Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Tests of God

“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.  Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3 NIV)

A student posted on Facebook that college would be great if it weren’t for the exams.  I don’t think any student likes tests, and, so, this time of year is just something to get through and move on to summer or, if you are graduating, to the “real” world.   I remember finishing my oral defense of my masters’ project and walking away ecstatic, knowing it would likely be my last academic test after some 25 years of taking them.  

But tests are necessary and, perhaps to our dismay, God is not above giving them.  In the academic world, ideally, tests are given to determine knowledge and comprehension of subject matter.  God tests us to determine what is truly in our hearts.  He is interested if our words are genuine and our motives are right.  

I was recalling to a friend recently about the depression I suffered years ago as a grad student when my girlfriend broke up with me.   It went on for months, but then God revealed to me that my girlfriend had become my idol.  I viewed her as having ultimate value in my life; in other words, I worshipped her.  Through the break-up, He tested me and through it revealed what was truly in my heart.  On the outside, I worshipped God, but in my heart, I worshipped her.  

Sometimes, God will test us through success.  He will bless us and then wait to see how we respond.  Will we give Him the honor or will we take the credit?  If it is wealth, will we keep it for ourselves or generously use it to bless and meet the needs of others?  Will we thank Him or just take His goodness to us for granted?

The greatest fear of students is failing their tests.  I can’t recall failing an academic exam, but I have failed, as I alluded to above, a number of tests from God.  However, with the Lord, we can flunk the test, but it is not the end.  We don’t necessarily get a “do-over,” but if we confess and repent, the failing grade will be expunged from our record.    The test, then, becomes more of a gauge of where our hearts truly are as opposed to where we think they are, and gives us the opportunity to make the changes necessary to become the person God created us to be.  

Today, embrace the tests God gives you in life.  They are opportunities for you to gain a deeper understanding of where your heart truly is.

© Jim Musser 2015  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Swallowed Up

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  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.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’  There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:32-43 NIV)

I wrote yesterday about leaving a legacy, but what if we look back on our lives with much regret and our legacy is not a positive one?  This was exactly the situation of the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus.  From the lips of one came the confession that the sum of their lives deserved the result—cruel execution on a cross.  The legacy they were leaving was an ugly one.

Yet, in his final hours, one of these two men cried out to Jesus in humility and desperation: “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  A new legacy had suddenly swallowed up the old one. For what is a legacy on earth compared to one in Heaven?  A few decades of life compared to ten thousand times ten thousand?  With Jesus, it is never too late in this life.  As Paul reminds us, the godly sorrow of the one criminal left no regret over his life.  It was swallowed up by the overwhelming grace of God. (II Corinthians 7:10)

The man had lived as a criminal.  His legacy was one of thievery or worse. For all intents and purposes, it was sealed.  But unlike the other man who was unrepentant of his sins,  he cried out to Jesus in the final moments of his life.  And it wasn’t too late.

Today, if you are looking back on your life with much regret, ashamed of the legacy you are leaving, know it is not too late.  If the legacy of a criminal in the final hours of his life can be replaced by a new one, then surely yours can be changed with years or decades of life left to live. For grace, if it is sought and received, can always swallow up regret and shame.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Leaving a Legacy

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 11:39-12:3 NIV) defines legacy as, “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.”  Now before you delete this because only old geezers like me use words like legacy, regardless of your age, understand that all of us function in roles of givers and receivers of legacies—good and bad.  As children, we are given a legacy by our parents and grandparents of what it means to be an adult, a man, a woman, a father, a mother.  As students, we may receive a legacy of loving (or hating!) a subject (e.g., history, literature) by a high school teacher or college professor.  Legacy is about passing along something to another, usually younger than us that will then be taken, lived out, and further passed along.   

As you are reading, you may be thinking about someone who left for you some type of legacy.  What I want you to do today is think about the legacy you are passing along to others.  Even if you are as young as a college student, you have the opportunity not only to receive a legacy from a professor or campus minister, but from an older student.  And you also have the opportunity to leave a legacy with someone younger. And, as I said earlier, it can be good or bad.  

What the “ancients” handed down to the 1st Century followers of Jesus was a legacy of faith and perseverance.  They didn’t always know or understand what God was up to, but they were always faithful; they never turned away from the faith.  And their lives were shaped and molded by their love for the Lord.  And that legacy was passed along.

Legacies are built over time, one decision, one action, built on top of another over time.  And the danger is we fail over and over to make the right decisions and leave a poor legacy, like the parent who is continually negative toward his children leaves a legacy of low self-worth.  Or the business owner who, day in and day out, is harsh and unappreciative of his employees leaves a legacy of zero loyalty or appreciation.  

