, there is much opposition to this thought.  For much of the world, religion is an anathema and they look at Jesus as just one of several of history’s idyllic teachers.  They believe, perhaps, that life can be improved by following some of His teachings, but He is left on the edges of life, far from the center of it.  Even to many who acknowledge Christianity as the true religion and Jesus as the Son of God, too much focus on Jesus is an uncomfortable thing.  I grew up in a church where the emphasis was placed much more on doing good than following Jesus as the Creator and Lord of life.  The reality is that most people are more comfortable with Jesus at the fringes of life or out of the picture altogether.  

But if we are to believe this passage, as well as all others in the Scriptures, is inspired by God (II Timothy 3:16-17), then we must recognize that life comes from Jesus and is to be lived for Him.  He can’t just be part of our lives, being there just when we think we need Him.  His role is not as our servant, but as our Lord.  

The Lord indeed gave us life for our enjoyment (I Timothy 6:17), so there is nothing wrong with having friends, being married, having children, having a career and hobbies.  Those are good things, but they must always be kept in perspective.  Jesus is the provider of all those things and wants us to enjoy them, but, more importantly, He does not want His gifts to distract us from Him.  For the giver is always more important than the gift.  

Today, consider the meaning and purpose of your life.  Is it centered on Jesus, or have you become distracted by the many things He has given you to enjoy?  If it is the latter, know that life is ultimately about Jesus and it is only in and through Him that it will have true meaning.

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Freedom from Fear


“I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:4-10 NIV)

What is it you fear?  A massive amount of homework and how it appears impossible to complete it?  What you are going to do after graduation? Losing your job or failing to find one?  Never finding that special guy or girl to marry?

Whatever your fears, the Lord is the place to take them.  Fear can shackle us, preventing us from experiencing the abundant, freedom-giving life the Lord desires for us.  Fear produces stress and anxiety that robs us of everyday joy and peace.  Many of us today find ourselves in bondage to fear.

The Lord desires us to live in freedom from fear by bringing our fears to Him and letting go of them.  We can trust Him to protect us, provide for us, and deliver us, regardless of that which we fear.  But only if we are willing to seek Him.  

The temptation is to hold onto our fears and deal with them alone or share them with others.  But we can only be delivered from them by the Lord.  

Today, know the Lord is your refuge.  Run to Him with your fears.  He wants to set you free.

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Decisions


"Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’
‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’
‘Which ones?’ he inquired.
Jesus replied, ‘“You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,” and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.”’
‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’
Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:16-22 NIV)

A life and its direction are comprised of the individual decisions one makes.  Of course, some decisions are vastly more important and consequential than others, but that isn’t always apparent at the time.  As we mature spiritually, we realize many of the decisions we have to make are opportunities from the Lord to go deeper with Him, but to the immature that may not be so obvious.  

In campus ministry, I witness often students eschewing opportunities the Lord is giving them to obey Him, to trust Him, or to be richly blessed by Him, while others embrace them.  It can be a decision to go on a retreat or mission trip, to join a small group, to give up friendships that are dragging them down, or, like the rich man, to sacrifice life as they know it to follow Jesus.  Most of these, except the last one, do not appear to be life-changing decisions, but they certainly can be.  

Last week, a student told me she wasn’t going on our retreat because her grandparents were coming to visit.  Then, at the last minute, they changed their plans.  This student could have stayed on campus for the weekend since she hadn’t planned to go with us anyway.  But, instead, she called me and asked if she could still go.  Over the weekend, she realized she had not fully committed her life to Jesus and was baptized.  Her decision to call me will always be a pivotal decision in her life, though at the time I am sure it did not seem that important.  

God is one who continually pursues us, whether we are deeply committed to Him, merely curious about Him, or completely dismissive of Him.  He wants none of us to perish into an eternity without His presence (II Peter 3:9), and He also wants us to know Him on a deeper level (Hebrews 8:10-12).  So, throughout our lives He will present us with opportunities to live with Him and to know Him.  And we will make the decisions that decide the outcome.

