Friday, January 30, 2015

Eliminating the Pink, Part 2

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.  He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11-14 NIV)

So what I didn’t mention yesterday regarding getting rid of all the pink in our house is that it is taking two coats of paint to completely cover it. Perhaps if we had purchased higher quality paint, the results would be different, but, as it is, the pink shows through after the first coat.  

So this has provided me another spiritual lesson and it involves two words—justification and sanctification.  Justification is what I wrote of yesterday—the blood of Jesus covers over all of our sins, past, present, and future.  If we place our trust in Jesus, we are not condemned for our sins (Romans 8:1-2); yet, as John tells us, we continue to sin (I John 1:8).  In other words, the pink continues to show through.  

And this is where sanctification comes in.  Over time, Jesus transforms us, but we will continue to struggle with sin.  Justification serves as our safety net.  While we seek to grow and mature spiritually, to become more like Him, we need not worry about our salvation because our sins have already been forgiven.  They may be showing through, but the blood of Jesus continues to cover them.

I find this both comforting and frustrating.  As I wrote yesterday, I am glad we are transforming our house by getting rid of all the pink, but I wish it could be done all at once. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It is instead a frustratingly slow process.  Spiritually, it works a little differently, but the frustration remains.  In Christ, we are relieved of the penalty of our sins; they are covered over, but eliminating sin from our lives is impossible in this life.  However, we can sin less over time and grow more in godliness.  Living the Christian life is a slow, but steady, transformation.  

Today, if you are frustrated that your sins still show through, know they are still covered by Jesus.  If you are seeking Him, your life indeed will be transformed.  It just may take awhile. 

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Eliminating the Pink

“Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.  And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.  For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:7-9 NIV)

I have come to hate the color pink.  I can’t say I was ever greatly fond of it, but now I hate it.  Let me explain.  My wife and I purchased a house late last year in which every wall, door, window frame, and trim is the same color—light pink.  The backstory of this I am dying to know!  Our main objective for the past few months, and realistically, for the next year or so, is to paint over all the pink.  

Yesterday, I was doing just that, painting two doors and a window frame, from pink to beautiful white.  My wife asked me as I was in the midst of my work if I was enjoying myself.  Yes and no, I said.  I like eliminating the pink and am delighted to see the transformation, but there is so much of it.  A couple of doors and a window frame down, but seemingly a mile of trim and many more walls and doors to go.  The further we go, the higher the mountain appears.

Last night, as I was lying in bed, I wondered if God ever feels that way. He sees a world full of sin, and even as He makes the sins of those who humble themselves before Him “white as snow,”  there remains still so much more.  For every person who comes to Him for cleansing, there are a thousand, even ten thousand, more who do not.  Their sin is still sticking to the walls of this world and it is ugly.  And I think my pink walls are overwhelming!

Although I know the Lord is not overwhelmed by the sin of this world, I think it is still good to realize how big the problem is and how He approaches it.  I wish that somehow our house could, in one day, be transformed—poof, all the pink gone!  But I know that is magical thinking.  More realistically, we bought the paint and, little by little, we are eliminating the pink from the trim in one room, or on a wall or door.  

In the same way, the Lord bought the paint (the blood of Jesus) a long time ago and He is patiently making His way through the world eliminating the ugly sin one person at a time.  The world may still be ugly, but, day-by-day, He is making progress.  It may seem frustratingly slow to us, but Love is patient and unwavering.  He never gives up.  

Today, if you are frustrated by the look of this world, know the Lord is making His way through it, covering over the sin of those who trust in Him.  It may be taking a long time, but know progress is being made. Just look closer, perhaps in a mirror, and see what He has already done.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Undeserved Love

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8-12 NIV)

It is tempting in life to think people should get what they deserve, particularly when their actions deeply hurt us.  An abusive father?  I’ll never speak to him again!  A friend that betrays you?  It’s over between us!  A girlfriend or boyfriend who abandons you for someone else.   I will never forgive!  It seems right; it feels right.  And they deserve it!

As followers of Jesus, however, there is a different model for us.  The Lord, because of His love and compassion, does not treat us as our sins deserve.  There is no question we are sinners; we have wronged God many, many times.  Yet, He chooses to treat us differently, not as our sins deserve.  This is the hard part of love—treating people not as their actions deserve, but with the compassion and mercy that is an integral component of love.  

