Friday, February 27, 2015

Acknowledging a Truth

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (I John 1:8-10 NIV)

To confess something, by definition, is to acknowledge a truth.  And it usually comes when there is little doubt of what that truth is.   An accused criminal will often confess when the evidence laid out for his crime is overwhelming.  A married person involved in an affair likely will not admit to it until the evidence is supplied.  Then the confession comes.  

With regard to sin, John says the evidence is overwhelming that we are sinners.  Yet, as he notes, many of us want to claim otherwise.  Not that we claim we are perfect, but we are often reluctant to acknowledge the truth that we have sinned in specific ways.  We confess that we struggle, but we find it harder to be specific.  When it comes to sin, many of us speak in generalities.  Or we focus on other people’s faults as a means to downplay our own.  “Well I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not as bad as so and so.”  

The truth is we are all sinners, not just in a generic way, but specifically. Each and every day we sin, not in general, but in specific ways.  And if we are honest, the evidence for that is overwhelming.  Just take a look back over yesterday.  You will likely see pride, anger, hypocrisy, lust, etc.  

While these things may be very uncomfortable to acknowledge, they are indeed the truth.  And the God we worship and serve is Truth.  To be aligned with Him is to be all about the truth, particularly in our own lives.   The good news, however, is when we acknowledge the truth that we have sinned He forgives us.  He wipes it away.  It’s as if it never happened.  But for that to occur, we have to first acknowledge it.  

Today, know God wants you to confess the specific sin in your life.  He wants you to acknowledge what is true.  But in doing so, be assured what you will receive will not be condemnation or punishment, but forgiveness and cleansing.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A New Home

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” (II Peter 3:10-13 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I find a lot to like about living on this planet. I love the beauty of the mountains, the lakes, and the streams.  I love the changing of the seasons, especially the change from winter to spring!  I love experiencing various cultures and interacting with different people. Life, in so many ways, is good on planet Earth.  Yet, I do not fear the message of this passage—that the Earth and everything on it will be destroyed.  It does not strike fear or cause sadness within me.  I am not like one of those many characters in an apocalypse-type movie that is terrified of what is to come.  Because I know the end is not the end.  

Everything will be destroyed, but then everything will be re-created.  A new heaven and a new earth.  If you like what you see now, imagine what the new versions will be like!  Perfect, without the taint of sin.  I imagine colors being richer, fruit more luscious, water sweeter and more satisfying, the air fresher and all of this in a place where there is no threat to our peace.  It will be a world beyond our greatest experience and imagination.  

But this is a home of righteousness for the righteous.  In other words, for those whose hope is in Jesus, who find righteousness not in themselves, but in Him.  It is for them this new heaven and new earth is created.  So within this promise, there is a warning:  The unrighteous will not be welcome.  Those who seek righteousness on their own, apart from Jesus, will be destroyed.  So Peter warns us to live holy and godly lives as we live on this sin-tainted planet waiting for the new one to be created, because that will be the lifestyle of the residents there. Holy. Godly.  Righteous.  

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for our new heaven and new earth to arrive.  And I hope, by the way I live, I will not only be preparing myself for life there, but will persuade others not currently desiring to go to change their minds and hearts.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Good Compared to What?

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-24 NIV)

Not too long ago, a student came to me concerned about her parents. They believe they are good people.  They are religious, go to church regularly, and treat others decently.  In light of her conversion, they are wondering why they need anything more.  They believe they are good enough.  My response to her was, compared to what?

Most of us, when we are evaluating the quality of our lives, compare our lives to others.  How do we measure up to them?  Do we have more (and better?) friends?  Do we have more authority and prestige in our jobs?  When deciding if we have a successful life, we look to others by which to make that judgment.  

The same is true with the idea of goodness.  Our gauge of goodness normally is based on others.  I am good based on how other people live.  And so, by this standard, a lot of people are good and live good lives, and believe, therefore, they are deserving of a heavenly reward. Yet, this is not the measure by which we will be judged.  Our measure will be God Himself. 

