Friday, October 30, 2015

The Sufficiency of God

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:7b-10 NIV)

I can still remember my late friend, Alan, telling me of an experience he had that was similar to this one Paul had with God.  It was a year or so before his death while in the deep throes of his battle with cancer.  He was alone at home complaining to the Lord about his circumstances, which I can attest were terrible.  Much like Paul, Alan pleaded with God to remove his suffering and, he later told me, the Lord responded with this question, “Am I enough?”

It was one of those singular moments in Alan’s life, which he repeatedly talked about up until his death.  What he learned and shared with many was that God is sufficient no matter what our circumstances.  Alan had to remind himself of this in the desperate times of his illness.  It was never easy; it never is.

Even if we do not have a terminal illness, this is a struggle we always face and the Lord is right in asking us: “Am I enough?”  And for the vast majority of us, the honest answer is no.  That is why we seek out other solutions to our pain and feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.  We don’t trust that He can provide all that we need to make it in this life, so, like Adam and Eve, we take it upon ourselves to make up for the deficit. And like the first couple, we end up in a bigger mess and in a worse way.  

The road of life is littered with broken and shattered lives of people who believed God was not enough for them.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, violence, suicide, eating and anxiety disorders, and on and on the list can go.  The Enemy’s game is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).  His goal is to steer us away from God, as he did Adam and Eve, because he knows that the Lord is indeed enough.  

As Paul and Alan learned, God is sufficient.  We don’t need anyone or anything else.  What we do need, in relationships or material things, or anything else, He will provide.  BUT we must first trust Him and not go seeking to meet what we think we need. 

Today, whatever your needs are—friends, validity of your life, love and acceptance, money—know that the Lord is enough to provide for those. He is faithful and He is sufficient.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Living in a Fallen World

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” (Isaiah 5:20-21 NIV)

Was the Lord speaking through Isaiah about our age?  The more you look at it, the more it seems to fit, and it is tempting to get enraged, depressed, or scared.  What kind of world, society are we living in, we may ask, longing for a more comforting past.

Yes, we live in a time when so many see the need to save unwanted pets or endangered animals, but offer little or no outcry to the millions of unborn babies being killed in the wombs of their mothers, or go as far as to declare it a right.  We live in a time where universities restrict or prohibit Christian ministries on campus because of their perceived discrimination against homosexuals, while welcoming and lauding Islam, which in the nations where it is the state religion, is used as a basis to imprison or kill those engaged in homosexual acts.  And while NASA’s telescopes and probes show just how unimaginably large the universe truly is, and microbiology continues to demonstrate how incredibly intricate and complex the make-up of life is in its various forms, the vast majority of scientists contend there is no evidence for the existence of God.

And one could go on with a myriad of examples of how our world has turned truth on its head, feels quite clever and good about it, and mock those who would call their conclusions and actions into question.  This is life in a fallen world and it is nothing new.  The ancients carved idols out of wood or stone and worshiped them.  They made sacrifices out of their children in order to placate their gods.  They trusted in their own wisdom and might.  And when challenged, they persecuted or put to death those who refused to agree.  

So we should not be surprised by what we see and hear today.  While we may be shocked, a look at history will reveal many similarities.  It may be new to us, but it is certainly not new.  And what has been true throughout history and remains true today is that God is in control. Regardless of how crazy and out of control things may seem in our world, His hand is still on the wheel.  In fact, in this passage it is God who makes the observation and issues the warning.  He knows exactly what is going on and will respond in His time.  Thus, we need not be anxious about what is happening around us.

In fact, our calling is to remain faithful to His calling to love our enemies and do good to those who seek to persecute us (Luke 6:27-28). Our job is not to save the world, but to live in it as His light (Matthew 5:14-15). He will do the saving—of those who are willing to open their hearts to Him.

Today, if you are feeling overwhelmed by the fallenness of this world, remember that God is in control and you do not need to be afraid or panicked.  You just need to remain faithful.  He will take care of the rest.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Desperate Times

“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:9-10 NIV)

A student shared with me not too long ago that before she came to know the Lord, she had felt completely alone and on her own.  It was at that desperate moment, she said, the Lord spoke to her these words, “You have me.”  From that moment, she began to pursue the Lord and, as this psalm promises, the Lord has never forsaken her.

It has been my experience that when we trust God in even the most desperate of times, He is faithful to stand with us.  I remember when my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer while I was in college, sitting at my desk reading the Scriptures searching for comfort, not knowing how I could handle losing her just a couple of years after my dad’s death.  I came upon II Corinthians 12 where God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Those were exactly the words I needed to hear at that moment and they enabled me to persevere through a very difficult time.