Today, be on the lookout for the opportunities the Lord gives you to know Him and to go deeper with Him.  And know, as with the rich young man, what you decide could have a major impact on your life.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Reconciliation


"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)

I have had to do this several times in my life.  I remember early in my walk with Jesus being prompted by the Holy Spirit to go and reconcile with my high school girlfriend’s parents.  I didn’t like them very much and my attitude toward them was very negative.  And they didn’t like me very much, either.  It was one of the hardest things I had ever done and very humbling.  But they were open to talking and we did work things out.

I’ve also become aware of individuals who were angry with me and gone to them, but unlike the parents of my old girlfriend, they were unwilling to reconcile with me.  Although I attempted to do what Jesus commanded, I was rebuffed.  The interesting thing to me was the rejections were couched in love.  “I still love you,”  “I pray for you.”  Perhaps they weren’t interested in letting go of their anger, or maybe their relationship with me just wasn’t important enough to them to go through the awkwardness and humility of reconciling with me.  Whatever the reason, they didn’t consider reconciliation important enough to seek it.  

Sadly, this is a trend among Christians.  Rather than seeking reconciliation with brothers or sisters with whom we are angry or with those angry at us, we just leave the broken relationships behind and move on.  We get mad at the pastor of our church and head to another church.  Some people in the church or ministry offend us and we leave. And rarely is there a thought of reconciliation, even when those who offended us seek us out to do so.  

What is truly sad about this is at the heart of the Good News is reconciliation—between us and our Heavenly Father through Jesus.  And Paul says as Jesus-followers, we have a ministry of reconciliation—helping others become reconciled with the Father (II Corinthians 5:18-20). How then can this ministry have any real power if we refuse to be reconciled with one another?

There are many reasons people reject Jesus, but I think one of the main ones is the way they see believers treating one another.  The anger and animosity they see between believers leads them to believe Christianity is just another empty promise.  One way we can change that is to take seriously the Scriptures’ teaching on reconciliation.  

Today, are you estranged from a brother or a sister?  Regardless of who is at fault, God desires you to be reconciled because that is the message He conveys through the Gospel.  Are you willing for your life to convey that message as well?

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Waiting


“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.”  (II Peter 3:8-9a NIV)

The one thing I hate when I am sitting in front of my computer is the spinning cog or rainbow, or the rotating hourglass.  That means waiting, perhaps as long as a few minutes.  Ugh, I hate it!  This from a guy who used a typewriter in college, who waited every day for the morning paper to read the news, and who made once-a-week phone calls on a payphone to his mom!

Our high-tech society has speeded up everything and I think, as has mine, people’s impatience has increased right along with it.  We expect our computers to work fast, checkout lines to move quickly, and information to be immediately available to us.  We have little patience with slowness.  

Yesterday, I was reading in Jeremiah about God’s punishment of Judah, telling them they would be exiled to Babylon for 70 years.  That number just stopped me.  Seventy years is practically a full lifetime.  His promise was that after 70 years, they would come back.  Can you imagine being told to wait 70 years to return home, or 40 years, as in the case of the Israelites wandering in the desert?  Think of how long that actually is. What will your life look like in 70 years or 40 years, even 10 years?  

So, is it a surprise that we often get impatient with God when He does not act quickly enough for us?  We have grown so accustom to quick answers and quick solutions that we expect the same from Him.  

Yet we must understand God is not governed by our changing world.  He does not necessarily move faster just because our world does.  He is the same as He was at the time of Jeremiah, and He will remain the same in the years and generations to come.  He does not view time in the same way we do.  Does a thousand years seem like a day to you?  

This is the God we serve and to avoid being continually frustrated, we must understand we will not always receive a quick answer, or be changed overnight.  As the Psalmist says,  “I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God.” (Psalm 38:15)  But be prepared to wait longer than you might want.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Condemnation


“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 7:21-8:2 NIV)

In the American media, there is a well-established pattern regarding famous or powerful people caught in wrongdoing.  First and foremost, roundly condemn them.  Second, demand a public apology.  Third, demand the person resign or be punished for said wrongdoing.  We have seen this pattern play out recently with two NFL players.  Both have been condemned, have made tearful apologies, and have been suspended from playing football.  There have been people who have expressed empathy for the men, but they were quickly condemned as well for being “enablers.”