And the truth is, God calls us to love everyone, including our enemies and those who have deeply hurt us.  He calls us to treat others in the same way He treats us. 

Today, think about the treatment you deserve from the Lord for the way you have acted toward Him.  Are you grateful that He does not treat you as your sins deserve?  Then apply that same love to those in your life who have hurt you.  They don’t deserve it, but, then, neither do you. 

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I Told You So!

“Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”  So he got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

‘Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

‘The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

‘”My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32 NIV)

This is my favorite of all Jesus’ parables; so much so that I included the entire story because I didn’t want to leave out any part of it!  

I was thinking the other day about how, as we get older, we see life more clearly.  Most of us, in turn, want to pass along this insight to the generation coming behind us, whether they be our children, or young people we know.  We know what it’s like to be their age and see the potential pitfalls in the choices they are facing.  We want to tell them so they can avoid the mistakes we made.  

Yet, the reality we face is many times they will ignore our counsel.  They will go do what they decide to do.  And like one with an aerial view of a narrow mountain road on which two vehicles are coming around a blind curve, we can see the inevitable crash coming.  

Then when they come back to us, bruised and battered, we have a choice to make: We can remind them of our counsel, or we can just wrap our arms around them and comfort them in the midst of their hurt and shame.  Of course, the typical, and may I add the natural, response is to say, “I told you so.”  We were right all along and the desire of our flesh is to be acknowledged as being right.  So we say it, “I told you so,” or something to that effect.  

Isn’t that what the younger son expected?  Isn’t that what we expect from those above us, or dear to us whom we have deeply disappointed by our choices?  Isn’t that why it is so hard to face them, even in humility?  We dread hearing “I told you so!”

In this story, the desperate son admits his stupidity of choice, demands nothing, and asks his father only to be taken back as his lowly servant. But my sense is he still expects to hear, “I told you so!”  Instead, what he gets is a bear hug, a kiss, and a party.  The joy of his return overwhelms any sense of self-righteousness on the part of the father. He’s just glad to have his son back.

Jesus tells this parable to illustrate how God’s love is different from what we would normally expect and experience (i.e., from the elder brother).  Although He gives us wise counsel and knows the consequences that await when we fail to follow it, when we come to our senses and return to Him, we need not fear hearing that dreaded phrase.  For the joy of our return to Him far outweighs the sin of our disobedience.

Today, if you are in the midst of the consequences of your disobedience, know that if you humbly return to the Lord, what awaits you is not more shame, but One who will be overjoyed by your return to Him.  How can you be sure of this?  Jesus told you so.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

The God of the Old Testament

“When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-4 NIV)

To the general public, and probably to many Christians as well, the Old Testament has an image problem.  It represents the “wrathful, judgmental” God, whereas the New Testament tells the story of the “loving, forgiving” God.  Jesus is always favored over the “God of the Old Testament,” and most Christians spend their time reading the New Testament, but little time in the Old, with perhaps the exception of Psalms and Proverbs.  

But as I have been reading through the Old Testament again during my devotional times, I am reminded once more that there is truly only one God of the Bible, not two.  Yes, there is a lot of talk about following the Lord’s commands and the dire results for failure, but if we look closely, there is also a lot of grace and mercy—as in this passage.

Moses has spent the last two chapters recounting the blessings for obeying God and the consequences of not.  Some of the consequences are quite harsh, scary, in fact.  Yet, in this chapter lies hope.  It is evident the Lord knows the Israelites are going to disobey Him and they will reap the consequences; however, that is not the end of the story. Moses speaks of God’s mercy on those willing to turn back to Him when desperation sets in.  In other words, grace and repentance—two very common words/themes in the New Testament—are on full display.

We are attracted to the New Testament because of these themes, but we often assume they don’t exist in the Old Testament—thus, creating a false belief that there are two Gods.  As the Hebrew writer says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)  There is only one God and He is both a God of justice and a God of grace.  And we see these characteristics throughout the Bible.  