I also recall another time, not so many years ago, while I was on a three-month sabbatical, when I strongly felt God’s presence beside me. My first wife had decided to abandon our marriage and I was in New Mexico spending time trying to regain my emotional equilibrium.  I was out hiking one day and in the middle of the barren path (it was in March), I saw a flower.  It was the first and only one I saw, and I felt the Lord was telling me that at some point along the difficult path I was on, He was going to bring to me something quite beautiful.  In the midst of deep hurt and despair, this gave me hope and assurance that the Lord was in control and good things would eventually come (and they did).

When desperate times come in our lives, it is tempting to forsake the Lord and, sadly, I have seen many do so.  However, it is exactly at these times when we need to trust in Him and seek Him.  And I know from my own experience and the experience of many others, He is true to His promise.  He will be there for us.

Today, know that the Lord is faithful.  Even in the worst of times, if you are seeking Him, He will be there beside you giving you the help and encouragement you need.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Making the Word of God a Priority

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

Often preaching focuses on topics of various sorts and youth group messages deal with what is perceived relevant to teenagers.  The goal is to speak to where people are, to get their attention and keep their interest.  It is a worthy goal, but it has a significant downside.  When the preaching and teaching of the Church focuses primarily on what is perceived as relevant, often the Scriptures play a secondary role in the message.  Done enough and the audience has little or no experience with the raw power of the Word of God.

I experience this often on campus with students who, having grown up in the church, demonstrate little knowledge or experience with the Scriptures.  I have also experienced this with many adults, even elders in local churches, who have difficulty navigating the Word of God and understanding its basic teachings and experiencing its transformative power.

If we look back to the beginnings of the New Testament Church, the Apostles made clear their priority as its leaders—teaching the Word (Acts 6:2-4).  It should be noted that this was in the context of needs in the congregation that were unmet.  When faced with a choice, they maintained their commitment to teaching the Scriptures and appointed others to meet the needs.  

There are a lot of needs in any church or campus ministry, and the society at large.  The temptation is to focus all of our attention on those at the expense of the Word.  But the Apostles set a standard that we in the church should always follow—the teaching of the Word should never be abandoned regardless of what needs there are among the people.  And from the writer of Hebrews, we understand why.   

The Word is living and active; thus, it is not just an old book with cool stories and moral precepts.  It has the power to penetrate our hearts, expose what lies deep within us, and to dismantle the facades we have so carefully built.  And as Paul writes, it teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness so that we are fully equipped for everything God has for us (II Timothy 3:16-17). 

And perhaps this is why churches have often played down the Word because it often makes us uncomfortable and challenges us in ways we find intimidating and troubling.  For many, soothing words are more palatable and better received, and, thus, the incentive to say what pleases people and scratches where they itch.  But just as children will never develop into healthy adults if they are only told what they want to hear and always get what they want, neither will we grow into mature spiritual men and women if we never become fully adept at handling the Word of God (II Timothy 2:15

This requires that we first trust that God knows what He is doing.  We must believe He has our best interests at heart (and, if we are teachers or preachers, of those under our leadership), even if He requires us to face some painful truths or asks us to do things far out of our comfort zones.  If the Scriptures are indeed the Word of God, then we cannot afford to shy away from knowing them and obeying them if we want to be spiritually healthy and mature.

Today, as the original Apostles did, make the Word of God a priority in your life.  Read it, study it, and become adept in knowing its truths and putting them into practice in your daily lives.   For this is the reason God gave us His Word, so we can grow into the men and women He created us to be.  Without knowledge and experience with it, this transformation will never happen. 

© Jim Musser 2015   

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Unchanging Word

“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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

The writer of Hebrews has just spent a whole chapter writing about the great people of the faith—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, as well as others not mentioned by name but by their demonstrative faith.  And he uses these individuals who lived many centuries before his audience’s time as sources of encouragement to continue in the faith.  

In our culture today, we tend to dismiss the past as irrelevant to the present and the future.  And believers tend to look to current figures for encouragement rather than those who have gone before us.  Perhaps it’s because we think we have little in common with those who lived decades or centuries before us.  With the rapid advances in technology how could we ever be able to relate to those who lived without computers, smart phones and social media, or even without cars, planes, and electricity?  

