Monday, August 31, 2015

Spiritual Hype

“Then Jesus asked, ‘what is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’

Again he asked, ‘what shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’” (Luke 13:18-21 NIV)

Fairly regularly I receive advertisements for youth conferences via email and regular mail.  All make promises like: “Your youth will never be the same!”  “This weekend will change your life!” “This will be THE youth conference of the year!  “Be a part of what God is going to do in fill in the city!

It is what I refer to as the “hyperization” of the Kingdom.  Everything, seemingly, has to be big to be great.  BIG crowds.  BIG-named bands. BIG-named speakers. BIG movement of God.  And because everything has to be BIG, then the PR has to match.  Every event is promoted as “life-changing” or something at which the great power of God will be seen.  This trend has even trickled down to the smallest gatherings of churches and youth groups, with pastors or members promoting or summarizing services or events in grandiose terms.  

All I can say is, if God is moving in the way it is being described by so many, then the Church and the culture would look far different than it does.  The hype, I fear, is way bigger than the reality.  This is not to say God cannot/will not move mightily, but the key to that is a true moving of the Holy Spirit and He will not be hyped into action.  

This, I believe, is the mistake much of the Church is making today.  We think the Holy Spirit needs our hype and PR to make things happen.  “If we hype it, He will come,” seems to be the motto.  There is indeed a similar mantra in our culture, but the Kingdom of God is not like the one in which we live.  “What is it like?” Jesus asks rhetorically.  He then goes on to describe the smallest of things—a mustard seed and yeast—that defy their size in growth and impact.  Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God is not about size, but rather spiritual power.  Like nuclear material, it doesn’t take much to have a huge impact.  

What we need for God to do great things and the Holy Spirit to move are not hyped-up promotions, big crowds, awesome speakers, and loud music.  Rather, it is the willingness of the individual heart to allow Him to enact change within us, to humble ourselves before Him, and allow Him to do His life-transforming work.  No amount of hype can make this happen.  

Today, be on your guard against spiritual hype.  It may be trendy, but it runs counter to the basic realities of the Kingdom of God.  The Lord’s power is not found in the hype, but in the smallest expressions of faith that we can trust Him with our hearts.  When we can do this, big things will happen in and through us.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Scarcity of the Call to Repentance

“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

‘No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’.” (John 4:2-11 NIV)

I recently sat down with a student who requested to meet with me.  He told me of a conversation he had had over the summer with a good friend.  “He called me out,” he told me.  “He told me that I needed to get the priorities of my life in order, focusing more on the Lord and less on what I wanted to do.”  He went on to say how much he appreciated his friend for that, and me for the way I treated him with kindness and compassion even as I, too, pointed out things that needed to change in his life.  In sum, he was grateful we had called him to repentance.

There is a sense I get that much of the Church believes truth can’t be told lovingly, so it is best to be avoided. Think about it, how much does the church talk about repentance from sin?  There is a lot of talk about struggle with sin, about forgiveness of sin, but what about the need to repent from sin?  I don’t hear a lot about that today. Perhaps it is so ubiquitous, that we’ve given up fighting it or feel self-righteous in drawing attention to another’s sin.  Yet, Jesus talked a lot about the need for repentance (Luke 3:8; Luke 5:32; Luke 13:1-5) in order to be saved and to live a fruitful life.  And both Peter and Paul echo Jesus’ teachings (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21; II Corinthians 7:9-10) If repentance gets this kind of attention from Jesus and His disciples, should it not be more of a focus of the Church?  How is it we have become so reluctant to talk about the need to turn away from sin? 

In what I hear and observe I think it is because we don’t believe we can call people to repentance and love them at the same time.  Rather, we think it is judging to call people out.  So we don’t do it.  We ignore the sister who gossips and the brother who lies.  We know our friend is viewing porn online, but we don’t say anything. But if Jesus and the Apostles were unafraid to confront sin in the lives of people, particularly those who claimed to be followers of the Lord, then we must be more bold in confronting it, too.   