We all can find people by whom we look good (sometimes really good) in comparison, but what about when we compare ourselves to God? How good do we look then?  

Today, you may think you are a good person, but compared to what? Recognize that compared to God, there is no one, not even you, that is good.  That’s why everyone needs a relationship with Jesus.  The standard for goodness is not ourselves but Him, and we fall far short of it.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Your Real Enemy

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12 NIV)

I have several Facebook friends who, from a political standpoint, are on totally opposite sides.  Though they do not know each other, they would each consider the other an “enemy.”  Though they are Christians, they unknowingly hold each other in contempt for the others’ views.  To the ones on the right side of the political spectrum, the others on the left are morons, hate America, and will ruin the country if their views prevail.  To the ones on the left side, the right-wingers are idiots, false patriots, and will ruin the nation if allowed to govern.  

As the 2016 presidential race begins, these Christian friends will likely let everyone know how much they despise the Republicans or the Democrats and, without knowing it, each other because of the political views they hold.  This is one of the devil’s most effective schemes. While he and his horde is our greatest enemy, he seeks to turn our attention toward one another, to bring us into conflict, despising and hating one another.  

The spiritual reality is that neither President Obama, nor former presidents Bush or Clinton, or the Democrats or the Republicans are our real enemies.  And if we have come to believe that, then we have been deceived by the Great Schemer, who seeks to blind us to the facts.  As Paul reveals to us, our real enemy resides in the spiritual realm and we would be wise to recognize it.  He is at war with the Lord and His followers and is more than pleased to have us fight each other.  

Obviously, we have a right in this country to hold whatever political views we choose.  However, as followers of Jesus, we must realize we have a higher calling than the petty squabbles over political positions. There is a bigger fight in which we are to be engaged—against the evil forces that reside in the heavenly realms.  And for those who contend that certain political views are evil, the fact remains evil cannot be defeated by means designed by human beings.  Spiritual weapons are required.  

The Enemy seeks to turn our attention away from him because that is when he is the strongest.  But when we are aware of his schemes (II Corinthians 2:10-11), we can defeat him.

Today, recognize that your real enemy is not a liberal or conservative, not a political party, or even someone out to do you harm.  Your real enemy is the devil whose sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) Be wise enough to know the difference.   

© Jim Musser 2015 

Monday, February 23, 2015


“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?  Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.” (II Corinthians 2:14-17 NIV)

Over the weekend, I continued to think about Rob and Kristen Bell’s comments to Oprah Winfrey on the relevancy of the Church with regard to same-sex marriage (see full video here). Quite honestly, I don’t think being relevant mattered much to the early Church.  In fact, I don’t think it matters much to the true Church today.

For the true Church (not the institutions, but the true followers of Jesus) down through history, the struggle has not been to stay relevant, but rather to remain faithful to the Gospel in the face of persecution and death.  Do we really think the Coptic Church of Egypt has been holding seminars on how to stay relevant in a Muslim society, while 21 of its members were held by the Islamic State (and recently beheaded for their faith)?  Or that the believers in India are focused on strategies of how to get more people into their buildings when faced with persecution from both Hindus and Muslims?  Or that the Chinese believers are intent of finding ways to be more attractive to unbelievers in their culture while their government oppresses them?

The pursuit of relevancy is a luxury the early Church had no time to afford and it remains true for much of the Church today.  The Gospel is by nature rather black and white.  Either people are drawn to it so much they surrender their lives to it and are willing to die for it, or they find it so offensive they want nothing to do with it, to the point they may seek to destroy it and those who embrace it.  

The mission of the Church, unlike what the Bells and others may think, is not to be relevant, but to be faithful to proclaiming the Gospel and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.  And what our Christian ancestors knew and many of our fellow believers today have experienced is that people often reject our message and hate us.  Is that being irrelevant?  No.  It is the price we pay for proclaiming the truth.  And many have paid it and are paying it.  