In our culture, there is little empathy for the wrongdoer, even if he changes his ways.  Several years ago, Charles Colson passed away. Colson was notorious as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” in the 1970’s. He was convicted and sent to prison for crimes he committed while Nixon was president.  Just prior to entering prison, Colson gave his life over to Jesus, and after being released, spent the rest of his life in prison ministry.  Yet, most obituaries and commentaries at the time of his death focused on his crimes, with scant mention of his transformation.  

It is so much easier to condemn when people fail.  So, naturally, we tend to expect condemnation from God when we mess up, because that’s what we would do if we were in His position.  Yet, Paul tells us we can expect something entirely different.  Instead of condemnation, we receive grace.  And, as a result, there is room for change and transformation. Condemnation leaves no hope, while grace allows the opportunity for change.

Paul knew he was a sinner, and despite his herculean attempts to change, he remained a sinner.  There is a sense of despair, of hopelessness as this passage begins.  But then the truth is realized and brought forth—“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”  When one messes up, grace instead of condemnation awaits if our hope is in Jesus. Everyone else might condemn us, we might even condemn ourselves, but there will be no such response from the One who created and holds the universe together!

Think about that for a moment.  You and I, we are not condemned for our wrongdoing by the ultimate Judge.  Instead, we are shown grace and mercy.  

Today, amidst a world so quick to condemn wrongdoing, know the Lord does not condemn those who trust in them.   Instead, He forgives and allows the opportunity, over and over again, for you to move from being a wrongdoer to one who lives more and more righteously.

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Always, Continually, All


“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)

Recently, I talked with a student who was very excited about the things happening in his life.  A day later, I learned of several students struggling with some difficult issues.  And in the past week, I have talked with people who lives are just moving along with nothing exceptional happening, good or bad. 

This is life, isn’t it?  There are some really good days where everything is lining up and going our way.  There are some horribly awful days where our worlds come crashing down on us.  And then there are the days, which are the most common, where life is rather ordinary and mundane.  

So when I read this passage, I find it to be one of the most challenging commands in Scripture.  “Always,” “continually,” and “all” don’t leave much room for exceptions, in fact, none.   Regardless of how life is going, we are to be joyful, prayerful and thankful.  Think about that for a moment.

It’s relatively easy to be joyful and thankful when life is going great.  And it is fairly easy to find ourselves in a praying mood when things are going badly, but always?  Continually?  No matter what?  That is a real challenge because our attitudes toward life are generally governed by our circumstances.  When things are going great, we’re joyful and thankful. When things are going badly, we may pray, but without joy or thanks, only with pleading desperation.  And when things are ordinary and mundane, we can find it a challenge to feel or do any of these.  

So if we desire to obey these commands, what do we do?  I think we must realize our relationship with the Lord is not based on our particular circumstances.  Though our lives are full of ups and downs, and many stretches of smooth, if sometimes mundane, times, God never changes. He is always the same. He is always providing and always comforting. He is always teaching and always guiding.  There is never a point in our lives where the Lord is not active and involved.  

With this perspective, it is easier to grasp then how we can be joyful always and be thankful regardless of the circumstances—because God is always at work for our good and is always providing for us.  And it is easier to understand then why we need to be in a continuous attitude of prayer—because we are always dependent on the Lord’s provision.  

Today, regardless how your life is going, be joyful because God is good and faithful; pray continually because your dependence on the Lord never ends; and give thanks to Him no matter how things are going, because He is able to bring good out of any circumstance.

© Jim Musser 2014  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unqualified


“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’  Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’  Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’

Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” (Matthew 16:15-23 NIV)

I find this passage quite fascinating.  Within the span of just a few minutes, Jesus goes from describing Peter as the rock on which He will build His church to calling him Satan.  Think about that.  You couldn’t find two more opposing views of one person.  This tells us a lot about Peter, but it also reveals much about Jesus.

Peter is obviously a very flawed man.  He is easily given over to extreme emotions.  He often speaks before thinking.  He is both over-confident and very insecure.  To say Peter was a diamond in the rough is a gross understatement.  Yet, Jesus embraces him.  He brings him into His inner circle and declares him to be a key component in a new order He is bringing to earth.  