And to solve our problem with the sense of judging, Jesus lays out a perfect example for us in the way He dealt with the woman caught in adultery.  It seems much of the Church is comfortable quoting (as does the world) “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” to anyone daring to confront sin.  Yet, Jesus didn’t stop there.  Indeed, He did call out the self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers, but He confronted the woman as well.  She was guilty of adultery and Jesus didn’t condemn her, but He did tell her the truth: She needed to repent of her sin.  

The call to repentance is not condemnation nor does it need to be done angrily or in a self-righteous or condemning way.  Jesus demonstrates this clearly.  But it does need to be done, for it is an integral part of the Gospel.  Grace and repentance go hand in hand in the Scriptures. We’ve got the first one down pretty good.  It is the other one that needs a lot of work.

Today, if you know someone caught in the grip of sin, know that it is an expression of love to call them to repentance if you do it like Jesus—not condemningly, but out of love so they can be set free.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fingerprints of Darkness

“Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’” (John 10:7-10 NIV)

It is a familiar and very sad pattern.  It happened at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and many other places in the past two decades.  Gunmen make elaborate plans to kill people, either those they know or complete strangers, carry out their intentions, and then kill themselves, or attempt to do so.  And it happened again yesterday.  

As we know now, a former co-worker gunned down two journalists during a live, early morning interview.  The gunman was described as disgruntled and troubled by those with whom he had worked.  It seems he had been planning the shooting for several months.  And after fleeing the scene, he was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound from which he later died.

Many have and more will blame this latest shooting on the mental state of the killer, or on the availability of guns, but few will point the finger at the culprit whose fingerprints are clearly present at this crime and those similar to it.

Jesus describes his MO (modus operandi) as one who steals, kills, and destroys.  Satan is a “murderer” and the “father of lies". Wherever he has reign, havoc, destruction and death follow.  We most clearly see his work in the Nazi concentration camps, the “killing fields” of Cambodia, and the genocide in Rwanda, but if you look closely, you will see it in yesterday’s murders and others like it in the recent past. And you will clearly see it in the Bible in the life of Judas.

He was one of Jesus disciples, in charge of the money given to support Jesus’ ministry.  What a privilege he had to be a part of Jesus’ inner circle!  But the joy of that honor was stolen away.  Whether as a result of personal slights leading to deep-seeded grudges, greed, or some other unknown reason, Judas became solely focused on betraying Jesus into the hands of His enemies, which led to His murder and havoc among His disciples. And the whole tragic episode ended with Judas hanging himself.  Sound familiar? 

People today have a difficult time blaming the devil.  Instead, they look to social causes or mental illness to blame.  But Satan has been playing the same game since Cain and Abel. Where there is mass murder, revenge killings, suicides, and other tragedies, you can bet his fingerprints will be found at the scene, because we live in the midst of his kingdom.  He is the prince of this fallen world.  

But while he does have rule in this world, there is a King and a Kingdom that is greater and more powerful (John 14:30).  While Satan has only death and destruction to offer, the Lord Jesus offers abundant life. Imagine if Jesus, instead of Satan, had ruled in the heart of the murderer of those journalists or other killers.  Would the result have been the same?  Of course not.  For Jesus gives joy instead of hate, peace instead of chaos, and hope instead of despair.  Thus, as followers of Jesus, our mission is to proclaim the only One more powerful than the prince of darkness, for He is the only solution to the havoc, destruction, and death that Satan seeks to inflict upon us.

Today, know that the One who is in you is greater than the one in the world (I John 4:4). All the more reason to spread the word to a desperate world that hope and a fulfilled life can be found in Him!

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Living Life on Your Own

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7 NIV)

It’s two weeks into the new school year and I am already beginning to hear of students struggling with stress and anxiety.  The reasons vary, but for most it is the recognition there is much to be done and the time to do accomplish things is limited.  

As I have experienced in my own life and have observed in others, I think the main problem when we find ourselves overwhelmed often is a lack of humility.  We think we can handle all that is coming at us and so we try to do it on our own.  Inevitably, we come to the end of ourselves because we are finite beings with limited resources.  Life will overwhelm us because it is just too much for us to handle on our own, in spite of what our culture would have us believe.