Yet, people of faith for nearly two millennia have read the words written above.  The same can be said for all of the New Testament.  One constant for followers of Jesus down through the centuries is the Word of God.  It is the same today for us in the 21st Century as it was for people in the 4th Century, in the 10th Century, and in the 18th Century. While in those early centuries, it was read aloud rather than read individually, it is the same Word.

So now imagine a crowd gathered around a church leader listening to him read and teach on the Sermon on the Mount as Matthew or Luke records it.  Imagine Martin Luther, the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, diligently translating the Bible into the common German language of the day, or John Wesley preaching on Ephesians 2:8-10 to a 17th Century crowd.  It is the same Word that we read and hear today.

Thus, as the Hebrew writer is pointing out, there is a common thread between believers through all of history.  We share the faith in the Lord Jesus and have the Word to guide us and encourage us—the unchangeable Word that has spoken to believers down through the ages.  While the world has undergone unfathomable changes since Jesus walked the earth, His Word has remained the same.  

So today, as you read the Scriptures, realize people who have lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago, read or heard the same words. And as they were encouraged by them and obedient to them, so may you be as well.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Accepting Wise Advice

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” (Proverbs 19:20 NIV)

I have been on both sides of advice—giving and receiving and know how hard it is to accept it.  I remember during my freshman year when I had broken up with my unbelieving girlfriend and started dating a believer.  I found myself wanting to go back to the old relationship and an older, more mature friend told me not to do it, that I would regret it if I did.  I didn’t listen to his advice and, as he had warned me, I later regretted the decision.  

I have sat with many students and encouraged them to make good decisions only to see them ignore my advice and do the opposite, convinced their judgment was better than mine.  One student I met for counseling several years ago had a lot of issues from the past.  I recommended a female counselor for her to see and told her it was a great opportunity for her to deal with the issues while she was single as opposed to carrying them with her into a marriage and motherhood. She listened and nodded, but didn’t follow through; instead she continued her pursuit of yet another romantic relationship.  

Too often we only trust our own judgment, or that of others whose life experience and spiritual maturity are no greater than our own.  As Proverbs 15:22 says, there is wisdom in having wise counselors in our lives, people who have greater experience and knowledge.  They can help us succeed in what the Lord has for us in our lives and to avoid the many pitfalls that inevitably await us.

Today, recognize, particularly if you are young, that your judgment may sometimes be flawed.  So look for the wise and more mature people the Lord has placed in your life to help you navigate through the tough decisions and issues you are facing.  And, most importantly, take heed of what they tell you.  God has put them there to help guide you.  That will only work if you accept what they have to say.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Voice in the Marketplace

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3 NIV)

If you can picture walking along a fair midway with the game operators shouting at you to come over and win a prize, or an African market where men and women are hawking their wares to tourists, you can begin to understand the scene Isaiah is painting here.

Among the many vendors vying for attention in a market of ideas, beliefs, and practices is the Lord Himself.  He stands, not yelling above the din of competing voices, but pleading with anyone drawing close enough to hear to stop wasting their time on what they think will satisfy them or what seems to them important and to purchase what He is selling them—for free.

We walk in such a marketplace every day, with vendors of all types attempting to sell us their wares.  There are the various religions crying out that with their brand of god(s), we will find peace and fulfillment.  In another stall, there are the sciences claiming all can be explained if we just embrace what can be known and cast aside religious fantasies.  Nearby, there are the philosophers seeking to persuade us that life and existence are a mystery and worthy of lifelong study but short on any solid answers.  As we continue our stroll, there are the purveyors of various sorts of entertainment telling us the best way to handle life is to escape from it as often as you can.  The marketplace is noisy and crowded, but if we get close enough, we can begin to hear a voice distinct from all the others: “Come, all you who are thirsty…Why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”

His pitch is unique, unlike any of the others in the marketplace.  His tone is pleading without any trace of manipulation for the sake of profit, like one who knows his idea or product will change lives.  But He is not arrogant or angry, just longing for people in the market to listen.  As foolish as it may seem to many, He really does have what ultimately will satisfy our deepest longings and calm our deepest fears.  If only they will take the time and suspend their doubts long enough to listen.

Today, consider what voices in the marketplace are drawing your attention.  Which voices are gaining your ear?  It is a very noisy place and we can be easily distracted from the one Voice that really matters, the one calling us to a life full of purpose, hope, and ultimate security.  It may not get a lot of attention, but it is the only one that truly matters.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trust Issues

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

Before I came to North Carolina, my life was at a crossroads.  I was without a job for the first time since finishing grad school and had no immediate prospects for another.  Yet, I trusted the Lord for His provision and direction in my life.  That wasn’t always the case.  

