Friday, December 11, 2015

News that Sends the Heart Dancing

(Author's Note: Today is the last day of final exams, so as the students take a break, so will I.  WftW will reappear on January 11th.  May you have a blessed Christmas season!  See you in 2016!  Jim)

“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 of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ 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, and on earth peace to men 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.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:8-20 NIV)

Imagine for a moment that you are a citizen of Syria and someone appears in your town telling you that soon a leader would come to put an end to your suffering.  Or imagine you are a North Korean, struggling to survive day to day under the heavy hand of a dictator, and you receive word that soon someone will come to rescue you.  That indeed would be good news!

The shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth lived a very hard life.  They were poor and on the lowest end of the socioeconomic scale.  The culture found them of little note.  Yet, there they were one night watching over their flocks when Heaven took note and delivered first to them the Good News of their Savior’s birth.  When there is never anything even resembling good news in your world, even a sliver of something positive can give your heart a lift.  But this was great news, and it was for them!  This sent their hearts dancing!

I recall the old video clips of the French celebrating when the Allied troops entered Paris in victory over the Nazis.  And images are still fresh of East Germans hammering away at the Berlin Wall in 1989 after hearing of the fall of their Communist government.  Good news had come to those who desperately needed it and their hearts rejoiced.

For many of us, the Good News doesn’t generate a lot of excitement. We are caught up in living our own lives, and though we may acknowledge our need for a Savior, it lies there in our brain, far from our heart.  Unlike the shepherds or the peoples down through the centuries who have suffered and have been desperate for good news, we often are very comfortable with our circumstances.  But regardless, the desperate need for a Savior is still there because without Him, there is no hope.  

Today, recognize the Good News is “good” because of our desperate situation.  We are sinners, and apart from our Savior, we have no hope. As you celebrate Christmas this year, let that desperate need penetrate your heart.  Then join with the shepherds and the countless millions down through the centuries whose hearts have danced when they heard the news: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Problem of Clinging to this Life

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21 NIV)

One often hears older people say when their joints ache and the ailments come on more frequently, that it is better than the alternative, meaning death.  Because it is all we’ve ever known, most of us tend to cling to this life.  We can talk much about life in Heaven, but we really don’t embrace it as a better alternative.  Instead, we embrace the known and the comfortable, which is the earthly life we live.  

Perhaps this is why we can almost be obsessed with staving off death, whether by searching out the “super foods” which experts tell us will keep us healthy and extend our lives, becoming fitness junkies, or exhausting every medical procedure or treatment to prolong our lives, if only for a few months.  Perhaps it is also why so many are risk-adverse, not participating in any activity they think might possibly be a threat to their lives, such as flying, traveling to a foreign country, or riding a motorcycle.  

Paul takes a different view and it is one we believers need to re-examine.  Paul saw death as not something to avoid at all costs, but as a door to a much better existence.  And as a result, we see a life well lived.  He did not fear death, for it promised something much greater, which enabled him to live a life fully committed to the Lord.  This fearlessness allowed him to fulfill God’s will, to not shrink back from the inherent dangers of bringing light into the darkness.  

As Paul did, we live in a time of great darkness.  Terrorism, slavery, and crime abound.  Add to that natural disasters and disease and the facts are clear that we live in a world full of danger and risk.  It is a lost world for which Jesus came to save.  He has not returned because there is still work to be done.  There are still so many who have never heard the Gospel.  Yet, our fear of death is inhibiting fulfilling God’s call to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

If we cling to this life so much that we are not willing to take any risks of losing it, then how will the Muslims of the Middle East ever hear about Jesus?  Who will tell them?  How will the poor in the slums of cities around the world, including in our own nation, hear of the hope and freedom there is in Christ?  Who will share it with them?  How will the millions in Europe who don’t believe hear how much God loves them? Who will live among them in order to share this news with them?

Of course, we are not all called to go into these dangerous places, but we all play a part in creating an environment that promotes risk-taking for the sake of the Gospel.  And by clinging to Jesus rather than our own lives, we do just that.  We create a community that views this type of risk-taking not as heroic, but as normative for the Church.  Thus, the natural result is men and women coming out of this community with a zeal for spreading the Gospel regardless of the risk, and without hearing the worldly wisdom that they should instead remain cautious and safe.   

The truth Paul has to say to us is this: the less we hold on to this life, the more freedom we have to live it to the fullest, which in his understanding would be to live it for the Lord. Today, consider how much you are clinging to this life.  Is it preventing you and others from living fearlessly for Jesus, and thus the Gospel from being shared with the masses living in darkness?  Something to think about as you prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Being Faithful in the Everyday Things

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25:14-30 NIV)

It is final exam week on campus where worry and stress are as common as the sound of Christmas songs in the stores.  And, as is my habit, I remind students that worry is a sin (Matthew 6:25) and that if they are following Jesus, then He should make some difference in how they handle the stress of college life.

It is so easy to call ourselves Christians or followers of Jesus.  It is so easy to say we love Him and want to do His will, but the truth to these declarations is proved by how we conduct ourselves in the everyday things of life.  How do we treat our roommate or the server at a restaurant?  How do we handle commitments we have made?  Do we follow through or do we ignore them?  How do we handle conflict with others?  Do we hold a grudge or do we seek reconciliation?

Like a book contains many words and pages, life is made up of a myriad of small choices and actions.  The sum of its parts defines the whole.  However, we often fail to recognize this.  Instead, we focus on the whole (I’m a Christian; I love Jesus) and ignore the fact it is the tiny parts that truly define it.  

This is why I so often mention worry to students.  If they are truly followers of Jesus, then, come exam time, how they approach these tests should be very different from their peers who claim no such allegiance.  If they believe in Jesus, then what real difference does He make?

It is a question we all should ask and seek to answer with sober examination.  As I once heard it asked: If we were put on trial for following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

In this parable, Jesus emphasizes the Kingdom truth that our faithfulness in the everyday things of life, the opportunities we are given to be obedient, demonstrates our true commitment to Him.  All were considered servants, but it is what they did, the choices they made, that proved their faithfulness.