And that is where the need for humility comes in.  It runs counter to our nature to admit we need help.  Like a small child, we say, “I can do it myself!”  And so we do, but not very well for very long.  Eventually, we reach the end—of ourselves.  And while helpful in teaching us humility, it is never a pretty sight.

The easier path would be to recognize our limitations long before we reach them.  I think that is what Peter has in mind here.  By surrendering our pride, we acknowledge our inability to handle life on our own.  By humbling ourselves, we enable the Lord to lift us up and carry us through the difficulties of life.  

Today, recognize your own limitations in dealing with life and allow the Lord to carry you.  The reality is you can’t do it by yourself.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Being Ready

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:35-40 NIV)

Former President Jimmy Carter has been in the news lately with his announcement that he has cancer in his brain.  At a news conference last week, he said he was ready for whatever was to come, noting that he had lived a very blessed life and was not fearful of death.  

Carter is perhaps one of the most famous Christians alive today.  His faith has been on full display ever since he ran for President in the mid-1970’s.  He is a well-known supporter of Habitat for Humanity and, even at 90 years old, still plans to travel this fall to help with a building project in Nepal.  What struck me most about what he said at his news conference (you can view it here) is that, as a result of his faith, he was ready for whatever comes next.

Death is inevitable for us all, unless Jesus returns during our lifetimes, but for those of us who are younger, death seems a long way off.  Thus, the temptation is to not give it much thought.  The unfortunate result is that we are totally unprepared.  I say unfortunate because, while we think death is far off, it can be just around the corner though we are totally unaware of that fact.  Recently, a student went with friends to a popular spot for waterfall jumping.  She was planning to have a great time.  Sadly, she died following one jump.  Was she ready to meet her Lord?  One can only hope she was.  And if the averages remain consistent with previous years, several students will die before this school year is complete. 

We are certainly not to fret about dying regardless of our age, but Jesus warns that we should always be ready, because we never know when the number of our days will reach their end (Psalm 139:16).  It could be tomorrow; it could be within the year; or we may, like President Carter, reach our 90’s before we die.  The truth is none of us know the day and the hour we will pass from this life into Eternity, so that is all the more reason to be ready for the inevitable.  

Today, you may not want to think about your death, but you would be wise to prepare because it will happen.  And there is one way to make sure you are ready: to place your hope and trust in Jesus and allow Him to be Lord of your life every day.  Just as President Carter is experiencing peace in the face of his impending death because he follows Jesus, so can you whenever your last day comes because, as a Jesus-follower, you will be ready.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

Would Jesus Have Sought to Go Viral?

“After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Therefore Jesus told them, ‘My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.’ After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.” (John 7:1-9 NIV)

Sam and Nia, a Christian couple whose YouTube videos (1) (2) about their pregnancy and, subsequently, their miscarriage went viral now are experiencing the downside of that experience.  It turns out that several years ago Sam signed up with the infamous website, Ashley Madison, which provides opportunities to have adulterous affairs, and, thanks to a hacker group which released a list of names and other information of those who created accounts on the site, now everyone knows about that, too.  Sam and Nia created another video explaining this was an offense of the past and they had long ago dealt with it as a couple.  

The desire to be known, to be famous, has been around for most of history.  The human tendency is to admire and, sometimes, to worship those who are famous.  Thus, the appeal.  Pride leads us to want to be admired and even worshipped, though we know the latter is reserved for the very few.  That is why “celebrity” magazines and television shows, like those about the Kardashians, maintain their popularity. People are enthralled by their lives and fantasize what it would be like to be famous and getting all of that attention. Now, in the age of social media, the opportunity to be famous is no longer limited to those with good looks or good connections.  “Going viral” is the new doorway to fame and fortune and lots of folks are pursuing it.  