Many times in my life I walked by sight rather than by faith.  I had trust issues.  I trusted in my own insight rather than the Lord’s.  And, looking back, I realize I missed out on some of what the Lord intended for me.  I chose my own path and yet, being the faithful God that He is, He still used me and brought good things out of my lack of trust, just as He did with Moses and Peter, among many others.  

By the time I became unemployed, I had learned to trust the Lord in ways I had never before.  I knew He had a plan and He would work out the details.  And He didn’t let me down.  

I have recently talked with students who have trust issues with God. The future for them is unclear and there is a lot of anxiety.  Out of my own experience, I have encouraged them to put their full trust in the Lord, that He won’t let them down, that He has things under control even when that is not completely clear.  As Paul said to Timothy, God is faithful because He cannot disown Himself (II Timothy 2:13).  He is by nature faithful.

Today, whatever unknowns you are facing or decisions you need to make, trust in the Lord to guide you.  I know from experience that He won’t let you down.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Discovering Who God Is

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20 NIV)

This is such an interesting passage and often now avoided because it speaks so explicitly about God’s wrath, which is not nearly as popular or comforting as talking about God’s love.  But there it is, nonetheless, and, as usual, Paul is unapologetic and straightforward.  

But what I find so interesting is not God’s wrath, but that Paul says creation speaks so clearly about God’s existence and nature, that we have no excuse not to believe, to put our faith in Him, or to submit ourselves humbly before Him in obedience.  While so many have doubts about God’s very existence or what He is like, Paul claims it is obvious by just taking notice of what is around us or by just looking in the mirror.  So obvious in fact that when we stand before God, “I just didn’t know” will not be an acceptable reason for those who never believed.  

So if God’s existence and nature are so clearly revealed in creation, what do we learn about Him?  First, He is BIG, VERY BIG! Astronomers have yet to determine the limits of the universe, but have long known that our galaxy is very small in comparison, and our planet even smaller.  Thus, the Psalmist’s humble response in considering creation: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

Secondly, God is very creative, an artist really.  Notice His use of color, particularly this time of year when oranges, yellows, browns, and greens combine to make a beautiful kaleidoscope of hues among the mountains, hills, and streets.  Or consider the intricate patterns of snowflakes or of frost that forms on a window.  Or how about the innumerable species of animals and vegetation?  All are unique and some turn our heads just by how they look—think about the zebra, the puffer fish, or the panda bear.  And His creations span beyond our human purview.  There are fish swimming in the ocean depths that few, if any, humans have ever seen, and unique planets in faraway galaxies never seen by human eyes.  Yet they exist, we can assume solely for His pleasure.  

Thirdly, God creates with purpose.  Curiosity has propelled scientific study to figure out why things are the way they are, from biology to zoology, from genetics to physics.  There is overwhelming evidence that creation is not random, but formed with thought and purpose.  For example, the anatomy of males and females demonstrate, as God openly declared in Genesis 2:24, that man and woman were created for each other.  This is why Paul describes later that sexual relations with the same sex are “unnatural” (Romans 1:26-27). 

Finally, God’s creation reveals He is supreme.  Nothing that humans have created remotely compares to what God has created.  The most advanced computer does not come close to the complexity and creativity of the human brain.  No robot will ever be mistaken for a human.  And no human-built structure can compare to the immensity of what God has created.  He is bigger, stronger, wiser, and more creative than any human being or human culture that has ever existed. Therefore, and this is Paul’s point, we should listen to what He says and submit ourselves to Him.  He is God and we are created by Him.  

Today, take a look around.  God is revealing Himself to you.  If you pay attention, it is easier than many will lead you to believe to discover who He is.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Rigged Game

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?  So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?  So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.  Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’  Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’  The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:1-14 NIV)

My wife and I watched the guy at the State Fair hand over dollar bill after dollar bill.  You could tell he believed himself to be a good shooter and the experience of a near-miss messed with his mind and his pride. He was convinced he could make the basketball go in if given one more opportunity.  The game operator was more than happy to give it to him. And with each miss, he handed over more cash for another chance.  As with so many before him and after him, the shots never went in.  A little sign explained why: “Rims not regulation.”  In essence, the game was rigged.  