Today, recognize being faithful to Jesus is not proved by your declarations, but rather by your obedience in the daily situations of life. For it is in these that you accumulate the evidence for your faith that can one day lead to hearing these words from the Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Praying for Those Who Hate Us

“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’” (Luke 23:33-35 NIV)

By now, unless you are a student consumed with final exams, you have probably seen their faces staring at you.  Syed Farook looks weary and a bit dazed. His wife, Tashfeen, however, has a look of determination and perhaps defiance.  Of course, the picture was taken in 2014 at an airport after a long flight, so their recent rampage in San Bernardino, California and recent conclusions about it by law enforcement may be influencing my perception of this image.  

Regardless, I find myself looking at this image with a sense of sadness for them.  I know that may strike you as odd, or perhaps even offensive, in light of what they did last week, but I think it is similar to the way Jesus looked at those who were approving His execution.

What they both have in common, these Islamic terrorists and the Jews who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion, is they truly believed they were carrying out God’s will.  They thought doing these things would be pleasing to God.  How extremely sad!  Yes, the calls for revenge are tantalizing, but some of the last words from the lips of our Lord did not form a call for payback, but rather forgiveness for people who did not truly know what they were doing.  When Jesus was under attack, His call was not for retaliation, but for mercy on the perpetrators.

Right now there is much fear in the world and it is seeping into the Church.  And often what we fear, we hate.  The Nazis feared the Jews, as did the Klan the blacks.  There is danger that as our fear of Islamic terrorists grows, it will transform into hate.  It is time to step back and examine how Jesus responded to those who sought to take His life.  It was not fear or hate, but compassion and mercy.  He understood the blindness of their motivations and the drastic eternal consequences that would be the result.  

The terrorists in our midst today are blinded by their religious zeal. They think they are pleasing God through murdering innocent people. They couldn’t be more deluded in their thinking and the consequences couldn’t be greater.  That is why instead of fearing and hating them, we need to be asking for God’s mercy for them, that their hearts and minds will be open to the Truth.  (See this link  for a true story of how this is actually happening!)

Today, reflect on the prayer Jesus prayed for those responsible for putting Him to death.  I think He looked into their faces and felt a deep sadness.  They truly believed they were serving God by crucifying Him. Are the Islamic terrorists any different?  I don’t think they are.  So I am praying for God’s mercy upon them and that the eyes of their hearts will be opened the One who truly loves them.  Will you join me?

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hope in the Midst of Mayhem

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is an old Christmas hymn rarely sung anymore, so I was surprised to sing it yesterday at our church. Written by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the midst of the American Civil War, when his son was a member of the Union army, its words reveal a heart struggling with the promised coming of the Prince of Peace and the realities of a violent world.  As I sang the lyrics, I was struck by the relevancy of the song.  The words could have easily been penned in the second decade of the 21st Century.  

In the past month, we have been witnesses to the brutal killings of innocents in Paris, Lebanon, and San Bernardino, and, if we have been paying close attention, in nations around the world.  Unless we bury our heads in the proverbial sand, there is no escaping the fact we live in a world where hate and violence are real and common, and the news of such runs a steady stream along broadband widths.  

So the haunting words of Longfellow—“And in despair I bowed my head; There is no peace on earth, I said; For hate is strong, And mocks the song, of peace on earth, good-will to men!"—resonate with us.  As declared the New York Daily News right after the killings in San Bernardino, “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS,” the headline expressed the feelings of many that God is not fulfilling His promise to bring peace on earth.  Instead of being sought, He is mocked for His perceived powerlessness.  

So as we enter the season celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, we are tempted, as Longfellow was, to wonder if the promise of Christmas is but a mere fantasy in the face of the stark realities of a world increasingly mired in mayhem.  Does, can Jesus make any difference?

The question is legitimate and to answer it we need to remove much of the sentimentality and false narratives that have come to embody our thoughts of Christmas and the life of Jesus in general.  At the time Jesus entered human history, the Roman Empire controlled the known world.  Its rulers tolerated no threat or dissent.  In fact, the birth of Jesus resulted in a Roman genocide of male infants and toddlers because Herod considered the baby Jesus a threat to Roman rule.  The stark reality of the Nativity was it resulted in a bloodbath; yet the heavenly hosts had only recently promised “peace and good will.”  Jesus walked on Roman-controlled territory and His Sermon on the Mount was taught in the context of brutal oppression.  And, of course, Jesus was brutally murdered by the Romans.   

If we thoroughly examine the life and teachings of Jesus, what we come to realize is He wasn’t the “Prince of No Conflict,” but rather the One who brings hope and inner peace in the midst of conflict.  “In this world you will have trouble,” is a clear warning that life in this world will not be easy nor without hardship.  “But take heart! I have overcome the world” is His call for courage in the midst of the world’s mayhem.  No matter what is happening on the outside, there can peace on the inside because Jesus has overcome the sin that binds the world.  You and I have been reconciled to God and no amount of war or violence can separate us from Him!

So, along with Longfellow, we can proclaim, "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men."  Today, though the world is full of uncertainty and violence, know you can still experience peace.  For indeed that is the promise of Christmas:  The Almighty God entered history and is in the process of establishing His Kingdom in the hearts of people.  He has indeed overcome the world and one day His peace will not only reign in our hearts, but throughout all of Creation!  In the meantime, we cling to Him who is our Hope in the midst of the mayhem of this world.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015

Being an Encouragement

“After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him.  But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.  So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 9:23-28 NIV)

The Christian journey didn’t start out too well for Paul (at this point, he was still referred to as Saul).  Once the most stalwart defender of Judaism and a darling of the Jewish elite, he now was working for the “enemy” and it wasn’t sitting too well.  After speaking boldly in the name of Jesus and confounding the arguments of the Jews, their frustration with this new convert rose to the point of wanting him dead.  Fleeing for his life, Paul headed for Jerusalem in hopes of joining up with other followers there, but they didn’t trust he had truly become a follower of Jesus and so refused to meet with him.  I can imagine Paul was very discouraged.

We all experience points in our lives where life becomes very discouraging.  Everything seems to be on a downhill slide.   That’s when we need someone like Barnabas, whose name meant “son of encouragement.”  He believed Paul and was confident his conversion was real.  At a time of great discouragement for Paul, he came along side of him and defended him before the apostles.  He was the encouragement Paul desperately needed at the time.  