As followers of Jesus, we are called to leave a legacy of faith, perseverance, and love.  If we are parents, then to our children.  If we are pastors, then to those we shepherd.  If we are older, then to those who are younger.  So you see, all of us are called upon, regardless of age or stage of life, to leave a legacy.  

Today, think about the legacy you are leaving.  If you are a student, what will your legacy be that you pass along to those coming behind you, the freshmen and the sophomores?  If you are a parent, what legacy of faith are you passing along to your kids?  Hopefully, it will be one of fixing your eyes on Jesus and a life lived in devotion and surrender to Him.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015


“’Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:36-41 NIV)

Last night, we once again made our away across the field to the covered bridge, under which another student would be buried in water and raised into new life.  It is a trek we have made many times in the past year.  We gather, hear the student share his/her reasons for the decision, read Scripture, sometimes sing songs, pray, and then descend down the bank into the  river’s current.  Death.  Burial. Resurrection.  Played out before our eyes as a reminder that there is no short cut to salvation.  We must die to ourselves and our sins be buried before we can experience new life.  

There is nothing magic about the water, but the willingness to go down into it in front of dozens of people, declaring one’s intent to surrender his or her will and follow the Lord, is significant.  It is a public declaration of what is already taking place in the heart.  Death and resurrection.  A heart of stone turned into a heart of flesh.  And it declares a willingness to live one’s faith openly and unashamed.

Baptism is necessary because it prevents the illusion of a “private faith.” There is no such thing.  We believers are part of a community of faith. Yes, there are private aspects in our walks with the Lord, but we are never to be loners in our faith.  To continue to die to our sins is impossible to do alone.  Believers need each other for encouragement and accountability. (Hebrews 10:24-25

As we had done numerous times, after the baptism, we gathered around our new brother and prayed for him, for his new journey with the Lord.  It concluded a night of symbolism of spiritual realities.  Allowing oneself to be put to death, the sins of the past buried, resurrected into a new life that is lived out among those who hearts have been similarly transformed.   This is the power of baptism and why Peter did not just say, “Repent!”  

Today, recognize baptism is essential not because it literally saves us, but because of the story it tells and the spiritual realities it reflects.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

Being Wrong

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’ And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’ The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Genesis 3:6-13 NIV)

I wrote yesterday about our reflexive need to be right.  There is also a reflexive avoidance in admitting we are wrong. And it’s been that way since the beginning.  

When caught in sin, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither one of them could admit they were responsible for their decision to disobey God.  In other words, to admit they were in the wrong.  

Just as much as we love to be right, we hate to be seen as in the wrong.  Our bent is to deny or justify, usually long before we admit we are wrong. And the results are similar to when we insist that we are right—hostility and separation are prolonged.  I don’t think it is insignificant that we never read of Adam or Eve’s admission of responsibility.  

Wrongdoing naturally creates enmity in relationships and confession is the only possible road back to reconciliation.  So our bent toward avoidance in admitting we are wrong leads to a boatload of relational problems.  Marriages suffer, parental-child relationships are strained, friendships are broken, and we are separated from God.  All because we have such a hard time saying, “I was wrong.”  

James says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (5:16)  Healing can only take place when there is an admission we were in the wrong.  

Today, recognize that admitting you are wrong is not the end of the world.  In fact, it can be the beginning to restoring your most important relationships.  It is never easy, but the end result will be well worth it.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Being Right

“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.  Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” (Matthew 27:12-14 NIV)

Someone recently responded to a post I had made on Facebook.  It was a snarky response and I was quick to type out a retort to prove my original point.  But moments after posting it, I had an uneasy feeling.  I was unsettled in my spirit and I knew it had to do with the post.  After a few minutes of reflection, I went back to my computer and deleted it. Why did I feel the need to correct this person?  Why did I feel so strongly about wanting to prove I am right?  

It’s reflexive, isn’t it?  If someone accuses us or challenges a view we hold, we want to immediately defend ourselves.  I find myself doing that with my wife sometimes when she “accuses” me of something like not telling her my schedule.  My first instinct is to say, “I did to!”  

We see this reflexive response in our public discourse of political and moral issues, as well.  Everyone, it seems, has an opinion and is at the ready to defend it.  The lefties say I’m an idiot; well, I’ll show them!  The right-wingers say all lefties are wackos; well, I’ll prove them wrong!  And back and forth they go spewing what really has become white noise because it is so common and often so meaningless.  And I think it all boils down to the felt need to be right. And, of course, it’s understandable because it feels good to know you’re right.  

But what happens when both sides believe they are right?  They battle to defend their positions because it feels so good to be right.  But what does it really accomplish?  It mostly heightens hostilities.  