Today, know the God of the Old and New Testaments is the same. Even if you have strayed far away from Him and His commands, He longs for you to return and will be gracious and kind toward you when you do. He has always been this way and He will never change.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Danger of Distractions

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV)

My wife makes fun of me sometimes while I’m driving because, occasionally (yes, only occasionally), I will look at something to my left and let the car drift to the right.  I have never run off the road, but it does serve as a reminder of how easy it is to become distracted and the danger that lurks when my attention is diverted from the road.  

The same is true for us spiritually.  Distraction is one of the primary weapons the devil uses to draw us away from the Lord.  He seeks to focus our attention on other things so we will lose focus on where we are and what we are suppose to be doing.  Then we begin to drift away.  
And like the scenery that catches my attention, the distractions are not usually bad in and of themselves.  School, work, relationships are all good things.  And there is nothing inherently wrong with Facebook, computer games, or spectator sports.  Yet all of these, and many more, can serve to distract us, to divert our attention from the Lord if we are not paying attention.  And the results can be dangerous.  One moment we can be looking one way and the next we’re upside down in a ditch.

God’s desire for us is growing in intimacy with Him, to build on the relationship that started when we chose to follow Him as our Savior and Lord.  In order for that to happen, our primary attention needs to be focused on Him.  The other things in our lives may have a place, but we cannot allow them to become our main focus.

Today, consider what distracts you from your relationship with the Lord. Whatever it is, you need to put it in its proper place.  While you are going down the road of life, your attention needs to be fully on Lord. Otherwise, you may suddenly find yourself in the spiritual ditch.

© Jim Musser 2015 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Being Stupid

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1 NIV)

I’ve always considered myself to be a “straight shooter,” and I have always appreciated people who are honest and don’t beat around the proverbial bush.  The writer of this proverb doesn’t hold back.  If you hate to be corrected, you are stupid.  

In that case, there are millions of stupid people running around our nation.  It seems one of the worst offenses one can commit is to dare attempt to correct someone else.  Whether it be in the realm of politics, education, parenting, religion, sports, etc., don’t dare tell people they are wrong, or that perhaps there is another point of view to consider. Likely, you will be on the wrong end of their wrath.

I remember a time when I was serving as an elder in a church where we were dealing with the aftermath of our pastor’s infidelity.  The eldership was handling the issue, but many in the congregation wanted to have a vote on whether he should go or stay.  I stood up at a congregational meeting and said the church was not a democracy and that the devil was in our midst attempting to stir up division.  Some vehemently disagreed and let me know it, accusing me of, among several things, of being on a power trip.  One member later wrote me an excoriating letter, taking me to task on my insinuation that some in the congregation were being influenced by the devil.  Although I supported my viewpoint with Scripture, they held fast to their opinions and later voted against the elders’ recommendations, which led to a split of the church.  

Correction is unpleasant, as the Hebrew writer notes (Hebrews 12:11), but we all need it from time to time and are better for it.  Yet, we live in a culture where we feel entitled to believe and do whatever we want. And, of course, that has a direct impact on our relationship with God.  If we feel the right to believe and do as we see fit, then the authority of the Scriptures (of which one purpose is to correct us—II Timothy 3:16), is extraordinarily weakened.  As a result, many don’t experience that “harvest of righteousness and peace” in their lives.  They remain stagnant spiritually because they refuse to be corrected, either in their thinking or their behavior.  

Today, recognize that following Jesus means having our thinking and behavior subject to correction.  None of us is perfect, except Him.  If we want to follow Him and yet aren’t willing to be corrected by Him, well, we’re just stupid.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unconditional Love

“Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” (Psalm 25:7 NIV)

One of the most excruciating things about entering adulthood is recalling the very dumb, stupid, and often hurtful things you did when you were young.  Some of us have done more than others, but none are immune to the foolishness of youth, including David.

This prayer is a prayer for unconditional love.  When we truly love someone, we tend to forget his or her offenses against us over time. They recede into the background, replaced by fresher, more pleasant memories, which are reinforced by our default image of the person. Like when we first fall in love with someone, the things he or she does wrong are easily forgotten because they are overwhelmed by the feelings of love.