I remember a time years ago when I was really struggling.  My girlfriend had just broken up with me and a couple I had recently met invited me to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with them.  It was a wonderful time as they loved and encouraged me.  I left their home at the end of the weekend with a new outlook on my life.  Though there were still rough days ahead, this couple served as the encouragement I had desperately needed.  

Do you know someone who is very discouraged?   Could you possibly be the encouragement they desperately need?    Today, consider how you can be a Barnabas to them.  As God used him in such a significant way in Paul’s life, so, too, can he use you in someone else’s life.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Doing the Hard Things

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.  Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:17-24 NIV)

It is the time of year when the vast majority of students are stressed out. Papers and projects are coming due and exams loom ahead.   Yet, the reality is, for many, much of this stress could be avoided.  The due dates for the projects and papers have long been known, but the work put off.  I know.  I was a student once.  Spending time with friends, watching movies, catching up on Facebook, hiking, playing sports, etc. replaces time spent in diligent study.  That is put off because it is so much easier to do the things we want to do rather than the things we have to do.  

Yet, with every role or vocation in life, there come responsibilities, whether you are a student, an employee, or a parent.  And many of these responsibilities are not easy or necessarily enjoyable.  Yet, to be successful, they must be fulfilled and done well.  And if we have to live a life full of responsibilities, it would help to find some joy in them as well.  So in a world where most people complain about the demands on their lives at school, work, and home, and often do the least possible to get by, where do we find the motivation to do our best and how do we experience joy in fulfilling the responsibilities given us?

Paul has the answer—doing everything as if we were doing it for the Lord.  Is it studying?  Do it as if the Lord is your professor.  Is it your job?  Do it as if the Lord is your boss.  Is it as a parent?  Do it as if you were raising the Lord Himself.  

What strikes me in this passage is all the things Paul lists are hard things.  Husbands in the 1st Century were normally harsh with their wives because women were viewed as second-class citizens.  Women and slaves who accepted the Gospel with all of its freedom and equality were being asked to continue to submit to their husbands and masters. Children were being asked to obey their parents.  Hard things indeed.

Paul knew the only way we could fulfill the responsibilities of this life successfully and in a way that honors the Lord is to put Him at the center of all we do.  He must be the motivation to do the hard things of life.  

Today, whatever responsibilities you have in life, put the Lord at the center of them.  Fulfill them as if you are carrying them out for Him.  In this way, hard things become a bit easier and a bit more enjoyable.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

God's Default Mode

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 NIV)

When we talk about default modes, we normally think of cameras or software.  But it occurred to me the other day that God has a default mode—generosity.  He is generous to everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done in life.  He is generous to old people and young people, college graduates and high school dropouts, doctors and drug lords.  His generosity is not dependent on our successes or our shortcomings.  

This is not to say God ignores our sin.  There will come a day when each of us is judged for what we have done in this life (Romans 2:6). However, until that time, God is generous towards everyone, particularly to those who ask.  

I recently saw a story about a man, obviously not serving the Lord, who became stranded while hiking.  Injured and near death, he prayed to be rescued.  After days of searching, rescuers had given up, but a friend decided to make one last attempt to find him.  Miraculously, the friend spotted him on the ledge of a cliff miles from where rescuers assumed he would be.   In an interview afterwards, the man who was rescued gave no credit to God.  Of course, the Lord knew that beforehand, but was still generous to him.  

Often we don’t approach the Lord with our needs because we think we do not deserve His help.  We are too embarrassed or ashamed to ask. But the Lord doesn’t operate that way.  He doesn’t base His generosity on how much we deserve it.  He is willing to be generous regardless. And that is what makes Him so amazing!

Today, recognize we serve a God who is generous to us regardless of what we have done.  It is His default mode, especially to those who ask Him.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

From Religion to Relationship

“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29 NIV)

Paul was writing at a time when the Jews considered themselves special merely because of their cultural heritage.  Early in biblical history, God declared the Jews to be His people, set apart to proclaim His glory to the world.  He made a covenant with them that He would bless them if they obeyed His commands.  Of course, throughout the Old Testament, we see the Jews struggling to keep their end of the bargain, and by the time of Jesus, there had developed an elite class of Jews who believed and taught that being a Jew meant merely following certain rules.  What had been lost down through the centuries was any sense of a relationship with God.  

Christian religion, since the time of Christ, has made the same error. The emphasis is on doing outward things such as going to church, following certain rituals like Confirmation or Catechism, baptism and Communion, being a good person, etc.  And to many, the fact they are born into a “Christian home” makes them Christians.  

Jesus said, “Come follow me.”  He was not calling people out of one religion into another. Rather, He was calling people into a personal relationship with Him.  He was calling them away from empty rituals to a change of heart and allegiance.   

It is quite possible to go to church faithfully, to be a good person, to be baptized, but still have an unchanged and unsurrendered heart.   In following Jesus, that is impossible.   To paraphrase Paul, a Christian is not one who merely does what’s perceived as “Christian” things. Rather, he is one who has surrendered his heart to Jesus and lives in allegiance to Him.  

Today, take a serious look at your heart.  Do you merely look like a Christian, or are you truly one who has surrendered your life to Him? The latter is the one that will gain you His praise.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

Walking the Road with Unfaithful People

“When Jeremiah had finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God—everything the Lord had sent him to tell them—Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.’

So Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers and all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah. Instead, Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah who had come back to live in the land of Judah from all the nations where they had been scattered. They also led away all those whom Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had left with Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan—the men, the women, the children and the king’s daughters. And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord and went as far as Tahpanhes.” (Jeremiah 43:1-7 NIV)

The prophet Jeremiah had a thankless job.  He was caught between God’s calling on his life to be a voice of judgment and to call God’s people to repentance, and a people (his people) whose hearts were hardened and determined to go their own way.  He kept warning and they kept refusing to change their ways.  

We pick up the story with Jeremiah assuring the people, after they asked what God wanted them to do, that they are to go into exile in Babylon where they will be safe and cared for.  It seemed like nonsense to them, to place themselves in the hands of their enemy, and they rejected it out of hand.  Instead, in defiance they headed to Egypt.  And Jeremiah resolutely followed.