Pride is the key element in the carnival game industry’s strategy to make money.  And they make lots of it because there is no shortage of pride on a fair midway.  So many can think they can win because, well, they’re good enough to win.  What so many don’t realize is most of these games are rigged—not in an illegal way, but tweaked just enough to make them look winnable.  But the wads of cash in each game operator’s hand tell you who the real winner is.

As we watched people participate in these games, I was reminded of this passage.  The Galatians thought they could win the righteousness game.  They thought they were good enough.  None of this grace stuff for them!  They were going to earn their way.  You can just feel their pride in Paul’s challenge to them.  What they failed to understand was that game, too, was essentially rigged.   No matter how good we think we are or can be, we can never win.  As Paul later explains, this game was set up for us to fail so then we would turn to Jesus (vss. 23-25).  It is only He who can win at this game.

But as with carnival games and gambling, though they are rigged against us, our pride sees a way in which we can win.  So we keep trying and losing.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul tells the Romans.  Therefore, the truth of the matter is that no one is good or can be good apart from Jesus.  

The righteousness game will always be yours to lose if you try to play it on your own.  So, today, stop trying to win it.  Swallow your pride, walk away, and turn to Jesus. It is only through Him that you can win.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Talking About the Lord

(Author's Note: Tomorrow begins our Fall Break, so I will be taking a break as well.  See you back here next Monday!  Jim)

“Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.  I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.  If I had cherished sin in my heart, 
the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened 
and heard my voice in prayer.  Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” (Psalm 66:16-20 NIV)

I was talking with a student recently who told me he and his friends were making a more concerted effort to talk about the Lord with one another after being called out by a friend.  It seems they were like a lot of Christians, claiming to know and follow Jesus, but rarely talking about Him apart from Bible studies.  The friend had grown tired of the shallow conversations and wanted something deeper.  

It is an interesting thing that people who say they love the Lord have such a difficult time talking about Him outside of “spiritual settings” like Bible studies, prayer groups, and the like.  While it is natural to talk about our parents, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, etc., the one relationship that we claim to be the most important is the one about which we have the most trouble discussing.

Is it perhaps that we are mired in a religious mindset, that we view our relationship with the Lord as totally different and set apart, something only discussed in religious settings?  If that is the case, then we must realize a relationship with the Lord has many of the same qualities of any other significant relationship.  We talk with Him (i.e., prayer); He talks with us (e.g., through the Scriptures or that “still small voice” of His Spirit).  As the days go by, we learn more about Him, have experiences with Him, and are impacted by having Him in our lives.  We also get frustrated or even angry with Him, as He sometimes does with us. While we may have believed a relationship with the Lord is totally different than any other relationship we have, if we look a little closer, it is really quite similar.

With that in mind, perhaps it can become easier to talk about our relationship with Him with others who also know the Lord, and even those who don’t.  Today, seek out someone and, as the Psalmist did, tell them what the Lord has done for you.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Burden Sharing

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIV)

Our instinct is to hide them.  Our nature is to pretend all is well when it is isn’t.  Our bent is to attempt to carry our burdens alone.  Often we are embarrassed by our weakness or feel ashamed by our perceived lack of faith.  The reasons are many, but the result is the same: we try to shoulder the weight of our lives on our own.  The question we should be asking ourselves and others doing the same is: “How’s that working for you?”

On college campuses throughout our nation suicide is a growing problem.  One of the reasons is students do not seek help with what is troubling them.  Their Facebook pages portray happy lives, but omit the struggles.  They don’t let their friends in on what is really going on. And, sadly, sometimes they have few, if any, real friends to lean on even if they were so inclined.  

Depression and anxiety among students are at unprecedented levels. Excessive alcohol consumption continues to be a problem for many on campus.  One can almost feel the weight of their burdens in these trends.  

Sadly, what is typical for the culture has become typical for the Church. We, too, tend to want to shoulder our burdens alone, to pretend all is well when it isn’t.  And the results are similar as in the world—affairs, pornography addiction, depression, and, yes, suicide.  Yet, as Paul alludes to in this short command, the Christian community should be a place where burden-sharing and burden-bearing should be the norm rather than the exception.  It is the law of Christ that we should carry one another’s burdens just as He carried ours on the Cross.  

Life is hard and full of burdens, and we see the effect of them on people every day.  If Christ is our example and His law dictates that burdens be shared, then should it not begin with those of us who claim to be His followers?

Today, if you have a heavy burden weighing on you, find someone with whom you can share it.  And if you know someone who is carrying a burden, let her know you are willing to help bear it.  For if we believers don’t demonstrate how to best handle the burdens of life, who will? 