In essence, being relevant today means being popular and accepted in the wider culture.  This is what many churches and individual Christians pursue.  They want to be “trendy” and “cutting edge,” when what the Lord commends us for is our faithfulness to Him (Matthew 25:14-46). The truth is that the long history of the Church is a struggle for survival in the face of a hostile world.  They had no time to try to be relevant; they were too busy just trying to remain faithful the Gospel they had been entrusted to proclaim in word and deed.  

Today, recognize the most important thing for you, as a follower of Jesus and for the Church is not to be relevant, but to be faithful.  This is the command and the legacy we have been given.  

© Jim Musser 2015 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Culture and the Word of God

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:12-17 NIV)

Rob Bell, the former mega church pastor and now host of his own show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, was back in the news this week as a result of his and his wife’s comments regarding same-sex marriage.  In an interview with Oprah, he said this when asked when will the church approve homosexual marriage:

"We're moments away. I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone." 

Then his wife added, "There are churches who are moving forward and there are churches who are almost regressing and making it more of a battle."  

This is the challenge every generation of Christians has dealt with and why Paul’s admonition to Timothy is so important.  From the very beginning, the strategy of the Enemy has been to get people to ignore God’s Word (Genesis 3:1-6).  And the Bells, it appears, have fallen into that trap.  

If you read Paul’s words, to follow God’s Word is guaranteed to elicit persecution from the wider world because the world is in rebellion against God.  Paul calls upon Timothy to live a godly life in the midst of the ungodliness.  And how does he tell him to do that?  By knowing and following the Scriptures, the very ones the Bells dismiss as old and irrelevant.  

The pull of the culture will always be away from God and away from His Word.  The only anchor we have in the midst of the swirling currents is the Word.  It teaches us what God desires of us; it rebukes us in the midst of our foolish thinking and behavior; it corrects us when, even with good intentions, we don’t understand the truth and get off the path; and it trains us in how to live righteous lives, not as we prefer, but as God desires we live.  

In Eden, Eve and Adam failed to trust God.  Instead, they went with what they were told by an outsider who’s intent was to draw them away from their Creator.  Today people like the Bells tell us that we should trust the direction culture is leading us rather than some 2000-year-old writings.  In other words, don’t trust the God-breathed Scriptures. They will do all they can to get us to go with the cultural current and they will ridicule, and even persecute, us if we don’t.  

There is a price to pay if we are to follow Paul’s guidance to Timothy, but the question comes down to this: In whom do we have a greater trust, the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) or the culture of men and women which is constantly changing?

Today, recognize that while much of the world scoffs at the Scriptures being the Word of God with the authority that is inherit to it, God intends for His Word to show us His will and how to live our lives.  Trusting God and living according to His Word is never irrelevant or out-of-date.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Snow Days

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1-4 NIV)

All kids (and college students!) love snow days.  The expectation of going to school with all the burdens of completing assignments and taking tests gone with the announcement, “Schools will be closed.” Burdens are immediately lifted and the anticipation of fun begins! Sledding, skiing, hot chocolate, and movies await!  No one thinks of the work being missed.  The joy is in the moment.  

In a world filled with the burdens of work, the anguish of war and terrorism, the sadness of so much suffering, the grief of losing those we love, and the general hopelessness that exists in the world, I think of Heaven as a life of snow days.  All the burdens and pain of this world gone with the announcement that the world has closed, and only days of unimaginable peace and joy are to follow.  No more death or suffering.  No more heartache or tears.  No more stress or depression. No more hatred or violence.  

Like a kid hoping school will be cancelled, I long for the Lord’s announcement that He has come to close down this world and create a new one.  Having the burdens of life in this world lifted from others and me will be even more welcome than a snow day! 

Now I know you may not find this as exciting as I do.  I understand wanting to cling to the familiar, even if it is far from perfect and often causes us pain—the proverbial “better than the alternative.”  But think about the world as a whole, all the individuals who struggle, suffer, and die in this fallen world.  Would we prefer this world for them just so we can have some comfort of our own?  

The promise of Jesus’ return is the hope of endless snow days, not only for you, but also for all of us who know and love Him, near and far, stranger and friend.  So let join with our brothers and sisters today and throughout the history of the Church in proclaiming, “Come, Lord Jesus.”   For wouldn’t it be great for all of us to have a perpetual snow day? 