Why would a man whose counsel had been repeatedly ignored, who had been ridiculed and scorned, continue to stick by such a stubborn, hardhearted people?  Could it be not only due to his calling, but also to his love?  These were not just any people; they were his people.  Like the father of the lost son, and the woman searching for the lost coin, he was not going to give up.  They were just too valuable and his love was too deep.  

In my years of ministry, I have been tempted many times (and, sadly, have on a few occasions) to wash my hands of people who insist on doing life their way rather than the Lord’s way.  Though they have sought to hear the Lord’s counsel, when it was not what they wanted to hear, they ignored it.  I think I have some sense of Jeremiah’s frustration, and continue to learn how to have his faithfulness in loving people in spite of their hardheartedness, to continue to walk the road with them rather than abandon them.  Hope wins out over exasperation.

Are there people in your life who steadfastly refuse to humble themselves before the Lord and change their ways?  Are you tempted to wash your hands of them?  Then today let the example of Jeremiah inspire you.  Don’t give up.  Keep walking the road with them.  Though rebellious, they are still people created and loved by God.  And your presence could one day convince them of that.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Practicing Thankfulness

(Author's Note: The campus is taking a break for Thanksgiving and so will I.  Have a blessed holiday!  WftW will return on November 30th. Jim)

“Rejoice 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)

Thankfulness is something that has to be practiced in order to become good at it.  That is why I think there is so much awkwardness around the table during Thanksgiving when we’re asked what we are thankful for.  There are often impolite giggles, awkward silences, shallow responses such as, “I’m thankful for this food; now let’s eat it!” or general comments, such as “I’m thankful to live in this country.”  Or, nothing is said.  We just eat, talk, and carry out the traditions of the day. When it comes to being thankful, most of us are lowly amateurs.  

Think about it.  How often do you express thanks to God or to others for what you have in your life—your possessions, your opportunities, such as having a job or getting an education?  How often do you give thanks for your family—your parents, even with all their imperfections, who still provided for you, or your siblings, even when they sometimes frustrate you?  And are you able to offer thanks when your circumstances are less than ideal as Paul exhorts us to do?  

Being thankful is a discipline; it does not come naturally to us.  We have to practice it to become adept at it.  So my challenge to you is to start practicing thankfulness by making a list of the many things for which are (or can be) thankful.  To help you get started, here are some of mine:

I am thankful for:

*Jesus Christ, who sought me out when I was lost and loved me, who removed my guilt and my shame, giving me meaning, hope and purpose in my life.

*My wife, who daily exemplifies for me the love of God. She loves me unconditionally, but continually encourages me to become more and more like Jesus.

*Our home which provides me shelter from the elements and the opportunity to use our gift of hospitality

*My ministry to which God called me so many years ago, which I continue to enjoy, and through which I have been richly blessed.

*The food in our pantry and refrigerator, and the clothes in my closet.

*Our vehicles which, though old, still run well and come without car payments.

*Our friends, locally and around the country, who love us and give us the gift of fellowship.

*Our financial supporters who have given faithfully and generously over many years.

*The beauty of our surroundings, for the mountains and the rivers, for the variety of birds that come every day to visit our feeders.

*For the weather, whatever it is, for the Lord uses it for His glory.  

Like fresh water being poured into a glass of dirty water, the discipline of thankfulness can flush out the negative thoughts and attitudes of our lives.  It can enhance our appreciation of what we do have and tamp down our discontent for what we feel we are lacking.  Thankfulness is what helps make it possible to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.  

So today, start practicing.  Then when you are asked, “what are you thankful for?” you will have no awkwardness or hesitancy in answering. Your constant practice will pay off.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Family Expectations

“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’  Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50 NIV)

As the beginning of the holiday season approaches, along with the excitement of reuniting with family comes for some a sense of dread. The holidays often require us to spend time with people we really don’t like that much, or in the case of believers, people who do not share our faith and perhaps think of us as weird and out of touch with reality.  The truth is the holiday season is often very different from the fantasies of the Hallmark Channel.

I remember going home for the holidays after my conversion early in college.  Because I had become “really religious,” it was assumed I should offer up the prayer for the meals.  Yet, at that time, my family did not understand the true nature of what had happened to me. Conversations were often awkward because my priorities had changed. And, in my immaturity, I often said things that were disrespectful of their nominal beliefs, which sometimes created more tension than love between us.  Most of the time, I couldn’t wait to return to my Christian family back at school.

As I grew older and more mature, I began to realize why it often is so hard as a believer to go home to family who do not share your faith. For 18+ years, you live and develop intimate relationships with individuals. Personalities and interests may vary widely, but family bonds are strong.  There are expectations, both internal and external, of what these relationships are supposed to look like, between you and your parents and with your siblings.  But, as Jesus warned us, faith in Him can dramatically impact those relationships. If our families don’t accept what we believe and the often-dramatic changes in our lives, then our families can begin to feel more like strangers, and fellow believers more like our real family.  And that is a very difficult adjustment to make and accept.  For me, it resulted in anger and resentment, not necessarily helpful emotions in maintaining good relationships.

So I had to learn to practice love as Paul defines it, and not expect to be loved in the same way or even to be understood.  That approach, over time, worked well for both my family and me.  I was increasingly able to treat them kindly and to be patient when they didn’t understand my faith and all the things it had led me to do in my life.  And I want to think that played some role in most of my family over time choosing to follow Jesus just as I had.  

So today, if you are one who is not looking forward that much to reuniting with your family for the holidays, lower your expectations of what you will experience with them.  When you choose to follow Jesus, as He said, your brothers and sisters in the Lord are your real family and your biological family may not be able to give you the same acceptance and love.  But by loving them with the love of Jesus, you are creating the opportunity for them to become part of your spiritual family as well.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Winning the Battle

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV)

I received a friend request from “Catherine” earlier this week.  Thinking she was a student in our ministry, I clicked to look at her profile to see if I recognized her.  Quickly, I realized I didn’t know her and didn’t want to. In her profile pic, “Catherine” was seductively looking at me in a pose that could have been from a Playboy centerfold.  The battle was on.

I was tempted to accept her friend request and access her other pictures, but instead I clicked the “report this person” button.  But that image got stuck in my mind.  And throughout the day, I had to take it captive and give it over to Jesus, and not let it take control.  It wasn’t easy and there were a couple of times that I foolishly sought to see if the profile had been blocked, only to be faced with the same picture. The enemy was trying to drag me into a swamp of lust, but even in the midst of my weakness, divine power won out.  Eventually, the thought became powerless.  