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015

Coming Clean

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; 
my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 
 Then I acknowledged my sin to you 
and did not cover up my iniquity. 
I said, ‘I will confess 
my transgressions to the LORD ‘— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.” (Psalm 32:3-6 NIV)

David was engaged in a futile exercise—trying to hide his sin from the all-knowing God.  And he paid the price.  

What is it about sin that we feel the need to try to hide ours from God?  Is it embarrassment?  Pride?  Fear?  Whatever our reason, as with David, it never works out too well for us.  As he finally learned, it is best to come clean, and the sooner the better.

What we need to understand is God longs for us to seek Him out when we have failed to live up to His expectations.  That may seem counterintuitive based upon our experiences with our own parents or others in authority over us.  Even if we are eventually forgiven, there is “hell to pay” in the process.  Yet, the Lord is not like that.  As I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  

If we confess, it is done.  The Lord forgives and our relationship with Him is restored. Now there may be earthly consequences.  If you have sex outside of marriage and a pregnancy results, then you have to live with that consequence.  In the same way, if you gossip about someone and cause great hurt, you may destroy a friendship.  But you won’t be estranged from God, regardless of the fallout from your sin.

God longs to be intimate with us and sin prevents that.  So if we are not willing to own up to our sin, He will give us some incentive.  As David learned, that is not too pleasant.  

Today, if you have unconfessed sin in your life, recognize it is best to come clean.  The Lord will forgive you and you won’t have to deal with the pain that comes from trying to cover it up.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Awesomeness of God

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9 NIV)

Earlier this week I hiked to one of my favorite overlooks and sat taking in the beauty in front of me. The tapestry of autumn colors took my breath away.  And then I did what seemed fitting for the moment, I read Psalm 8 aloud.

When I consider the work of His fingers, I am awestruck and, too, ask the question, who am I that the Lord is mindful of me and cares for me? In the midst of His beautiful creation, I feel so small, so insignificant. Yet, of all that He has created, He considers me and my fellow human beings the crowning achievement of His work!    The autumn beauty? We are greater.  The vast expanse of the stars and galaxies?   We are greater.  The inspiring wildlife around us?  We are greater.  

When we look around at all God has made, at all its vastness and beauty, and take in that He considers us even greater than these, how can we not cry out, as does the Psalmist, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth”?

Today, join the Psalmist in looking around you and taking in all God has made.  Then think how He considers you greater than all of it.  And then let your heart give the appropriate response.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Shroud of Death

“Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.  You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt.

Therefore strong peoples will honor you; cities of ruthless nations will revere you. You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert. You silence the uproar of foreigners; as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.  On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.  The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:1-9 NIV)

As I read this the other day, it resonated with me, particularly the prophet’s mention of the shroud of death that enfolds all of us.  Not a day goes by where we cannot read of cruel deaths from war, famine, disease, and murder.  The shroud of death envelops this world, and even if we can somehow insulate ourselves from these tragic events, death still eventually intrudes on each of our lives as family members and friends pass from this world.  And, one day, it will envelop each of us as well.  

As the old saying goes, we can run, but we cannot hide.  Even if we do all we can to ignore it, attempt to stave it off with healthy eating and exercise, or create an illusion of youth by artificial means, we cannot shake the inevitability of death which hangs over each of us and over the whole world.  

That is why the words of Isaiah bring such hope.  One day, one day death and grief will be no more.  No more dying; no more tears.  And his soothing words are echoed by Jesus and Paul centuries later.  “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25)  “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54)

As we read the headlines, as we witness the suffering, and as we experience the tragic effects of death in our own lives, we are not left without hope.  Through Jesus we see the promise of Isaiah begin to be fulfilled.  Death has yet to be eliminated, but its sting has been lessened and its shroud lifted.  All that is left is for it to be completely destroyed. And so, as with our brothers and sisters down through the centuries, we cry out, “Come Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)  In the meantime, we hold on to the promise that for those trusting in Jesus, the shroud of death has been lifted and will eventually be removed.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Helpless and Loved

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14 NIV)

Five years ago, after 69 days trapped more than 2000 feet under the earth, 33 Chilean miners emerged one by one into the light, completing a rescue effort viewed by millions around the world.  It was a rescue 52 days in the making, since the miners were first discovered alive 17 days after a collapse within the mine where they were working.  The government and private companies worked diligently to develop a rescue plan, while at the same time providing for the needs of the trapped miners. 