Unconditional love is like that.  Above all, the person is the focus of our love, over-shadowing everything else.  So David prays the Lord will not remember his sins and rebellious ways, but will remember him.  Don’t focus on my sins; focus on me.  And isn’t that what we want?

I don’t want to have my sins continually held over my head nor do I want to be defined by them.  But that is what will happen if I am not loved unconditionally.  Others will do it and we will even do it to ourselves.  Our identity becomes entwined forever with past actions. This is bondage of the highest order and only unconditional love can set us free.

David knew this and so he cries out to the Lord to be remembered for who he is—a child of God—not for what he has done.  And when this prayer is prayed honestly and with humility, the Lord responds with grace and mercy because He, too, wants to focus on us rather than on our sin. 

Today, regardless of what you have done in the past, no matter how stupid or hurtful, know the Lord doesn’t want to define you by that.   He desires to focus on you His child rather than on the rebellious things you have done.  That is the essence of unconditional love and it is yours to have through God’s love and mercy.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Making God Into Our Own Image

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[?  But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:1-10 NIV)

Recently I was told of a student who has decided they can’t believe in God because they can’t agree with what the Bible says.  This is quite common.  People often say, “I can’t believe in a God who would…,” fill in the blank.  It might regard allowing evil in the world, allowing a young child to suffer from cancer and die, demanding perfection, restricting our freedoms to live how we want, etc.  

There are also others who believe in God, and often follow Him, but only on their own terms.  And to make it easier, they create their own image of God and attribute to Him traits and beliefs with which they are comfortable and in agreement.  If we are honest, most of us fall into this category.  

I came to follow the Lord with a bias against the work of the Holy Spirit. When I was in high school, my girlfriend and I made fun of the “holy rollers” at the Pentecostal church across the street from her house. They were ridiculous in our minds.  After becoming a Christian, I became involved in a campus ministry where the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (i.e., speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy) were viewed as being 1st Century phenomenon, but were replaced by the New Testament.  Later, I went to a seminary that taught the same thing.  For years, I accepted and held to this view.  But the more I read the Scriptures and meditated upon them, the more my rationale was challenged.  Yet, I continued to resist because it was not what I wanted to believe.  The miraculous gifts of the Spirit made me uncomfortable and I had seen many abhorrent distortions of their use.  

As I look at so many controversial issues within the Church and the numerous doctrinal divides, I am convinced we are where we are because of what James says—we want what we want rather than submit to what God says.  So we take a verse or passage of Scripture that is seemingly in line with what we believe and build our views around it.  For years I built my belief regarding the gifts of the Spirit around I Corinthians 13:9-10.  “Completeness,” I was taught, refers to the New Testament; thus, no need existed for the gifts of the Spirit.  It sounds so ridiculous as I type it in light of all the references to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, but I wanted God to be a certain way and so I made Him that way based on my view of the Bible.  

This is done over and over by many who love the Lord, but who struggle with submitting to Him in areas in which they just don’t agree with Him or are just not comfortable with His point of view.  Thus, as Paul tells Timothy, we gather around us those who tell us, reinforce, what we already believe or want to believe (II Timothy 4:3).  And, like me, they are very sincere, but their desires lead them into error of what the Lord really teaches.  

Years ago I began to see that one must interpret Scripture as a whole. Many doctrines and beliefs are formulated around one verse or passage.  Doing this leaves us open to error because it fails to take into consideration the context of the passage and the possibility that other Scriptures say something different.  That’s what I finally concluded about my views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Taking the Scriptures as a whole changed my view even though it went against what I preferred.

Today, consider what views you hold on pre-destination, eternal security, homosexuality, Jesus as the only way to God, alcohol consumption, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, among others.  Are they truly based on your comprehensive reading and study of the Scriptures, or are they based on what you would like to believe and what you are personally comfortable with?  James’ command is to submit to God. That means your will and your desires.  If they do not fit with the Lord’s, guess who needs to have a change of heart and mind?

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sin Is the Problem

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

“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 2:11-22 NIV)

In the midst of the Ferguson, Missouri and New York City protests this past fall that centered on two black men being killed by white police officers, New Orleans Saints tight end, Benjamin Watson, posted his thoughts on Facebook.  It was widely covered by the media because it was a thoughtful, emotional, and honest take on the situation by a man of color.  (You can read it here.) 