In order for me to be right, does everyone need to submit to my viewpoint?  Of course not.  The majority can often be wrong, as they were about Jesus in the latter days of His life.  But He did not go down fighting for His point of view.  He let it go because He knew He was right, but felt no need to prove it or have everyone agree with Him.  

There is a lesson here for all of us and one that I applied when I deleted my post: While we are, of course, not always right as was Jesus, we can still emulate Him in His attitude when we do believe we are right. He found it unnecessary to defend Himself when being accused because He knew the truth.  How refreshing!  In the midst of all of the white noise of defense of positions, Jesus encourages us to be silent in our own defense.  It is not natural, but it is what’s desperately needed.

Today, know that if you are right in your opinion, there is no need to defend it.  God knows the truth and that really should be enough for us because it was enough for Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Created to Grow

"This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.  He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. 
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.  But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, 
whose confidence is in him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’" (Jeremiah 17:5-8 NIV)

It is spring and I am thinking about trees and plants, for all are now beginning to display their beauty.  And I’m thinking about weeds because they, too, are declaring their presence as I see all around our neighborhood countless dandelions sprouting up.  

Throughout the Scriptures, various aspects of nature are used as metaphors for the spiritual life.  And water, soil, and sun are used as metaphors for spiritual nourishment.

At the time of Jeremiah’s writing, the people of God were turning away from Him.  They were chasing after the things of the world rather than the Lord.  And God was comparing them to dried-up bushes in a desert. Catch the metaphor?  

When people pursue other things than God, they are removing themselves from the nourishment they need to thrive, or even survive, spiritually.  Through Jeremiah, the Lord says those, however, who seek Him are like trees planted in rich, moist soil.  They will always be growing and producing abundant fruit.  

So the question we should always be asking ourselves is, are we in a place in our lives that is conducive to spiritual growth?  Are we planted in spiritually rich soil that provides the nourishment we need to grow? Are we sinking our roots deeper or are we content to stay in the shallow ground?  

In other words, are we seeking nourishment from God’s Word and a diligent prayer life?  Are we involved in a community of believers that encourages deeper spiritual growth?  Are we removing the distractions and repenting of the sins that deprive us of the nourishment we need?

Today, consider where your life is planted.  Is it in soil conducive for growth?  If not, recognize that, like the nature of all living things, you are meant to grow.  That’s what God created you to do.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Forgotten Commands

“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.  I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (I Timothy 2:8-10 NIV)

Sometimes when I don’t have a sense at all of what to write in this space, I think of a particular book of the Scripture and turn there to see if anything jumps out at me.  This morning was one of those times and I Timothy came to mind and I turned to the second chapter.  This passage was (well, not literally) flashing like some Las Vegas neon sign.  And I know why.  During the last week, I have experienced what this passage addresses.

A lot of people it seems are heading to the beach this time of year and, as is our practice these days, posting pictures on Facebook.  What caught my eye, literally, was the number of pictures of women in very revealing bikinis.  Mind you, these are women who are believers.  And this seems to be a trend—as long as you are at the beach, wearing what is basically underwear by a different name is totally acceptable.  

The question that has been burning in my head is, whatever happened to the biblical concept of modesty?  Is this command by Paul to women a relic from another time that has no relevancy to women today?  It appears many believe this, but I for one hope that we can reclaim it for today because it is much needed for the sake of men who naturally struggle with lust and for women, particularly adolescents for whom body image is an issue for many.  

The idea of modesty, I believe, is to take the focus off the external so that the internal shines through.  In my mind, every father and mother would desire their daughter to be wanted not for her body, but for the depth of her mind and heart.  Yet the culture pushes in the opposite direction and there doesn’t seem to be much pushback from believers.  Is it perhaps time to change that?

And last night, my wife and I hosted a group of couples from our church for a meal.  After the meal, we gathered in our living room for a time of prayer.  What struck me was only one other man besides me voiced any prayers.  There were seven of us and only two prayed aloud.  The women had no such problem.

Working with college men, I know this is a long-standing problem: most Christian men are just uncomfortable with prayer, particularly in any public setting.  I’m not sure why, but I know it is true.  But like the lack of modesty among women, this, too, is unacceptable in light of Paul’s command.  Regardless of the reason, men need to step up, have courage, and pray.  And the boys and teenagers desperately need to see men praying in order to break this trend.  

So what was written long ago still has acute relevancy today, but we must take these commands to heart and see the need to obey them if anything is going to change.  Men, what about you?  Women, what about you?

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

When There Is Nothing Left in the Tank

“Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.   Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 4:28-31 NIV)

I really needed this reminder this morning.  Yesterday, I hit a wall.  Both physically and mentally, I felt exhausted.  The months of ministry had piled up, along with the demands of owning a house that had suffered years of neglect.  I felt I had nothing left.  Which is a good thing.