To be rescued, one must be helpless and loved.  The miners kept themselves alive for a time, but they were unable to extract themselves from underneath the ground.  They needed others who cared enough about them to save them.  

When Paul writes that God has rescued us, he is saying that we are helpless and loved.  Helpless to extract ourselves from our sinful prison and loved by a God who can save us.  Our perilous situation was assessed and a rescue plan was put into place.  The death and resurrection of Jesus enabled us to escape the darkness and to be brought into the light.  

I imagine those 33 miners are still overflowing with gratitude toward their rescuers and will be for the rest of their lives.  It’s just a natural response when one has been saved.   

Today, remember when you were helpless and trapped in darkness, there was One who loved you enough to rescue you.  Overwhelming gratitude is warranted.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Giving People Time to Change

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)

Ever since I was a young believer, I have heard many teachings on this story and all have emphasized the need for us to spend time with the Lord and how the busyness of life can impinge on that need.  Sometimes, when you have viewed a story in the same way for so long, it is hard to see it in any other way. But recently, I saw a new angle to this story.  

I imagined the scene just as Martha had opened her home to Jesus.  As He settled in, Mary sat down to listen to Jesus while Martha headed for the kitchen to begin her preparations for the meal.  And as this played out in my mind, I was struck by the fact Jesus never called Martha from the kitchen; never implored her to come sit with Him and leave her tasks for a later time.  He let her do what she felt compelled to do.  Only when she emerged frustrated from the kitchen, did He make mention of her choice of priorities.  And only after she had complained about Mary’s choice not to help her.  Hmmm.

How often do we feel obliged to tell people what their priorities in life should be, or have been on the receiving end of someone else’s felt duty to set us straight about our spiritual priorities?  In my many years of vocational ministry, I know I have done this.  I have grown impatient with students and decided they needed to know their priorities were mixed up.  And the key word here is impatient.  

There is a time when people need to be confronted and to hear the truth, but often our timing is off.  We are too much in a rush for people to grow and mature, and to make better choices.  And if they are not ready, then our attempts can have the opposite effect.  Instead of motivating them, they feel guilty or even angry.  

I have no doubt that Jesus saw the problem with Martha’s priorities and her struggle with worry, but I wonder if He knew that demanding her to sit with Him and Martha would not produce the desired result.  She might be sitting at His feet, but her mind would still be in the kitchen.  Perhaps she was not yet ready to hear the truth.  So He allowed her to focus on her perceived duties until she emerged to complain.  And even then, He spoke gently to her about the difference between her attitudes and those of her sister.  

I think there is a lesson here for us.  Too often our tendency is to impose our beliefs and practices on people, rather than modeling them and letting people come around to see the advantages of believing and living in this way.  The model of Jesus in dealing with people was one of patience.  He was not in a hurry to get them straightened out, but waited until they were ready.  And as I reflect on my life, I see His patience with me.  I can only shake my head at some of the things I used to do or some of the things I used to think, but He never rushed in to set me straight.  Instead, He was patient and gentle with me.  
Today, if you know people who frustrate you because of their attitudes or priorities in life, remember the new angle on this story.  Jesus didn’t rush to change Martha.  He waited patiently on her, for when the timing was right, where she would be open to seeing her need to change.  It may take longer, but it is a lot more effective.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, October 5, 2015

Practical Atheism

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:14-19 NIV)

One of the dangers of growing up in a nation or a family where the Christian faith is embraced is assuming that because you acknowledge believing in certain things, therefore you are a Christian.  Polls suggest nearly three-quarters of Americans believe Jesus to be the Son of God. Do we then conclude that 75% of the country is committed to Jesus? Only if you take them at their word.  What we know when we look around is a lot of people say they believe, but live as if they don’t.

James writes of the absurdity of claiming belief and living a life void of any evidence of it.  Driving home this absurdity, he compares such people with the demons, who, while they believe in Jesus, have no allegiance to Him.  

It is relatively easy to proclaim belief, but it is a whole different matter to live in such a way that validates that belief.  Those who followed Jesus in the New Testament Church didn’t just have a set of beliefs, but sought to live them out in their daily lives.  Did they often fall short?  Of course, but they fell short while actually attempting to live them out. Today it seems we are often content with having a set of beliefs.  

Do we believe in helping the poor?  Do we believe in helping our neighbor?  Do we believe in the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit? Do we believe Jesus is truly Lord of our lives?  And do we believe He will one day return in glory and judgment?  If so, do these beliefs have any impact on our daily lives or are we just practical atheists, claiming belief, but living as if we have none, or at least no commitment to it?