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:3-11 NIV)

It is a common practice among students.  Procrastination.  Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow or next week?  I was a big-time procrastinator when I was a student.  I convinced myself that I really worked better under pressure and continually justified my procrastination.  The reality was, however, that I was lazy and didn’t want to do the work until I absolutely had to.  The fact that I was able to do it, and fairly well at that, wasn’t proof that I worked well under pressure.  It was, instead, proof of how much ability I had if I just chose to use it.  

As followers of Jesus, we have been given everything we need to live godly lives.  Why then are so few of us living in such a way that distinguishes us from the rest of the unbelieving world?  Procrastination perhaps?  Do we think we will get around to it later in life when we are not so busy with other things?  Do we just put it off because we are enjoying the life immediately in front of us?  

Everyday life has a way of distracting us and consuming us.  It is so easy to get caught up in what’s happening right in front of us, that we forget the big picture—why we are really here.  Like students who get so focused on their social lives that they forget they are students, it is easy for us to get so distracted by life that we forget who we are supposed to be living it for.  

Following in the footsteps of Jesus just doesn’t happen because one day you decide to do it.  That’s a start, but it requires daily discipline. Jesus said that to follow Him means taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23).  Like staying ahead on homework and projects, this requires intentionality.  It won’t just happen; you must decide to do it.  

Today, know you have been given everything you need to follow Jesus successfully.  There’s no need to procrastinate any longer.  Now is the time to become the person the Lord created you to be.

© Jim Musser 2015 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Real Thing

“‘I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. 
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.   Away with the noise of your songs! 
  I will not listen to the music of your harps.   But let justice roll on like a river, 
 righteousness like a never-failing stream!  Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?  You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god —which you made for yourselves.  Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,’ 
says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.” (Amos 5:21-27 NIV)

I admit I wasn’t expecting something great.  It was a small, local diner where the old-timers spend their mornings talking about the weather, politics, and the old days.   The waitress/owner asked my friend and I if we wanted coffee.  Of course, drinking coffee is one of my favorite pastimes.  I just know, however, not to expect too much of the coffee in these places.  Usually it is weak, but I can normally tolerate it.  

So the waitress came with our coffee and took our order.  I put my usual one-sugar/one cream into the cup and took a sip.  It had a funny, odd taste.  I added some more cream and sugar, hoping that would help.  It did, barely.  I am usually a three-four-refill type of guy, but on this morning, I took only one refill and that was just to be polite.  As we left the restaurant, my cup sat nearly full.  The coffee was basically undrinkable. 

I hate that. You are excitedly looking forward to something, but then what you experience falls so far short of your expectations.  And what’s worse is when the people serving up the experience don’t seem to notice or care about the poor quality of their product.  

I think God feels the same way when it comes to religious activity.  It often has such promise.  People gathering to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  People loving one another and meeting needs.  People desiring to reflect His glory and to honor Him.  But then reality often sets in.  People instead gather for themselves, to meet their own needs. The worship is mere ritual and is empty of any power.  There is no humility or repentance.  Like that bad cup of coffee, the Lord finds it impossible to consume.  

Time and time again throughout the Scriptures, we find God desiring true and authentic worship.  He is not satisfied, and indeed hates, religious rituals that are empty of any real devotion to Him.  They are an affront to Him because they look like something genuine, but are in reality fake.  He does not want our rituals, our religious activities, as if somehow they proved how much we love Him.  No, He wants us—our hearts and our lives.  

Today, recognize the Lord wants out of you the real thing.  Like I want real coffee to drink, He wants real worship.  Don’t be satisfied with giving Him something far less.  He knows the difference.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015


“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.” (Revelation 6:9-11 NIV)

Over the weekend, the Islamic terrorist group, ISIS, released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.  The group was very clear they were putting the men to death because they were Christians.  Twenty-one martyrs for the faith.