Our human bent is to rely on our own strength and our own wisdom.  It is often not until we come to the end of those that we then start relying on God.  Sure, we claim to rely on God, but I think more often than not we are fooling ourselves.  Only when we have nothing left in the tank, but still so much further to go do I think we recognize the truth.   

It is amazing how often in the Scriptures the turning point for God to intervene is when people come to the end of themselves—whether when they’ve gone astray from Him, are on the verge of death, or just overwhelmed by life’s circumstances—and cry out to Him for help.  This is not a coincidence, because often we are slow to lean on Him. Particularly in the American culture, reliance on others is viewed as weakness; you only do that as a last resort.  But the Lord wants us to rely on Him always.  He wants to be our strength every day.  For, as He told the Apostle Paul, “my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 

But, as it was for Paul, that is hard to do.  We want to be strong, not weak and we want to be seen as strong, not weak.  So we often fool ourselves and seek to fool others that we are stronger than we are. Until we hit that inevitable wall and reality can no longer be denied. That is why, though painful as it may be, it is a good thing to come to an end to ourselves.  It is there we meet the Lord and He can help us.  

Today, if you feel you have little or nothing left in your tank, don’t despair.  It’s a good thing.  You have reached the point where you realize how much you need the Lord’s help.  And the point where He can begin to renew your strength.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Power of Kindness

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4 NIV)

Last night, I had the privilege to witness something extraordinary. Approximately 60 people gathered on a covered bridge in the dark to witness the baptism of an exchange student from England.  Alex came to Appalachian State University last August not knowing anything about Christianity or Jesus.  He said it was the profound kindness of the Christians he met that set him on the path that led him to Jesus.

Kindness, as Paul explains, is one of the attributes of love (I Corinthians 13:4-8), and, thus, one of the attributes of God, who is love (I John 4:8). And it is kindness that God seeks to use to lead people to repentance.

He does not treat people’s sins as they deserve (Psalm 103:10) and neither should we.  Often, we followers of Jesus feel the need to remind people of how sinful they are or point out the particulars of where they fall short.  Or we just avoid being involved with them altogether because their lifestyles make us feel uncomfortable.  Neither approach allows the kindness of God to reach into their lives.

As simple as it sounds, being kind to atheists, those determined to live life as they want, and those who continually search for meaning and purpose in all the wrong places is the starting point to leading people to Jesus.  It was the kindness of strangers and newfound friends that started Alex on the path toward finding His Savior and Lord.  

There is a false dichotomy among the thinking of many believers that to be kind to unrepentant sinners is to condone their behavior.  A mere glance at the life of Jesus shows the ludicrousness of this.  He hung out with a lot of sketchy characters and refuted the criticism of the religious folks by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

Kindness creates cracks in hardened walls, creating access points for living water to penetrate.  And as that water seeps through, the cracks become larger and, eventually, the wall collapses because its strength has been compromised.  Then the life-bearing water flows unabated and the full restoration begins.  If our goal is to lead people to Jesus, then the testimony of Alex is a good reminder that it is simple kindness rather than judgment that opens the path toward repentance.  

Today, remember to be kind to those who have yet to believe, regardless of how they are living.  It may just lead them to take the first step onto the path of repentance.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Paying Taxes

“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?’

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?  Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.  Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’  When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22:15-22 NIV)

Yesterday, income tax day, I paid out more to the federal and state governments than I have ever paid in the middle of April.  When I received back my return from the accountant, I went over the many pages trying to figure out why we were paying so much more this year. I really couldn’t make sense out of it, so I called my accountant.  He told me the state of North Carolina had simplified its tax code and had eliminated most deductions resulting in a ten-fold increase in our state taxes this year.  He said, “the state will sure be raking in the money this year.!”

I know many believers who hate our income tax system and want to see it changed or eliminated.  They see it as unfair and unjust.  I also have known some people who have refused to pay their federal taxes because they believed the government had no right to impose taxes on the states.  

As I drove to the post office yesterday to mail my checks, this passage came to my mind as my frustration grew at how much we had to pay this year.  The Roman tax system was no example of fairness.  They hired people to collect their taxes and those collectors, with a wink and a nod from the government, took a slice of the pie for themselves by charging citizens more than was owed.  Jesus knew all about this.  Yet, he told the people to pay the taxes.

No matter what I think, Uncle Sam says I owe so much in taxes.  I may think it is unjust or unfair, and there may be just a bit of corruption involved somewhere along the line, but, according to Jesus, that doesn’t eliminate my responsibility to pay taxes.  And if that is the case, then I guess that should eliminate my frustration and my complaining about it.  