I don’t think any of us, if given the task of Jesus to pick 12 men on whom would depend the spreading of the greatest news ever on earth, would have picked Peter or any of the other 11 men to be disciples.  As they were later described by the Pharisees, they were “unschooled, ordinary men.” (Acts 4:13) There was nothing about their lives to distinguish them. And this is where we gain insight into Jesus.  He is not looking for people who distinguish themselves by their lives.  Instead, He is looking for people who are flawed and imperfect in whom He can pour His Spirit and transform them into Kingdom servants.  In other words, you and me.  

Too often we think we are not good enough, or smart enough, or gifted enough to be used by the Lord in His Kingdom.  Yet, the only qualification needed is a willing heart.  He will take care of the rest.  Peter and the rest of the disciples are proof of this.

Today, if you feel totally unqualified to serve the Lord, remember Peter, who was as flawed as anyone, and still the Lord considered him qualified to lead His Church.  No matter how flawed you are, the Lord can still use you if you are willing for Him to do so.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Handling Life


“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (II Corinthians 1:8-11 NIV)

Two weeks ago, a freshman on our campus went missing.  And as happens in so many communities, people rallied around the family.  Fliers with her picture on them went up all over town.  Prayer vigils were held and both police and volunteers searched for her.  Over the weekend, her body was found in a wooded area near campus.  Various reports conclude the young woman hung herself.  

In the midst of the search, her family revealed that their daughter had told them that something bad had happened to her during her second week on campus.  She was vague, but they believed it was a sexual assault. They said she was upset and distraught.  But it seems no one else knew, no one else was told, and that she returned to campus.  A day later, it appears she walked away into the woods and killed herself.  

This is such a sad story for so many reasons, but the saddest for me is this young woman, in the end, felt so alone, so desperate in the despair over what happened to her, that she would end her life.  Like we are all so prone to do, she attempted to deal with her circumstances on her own and it appears she was crushed by their weight.  

The whole of Scripture tells the story of our dependence on God, our Creator, and humankind’s consistent resistance to this fact.  Our fallen bent is much like that of a four-year-old—“I can do it myself!”  We continually tend toward wanting to handle life’s difficulties and challenges on our own.  Yet, God allows these things so that we might instead rely on Him.  

Paul and his companions found themselves in a desperate situation, in which they “despaired of life itself.”  The persecution in Asia was so great they were convinced they would die.  Yet, in the midst of their despair, they cried out to God and He spared their lives.  

There are many who think Christians have a na├»ve view of life, that with God one never should question, never have doubts, and never come close to despair because God is faithful.  Of course, there are many Christians who do think like this, but they have overlooked the obvious in the Scriptures: many followers of the Lord had doubts and were filled with fear and despair.  

The test of faith is not whether we fear or despair when faced with difficult life circumstances.  Rather it is whether we choose to rely on ourselves or on the Lord in those moments.  Those who choose the former will reap even deeper despair.  Those who cry out in desperation to the Lord will find relief.  

Today, know you will likely not be spared very difficult circumstances in life.  Yet, when they do come, resist the temptation to get through them on your own.  In the midst of fear and despair, cry out to the Lord for help and He will lift off of you what feels so crushing.  You never have to handle life on your own unless you choose to do so.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Shelter


“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
 will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
 my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2 NIV)

My wife and I were walking on a local trail last night, aware there was rain on the way, but oblivious to how close it really was.  On our way back towards our car, through a small opening in the trees, we saw what we had been unable to see—heavy rain moving across the mountains toward us.  We immediately picked up our pace, but we were far from the nearest shelter—a covered bridge.  Usually, while on this trail, we just pass through the bridge.  Now, it was our destination because of what it could provide us in our time of need—shelter from the rain.  

Unlike our ancestors, we typically don’t think much about shelter.  When it’s pouring rain, normally we are inside our homes, offices, or cars. When it’s freezing outside, we are inside those heated spaces.  Or when it’s oppressively hot, we are kept cool by the A/C provided in them.  The only times we really think about shelter is when we are caught out in the weather without one.  We are sheltered 95% of the time, but rarely do we take notice.  