The term martyr has lost its original meaning in the past decade or so. Islamic terrorists began using the term to refer to suicide bombers, those killing themselves as a means of killing others.  It is literally a bastardization of the word. A martyr, by its original definition, is one who is murdered as a result of his or her faith.  The term is used only once in the Bible, in reference to Stephen, who was stoned to death with the approval of a man named Saul (Acts 22:20) But this passage in Revelation refers to many other martyrs without using the term.  These men and women, it says, were “slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.”  They were martyred.

I cringe every time I hear the word used in reference to people who kill others in the name of their faith.  They are not martyrs, but murderers. Martyrs are those who lay down their own lives as a result of their commitment to Christ.  And they never take the lives of others.  

Since the death of Stephen, there have been countless martyrs, men and women willing to place themselves in mortal danger in order to proclaim Jesus as Lord, and who understand the truth that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Jesus will find it. (Matthew 16:25) These 21 Egyptian believers, along with American Kayla Mueller, are just the latest.  And, according to John’s prophetic word, there will be more.

While this may be discouraging on the surface, we must look deeper and realize the Church has always found its greatest power in the suffering and death of its people, beginning with its Head.  The deaths of martyrs, beginning with the first, have always emboldened and strengthened the Church, much to the dismay of those trying to destroy it.  The cry of the believers is that of Paul: “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55)

Today, as the Church mourns the deaths of our brothers and sister, may we take heart from their courage and conviction.  Death has no hold on us who are in Christ.  We need not fear to die for His sake.  As C.S. Lewis wrote to conclude The Chronicles of Narnia

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (The Last Battle)

So shall be our wonderful fate as well whenever and however we pass to the other side.

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

Bringing Comfort

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (II Corinthians 1:3-7 NIV)

A university psychiatrist said several years ago about this generation of students, using the metaphor of an acrobat spinning numerous plates at once: “They have difficulty keeping more than one plate spinning at a time.”  She was referring to the marked increase in the numbers of students whose presenting problem at the university counseling center was anxiety.  

On our campus, we have seen this play out with an increasing number of suicides and drug/alcohol-related deaths.  Students are trying to cope with the stress of their lives, but finding less and less comfort.  If only they knew of the great comfort and compassion of our Lord!

This passage came alive for me in the midst of my mother’s battle with terminal cancer, when I was just finishing college and embarking on graduate school.  My father had passed away a mere three years before.  It was a very tough time.  I wondered about the meaning of it all.  Why did I have to suffer so much?  Reading this passage gave me a glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkness.  It revealed to me that God did care about my circumstances, my pain.  He wasn’t just a distant, callous observer.  And contained within it was a promise: He would use my painful experiences later to bring comfort to others.  

There is nothing like meeting people who have experienced similar things as you.  There is an unspoken bond, like veterans of war, cancer survivors, or victims of domestic violence have when they meet one another.  We are naturally drawn to people who understand what we are going through.  But even better is it when they not only understand but also can show us how to cope with tragedy and unspeakable pain.  

Over the years since my parents’ passing, I have been able to relate and share with others who are in the throes of grief.  The comfort I received from the Lord, I have been able to pass along to others, and with it the Hope to which I have always clung in the midst of crises.  

Have you ever received the comfort of the Lord in the midst of a personal tragedy or crisis?  If so, then today know the Lord can use you to comfort someone else who is struggling.  And from my experience, you won’t have to look far.  There are many who are in dire need of one who can listen, understand, and provide hope in the midst of crisis. 

© Jim Musser 2015 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Grace Withheld

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14 NIV)

Although we are still 20 months away from our next presidential election, the political maneuvering has already begun and, with that, the accompanying ritual of “digging for dirt” on the prospective candidates. I read this morning an article on Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and an assumed presidential aspirant.  The focus of the article was what type of man Walker was when he was a college student.  This, I assume, is supposed to give us insight into what type of man Walker is today.  So, from his days on campus we learn he wasn’t a particularly good student and there were hints of “dirty tricks” in his run for student president.  Hmmm.  Obviously, Governor Walker is not qualified to be President, based on what he supposedly did nearly 30 years ago.