Today, if you are frustrated with having to pay taxes and often complain about it, recognize that Jesus has commanded us to give that which the government says we owe.  And He didn’t put conditions on it.  It is just another way to trust Him to provide for you rather than in the money you are trying to accumulate.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Sheer Awesomeness of God

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV) 

I don’t know why it came to my mind last week, but it was one of those “jaw-dropping” moments.  I have long been in awe when I think about the intricacy of creation.  Not only is it awesome on the macro level, but it becomes even more so on the micro level.  There just seems to be no limit to the complexity of God’s creation.  But last week it struck me that every thought and action of every human being is known by God.  Think about that for a moment.

How many thoughts have you already had today?  How many interactions with people?  Now include your whole day.  Then multiply it by the days of a year and then your lifetime.  If that isn’t enough to put you in awe of God, do the same with the number of people who are living and  have ever lived on the earth—an estimated 110 billion! Imagine that.

It would be easy to focus on the fact that we can never hide anything from the Lord and become quite fearful or paranoid, but for those who know Jesus, there need be no fear of condemnation (Romans 8:1) and, thus, we can merely be in awe of how unimaginably great our God is.  

When the Scriptures speak of fearing God, this is what they have in mind.  Obviously, a God who is so great is not just to be seen as a cosmic buddy or the “man upstairs.”  His greatness is to be respected.   He can’t be treated lightly.  To do so is a mistake with eternal consequences.  

Today, meditate on the sheer awesomeness of God.  There is none like Him, not even close.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Mistake of Holding on to Jesus

“Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don't know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

‘Woman," he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ 
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’
 She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:10-18 NIV)

In talking with students recently who participated in a six-week course on basics of Christianity, a number of them talked about their appreciation of learning about the Holy Spirit.  They said their churches rarely mentioned Him.  

Francis Chan, in his latest book, The Forgotten God, laments the Church’s lack of focus and appreciation for the Holy Spirit.  He cites John 16:7 (“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”) as the reason the Church should pay much more attention to the Holy Spirit. In fact, this may be why the risen Jesus told Mary not to hold on to Him.  

During His life, the disciples tried to hold on to Jesus, resisting His talk of having to die.  As she stood outside the tomb, not knowing Jesus was alive, Mary still referred to Him as her Lord.  Like many do, Mary found it hard to let go of Jesus the man.  And when she discovered He was no longer dead, she wanted to hang on to Him even tighter.  

But Jesus’ words to her are revealing. “Don’t hold on to me.”  Instead she was instructed to go tell the disciples that He was returning to His Father and their Father.  Jesus was proclaiming good news, but it is likely the disciples didn’t get it.  They, too, wanted to hold on to Jesus. Later, when Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples were saddened, but a few days afterwards they fully understood the message Jesus had earlier sent to them through Mary.  They received the Holy Spirit, the long-promised Counselor (Acts 2).  From then on, they were not the same men; they were transformed.

Holding on to Jesus the man is a tempting thing to do, but it is only through His Holy Spirit that we can be transformed.  Churches make a grave mistake in holding on to Jesus at the expense of the Holy Spirit. By doing so, they prevent the Holy Spirit from coming into their midst with power to be transformed and to be vehicles of transformation.  

Today, recognize the importance of the Holy Spirit in your own walk with Jesus.  He left this earth in order that His Spirit could come with the power to transform your life.  Don’t make the mistake of holding on to Jesus.  Let His Spirit come fill you with His power and transform you into the man or woman He created you to be.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

Becoming Like a Frog

 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

Sweet Frog is a popular frozen yogurt chain in the South and its owners are Christians.  The “Frog” in the name stands for “Fully Relying On God.”  And they did just that in starting their business at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2009.  

Fully relying on God means not getting locked in on our present circumstances, good or bad, and not focusing in on the what if’s or getting stuck in the what were’s of the past.  As our pastor said yesterday, frogs only go forward, never backward.

Jesus says to us “Follow me.”  And, as it did for Peter, this means putting aside the past and trusting the Lord for the present and the future.  Your eyes are to be locked in on Him as He leads you.  And He is not looking back, but forward.  Nor is He content with settling down in one place and remaining there.  Rather, He continues to move forward and look forward.  

This is not typically our nature.  Rather, we can easily get stuck focusing on the past and constantly looking back with regret or longing, focusing on that which cannot be changed.  We regret choices we made or were made for us.  Or we long for the better days of old.  Either way, our gaze is backward, and our gait becomes halting because it is so hard to walk forward when we are looking back.  

Relying on God leads us to accept His grace for our past mistakes, to grant the same to those who hurt us, to trust Him to care for us in the present, and to be confident in His ability to lead us into the unknown days ahead.  Like a frog, we keep moving forward.  