I think we tend to do this with the Lord, as well.  Although He provides always for our basic needs, we often fail to recognize or appreciate His provision.  It is in the midst of the storms of life we encounter that we truly recognize our need for His protection and provision.  We may be going merrily along in life, enjoying the blessings of the Lord but taking them for granted, until rolling dark clouds appear on our life’s horizon and we suddenly realize our vulnerability and dependence.  

Today, recognize the Lord is your shelter in this life.  He is protecting you and providing for you, whether you realize it or not.  But in those times when the storms catch you by surprise, know you can run to Him for shelter and He will provide exactly what you need.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

We Were Warned


“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.  They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.” (John 16:1-4 NIV)

Most of us can remember exactly where we were 13 years ago today. 9/11 is forever etched in our minds much like for our parents and grandparents is November 22nd (the assassination of President John F. Kennedy) and December 7th (Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor).  These were events that changed our lives and perceptions of the world.

Until 9/11, Islamic terrorism was, for the most part, something that was distant from our daily experience, something we may have heard about from newspapers or television news.  That Tuesday morning in 2001, however, it became very close and personal. Seeing video of the planes blowing through the Twin Towers and watching in horror as they collapsed a short time later killing thousands of people, awoke us to the reality that there are people in the world who hate us for what we stand for and believe.  And perhaps the most shocking, these people were convinced that by murdering our citizens they were rendering a service to God.  

Thirteen years later, we have been shocked again by the brutal beheadings of two American journalists (and hundreds of other Syrians and Iraqis) by ISIS, another Islamic terrorist group.  They, too, claim they are under a mandate of God to cleanse the earth of “infidels.”  

Truthfully, we shouldn’t be shocked or surprised because Jesus warned of this very thing 20 centuries ago.  He said there would be people who believe killing Christians was the will of God.  The Jewish leaders pressured Pilate to kill Jesus because they thought He was a blasphemer.  Church leaders killed men such as John Huss, and William Tyndale, believers falsely accused of heresy.  And there are many modern day examples in India, Pakistan, and the Middle East of Christians being persecuted and killed because Muslims and Hindus consider them blasphemers and infidels.  

They hated Jesus because they never knew the Father.  The same remains true today. To many, those who follow Jesus deserve persecution and death.  

Today, as our nation remembers the tragic events of 9/11, know there are many in the world who believe we are infidels and blasphemers because we follow Jesus.  They think we deserve to die and that our deaths would please God.  This may sound shocking, but the Lord warned us of this long ago.  He wanted us to be prepared and to remain strong in the hope we have in Him.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

One and Done


"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."  The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:3-5 NIV)

I like to watch college basketball, in particular the Kansas Jayhawks, but I really love watching the NCAA tournament every March.  The lose one and your done set-up adds so much excitement to the games.  Every game is a must win and players are forced to play their best each and every game if they want to remain in the running to win the National Championship.  It makes for exciting basketball!

The one and done concept is great for sports, but in the Church, not so much.  Yet, too often I have seen people take that approach in relationships.  If you offend them in any way, just once, then they’re done with you.  They move on and put it behind them, but they leave you behind as well.  I once had a woman in a church where I served as an elder refuse to speak to me.  When I approached her after weeks of this treatment and asked her what was wrong, she said I had offended her by something I had said.  She was not willing to attempt reconciliation; she was done with me.  

Forgiveness and reconciliation is the hard path in life.  This explains the astonishment of the disciples at Jesus’ command to continue to forgive a person who sins against you.  It is hard enough to forgive once and be reconciled.  Imagine seven times or seventy times seven!

Following Jesus is to take the hard path, to take a path far different than most of those around us.  With regard to relationships, Jesus tells us to give up the one and done concept of handling conflict.  If your Christian brother or sister offends you, you are to go to them and work it out.  What a difference it would make if we would actually practice that.  

As a campus minister, occasionally students are offended by what I say or by how other students in our ministry treat them.  Instead of dealing with it, they just leave.  They’re done and they move on to another ministry.  And students begin involvement in our ministry because they leave another ministry for the same reason.  

The question becomes, do we really take seriously Jesus’ command to repair broken relationships?  Sadly, I don’t think so.  If we did, then I think we’d have far less church and campus ministry hopping, we’d have far less gossiping and backbiting, and it would become obvious that we put as much value on relationships between Jesus followers as He does.  