Let me say this: I am not a candidate for President of the United States. If nominated, I will not accept.  Why, I am sure you are asking?  Well, you see, I have quite a long history of wrongdoing, particularly when I was young.  I messed up a lot.  In fact, I continued that pattern into adulthood.  You wouldn’t have to dig very deep to find that out.  Based on what I see happen to presidential candidates, I wouldn’t stand a chance.

There is little grace in politics, so the errors of judgment in one’s teens or early 20’s are dug up and used as political leverage.  From my perspective, there were so many of those in my early days that they would need a front-loader to carry them all!  And, to be honest, I continued to make them in my 30’s and 40’s; granted to a lesser extent, but I still did make them.  Really, who doesn’t have a life full of mistakes and regrets?  If an error-free life is the basis for which our characters are to be judged, then we are all condemned.  

But how easy it is, not just in politics, but in the church as well, to condemn rather than to forgive.  It is our nature to judge harshly, to take one error of judgment and use it to define a person’s life.  The question, however, that we must each ask ourselves is this: Do I want to be defined, judged, by the wrong decisions I’ve made?  I assume the answer is no.  Then, if we desire grace for ourselves, shouldn’t we be more willing to demonstrate it towards others?  

I believe this is Paul’s point to the Christians at Colossae.  They had not lived perfect lives, yet were being judgmental towards others.  They were holding grudges and were unwilling to forgive.  He reminded them that Jesus had forgiven their own sins and commanded them to have the same grace for others.  It is a reminder we desperately need today.

Are there people in your life that you hold to a standard of perfection, whose sins you are unwilling to forgive?  Then remember this: Jesus forgives your sins.  He has not withheld His grace from you.  What gives you the right to withhold it from others?

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Crazy Love

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18 NIV)

It is the most radical love one could imagine—loving the world.  Think about that for a moment.  For many of us, John 3:16 rolls off our tongues with ease, but think of the implications.  “The world” includes every person living now and who has ever lived, and not just those admired and well thought of, but also those hated and loathed.  Think Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot.  Think Nero and Pontius Pilate. Think mass murderers and child rapists.  Think of terrorists and slave traders.  Think embezzlers and tax cheats. Think of the worst people you can imagine and they have not escaped the radical love of God.  

Indeed, it is scandalous.  Francis Chan calls it crazy.  It’s both.  But one would hardly know it because it has been “Hallmarked.”  It has been sentimentalized to the point it is almost unrecognizable.  If God truly loves the “scum of the earth,” then that means we love everyone, based not on feelings but on reality—God loves this person, then so shall I. The rapist, the murderer, the cheat.  You will never see that type of love in a greeting card commercial, and sadly, often not in the church.  But this is the love God calls His followers to.  We love because He first loved us—all of us.  

This is very difficult to do, but not impossible.  Through the power of the Lord and through recognizing the depth of our own sin, we can love in a similar radical and crazy way.  Sentimental greeting card love feels nice, but it does not have the depth to reach the unlovable and the world is full of unlovable people—perhaps you would even include yourself in that.  

No, the world needs a more substantial love.  It needs a love that, scandalously, includes everyone.  And that is exactly what God has given.  Now if only we His followers could love like Him.  That would be crazy, and wonderful.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9 NIV)

“Be strong and courageous.”   This command is repeated 11 times in the Scriptures; “Be strong” is found 23 times.  Add to that the 73 times the phrase, “Do not be afraid,” is used and one gets the idea the Lord is trying to communicate something to us. And every time these words are used, it is in the context of the Lord being with us.  

So what is He saying to us and why does He say it so often?  He is saying that we can trust Him when life is full of anxiety, sheer fear, or trauma.  And He says it often because we so easily forget or begin to doubt.  

Life hits us hard and often.  Day-to-day struggles mixed in with life-changing decisions and challenges.  We are tempted to run away, live in denial, or seek some form of escape.  Anything to cope with the fear rising up within us.  Yet, the Lord commands us to stand firm and face our fears.  “Be strong and courageous.”  “Do not be afraid.”  