I have been thinking about this over the past several years as this phenomenon has continued to grow.  And to coin a cliché of the 90’s: What would Jesus do?  And, as His followers, how are we to respond to this growing pursuit of internet fame?  One thing seems abundantly clear from the life of Jesus: He never pursued fame; rather, it came to Him.  He often sought to get away from the crowds and to be alone or just with His disciples. (Matthew 14:13Mark 6:32Luke 4:42) One of the temptations offered up by Satan was adoration and worship from the masses (Luke 4:5-8). And in this passage, when His brothers urged Him to pursue the spotlight, He resisted and John implies their pleadings revealed their lack of faith.

My conclusion: If He had lived today, Jesus would never have sought to go viral.  Of course, He likely would have, but He would never have sought it for Himself.  And here is why I think this.  Jesus knew the danger of pride and that is why the devil tempted Him with it.  Pride turns the focus onto ourselves.  It puts us at the center of life.  Jesus always pointed people to the Father.  It may be true that Jesus’ brothers had the best of intentions with their advice, but seeking fame, even for the most altruistic reasons, perhaps like Sam and Nia, is dangerous because ultimately we will find the pull to put the attention on us.  

According to Satan, Jesus could have had everything under His control and the focus completely on Him.  But there was a catch.  He had to bow down and worship him.  That should be the huge neon WARNING! sign flashing in our brains.  If even Jesus turned down the opportunity to pursue fame and glory because the price was to submit Himself to the kingdom of darkness, perhaps we should think long and hard about that same pursuit.

Today, if you find “going viral” alluring, remember the example of Jesus. If He saw the need to resist the temptation of pursuing fame, it would be wise for you to heed His example. 

© Jim Musser 2015 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Experiencing True Normal

“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.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Mark 2:13-17 NIV)

My knee problems started when I was in middle school.  Playing a pick-up football game with three other kids, I tore my ACL.  I lived in a small town so our family doctor had no experience with such an injury and he misdiagnosed it.  It took six years, during which there were many re-injuries, before a university orthopedic doctor finally figured out the problem and did reconstructive surgery.  Though it was repaired, my knee was never normal again, but its limited functioning and quirks became normative for me.  The bowed leg.  Normal.  The swelling after much activity.  Normal.  The “Baker’s Cyst” behind my knee that had to be routinely drained.  Normal.  

Of course, I knew I had a bad knee, but I lived with it for so long that it was just a part of my existence.  Until a year and a half ago.  That’s when a friend told me about a doctor who could make my knee new again by replacing it.  And so I let him take out my old, worn-out joint and put in a brand new one.  Since then, I have begun to experience true normalcy again.  My leg is no longer bowed.  The swelling is gone as is the cyst.  And I am once again enjoying the freedom of doing things I once loved to do, like playing tennis and hiking.  I literally feel like a man re-born!

When I read this story, it resonates with me.  The sinners are people who I think know deep down they are in need of healing, but the way in which they think and live has become normative for them.  As with my knee, they have lived abnormally for so long, they no longer know what normal is.  Until they see the transformation of Levi and meet his Physician.  And I imagine Levi had been going about his business of tax collecting and extortion for so long, that he, too, thought he was living normally.  

It is this sense of normality that keeps us in a state of affliction.  It is what it is and we live with it.  But it doesn’t have to be that way!  There is One who desires to heal us and make us whole again.  And for those of us, like Levi, who have experienced His healing, we know there is something better if only people will receive it.  

Since my knee replacement, I have shared my story with others with chronic knee problems and have encouraged them to consider having the same procedure because of what it has done for my life.  I seek to do the same with others who are sick with sin.  I point them to Jesus.

Today, if you are tired of living the life you’ve lived for so long, then may I recommend a Doctor who can heal you?  He is Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords!  He came to heal those of us who are sickened with sin.  And if you have already met Him and experienced His healing in your life, then I urge you to go and tell others who are stuck in what they consider normal life.  They will never know what true normal is until they see it and experience it for themselves.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Weary of Working So Hard

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-11 NIV)

Years ago, one tradition we had at the campus ministry which I directed was making homemade ice cream for students during the first week of classes.  While several of those who donated ice cream used electric freezers, I used my trusty White Mountain hand-crank freezer.  In the Kansas heat and humidity, it was quite a workout but I enjoyed it. Rather than sitting idly by waiting for the freezer to do its work, I was making it happen!