Are there people in your life who have offended you and you decided it was one and done?  Have you moved on and left them behind? Jesus puts a high value on people and relationships.  They are not to be easily discarded.  He desires you to forgive and to be reconciled.  Jesus walked that hard path.  Are you willing to follow in His footsteps?

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Dangers of Self-Promotion


“When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, “Give this person your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’” (Luke 14:7-11 NIV)

Is it just me, or do you sometimes cringe as well when viewing social media and seeing so much blatant self-promotion.  It often feels like an escalating arms race to see who can show they have the best life possible.  From having the greatest husband or wife, the most adorable kids, to the most gratifying or significant job or the latest book deal.  In this age, we are rarely shy about putting our lives and accomplishments out there for all to see.

I recently saw a story on 60 Minutes about a man who, before the start of World War II, was responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of children from certain imprisonment and death by the Nazis.  For 50 years, he never said anything about it.  He told the interviewer that he had done what he could to help and then got busy moving on in his life.  Obviously, he wasn’t interested or concerned that people learn of his efforts.  He just went about living his life.  But like those in Jesus’ parable who did not seek special attention, he was later given great honor for the extraordinary efforts he made to save the lives of innocent children.  

I wonder if we have passed the point in our generation of tweets and posts of refraining from promoting ourselves and our accomplishments and waiting for the acknowledgements to come to us unsolicited.  Can we just go about living our lives without drawing attention to most everything we do?  I am not sure, but it is evident from what Jesus says that there is danger in self-exultation.  There is the danger of thinking we are better than we actually are (II Corinthians 10:12).  There is danger in receiving our reward in the here and now (likes and comments) and missing out on more permanent rewards later. (Matthew 6:1-4).  What we need to recognize is the self-promotion so common now should be looked at more carefully and in the light of God’s Word.  

Today, consider your need to self-promote and the dangers that lie there. Perhaps it is better to go about living your life in a humble fashion, allowing the accolades to come unsolicited and in their proper time.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

Old News


“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Timothy 1:12-17 NIV)

Have you ever noticed when you attend worship services and the congregation is singing, how many people there are whom look bored, lips barely moving, if at all?  Perhaps you have been one of those.  I know I have in times past.  It’s as if our hearts become hardened to the greatness of God and His wonderful love for us.  It just doesn’t get us excited.  Perhaps it’s because we heard it so often that, instead of being Good News, it’s old news.

I see this often in college students.  Many have grown up going to church and being involved in the children’s ministry and youth groups.  They have literally heard about God, Jesus, and salvation all of their lives.  

It is natural that we tire of things after awhile.  The fact is most things become boring eventually by repetition.  The employees at any fast food restaurant soon tire of the food because they usually eat it every day. That brand new car we were so excited about soon becomes just our means to get around because we’ve driven it so much.  The new apartment or house that we couldn’t wait to move into in time becomes just a place to live.  

This doesn’t mean we necessarily lose appreciation for things; they just become less exciting over time.  This is life and not always necessarily bad, particularly when it involves food or material things, but relationships are a different matter.  Boredom is deadly to them.  Marriages and friendships rarely can survive if the participants find each other boring.   The same can be said of our relationship with the Lord.  If we are bored with Him, we will struggle with growing in our relationship with Him. Marriages can require date nights, weekend retreats, or even counseling to get them back on track.  Friends may have to sit down and re-define their expectations or just part ways.  But the way to put the excitement back into our relationship with the Lord is to acknowledge the depth of our sinfulness and the breadth of His mercy.

Notice how Paul, having reflected on his life and how the Lord showed him mercy, ended his comments with a doxology.  “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  This was preceded by a heart-felt confession—“I am the worst of sinners.”  Because Paul saw the depth of his own sinfulness, his excitement overflowed at the recognition of the Lord’s mercy toward him.

Today, if you are finding it difficult to get excited about who God is and what He has done for you, take some time to reflect on who you really are and the depth of your sinfulness.  And then remember His love for you—a woeful sinner—took Him to the Cross.  Then, like Paul, your heart can be filled with awe and excitement at the sheer breadth of the Lord’s mercy. And the old news can become good again.

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

TGIF!