We may often feel we are standing alone in front of a thousand giants ready to crush us, but how we feel is not the reality.  God stands with us and, simultaneously, goes before us.  So the command, “Do not be afraid,” is a call to trust Him, and our strength and courage flows not from ourselves, but from our confidence in His power to see us through our struggles, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Today, do not be afraid of whatever you are facing.  Be strong and courageous.  For the Lord is with you and you can trust Him to bring you safely through it.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Twenty-Dollar Dog on a Thousand-Dollar Rug

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (II Timothy 1:9-10 NIV)

Last week, I was introduced to a song I had never heard before, which, as was its intent, paints a perfect picture of the wonderful grace God gives to us.  Entitled, “20 Dollar Dog,” the song tells the story of a mutt out in the cold being let into the warm house by his owner.  The dog plops down on a thousand dollar rug and lies content there under his master’s feet.  The dog is there only by invitation and because the master loves him; nothing in his breeding has earned him the treatment he is receiving.  

In a culture that trumpets how valuable we are, how we can be whatever we want to be, that we are special, undeserved grace can be a difficult concept to grasp.  In fact, many would consider the comparison to a 20-dollar dog to be insulting.  Rather, we tend to think we are deserving based upon how we’ve lived our lives. We’re good people.  We may not be great, but we’re good, which, in our minds, should count for something.  

Yet the biblical reality is that no one is good but God (Luke 18:19). Each of us falls short of His standard (Romans 3:23).  We’re all 20-dollar dogs waiting, hoping to be let into the warm comfortable house of our master so we can lie on that $1000 rug.  We have nothing to offer but our less-than-desirable selves.  

The overall theme of the Scriptures is two-fold: First, we are sinners and nothing we do can change that.  Second, we are loved in spite of our sin.  In order to have a relationship with the Lord, we must embrace both aspects of this theme as reality.  We deserve to be left out on the porch in the cold, but the Master’s love compels Him to let us in.  

Today, know that you are allowed to lie on that expensive rug not because of anything you have done, but purely out of your Master’s own delight of having you lay at His feet.  And if you still find yourself on the porch trying to figure a way in, the way to do that is to humbly acknowledge you never will.  At that, the door will open and the invitation to come in will be given.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, February 6, 2015

When Life Doesn't Make Sense

(Author's Note:  I came across this devotion recently, which I wrote in 2010.  It brought back some good memories of my friend Alan, who died from the cancer with which he long suffered in December 2011. The questions I asked in this piece are still relevant and the answer, I think, is still the same.  Jim)

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.  "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

We are going to be an odd looking pair this morning, my friend and I. As we sit in the booth for breakfast, we are probably going to get some looks.  He had cancer that forced the removal of his left eye and now is again battling an inoperable tumor in the same location that is the size of a small potato.  I, on the other hand, just had surgery yesterday to remove a skin cancer from near the corner of my left eye.  It is swollen and bruised, and has several stitches in it.  We’ll enjoy our breakfasts, but I don’t know if others will.

Alan and I have had a good friendship for a number of years and he has battled these tumors since I’ve known him.  In fact, he has been battling them for the past 15 years.  I was thinking about Alan as I was reclined in the surgeon’s chair yesterday.  I had noticed this little growth about nine months ago and wondered about it, but didn’t think to get it checked out.  But my wife was concerned about some spots on my back and asked me to go have them looked at.  So I did back in November.  Everything checked out okay, except that little spot near the corner of my eye.  It was a basil cell carcinoma, the least severe and most treatable cancer there is.  

So as the doctor is removing this thing, I am lying there thinking about Alan and me.  We both have cancer, but mine will be removed and I’ll be done with it.  He, however, will continue the battle he has been waging for so long.  I endure a half-hour procedure while he has endured countless surgeries, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy.  And, honestly, I don’t get it.   We’re both committed followers of Jesus and we both have been afflicted with cancer; yet he suffers so much and I suffer so little.  He is still waiting for a cure and it looks like mine came yesterday.

I am continually amazed at Alan’s resilient faith and his sense of humor in the midst of all he has endured and continues to endure.  And I still wonder, why him and not me as well?  Why is my cancer so easily and completely removed and his is not?  It doesn’t make sense to me, none at all.