That freezer moved with me to the mountains of North Carolina 11 years ago and sat on a shelf until this summer, when I decided to pull it down and start cranking it again.  Ah, the memories rekindled!  It was like old times, except the work was harder.  And then, I brought up the idea of doing at the start of this school year what I had done so many times in the past—make ice cream for the students. The memories of yesteryear were propelling forward this idea.  What I didn’t know was I would end up responsible for making two batches.  A friend had offered to help out by making a gallon, but, at the last minute, couldn’t do it.  I didn’t mind that much because I thought I could still crank out two batches—until I started cranking that first batch.

From the get-go, I had to force the crank.  Every turn was difficult. Within 10 minutes, I was soaked in sweat.  As I sat there cranking, I came to the realization that this really wasn’t as fun as I had remembered it.  I thought about how much easier it would be just to have an electric freezer.  The ice cream would taste the same and I wouldn’t find myself exhausted in the process.  At that moment, I realized how weary I was of working so hard for something that could be accomplished with much less effort.  

It was pride that was at the heart of this.  I felt accomplished with my old-fashioned, hand-crank ice cream freezer.  And it brought back great memories.  That is the danger of what the Scriptures refer to as “works.” They make us proud and we can easily become attached to them.  The elderly woman is proud of the fact she hasn’t missed a Sunday church service in 70 years.  The middle-aged man is proud of all the volunteer work he has done for his church and community.  The student is proud of his accomplishments as a church youth leader.  

And you might be asking, what’s wrong with this?  Shouldn’t people take pride in their achievements?  It depends.  If they are doing what Paul commands in Colossians 3:17, then, sure, it can be a good thing. But if they are doing it from the motivation of showing how good they are or proving to God how upright they are, then it is a very bad thing.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says Romans 3:23. This is a fact that many have a hard time accepting and, thus, will spend their lives trying to disprove.  They will work hard, and then harder.  They may accomplish much, but it won’t be enough.  They may even enjoy the work for awhile, but at some point it will grow wearying. And then they have a choice.  They can keep plowing ahead or they can accept there is a much better, easier way.  They can acknowledge the impossibility of their works making them good and instead recognize and receive the gift of grace God offers them through Jesus.  This is what the Hebrew writer is telling his audience.  The Israelites were left to die in the desert because they thought they didn’t need God.  They thought they were good enough on their own.  

Making the second batch was a little less difficult, but I’ve decided to put that old freezer back on the shelf and replace it with an electric model.  I realize I don’t have to do all that work and yet I can still get the same result.  

Today, if you are tired of working to be good or to be seen as good, then know God is ready to give you some much needed rest. In fact, He is saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV)  In other words, you can stop the cranking and let Him do the work.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Seeking and Finding

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” (Proverbs 8:17 NIV)

Seeking God has been a theme in several conversations I have had this week.  A student shared that her parents, in the midst of a difficult time, are seeking to learn more about the God she serves.  Another student told me she returned to school determined to seek God in hopes of establishing a relationship with Him.  

The good news is God is not hard to find if you are seeking Him.  Like the parent playing hide and seek with his kids, God wants to be found. He makes that clear in this verse and in other passages of Scripture.  

Sometimes we who have found God are overanxious to point out where He is to others who are not seeking to find Him.  And they look at us as if we, to put it kindly, are a bit on the weird side.  The thing we need to realize is if they are not seeking God, they will not find Him, no matter how hard we try to point Him out.  No, the seeking needs to come first.  

And what I have found is that seeking begins with either curiosity or desperation.  People begin seeking when they become curious about what they see in those who follow the Lord.  Like parents who see a radical transformation in their son or daughter become curious about what is taking place.  Or friends who notice a significant change in one of their peers are curious as to what has happened.  People also seek when their life circumstances become desperate.  A tragedy, perhaps, or a break-up of a relationship, or just when life becomes so dissatisfying that they are open to a change.