“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:24-29 NIV)

TGIF!  This is what most of us are thinking. Thank God it’s Friday!   We are looking forward to a weekend of no work, no school, sleeping in, and, perhaps a college or NFL football game.  Most of us live for the weekend. Even on Monday or Tuesday, people start talking about their plans for the weekend.

When he wrote this passage, I don’t think the Psalmist was talking about a Friday or Saturday, though those tend to be the days in which we find the most gladness.  He was talking about every day, because every day is given to us by the Lord.  It’s not that it is wrong to rejoice about the coming weekend; but many of us have the tendency to live for the weekend.  In doing so, we miss what the Lord has to offer us on Monday, or Tuesday, or any other weekday.  

Life in the Lord is to be lived every day.  Indeed, we can thank God it’s Friday, but we also can thank Him that it’s Monday or Wednesday because He has made that day for us as well, filled with both blessings and opportunities to do His work.  

Today, thank God for Friday and rejoice in it.  But come Monday, do the same.  For every day is a day the Lord has made.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

God's Refinement Process


“Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives
 and kept our feet from slipping.  For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.  You brought us into prison
 and laid burdens on our backs.  You let people ride over our heads;
 we went through fire and water,
 but you brought us to a place of abundance.” (Psalm 66:8-12 NIV)

At the start of every school year there are freshmen who struggle with being away from home for the first time and adjusting to the vast differences of college life compared to what they have previously known. It is a problem for universities across the country because it affects their retention rates.  Freshmen are much more likely to drop out of school or transfer to a school closer to home than any other students.  

Starting college away from home is the beginning of a refining process for young men and women that will lead them to become adults. But with it comes the temptation to chuck the process and return to the familiar, to the comforts of home.  

In reality, it is not just 18-year-old freshmen for whom the prospect of profound change tempts them to return the comfortable and the familiar. That is true for nearly all of us. We tend to be hesitant toward or even resist change in our lives.  A young man hesitates to propose to his girlfriend; a college senior puts off job hunting and contemplates grad school as her next step; an abused spouse remains because the familiar is at least known; a man is forced into retirement because he has hung on in fear of what the future holds.   

For most of us who have lived awhile, the truth is growth increases when we are placed in uncomfortable situations, either of our own choosing or by the circumstances of life.  When I look back on my life, the greatest growth has come from the uncomfortable and difficult times, and, thankfully, most of them were situations from which I could not run, such as the illnesses and deaths of my parents when I was in my early 20’s, and my first wife’s abandonment in my 40’s.  There were also times where I chose the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar, such as going to Eastern Europe for a six-week missionary internship after college, and taking a position with a struggling ministry in a place where I knew no one. God used all of these to refine me as a man and as a disciple. None were easy; all of them challenged me to my very core.  But I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences because I can see how the Lord has used them in my life to grow me into the person He created me to be.  

Many have the view that God’s greatest desire is for them to be comfortable and enjoy life.  But this view denies God’s use of the refining process to mold us into the people He created us to be.  We are fallen beings as we are; He wants to remake us.  And the only way to do that is to refine us, which includes experiencing uncomfortable and sometimes painful circumstances.

Today, know God desires what is ultimately best for you.  If you find yourself in an uncomfortable spot in life, know this is part of His refinement process.  Don’t run from it or resist it.  Instead, embrace it and allow Him to use it for your good.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Immensity of God


"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

Do I dare say God dramatically understates the obvious?  Occasionally we do engage in fantasy where we believe we understand God or even think for Him.  But the reality is we can’t even come close to understanding Him.  He is so far beyond us that it is impossible for us to fully comprehend Him.  

Think about this:  The earth is populated by over seven billion people, each totally unique, not one exactly the same.  God knows each one of them, their thoughts, their actions, even the number of hairs on each of their heads (Matthew 10:30)!  That’s seven billion!  And the earth and its population is just a tiny part of the universe.  The size of the universe is estimated to be in the billions of light years. And light travels an estimated five trillion miles in one year!  And within confines of the universe scientists estimate there are at least 10 sextillion stars and God knows each of them by name. (Psalm 147:4)

God is just too big to wrap our minds around.  What we see and understand are merely glimpses.  Yet, those glimpses are enough to draw two conclusions.  The first is we are not at the center of existence.  In comparison to God and creation, we are very, very small.  In no way should we ever be under the illusion that life revolves around us.