We live in the midst of a spiritual battlefield and at any moment we may find ourselves in a battle.  We must be ready to fight.  Yet, if we attempt to fight with our own strength, we will inevitably fail.  Trying harder to avoid lashing out in anger, or trying harder not to give into lust, or trying harder to avoid gossiping is doomed to failure, because we are relying on our strength or ability to do it.  That’s the world’s approach—just try harder to be a better person.  

The message of the Gospel is that we cannot save ourselves; we cannot transform ourselves.  Only God can do that.  So, too, when we face temptation.   We need the power of God to help us overcome it. Taking a thought captive, whether it be one of anger, lust, or something else contrary to the will of God, means handing it over to Him.  Literally, “Jesus, take this from me!”  That’s what I did with the picture of “Catherine.”  “Jesus, take this.  It is sin and I do not want it in my mind.” And He took it.  But then it came back into my mind and I immediately gave it over to Him again.  That sequence occurred several times throughout the day, but, as James 4:7 promises, I continued to resist and the devil eventually fled.  

Today, recognize you are entering a spiritual battlefield on which you are a target for attack.  Therefore, be ready to cry out to Jesus to take control of whatever temptation comes your way.  You may not have the strength to overcome it, but He does.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Following Jesus Is Risky

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31 NIV)

I remember the fear that permeated this nation after the attacks of 9/11, so I can imagine the fear in France and all of Europe right now.  And, of course, the terrorists want to stoke that fear, for it is what gives them power.  That is why they have declared they are “coming after” Washington, London, and other major cities of the world.  They want to paralyze us and turn us against one another because that is what fear tends to do.  And followers of Jesus are not immune to fear; thus, His words of encouragement to His disciples.

It is difficult to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to do to others what we would have them do to us if we are afraid. Rather, we will tend to avoid them, hate them, or go on the attack in order to protect ourselves.  Fear keeps us from doing what the Lord commands us to do.

We live in a culture that puts safety above all else.  We pray for safety. We are told to be safe.  We are encouraged to seek “safe spaces.”  In other words, the encouragement and incentives given us are to live risk-free lives, to protect ourselves at all costs.  And in an ever-dangerous world, this attitude leads to a shrinking back from life and engagement with people, making it virtually impossible to live the lives Jesus tells us to lead.

What’s interesting about Jesus’ encouragement is He does not promise safety if we will trust Him.  In fact, all His original disciples except Judas and John were put to death as a direct result of their faith.  No, what He is promising is the assurance our Heavenly Father loves us and, thus, will take care of us.  However, this refers to our place in Eternity, not necessarily our safety on earth.  

In order to serve the Lord to the fullest, we must stop clinging to our lives and to our personal safety.  We must stop being afraid and go where He leads us and do what He commands us, regardless of the risk to our comfort or safety.  The reality is following Jesus is risky.

Today, do not be afraid of what might happen to you if you do this or that, or if others follow through with their threats. Your soul is much more important than your physical life and it is nurtured by being obedient to your Lord who was willing to suffer in order to love people and calls you to follow in His steps.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dealing with Trouble

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

It would seem that most of us who follow Jesus often forget these words.  Why else would we be surprised, and often disillusioned, when trouble comes into our lives?   I recently talked with a student who had a lot of “why me” questions.  Events in her life have shaken her faith.  

My wife and I were having lunch with some friends the other day and we were talking about how the New Testament writers, with only one exception, never wrote or prayed about being shielded from trouble, but rather how to thrive in the midst of it.  Paul praying for the “thorn” to be removed (II Corinthians 12:8-10) was the one exception, and the Lord told him no, that His grace was sufficient for him and that His power was made perfect in weakness.  

James says that we should “count it pure joy” when trouble comes into our lives because it develops within us perseverance. (James 1:2-4) Peter says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (I Peter 4:12-13)

The reality is we live in a fallen world controlled currently by the Enemy. Trouble is his game.  None of us are immune or exempt, even if we are followers of Jesus.  He, too, experienced much trouble during His life. The promise we have been given, however, is that through Jesus we can overcome whatever trouble we encounter in our lives.  

Today, as James and Peter exhort us, embrace trouble as an opportunity to share in the experience of Jesus.  It was not easy for Him, nor will it be for you, but take heart, He overcame what the world threw at Him.  And if you are following Him, you can as well.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

He's Big Enough

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

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

Years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote an excellent book called, Your God Is Too Small.  In it he addresses the typical views people have of God.   They are typically one-dimensional and fail to grasp the sheer enormity of God.  

As human beings, one of our greatest temptations is to shrink God down to our size, to thrust limits on Him that more reflect the boundaries of our own abilities.  Each year in our ministry we take an overseas mission trip for which the cost can be up to several thousand dollars for each student.  There are always students who choose not to go because of the cost.  Their thinking is they don’t have that kind of money to spend and they don’t believe God will provide it.  Yet, every year every student who commits to the trip experiences God’s provision.  We’ve never had to leave a student behind for lack of money.  

I remember several years ago when my wife and I had to make an emergency trip to South Africa.  We did not have the nearly $4000 for the flights, yet I felt led only to ask for prayers for my ailing in-laws, not for money.  The Lord wanted to show us how big He was.  Within hours of sending an email, offers and commitments to send money were coming in.  By the time the bill came due, we had received all the money we needed.  

How often we limit God when He is in fact limitless.  Paul’s powerful prayer is aimed at getting us to grasp how big God really is and to begin living that way.  Is the Lord calling you to do something you believe improbable if not impossible?  He is big enough to make it happen.  Do you have a need you know you cannot meet?  God is big enough to meet it.  Do you know someone whom you are ready to give up on ever becoming a follower of Jesus?  Keep praying because God can do more in a person’s heart than you can ever imagine.