Today, remember that fully relying on God means becoming like a frog—always moving forward.  To follow Jesus is to leave your attachments to the past behind.  He is leading from the front and that is where your focus is to be.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

When Life Gets Messy

“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.  As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” (Mark 2:13-14 NIV)

When we purchased our new home late last year, we knew it had drainage problems.  All the ground around the house is sloped toward the foundation.  Not a good thing.  The only solution is to re-grade, which means, literally, first creating a mess in order to fix things.  That work started this week and will get worse before it gets better, but, in the end, all the water will head in the proper direction.  Sometimes, you have to create a mess in order to solve a problem.  

I can imagine Levi (aka, Matthew) thinking he was doing okay, not great, but okay in life.  Tax collecting for the Romans wasn’t a respectable job, but it paid the bills.  Life could be better, but it could be a lot worse.  Then along comes Jesus.  “Leave your secure job and follow me.”  Suddenly, he is unemployed and on a journey to who knows where, following a guy who is intriguing for sure, but a little strange as well.  A lot of people love Him, but a lot of people also hate Him, which means they feel the same about you. What once was an imperfect but tidy life has become rather messy.

Jesus tore up Levi’s world.  He made a mess of it—in order to put it right.  What many don’t realize is that’s what Jesus does.  He upends our lives, like the excavator is upending our yard, in order to make it right.  And it starts out a mess.  Nothing is as it was.  What used to provide security no longer does.  What used to provide happiness fails to satisfy.  What propped us up in life has been removed. What the future clearly held becomes much more murky.  Life as we knew it before Jesus came onto the scene no longer exists.  It’s a mess.

But it doesn’t remain that way.  As Jesus exposes our weaknesses, insecurities, our rebellious hearts, He begins to heal us and make us right.  What began as a mess begins to take shape, the contours of our lives looking more and more as they were originally designed to be. However, it is not an easy or necessarily comfortable process, and it can take awhile.  But, as Levi later discovered, it is totally worth it in the end.  

Today, if you think following Jesus is making your life messier than you would like, be patient.  Like our yard, often life has to be upended to make it right.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Focusing on the Real Enemy

“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.”  (Ephesians 6:12 NIV) 

She comes every morning to defend her territory.  Banging against the window, she seeks to chase off the intruder into her sacred space.  But the unwelcome bird keeps coming back for more.  Or so it seems.  If the female cardinal only realized her time and energy was being spent on defending her territory from herself, she could have a much more peaceful existence.  Her enemy is imagined and defending against it is a waste of time and energy.  But she keeps up the fight.

As I read the news and social media posts about religious freedom laws, same-sex marriage and the like, I am reminded of the cardinal battling herself on our back deck.  Followers of Jesus are fighting to defend their perceived territory of truth, but they’re  fighting themselves. “Progressive” believers lash out and condemn “conservative” believers as being unloving and intolerant.  And the “conservatives” respond in kind by calling their brethren on the left tolerant of sin and undermining the authority of the Scriptures.  And, believe me, I am often very tempted to join the fight.  It would feel good to bang some heads with irrefutable theology and pithy arguments.

But what I have begun to realize is that is a losing strategy because my energy should be devoted to fighting the real enemy.  My brothers and sisters are not my adversaries; the devil is.  I may vehemently disagree with their views and interpretations of the Scriptures, but my energies need to be spent on fighting Satan, who is the real source of our conflicts.  For example, I may truly be right in my views, but my desire to be right and to prove I’m right can be the actual impetus for me to fight my brothers and sisters.  Thus, I am not fighting for truth, but as a result of my pride.  So while I may be focused on the battle for truth, I have lost the one on pride.

Satan is a master at diversion.  He delights in diverting our attention from what is crucial to what we deem important.  For instance, getting us to focus on the sin “out there” or “in the world,” and failing to notice the sin in our own lives and repenting of it.  The former of course is important, but the latter is crucial.  

Like the bird on our deck, I believe we have been fooled into thinking our enemies are those brothers and sisters on the “other side” and we waste so much time and energy defending ourselves against them, when, in fact, our true enemy is in the spiritual realm and against whom only spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6:10-18) will be effective.

Today, regardless of what you believe or how strongly you feel on many issues in our world today, always remember the fight is not against flesh and blood, but against those in the spiritual realm.  For they are fighting the real battles, the ones that truly matter and we would be fools not to focus our energies on those.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Pressing On

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14 NIV)

There is an ebb and flow to life.  There are highs and lows.  There are times when things are hard and times when we just ride the wave of everything going our way.  As believers, it is easy to praise God, to be excited about our relationship with Him when things are going well, but what about the inevitable times when things are going badly?  When Mom dies, or the parents get divorced, or the boyfriend dumps us, or the dream job eludes us.  What then?

The true test of our faith is what becomes of it when things go south, when life becomes very difficult.  Do we wilt in the face of the trials or do we press on, our faith perhaps shaken but still intact?  