What Watson said is what needs to be repeated at every Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration today: “…the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind.”

The dignitaries at today’s celebrations will speak much about the need for diversity, education, understanding, and acceptance.  They will say nothing at all about sin and God’s solution for it.  They will sing “We Shall Overcome,” but will continue to try to do so by their own strength and methods.  And the results will be the same: feel good moments and then back to the real world of hate, distrust, and separation.  It’s been that way for decades.  For the racial and ethnic hostility that afflicts our country and our world will not be solved without recognition of ultimate source and the Ultimate Solution.  

In Paul’s day, the conflict between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews of every belief and ethnicity) was raging.  There was great prejudice coming from both sides.  And into this context stepped Jesus and the Gospel.  At first, it appeared the Gospel was for the Jews only, although Jesus hinted otherwise.  And then the Gentile Cornelius experienced the Holy Spirit (Acts 10).  The reaction of the Jews to this demonstrates the depth of their prejudice: “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (v. 45).  

So when Paul writes to the Ephesian church about the power of the Gospel (of Jesus) to break down prejudices, he wasn’t writing sentimental fluff.  He knew the power of Jesus to transform minds and hearts because He had done so with his on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  It was and is a hard slog to put into practice because of that one big problem—SIN, as evidenced early on by Peter (Galatians 2:11-14).  Yet, just because it’s so difficult to practice doesn’t make it any less true.  

Benjamin Watson’s critique of our racial and ethnic divisions is true. The problem is SIN and the only solution is Jesus and our humble acceptance of our desperate need for Him every day in every way.  This is the only way we truly shall overcome the prejudices that afflict us.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

How To Live in a Fearful World

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Peter 3:13-16 NIV)

We live in a world of fear and it shows. Fear is always proceeded by anger, harsh rhetoric, isolation, and, often, violence.  Today there are fears of Islamic terrorists; the right fears the left and the left fears the right; the world fears Ebola and other potential pandemics; people of color fear the police; a lot of people fear people of color; religious people fear secularists and secularists fear religious folk.  And it shows, as evidenced by the continual headlines of news stories in newspapers, riots, harsh and unkind Facebook posts and tweets, lawsuits, and just a general sense of tension in the world.  

And so I think it important to remember these words of Peter.  His world was no different than ours in essence.  Sure, technologically things have dramatically changed, but not the essence of human behavior. 21st Century sin is the same as that of the 1st Century and still reaps the same destructive consequences.  Yet, Peter followed His Lord’s lead in proscribing how to we should live in a fallen world—trust in the Lord (John 16:33)

When we trust in the Lord, rather than living in fear, we will have peace. And when we are at peace in our hearts, rather than reacting to fear with harshness, anger, or violence, we instead can respond with gentleness, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and a word used by Paul four other times to describe how believers should conduct themselves toward others.  Webster’s defines gentleness as: “having or showing a kind and quiet nature; not harsh or violent; not hard or forceful.”

My question is this: Is this how you, I, or the Church as whole tend to respond to the crises of the day?  For me, I am doing better, but I admit my tendency is to want to mix it up with the people with whom I disagree or fear are going to lead people astray with their wrong thinking.  Many a time I read a Facebook post and I want to respond with a harsh retort, or I’m tempted to think, “what an idiot.”  But the more I have come to trust in the Lord to handle the ills of the world, the more I have been able to take other people’s beliefs and actions in stride.  I may still strongly disagree with them, but I can respond more often with gentleness because I am growing in confidence that my Lord has everything under control.  

I think this is the key for the Church.  Do we have confidence that the Lord is truly in control or are we under the impression that He needs us to defend Him?  If we fear things are falling out of control, regardless how small or large the issue or event, our natural response will be fear. I think there is plenty of that already.  

Peter implies there should be such a difference in the followers of Jesus in how they handle life that others will inquire about why that is.  Today, know that if you live your life in a fearless manner, with gentleness that bespeaks an underlying peace, there will be many who ask why that is. And wouldn’t that be a nice change in today’s world?

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Experiencing the Joy of the Lord

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:18-19 NIV)

The Apostle Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.”  And for emphasis he adds, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)  But this is very difficult to do in the times in which we live where we are used to immediate gratification and often seek emotional highs by which to carry us through life. 