Today, make Paul’s prayer your own.  Pray to grasp how big God truly is.  When you can, you will be amazed at what He does.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Recognizing the Real Enemy

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV)

On Friday afternoon, I was discussing this passage with several guys I meet with weekly.  It seems even more appropriate after the events of Friday evening in Paris.  I was pointing out to them the need to recognize we live on a spiritual battleground, whether we recognize it or not.  As Peter says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8)

With what happened in Paris reverberating in our minds, this passage is a good reminder to us that we live in a fallen world ruled by the devil. Radical jihadists, mass murderers, pedophiles, and the like are merely his pawns in his objective to “steal, kill, and destroy.” And if you are tempted to think Paul is writing some type of “Pollyannaish” mush, remember that he is writing in the context of Christians being covered in animal skins and given to lions for their consumption, and being crucified, set on fire, and used as torches to light the emperor’s gardens.  The jihadists and mass shootings may be terrifying to us today, but what was occurring in the 1st Century was no less terrifying and reprehensible.

Yet, Paul reminds us the perpetrators of these atrocities are not our real enemies.  Rather, our war is against Satan and his minions.  If we make it against the humans, we focus on the wrong target.  This is why Jesus calls us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and to do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28).  The real enemy is not of flesh and blood.

And, too, God is not the least bit intimidated by those who threaten or enact reigns of terror.  The Psalmist says he laughs at their pretense of power (37:13).  They may terrify us; they don’t scare Him in the least. So Paul can confidently say, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” because although current events may frighten us, He who is within us is greater than he who is in the world. (I John 4:4)

Today, regardless of what is happening in the world or around you, know the Lord is in control.  Be strong in Him and resist hating those who seek to oppose us and kill us.  They are not the real enemy. Rather, stand firm in faith and love—for those are our most effective weapons in the spiritual battle we face.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Power of Kindness

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28:1-2 NIV)

I remember one time while a college student and living in the campus ministry house, I got so sick that I was unable to get out of bed.  My campus minister came up to my room with a pitcher of orange juice. Why do I remember this after all these years?  It was a small act of kindness when I was in great need.  I remember another time from that era when I was a camp counselor in Colorado one summer.  We had just returned to the camp after an overnight hiking trip with the kids.  A severe storm had descended upon us and we had to truck the kids out of the forest.  I was so wet and cold that I could barely move my hands. Awaiting us back at the camp were hot coffee and blankets given to us by a very kitchen staff.  Acts of kindness are powerful, so much so that I can remember two of them from decades ago.  

Paul was a prisoner on a ship of prisoners.  They were caught up in a violent storm that lasted for days.  Finally, the captain spotted land and crashed the ship upon the rocks.  The ship broke apart and the men were plunged into the water.  When they made it ashore, they were wet, cold, and exhausted.  No wonder Luke was so taken by the kindness of the islanders.  Imagine a warm fire after all they had just experienced! And that act of kindness has been preserved in history because Luke found it so memorable.

In a world that is so coarse and abrasive, and often uncaring, we as followers of Jesus have a powerful gift to share that has been given to us by our Heavenly Father who is kind.  A component of love as Paul describes it is kindness. Like dripping or flowing water that can over time dissolve rock, acts of kindness can soften a hardened heart.  

A student and I were discussing yesterday the events happening on the campuses of the University of Missouri and Yale and what Christians can do.  I think speaking and acting kindly in the face of all the anger and tension would go a long way to bringing light into the darkness.  We can so easily get caught up in the verbal volleys between cultures and philosophies that we often forget the folks on both sides are fellow human beings, created and loved by God.  In fact, we are told that a trait of our Lord is to show kindness to those who are ungrateful to Him and even to the wicked (Luke 8:35). 

I think there are two reasons kindness matters so much.  First, if God is kind, then we should be as well if we love Him and want to please Him. Secondly, kindness is powerful in opening up hearts.  It strikes chords deep within us, which are not easily ignored or forgotten.  

Today, recognize the power of kindness to impact and transform lives. If Luke remembered a warm fire and I remembered being given a pitcher of orange juice when I was sick, what small things could you do that would make a difference in people’s lives and give a glimpse of God’s love?

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Being Offended

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 3:12-15 NIV)

I’m not sure if the Starbuck’s cup thing is really a thing.  If you have been sleeping all week or have been disconnected from social media, then know that some folks have complained about the plain red cups the company is using this holiday.  No one knows how many, but other folks have felt the need to take issue with these folks’ complaints as being ridiculous.  And, thus, we have embarked on another round of the seasonal “War on Christmas.”

What I have been observing over the past decade or more is just how easily people are offended and how much they feel the need to express their indignation. And social media has given them a quick and effective outlet.  And this cuts across political and religious spectrums, as well as the cultural one.  I am afraid we are becoming a chronically offended people at a time where the common belief is we have the right not to be offended.   

So the question is, how are followers of Jesus to respond to this cultural current?   Paul, I think, gives us the guidance we need.  First of all, he states clearly that if we truly follow Jesus, we WILL be persecuted as a result of that choice.  Jesus said the same thing (John 15:18-19).  Thus, we should get over this idea that we have the right to be respected and are entitled to be treated kindly and fairly.  We shouldn’t expect the culture to roll out the red carpet for us, and we shouldn’t be surprised or offended when it doesn’t.  

Secondly, Paul points to the study and understanding of the Scriptures as the guiding point in our lives.  Is it perhaps because so many do not have a clear knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures that they seemed to be so shocked and offended that the world stands against us as Christians? For within them there is a clear picture of the spiritual battle being waged between the forces of light and darkness.  Battles have casualties; they are not picnics in the park.  Any thorough reading of the Word will confirm this.

So in a culture that is so easily offended, should not the followers of Jesus respond differently?  Instead of complaining, should we not instead love those who offend us?  Instead of responding in kind to those who persecute us, should we not rather treat them as we would want to be treated?  Instead of being shocked that we are being persecuted, should we not be prepared for such treatment?  And instead of bemoaning our circumstances, should we not rejoice

Today, recognize that we live in a fallen world that has rebelled against God.  As Christians across the world and for two millennia have experienced, there is a cost to following Jesus.  We shouldn’t be shocked or offended when we have to pay the price.  Instead, we should follow the example of Jesus who left us an example that we might follow in His steps and be lights in the midst of the darkness.  

© Jim Musser 2015  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Power To Set Us Free

“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most High. So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. 
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” (Psalm 107:10-16 NIV)

There is a poignant scene in the movie, “Invictus,” about the beginning of Nelson Mandela’s term as president of South Africa, where Matt Damon’s character is visiting Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.  He is standing in Mandela’s tiny cell, the iron door shut with arms outstretched almost touching the walls, trying to imagine being confined there for so long.  There was no way of escape. Only then-President de Klerk could free Mandela.