The path of faith is narrow and Jesus said that few find it (Matthew 7:13-14), but the path is not smooth and not everyone who starts out on it will reach its end.  As Paul exemplifies, believers must press on (strain) to the finish.  The Christian life is not a sprint of a few months or years.  It is a lifelong journey, a marathon, along which we will face many obstacles and hazards.  It is not for the fainthearted.  Walking by faith and not by sight along this path will probably be the hardest thing you ever do, but also the most rewarding.  For those who press on and remain faithful to the end, the great prize of eternity with God awaits.  

Anything truly worth having does not come without cost.  The price of the Christian journey can often be high and the experience often difficult, but the reward waiting at the end makes it all worthwhile.  

Today, if you are finding life hard, now is the time to press on, relying on the Lord’s strength to carry you.  Don’t give up.  For a great prize is waiting for you at the end!

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Resisting the Cultural Currents

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (I Timothy 6:6-12 NIV)

Flee. Pursue.  Fight.  Take hold.  These are words of action, not passivity.  Paul is warning Timothy, and us, that the Christian life cannot be lived passively.  The cultural currents are just too strong.  If you think you can choose to follow Jesus and then just sit back, relax, and enjoy life, you are terribly mistaken.  You will be carried along by the cultural currents just like everyone else.  Your life will be indistinguishable from the unbelieving world.  

Instead, as Paul exhorted Timothy, you must first flee from the common mindset that wealth is the way to contentment and happiness.  Most rich people are anything but content and happy.  Instead, you must pursue things that have lasting value, Kingdom traits that, unlike material possessions, will go with you after you depart this world.  

And as you pursue these things and eschew the riches of this world, you will meet great resistance from those who have little understanding of the things of God.  So you must fight against the temptations that come from them to compromise or to give up your pursuit of God altogether.  And you must grab hold of the promise that is given to those who are faithful to the end.  Even in the face of great resistance, you must hold tightly to that promise.  

Today, take heed of the words of Paul.  It is impossible to truly follow Jesus and just go along and let life happen.  That is a recipe for an indistinguishable life.  You will pretty much look and act the same as everyone else.  Instead, following Jesus is a call to daily action to swim against the cultural currents that eventually lead to death, not life.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Simple Command

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’" (Matthew 28:16-20 NIV)

It is a simple, straightforward command.  There is nothing in the least ambiguous about it, but churches have long struggled to fulfill it and have often totally misinterpreted or ignored it.  

A disciple is one who follows in the footsteps of another, who is devoted to emulating the life of the one he follows.  Jesus commands us to make disciples.  Thus, the goal of the Church is to raise up people who commit their lives to Jesus and follow Him.  And this is achieved when people understand that following Jesus means a complete break from their old life (baptism) and beginning a new life in total submission to Jesus (obedience).

What has often been substituted for this command is an attempt to make converts to a particular denomination or set of beliefs.  Or an attempt to change one’s eternal destination through the “sinner’s prayer.”  The focus shifts from following Jesus to something else. “Teaching them to obey everything I commanded you” becomes “teach them what I said.”  And baptism becomes optional for many, totally inconsequential for others, and for some a religious sacrament divorced from the lives they live.  

Sometimes the devil’s scheme is to make things much more complex than they really are.  An honest reading of this passage would lead almost anyone to conclude that the goal of the Church is to reproduce people who wholeheartedly follow Jesus, who are totally submitted to doing His will.  Yet, the living waters have been muddied by a focus on getting people “saved,” church tradition, denominational loyalty, and religious activity.  The simple command to make disciples has been lost in it all, just as our enemy intended.  

If the Church is to have real influence in this culture and around the world, then we need to obey this simple command.  First, we must become true disciples of Jesus ourselves, separating from our old lives and learning to obey everything He commanded.  Second, we need to understand that the Christian life is about a whole lot more than just our final destination.  It is about leading others into a relationship with the Lord and teaching them to also follow Him.  

Today, understand that Jesus left us with a very simple command: Make disciples.  In order to do that, you have to be truly following Him yourself.  And, if you are, then it will be natural to want to lead others into a similar relationship.  It’s just that simple.  Not easy, but simple.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Great Friday

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:37-39 NIV)

Today is Good Friday, so it seems appropriate to ask, as many do, what is good about the Friday Jesus died?  Most would answer it is because Jesus died for our sins.  And that, of course, is correct.  His death provided the means by which we can be forgiven of our sins.  But another reason this particular Friday is seen as good is it was the day the curtain in the Temple was torn in two.  