The key is in the seeking.  And when people seek the Lord, they will find Him.  But we make a mistake to rush that process for any person. Rather, it is better to live our lives for the Lord in their midst knowing that God is at work because, in reality, He is already seeking them (Luke 19:10).  And when they are ready to seek, we can be there to assure them that what they are seeking they will find—in Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Song Stuck in Our Heads

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, 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 3:12-14 NIV)

Have you ever noticed how the past keeps showing up, demanding attention, like a song that gets stuck in our heads?  “Hey, remember what the kids in school used to say about you—‘Loser!’?”  “Remember how often your mom told you that you looked fat?” “Remember those girls you hooked up with at parties?”  

“Remember!  Remember! Remember!”

That is the refrain of the past and the lyrics it sings are of all the times we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is at the top of the Enemy’s playlist and he wants to play it for us as often as we will listen.  And, boy, do we listen!

Time and time again we listen to the song of our woeful pasts.  The lyrics fill us with shame and regret over what we’ve done.  And if we listen to it often enough, it gets stuck in our heads.  Even if on the outside we appear to be free from our pasts, on the inside we are reminded continually of our shortcomings and unworthiness.  The effect is to drown out the reality of God’s grace and to suck out the life of freedom it carries with it.  Grace becomes a virtual platitude in our lives.  We speak the word, but it has been emptied of its power.

So in the Church there are many forgiven people living their lives chained to the sins of their pasts.  The song is in their heads playing on a continuous loop.  There may be times where it can be ignored, but in the quiet moments of their lives, it can be heard loud and clear.  The lyrics seared into their minds and hearts.  Weighed down by guilt and shame, they are spiritually ineffective and weak.  They cannot grow and they cannot be changed.  They are stuck in what amounts to a ritualistic existence, going through the motions of faith with none of the power.

Sitting in a Roman prison, Paul recounted his life to his Philippian brothers and sisters.  He recounts a life of pride in his religious achievements, only to acknowledge them as worthless in light of knowing of Jesus.  And he acknowledges elsewhere to Timothy that he views himself as the “worst of sinners.” (I Timothy 1:15).  Combined, we can assume the devil came calling to Paul with the same old song.  But Paul had a strategy to keep that song out of his head, and it is one that we would be wise to employ as well—resist the pull of the past and strain toward the promise of a guilt-free future through Jesus.  

The key word here is “strain.”   It is intentional and difficult.  The tune and lyrics are pulling at us.  We have to resist and intentionally focus on the grace of God and the promise it has for us, which Paul sums up in Romans 8:1-2—“ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Today, if you are hearing the song in your head, focus not on the lyrics, but on the grace of God, which has set you free from whatever you’ve done in the past.  But know this won’t be easy.  You are going to have to be intentional and try hard to set your sights on what the Lord wants to do now and in your future.  But you are not alone.  The Lord and your brothers and sisters are there alongside you to help change the song from one of condemnation to one of grace and freedom.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Living in a Chaotic World

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1-11 NIV)

It has been quite a summer of change and turmoil!  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, Bruce Jenner transformed to Caitlyn, more riots occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, the release of the Planned Parenthood videos revealed some of the internal workings of this organization, and the U.S. reached a controversial nuclear agreement with Iran. Add to this the politics heating up for the 2016 presidential election and world events that appear to get worse by the day, and it can seem the world in which we live is out of control.  

The good news is the Almighty God is still present.  He is the same as He was in the beginning, as He is now, and as He always will be (Hebrews 13:8). He is still on the scene and has everything under control, though it may seem otherwise.

The Psalmist felt overwhelmed as he pictured a world coming apart. Nations were in turmoil and the order of things was changing.  The world, which he knew, was changing before his very eyes.  

Do you feel that way today?  Are the moorings of your life, the things that have provided you with security and peace, being removed?  If so, then heed the words of the Lord: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Though our world, your world, may be rapidly changing, even perhaps falling apart, there is One who remains on the scene.  He is in control and to Him you can cling.

© Jim Musser 2015