And so, as I’ve had to do at several other points in my life, I come back to these words of the Lord in Isaiah.  He knows, even if I do not.  In my limited understanding, it makes no sense, but the Lord knows and that will have to be enough for me and for Alan.  Though we can’t make sense out of it, we will continue to walk by faith, trusting that God knows and that that is enough.

Today, if something in your life is not making sense, continue to trust in the Lord.  He knows, and sometimes that has to be enough for us.

© Jim Musser  2015

Thursday, February 5, 2015

An Expression of Love

“When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.’” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47 NIV)

The words of Moses here echo the New Testament.  John tells us that “the Word became flesh” in Jesus (John 1:14).  And Jesus, the Word, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  And He who is Life also said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)  The Word is life to us.  And, thus, it is precious and should be guarded carefully.

It is so easy for us to be careless with the Word, both Jesus and the Scriptures.  We often take them too lightly.  Perhaps this is because of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.”  We have been taught about God’s wonderful grace towards us and that He loves us so much.  All true.  But like teenagers seeking to find their own identity and tiring of the rules at home, we tend to separate the commands of the Scriptures from the love of God; when in fact His commands are expressions of His love.  

Rules of loving parents are in expressions of love.  They are in place to protect their children from harm and from consequences yet unknown to them. They are there to protect their future.  It is in a teenager’s DNA to rebel against authority, but they are often ignorant of the dangers of their desires and passions.  They lack the experience of adults to evaluate the wisdom of their choices.  

So it is with the Word.  His commands are expressions of His love for us.  He wants what is best for us, not just in the moment but also for eternity.  By taking Him and His commands lightly because of His forgiving nature, we place ourselves at risk, perhaps without realizing it. By downplaying His commands in favor of His great love, we are doing others and ourselves a great disservice.  We are undermining His authority to protect our future.  

When I was in my early teens, a friend’s father gave him and me a whiskey and Coke to drink.  I thought it was great because he was allowing me to do something that my parents would never allow, but by doing so, this father was undermining my own parents’ authority.  This is basically what we do when we fail to take seriously the commands of the Lord or when, intentionally or unintentionally, we downplay the importance of others to take the Word seriously.  

Just as Jesus is Life, so are the commandments written in the Word. They should never be taken lightly or overshadowed by His grace.  He loves us and, indeed, He will forgive us when we fall short in our obedience, but He has given us His commands precisely because He loves us and wants us to experience life to its fullest. Taking them seriously and seeking to follow them is essential to experiencing the life He has for us.

Today, know the Lord loves you and His commands are expressions of that love. They are not just idle words; they are your life.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Earning Our Way

“But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:22-25 NIV)

It’s in our DNA, this desire to earn our way.  Even when we aren’t really trying, deep down we feel guilty about it because we know we aren’t deserving.  In essence, the Old Testament law reinforced this nature with its rules of behavior.  Men and women sought to please God through obeying His rules.  And in a very short time, keeping the law became its own reward.  People were not keeping the rules out of love for God, but in order to, in their own minds, prove they were worthy of His love.  

Little has changed over the millennia.  Often, when people die, the mourners will comfort themselves with thoughts that the dearly departed was a good person.  In other words, they earned their reward.  This, too, is often why people go to church or help in a homeless shelter. They are seeking to be good people—good enough to earn God’s love.  

The law, however, was not an end in itself; it was a means to an end. The law, with all its rules, was meant to show us the impossibility of earning God’s love.  It was meant to bring us to the end of ourselves and then to Jesus.  For He is the only one who lived a perfect life.

We love, we serve, we give not to earn God’s love or to prove we are worthy of it, but because of His love for us.  We love because, while we were yet sinners, He died for us. We love because we are thankful to be loved.  

Today, consider your motives for trying to live right.  Are you trying to prove yourself worthy?  If so, there is no need. Jesus already did what needed to be done.  You don’t (and can’t) earn your own way.  He has set you free from that.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Undeserved Love

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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2015