As I was doing some painting at our house yesterday, I was listening to worship music on Pandora.  There were a number of “live” selections that played and it struck me how many of these songs were led in such a way as to get people charged up.  And it worked, as evident by the audience’s response with screams, shouts, and applause.  

Of course, we are emotional beings and, obviously, worship should not exclude our emotions.  Yet, I see an unhealthy trend here.  Too often we base our relationship with the Lord on feelings and circumstances.  If we feel great and are excited, we’re good.  If life is going the way we want it, we’re good.  As a result, this is reflected in our worship music and services.  We are drawn to that which makes us feel good and excited.  So the worship music is designed to charge us up, and the services as well.  Look at many of the “mega” churches, and you will often see this.  

What concerns me about this trend is it teaches us that we have to feel good in order to be joyful, whereas the Scriptures never define joy in this way.  Rather, joy in the Lord is present regardless of our circumstances and often in spite of how we feel.  Paul was in a Roman jail when he wrote to the Philippians.  David was facing many deadly enemies when he wrote Psalm 94.  Neither of these men was experiencing “feel good” moments when they wrote of the joy of the Lord.  Rather, they were finding joy in the Lord in the midst of very trying circumstances.

What the Scriptures teach is that joy comes from the Lord (Galatians 5:22) and is not based on how we presently feel or our present circumstances.  We do not need to get emotionally charged up to feel joy.  We just need to draw near to the Lord, for His joy is deeper than any of our present circumstances and greater than any fleeting emotions.

Today, know you can have joy in the Lord no matter what you are currently experiencing.  For His joy is not tied to your highs and lows.  It goes much deeper than that.  David and Paul experienced this.  You can as well.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A New Year's Resolution

“Who can discern his errors?  Forgive my hidden faults.  Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. 
Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12-14 NIV)

Resolutions are as much a part of beginning a new year as a trip to Wal-Mart before school starts in August.  So what are yours as we begin a new year?  Losing weight and getting into shape?  Being a better student, father, mother, husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend? Developing a new skill or hobby?  

While these are commendable goals, let me suggest another resolution that I have adopted for 2015 and beyond:  Not sinning intentionally.  Of course, we all sin.  There are the sins that we don’t even recognize we’ve committed—the hidden faults David speaks of to which we are blind.  There are also those sins that our limited spiritual maturity has yet to conquer.  We know the sin, but in our immaturity we cannot stop ourselves.  Like a toddler learning to walk, though we really want to remain upright, sometimes we can’t help but fall down.  These sins are easily covered by God’s mercy and grace.  God understands and is patient with us.  

What David calls “willful sins” are another thing.  These are sins when we know what we are about to do is wrong and decide to do it anyway. In other words, our will is fully engaged in doing what we want rather than what God wants.  A guy sees a woman walking on the street with a low cut top and ample cleavage.  After catching a glimpse of her, he decides to fix his gaze upon her and lustful thoughts fill his mind.  A woman in a conversation about a friend decides to add a couple juicy unflattering tidbits about her.  In an argument, someone decides to say very hurtful things in order to gain the advantage.  

Willful sins are the most blatant and the most ugly because we intentionally choose to disobey the One who loves us the most and has paid the highest price for that love.  Yet, His mercy and grace even extends to these as well.  But if there is the one sin I long not to commit, it is the one I do intentionally and fully aware of what I am doing.  

So as David did, I am praying the Lord will help me not to sin willfully. That when I am thinking about doing something I know to be wrong, I will make the right choice and step away from making the wrong one.  

Today, I invite you to join me in this resolution.  It is going to be a year where we struggle with sin.  Let’s just not let it be one where we do so intentionally.  With the Lord’s help we can do it!

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dying for Jesus

“Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.’” (John 8:23-26 NIV)

Werner and Hannelie Groenewald knew the dangers of going to Afghanistan as Christians working with relief agencies.  The Taliban had long made it clear that Christians were their enemies regardless of what they were doing to help the people of the country.  The Groenwalds went anyway, leaving their comfortable lives in South Africa and taking their two school-aged children with them, because they felt the call of God on their lives.