Prisons, by default, are built to prevent escape; thus, heavy metal doors and bars are always used.  The only way prisoners can gain their freedom is to be released by a higher authority.  

Most of us, hopefully, will never spend a day in a physical prison, but there are many of us who are imprisoned nonetheless—held captive by addictions, the after effects of emotional or physical abuse, our own neediness, spiritual blindness, or by a particular sin.  And for those of us aware of our captivity, it may seem hopeless.  We may have tried many times to escape, but to no avail.  Yet, there is hope!  The Lord can free us.  

The Psalmist is re-telling the story of the Israelites, how when they rebelled against the Lord, He allowed them to be imprisoned. Desperate to be set free, they cried out to God and He responded. The Psalmist uses this story to draw a broad conclusion about the Lord: “He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” We serve a God who can set us free, no matter how secure our prison seems to be.  

Today, if you find yourself held captive by something, cry out to God knowing He is able to set you free.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Taking the Path to Righteousness

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!  Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:15-18 NIV)

There is a narrative among many Christians that since we are all sinners, sin is just a part of life and we shouldn’t make that big of deal of it.  The need for obedience to the God’s commands fades in the midst of His abundant grace and love.  A call to repentance is viewed as condemnation and judgment.  Like many of the Roman Christians were proclaiming, sin is viewed as an opportunity for God’s grace to abound.

But what is lost in this narrative is God’s desire for us to become righteous, not just forgiven.  And, as Paul states here, righteousness is formed along the path of obedience.  Yes, any sin can be forgiven, but is it better to sin and gain forgiveness rather than be obedient in the first place?  To that Paul answers a resounding “NO!” 

Perhaps this is the reason the Church is so weak; the emphasis has been skewed too far toward forgiveness at the expense of calling people to obedience.  Paul was no slouch on grace, but it seems he saw the danger of people using it as an excuse to sin and resist obedience.  And I have seen that as well.

When I first came to my present ministry, I found a lot of students claiming to follow Jesus, but who felt free to get drunk and sleep with their significant others because they were already “saved.”  One student leader proclaimed when I confronted her, “Jim, we’re college students,” as the excuse for such behavior.  They had the mistaken belief that grace was a license to live as they pleased.  

What grace provides is the way back to God when the road should have been permanently closed.  But once we get there, we are not free to just do as we please, nor should we want to be.  Rather, our desire should be to be like Christ and the only way we can achieve that is through obedience.  It is through obedience that the death march of the flesh begins.  “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…,” Paul writes to the Colossians (3:5).  This is what obedience looks like.  It is not easy, nor does the flesh go quietly, but consistent obedience will lead to greater righteousness and maturity.

Today, recognize grace is your path to God, but it is not a license to do as you please. Instead grace is to lead you to a life of obedience in order that you can become more like Him. 

© Jim Musser 2015 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Jesus Is the Answer

“You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.  You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins.  You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger.  Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.  Will you be angry with us forever?  Will you prolong your anger through all generations?  Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation.” (Psalm 85:1-7 NIV)

I’ve been a bit nostalgic the past few days.  It was 40 years ago that a lost 19-year-old college freshman found his Father and a love he had longed for but had never before experienced.  It was the mid-70’s and revival was sweeping the country among what was then called the “hippy generation.”  It was made up of young people scarred by the fallout from the Viet Nam war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and the failed promise of an utopian life via sex and drugs.  The Holy Spirit was moving and young men and women were coming to know Jesus in numbers not seen for generations.  

My conversion came at the tail end of what became known as the “Jesus Movement.”  The memories of that time came flooding back as my wife and I viewed the movie, “Woodlawn,” the story of how a high school football team in the early 1970’s had a major impact on the struggles for desegregation in Birmingham, Alabama.  The entire team gave their lives to Jesus and demonstrated the truth of Galatians 3:26-28, that in Jesus we are all one regardless of our race, gender, or ethnic background. 

Forty years later, it seems we are returning to much of the same environment that was present then.  Hatred for one another is being spewed on social media.  Protests and riots follow what are believed to be racist and unjust events.  The cracks in our society are beginning to resemble those of an earlier generation.  And the suggested remedies are similar as well—more understanding, more tolerance, more justice.

In the movie, there is a scene where Hank, the team chaplain, asks the players if they aren’t tired of all the anger, hatred, and injustice.  If so, he says, then there is only one way to solve it—Jesus.  The team responds to his invitation en masse, and the anger and hatred among the team members dissipates into love.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of all the anger and hate in our society right now.  I’m tired of the greed, the callousness, the self-centeredness, the shallowness, and the pettiness of people.  And I know no hashtag campaign or petition is going to make any real difference. Nor are conferences or summits on diversity and peace. No, what we need is a revival where the Spirit is transforming hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, where the walls of hostility are broken down not by force but by love, and where seated on the thrones of our lives is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

You may think it a cliché, but the truth is Jesus IS the answer.  Indeed, He is the only way out of this mess.  So I am committing myself to pray earnestly for revival in this nation of ours, for repentant hearts and transformed lives. It has happened before; it can happen again.  Today, will you join me in praying for God to begin a revival among the people of our nation? We need it in the most desperate of ways.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015

An Important Question

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:1-9 NIV)

Sometimes I want to ask this same question of students: Do you want to get well?  They complain of continual stress or anxiety, about an unhealthy relationship, or about a long-term struggle with a sin.  It may sound like an uncaring question, but Jesus did ask it of the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda.  

I think the reason is that some people can find their identity in a particular struggle with sin or an ailment or life situation or grow so accustomed to it that a change is threatening because it is unknown. Such a person may not, in fact, want to take a way out of their circumstances.  In an odd way, it works for them.  So, when we seek to help them, to point a way out of their predicament, they are not interested because that would mean a radical change in their lives.

We are, for the most part, creatures of comfort and refrain from making changes that threaten our comfort.  For instance, we may resist the urging to try new food or don a much different outfit than we’re used to wearing.  Or we may stay in the same job even if we hate it and there are better ones out there for us.  If our comfort range is very narrow, then we will resist change, even if it may be in our best interests.