The Temple contained what was known as the “Holy of Holies.”  It was the innermost room of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant resided. Separating this room was a large, thick curtain. Only the High Priest was allowed to go behind it, and then, only once a year during the Day of Atonement.  The curtain represented the separation of man from God caused by sin.  In the Garden of Eden, God and man walked together.  But after the Fall, that intimate relationship was impossible. The curtain was a reminder of the consequence of sin.  

When the curtain tore in two, it meant God was no longer separating Himself from man.  He once again could walk with God in a personal, intimate relationship.  Jesus’ death removed the barrier that had so long separated the human race from its Creator.

Today, as you remember Jesus’ death on the Cross, realize it not only provides forgiveness of your sins, it has made it possible for you to develop an intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Maybe we should rename this day “Great Friday!”

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bringing Light into Darkness

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (I Corinthians 3:6-9 NIV)

By now, I am wholly accustomed to the stereotype given Christians by many on university campuses and others in our culture. “Homophobes,” “intolerant,” “bigots,” “science-deniers,” “crazies,” “haters.”  So, I haven’t been surprised in the least by the recent uproar in Indiana over its Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The Church has always been a target, as has been her Head, by those whose minds and hearts are focused on things of the flesh rather than the Spirit.  But I acknowledge that it is getting more and more difficult to break through the stereotypes.  

On campus, students and faculty are wary of us.  They assume the worst and give us little opportunity to engage them on a personal level. They stay away from our meetings and our church services.  They think they know what we’re about and they want nothing to do with us. 

I find this to be very sad because, as I see so many trying to find their happiness and meaning in this world, I know they will not find it just as I did not find it.  It cannot be found in alcohol or drugs, in “alternative” lifestyles, in material things or worldly success.  But they don’t know that because they have not seen the Light nor do they know He even exists.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that, before his conversion, he was like a man in a dark cave where one shaft of light appeared.  He didn’t know its source, but it gave him the knowledge there was something that existed outside his dark world.  It was that seed of knowledge that grew into faith which led to a transformation of his life.  

When Paul writes about planting and watering seeds, he is referring to bringing those shafts of light into the dark dwellings where people live. Until they know of something beyond what they have experienced, they will have no reason to believe or pursue anything else.  So, in the midst of the stereotypes that block the Light and keep people living in darkness, we are to be the bearers of the Light.  

And this is not done through political activity or legislation, but by simply allowing the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives and impact those around us.  Being kind to those who expect harshness.  Being faithful and good to those who haven’t been able to trust anyone in their lives. Being loving and patient with those whose hearts have been hardened by years of abuse and/or disappointment.  In other words, being like Jesus.  

And with each of these acts, we are planting a seed or watering one that was planted by someone else.  Like a shaft of light in a dark cave, we are demonstrating there is something more to life that what people know or think.  And once they see it, their world begins to open up to a whole other existence and the opportunity to embrace the Light as their own.

Today, realize you have the opportunity to be used by God to bring His light into the darkness of people’s lives, to help them see there is a life beyond what they know or have experienced.  For a seed planted or watered today can lead to a wonderful harvest sometime in the future!

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Giving Up Religion

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38-42 NIV)

From the time he secretly visited Jesus in the middle of the night (John 3), Nicodemus is mentioned only twice—subtly defending Jesus before his colleagues the Pharisees (John 7), and here assisting Joseph of Arimathea in burying Him after His death.  

He had been a religious man, but Jesus made it clear in their first encounter that it was not enough, that he still fell so far short that nothing less than being “born again” would suffice.  I’m sure it took Nicodemus awhile to understand what Jesus was saying, but the fact he was now risking an association with the man his colleagues desperately wanted dead shows that he eventually got it.  Nicodemus had been born again out of a life of religious activity and morality into a heart-changing relationship with Jesus.  

This Sunday many more than normal will flock to churches, thinking somehow it is the right thing to do since it is Easter Sunday.  A similar thing happens on the Sunday of Christmas week.  They could learn a lesson from Nicodemus. 

As he learned, it’s not enough.  It will never be enough.  No amount of morality or religious activity will ever be enough to bridge the chasm our sin has created between us and God. If it could, then Nicodemus would have heard nothing but praise on that one, late night.  But, instead, what he heard was, “You must be born again.”  In other words, you must give up your religion and follow me.  

The world is filled with religious people of all stripes and churches are filled with many people who have chosen the Christian one.  The life of Nicodemus is a warning to them:  You can’t get to God through religion, only through Jesus.  And to do that, you have to be born again into a new life that makes Him Lord of everything.

Today, go to God and ask Him if you are truly born again, or if you are, rather, more like the old Nicodemus who is living a good religious life.  It is evident from his life that Nicodemus got it and surrendered himself to Jesus, leaving his old life behind and embracing the new one Jesus offered.  What about you?

© Jim Musser 2015