Late in November, the Taliban targeted the compound where the Groenwalds were living, shot Werner and the two children, and then a suicide bomber blew up the house, destroying all of its contents. Hannelie, who was several miles away at the medical clinic where she served as a physician, was literally left with the clothes she was wearing.  Everything else was gone.  A Taliban commander posted, in reference to the murders, that an operation had been successfully conducted “against enemies who hated us.”

While visiting in South Africa last month, we had coffee with a friend who knew and had worked with the Groenewalds in Afghanistan.  She and her husband in fact were planning to see them during the Christmas holidays.  She told us of meeting up with them at a missions conference in early November and hearing Werner speak.  She said his concluding remark was this: You are only going to die once; you may as well die for Jesus.  

At the funeral for her family, Hannelie said she had no regrets because they were called by God to go.  She said they knew their family was a target, but that they had to be obedient to the Lord’s call and felt much peace doing what they were doing, loving the Afghan people in the name of Jesus.  She recalled what her husband had said so prophetically at the missions conference, and said it gave her much comfort knowing that he, her son, and her daughter had died for Jesus.

We live in a dangerous world.  Our instinct is to seek safety and comfort.  We protect our lives out of fear of losing them, and we teach our children to do the same. Very few Christians anymore seriously consider putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of the Gospel because we have made protecting our lives the highest priority. Hannelie Groenewald cautioned attendees at the funeral not to go into a dangerous place unless the Lord was calling, but, if He did call as He did she and her husband, then the choice was obvious.  

Today, consider these questions: Is the possibility of putting your life in danger for the sake of the Gospel even remotely something you would consider if God called?  Would you be willing to follow Him wherever He might lead you?  As the Lord says, if we seek to hold onto our lives at all costs, we will ultimately lose them.  Since we are all going to die, shouldn’t we be willing to die for Jesus?  

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Fruit of Obedience

“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NIV)

During the Christmas Break, I finished reading the New Testament, and, as is my practice, began again reading the Old Testament, starting with Genesis.  Many feel the Old Testament is irrelevant to Christians with all its emphasis on laws and regulations, but I continue to find there great truths and very practical guidance.  

As I began reading Deuteronomy last week, this passage stood out to me because it reveals a very common human flaw: when things are going well, we tend to forget God and become less dependent on Him. For example, working with college students I see this happen often when students get into romantic relationships.  Many prior to finding “the one,” seek the Lord, pray to Him to lead them to “the one,” and then when they find him or her, suddenly their whole worlds become consumed with the relationship.  Thoughts of the Lord, time with Him, and serving Him are now crowded out by the love in their hearts for another human being.  

My wife and I recently bought a new house after a year’s search.  It has everything we wanted and we see ourselves being very content here. And perhaps it is why this passage got my attention.  It would be very easy for us to become so focused on our house, fixing it up, decorating it just the way we want, and enjoying living in it to the point that we forget who provided it for us, and that it was provided to us for the purpose of ministry, not just for us to enjoy. And there is the danger that we like it so much that we cling to it, making it a kind of idol that we will be reluctant to give up.  

When it comes to the Lord, we have to hold everything else loosely, whether it be someone we love, our job, our home, etc.  Nothing can take priority over the Lord.  That is why Moses says, “Do not forget the Lord your God.”  He has to be number one in our lives.  Yet, we are so prone to forget Him or lessen His place in our lives.  And, ironically, as with the Israelites, it is often the blessings of the Lord that lead us to forget Him.  We get so focused on enjoying the good gifts that we forget the Giver!

However, Moses offers a solution to this problem: obedience.  We often assume that obedience follows commitment, but it actually is the other way around.  Commitment is the ever-growing fruit of faithful obedience. If we are obedient, our hearts will follow. Thus, if we are being obedient to the Lord in the midst of our daily lives, the good things that come our way will not easily distract us.  We will instead be grateful and remember from Whom these blessings come, because our growing commitment to Him will prevent us from allowing our hearts to be wooed by anything else. 

Today, consider how you can obey the Lord.  Remember that obedience is a matter of the will and commitment is a matter of the heart.  If you are willing to be obedient, your heart will follow.

© Jim Musser 2015