Today, consider what you say you believe and then compare that with how you live out your daily life.  If you say you are a Christian, does your life reflect that, or does it resemble more closely those of whom have no allegiance to Jesus?

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Overcoming the Effects of Legalism

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”  (Matthew 23:13-15 NIV)

The campus preachers make their appearance every Fall, preaching their “hellfire and brimstone” brand of the Gospel.  They’ve been around along time and they always draw a crowd.  I remember when I was a college student, “Brother Jed” and “Sister Cindy” (his wife) coming onto our campus and calling one of my friends a whore because she was wearing shorts.  She just happened to be a very committed follower of Jesus.

Of course, this is the gospel they preach, which is really not the Gospel at all.  Rather, it is a New Testament version of what the Pharisees preached—legalism.  And, as I have found out, if you don’t subscribe exactly to what they believe, you are branded an unbeliever that needs to repent.  The sad part is they travel the country preaching their legalism and their converts become entrapped in the same legalistic faith.  And perhaps even sadder, is they leave behind to those who gathered around to listen a very skewed and inaccurate picture of who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him.  And instead of leading people into a relationship with the Lord, they turn them away.

I understand why Jesus called the Pharisees out.  They were seen as representatives of God, but the picture they were painting of Him was totally inaccurate.  And they were zealous to make converts. Unfortunately, there are many out there today doing the same thing.  

Jesus didn’t have much success convincing the Pharisees, so arguing with their successors in this day is not likely to be persuasive.  Yet, loving people as Jesus did is a strong antidote to the legalistic message they proclaim.  Many chose to follow Him and leave the legalistic teachings of the Pharisees behind.  

Today, recognize, as Peter writes, love covers over a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8).  Jesus loved on those who had been negatively impacted by legalistic teachings with much success.  You can do the same.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015


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

On a university campus, there are a lot of arguments and false beliefs about God that are consistently repeated, such as science disproves the existence of God, the Bible is full of errors and prejudices and thus is unreliable, and, one I heard recently, that Christianity has its roots in Islam.  While I could focus on these, I rather want to focus on the unspoken false beliefs that people, even Christians, have about God. For these beliefs often form strongholds that prevent spiritual and emotional healing, as well as growth.

One I most frequently see among students on campus is a fear of God’s disapproval.  Thus, when they do something they know is wrong, they distance themselves from the Lord.  They may still outwardly appear close, by attending Bible studies and church, but inwardly they, like the “lost son (Luke 15:11-32), are far from the Father because of their guilt and shame.  And the guilt and shame form a stronghold in their lives, which God’s grace and mercy cannot penetrate.  

Another is relinquishing their will to God means unpleasant things are going to happen.  Such as, if they are sensing a call to end a relationship, they wonder how will they survive or if there will ever be another.  Or if they are to change majors, what that will mean for the future.  In this case, there is a stronghold of distrust that God’s will is better than theirs.  

Finally, I often see the stronghold of bitterness, which is reinforced by the belief that forgiveness is unjust, that it lets people off the hook. Many students have bitterness residing deep within their hearts, whether it be toward a parent who abandoned them, toward people who bullied them, or toward life in general because it hasn’t turned out the way they imagined.  

The challenges of spiritual strongholds are two-fold.  First, they are often obscured.  People often don’t know they even exist because they have been present so long they draw no suspicious attention.  Second, even if we know they exist, tearing them down is beyond us.  We cannot remove them on our own. But Paul provides a solution to these challenges.

As in every situation in life, Jesus really is the answer.  His Word provides the truth we need to attack the lies about God, and His power the ability to tear down the strongholds maintained through the lies of the Enemy.  Where the stronghold of guilt and shame closes off our hearts from God, we bring against that lie the truth that God does not condemn those who are followers of Jesus (Romans 8:1-2).  Where there is distrust in God’s plans for us, we bring the truth that God wants what is best for us against it (Ephesians 1:17-19). And where bitterness has us in bondage, there is the truth that forgiveness is how Jesus set us free (Colossians 3:13). 

All of these truths are backed up by the promise of the Lord’s power over the Enemy. (I John 4:4). He who resides in us has the power to tear down the strongholds.

Today, examine yourself to see what strongholds in your life are preventing you from becoming all that God desires for you.  And once you identify them, allow the Lord to begin tearing them down with His truth and power.  Your strongholds may give you a sense of safety, but in reality they are holding you prisoner.  Having them torn down will finally set you free.

© Jim Musser 2015