The second conclusion we reach is that though we each are a very tiny part of existence, we are created by God’s hand and loved by Him in a unique way.  And He knows us intimately.  He knows our joys and our hurts.  He knows our dreams and our fears.  

Sometimes we think of ourselves being at the center of everything.  We feel so much bigger than we really are.  And other times we feel completely lost in this big world, feeling we have no real significance. Neither is true.  We know this when we begin to gain an understanding of who God is.  

Today, ponder the immensity of God.  Your head may spin, but it will help you gain a more accurate perspective on who God is and who you are.

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How To Find True Happiness


“Sing to the Lord a new song; 
 sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; 
proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; 
he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the nations are idols, 
but the Lord made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before him; 
 strength and glory are in his sanctuary.  Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, 
 ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

"Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; 
 bring an offering and come into his courts.  Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; 
tremble before him, all the earth.  Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’
  The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; 
 he will judge the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 96:1-10 NIV)

There is a video being shared on Facebook of Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel Osteen, telling their congregation that we worship God for ourselves, to make us happy, because when we’re happy that makes God happy. (See the video here.  I particularly like the Cliff Huxtable add-on.) Thankfully, many believers responded quickly to challenge this false teaching.  

I am not surprised, however, to hear such things being proclaimed, for we live in a culture where the primary focus is on ourselves.  Such a message tells many exactly what their “itching ears want to hear. ”  that the sum of life is me and God’s greatest joy is for me to be happy.  Thus, one then can easily conclude, the best way to worship God is to live for myself.  

This is a message that rings of truth to the self-absorbed, but is in direct contradiction to the Scriptures which were written by the One who is Truth (John 14:6).  This psalm of David says we worship God because He is Lord and worthy of our praise.  This is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures: Life is not about us; it’s about Him, the Creator and Lord of the universe.  We live to serve Him, not ourselves.  

What is also true is that when we do make our lives about Him, we will find joy in the life we live.  Do you see the difference?  The temptations of Jesus in the desert were to put himself first.  The enemy’s line is happiness comes when we put ourselves first.  The Lord teaches us in word and deed that it is the opposite.  We find true happiness (joy) when we put God first.

Today, recognize the world, (and some Christians as well) has bought into the lie that happiness is found through living for ourselves.  The truth is God is the source of true happiness, and only when we are willing to worship and live for Him alone will we find it. 


© Jim Musser 2014




Monday, September 1, 2014

Impressing God


“During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.  I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.  I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.  Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.  In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the LORD.

“The LORD said to me, ‘Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.’” (Jeremiah 3:6-11 NIV)

If you have ever been tempted to think that by going to church or being involved in a Bible study you can somehow impress God, think again.  In this passage, you have the story of two nations—Israel and Judah.  Israel has given up on God and chased after various idols for comfort and protection. Judah, on the other hand, continues seek the Lord through religious practice, or so it appears. The Lord describes Israel as faithless, but calls Judah unfaithful.  And then the kicker: “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

One would think that religious activity would count for something.  It’s hard to believe, putting it into a modern context, that someone who has turned his back on the Lord and parties a lot, that sleeps with his girlfriend is considered more righteous than the guy who is a faithful churchgoer. Yet, it appears that is what the Lord is saying.  So what’s going on?

There is a theme throughout the Scriptures that God desires our hearts. He is more interested in what is behind our actions than the actions themselves.  He loathes pretense.  He is not impressed with religious activity that is not authentic and motivated by love for Him.  He can’t stand it.  That is why He says Israel is more righteous than Judah.  He is speaking hyperbolically, of course.  There is nothing righteous about Israel, but at least they are living their lives honestly.  The Lord much prefers that to people pretending to be devoted when in fact their hearts are far from Him.  

Consider today whether or not you are living honestly.  Does your religious activity truly reflect a heart devoted to God or is it merely an attempt to cover over a heart that is going its own way?   Know that the Lord is far more interested in what is going on inside of you than how you make things look on the outside.  And far more impressed when He finds righteousness there.

© Jim Musser 2014