Jesus was testing this man’s true desire to be healed.  Did he request to be brought to the pool every day in hopes of being healed, or had it just become his daily routine, something he was used to and content with doing?  It is a good question that sometimes needs to be asked.  I recall asking it of a young man struggling with pornography.  He often spoke of his struggle but never seemed interested in the counsel I gave him to help him overcome it.  I once posed it to a young woman who had a problem with drunkenness, but never seemed inclined to give up the friends who encouraged her to keep on drinking.  It is one thing to struggle with something; it is quite another to only want to talk about it but never want to do the necessary things to overcome it.

Today, perhaps there is a struggle in your own life that is ongoing.  It may be a good time to ask yourself the same question that Jesus posed to the crippled man: Do you want to get well?  And like this man, if the answer is yes, then Jesus can provide the way to healing. 

© Jim Musser 2015 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Singular Focus

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-22 NIV)

Earlier this week, over 800,000 fans of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals gathered in downtown Kansas City to celebrate. The city was literally a sea of Royal blue,  and there were no reports of rioting or vandalism.  

There is no doubt this crowd was made up of different races, political views, socioeconomic levels, and limitless varieties of ages and personalities.  Yet, here they were united as one in their love for their Kansas City Royals.

In today’s society, we hear a lot about diversity, but very little about unity.  The emphasis is on accepting and honoring our differences.  It is not a bad goal for us to appreciate one another, but as is clearly evident, there is not much unity coming from the emphasis on diversity. The reason is unity can only come about from a singular focus on something outside of ourselves.  In World War II, our country was united by the singular focus on defeating the Nazis and Japan.  On 9/11, the shock and grief of an attack on our country and the death of more than 3,000 of our citizens united us.  

But it is difficult, as evident by our nation’s history, to keep that singular focus.  Some would say we are more divided than ever by our politics and by our views of what the American way of life should look like.  We cannot agree, so we are at odds with one another.  

And it is no different in the Church.  We have long been divided along theological lines—Catholic and Protestant, evangelical and mainline, conservative and progressive—and for the same reason.  We lose our singular focus on Jesus.  Instead of pursuing Him, we pursue bolstering our personal beliefs.  Instead of submitting to Him, we seek to recreate Him into what we want Him to be.  Instead of focusing on His will, we focus on our own.  And this naturally leads to divisions and fights among us.

What happened in Kansas City this week was amazing and it just shows how people can unite regardless of their differences when there is singular focus among them.  Today, recognize we can only be united as believers if our singular focus is on Jesus.  It cannot happen by focusing on social justice, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, or right doctrine—all of which are important.  No, it can only happen if our singular focus is on Jesus, loving and worshipping Him above all else.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Spiritual Vitality for a Lifetime

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.  They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’” (Psalm 92:12-15 NIV)

As I was reading this yesterday morning, the phrase “they will still bear fruit in old age” jumped out at me.  Now age is relative.  To the students with whom I work, I am old, but to others I know who are retired or near retirement, they see me as still a youngster.  One thing is clear, however, I am not getting any younger.  

We live in a culture that glorifies youth and connects aging with decline. Physically, that is usually true.  My body isn’t what it once was. Although a knee replacement has given me the opportunity to become more active, I am still move much slower than I was in my 20’s and my vertical leap can be measured in mere inches.  A once full and dark head of hair is noticeably thinner and graying.  Yet, spiritually, instead of declining, over the years I believe I have continued to grow and bear fruit.

That is the beauty of walking with the Lord.  While we may be in physical decline (and experts say that begins in our early 20’s!), we have the hope of thriving spiritually throughout our lives.  And that is God’s desire.  Just because we are reaching a stage of transition in our lives, whether that be graduating from college, marriage and family, or retirement, doesn’t mean we move into some sort of spiritual low gear or park.  He wants us to remain productive, to continue bearing spiritual fruit throughout our lives.  And contrary to the beliefs of our culture, the Psalmist reminds us that it is indeed possible.  As I age, I find that exciting and reassuring, knowing I can be spiritually productive to the very end of my life.

Today, regardless of your age, remember the Lord’s desire for you is to bear fruit throughout your life.  And regardless of how old you get, you can still retain spiritual vitality.  I think that makes the reality of aging a lot more tolerable.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's Love that Makes the Difference

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

A number of years ago, my wife and I were looking for a new church. We had attended a large church in town, but never felt a part of the community.  Every week, during the “greeting moment,” which I dubbed “the most uncomfortable minute of the week,” we felt as if we were strangers among people who had no interest in knowing us.  There were smiles and handshakes, but no real conversation.  After the service, we often stood in the middle of the fellowship hall observing people talking with one another, but rarely engaging us.  When we realized we were waking up and dreading going to this church, we knew we had to seek out a different community.

And we both remember the second time we walked into what is now our home church.  I say the second time, because the first time was what we expected.  An elderly man greeted us, introducing himself and asking our names and what we did.  It was nice, but not out of the ordinary.  What got our attention was the next week when this same gentleman greeted us by name and said that he and his wife had prayed for us and our ministry that previous week.  It was like a hot drink on a very cold day.  And we have remained a part of this community ever since.

Both churches are strong on biblical teaching, great missions outreach, and wonderful worship, but the sense of love was the difference for us. Now I’m sure there are many in our previous church who could write and say wonderful things about the love of that community, but we personally did not experience it.  And that made all the difference.  Love is that important!

Love is what drew me to the Lord back when I was a college student.  I saw love between believers and experienced it from them.  I have seen students who are broken be transformed by this love and churches who bring healing to deep wounds by the same love.  

Regardless if a community of believers has sound doctrine, a wonderful worship band, a great missions outreach, great children’s and youth programs, it is really nothing if individual people don’t experience love. And that is the great challenge of the Church, to show love to those around us and never assuming “they are taken care of.”  

“Love one another” is an inclusive command.  It includes not just the people we know well, but those around us we may not know as well or at all.  And it is a difficult one to keep because our tendency is to focus on those we know and are comfortable with.  

Today, think about how you can demonstrate love to those in your church or campus ministry that are beyond your friendship circle.  As you well know, if they experience love, it will make all the difference.

© Jim Musser 2015