Friday, January 29, 2016

Being a Servant First

“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ (Mark 9:33-35 NIV)

A few years ago, a young man came up to me after our large group meeting and told me he was an experienced musician and could help our band sound a lot better.  He wanted to know how he could join the band.  It was his first time to attend any of our ministry events.  

I also remember a young woman with a great personality and who was committed to the Lord.  We put her in a position of leadership, but after a month or so, our staff noticed her lack of enthusiasm.  When approached, she expressed her disappointment in not having more control in shaping the direction of our ministry.  She wanted to be in control, not do the bidding of the staff.

Both of these stories are unique, but not that uncommon.  There are certain people who want to by-pass serving others in order to lead them.  To them, serving is a poor use of their gifts and not a good use of their time.  They are about doing bigger things and don’t want to waste their efforts on the small ones.

The twelve disciples were the chosen ones, but they were not content with that.  They were fighting among themselves for recognition as the one who was the greatest among them.  Like us, they were part of a hierarchal culture.  There were those who were recognized as leaders and the rest who were followers or servants.  Their goal was to be the former rather than the latter.  

Isn’t that the way most of us are?  While we may not want to be the leader of a company or a ministry, we do want to be seen in charge of something.  We are drawn to the attention and power that comes with it, even if it is small in the grand scheme of things.  

The desire to be in charge is not necessarily wrong, But that desire often overwhelms the need to serve, to the point we often want to skip it altogether because we think we’re too good to do it, or just not patient enough to wait for the bigger responsibilities to come to us.  But Jesus makes clear to His disciples, and to us, that even as leaders, we are to be servants.  Thus, one cannot be a godly leader without first knowing how to serve.  There is no skipping over it.  Serving is an integral part of leadership.

Today, if you have a strong desire to be a leader, then first apply yourself to being a servant.  Jesus says it is an essential quality of any leader.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Good Dose of Humilty

“Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?”
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

You said, “Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.’” (Job 42:1-6 NIV)

Job and his friends had just concluded a long discussion on the reasons for his suffering.  Back and forth they went, each assured of their own wisdom.  Then the Lord suddenly inserted Himself into the conversation with a force that silenced them all (Job 38)  ““Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me,” He declared.  And then He proceeds for two chapters to declare His supreme wisdom and power. Job’s response is one of total humility.  

Over the past year, I have observed, heard, and read Christians debating among themselves about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, race, immigration, and the politics of the left and the right.  All of it reminds me a lot of Job and his friends.  Each had their argument and each thought he was right.  What was lacking was humility.  Job was by far the most righteous of the group, but all had an inflated view of themselves and of their own opinions.  But when the Lord appeared on the scene, suddenly there was the silence in recognition that their opinions mattered little in the presence of the Almighty.  

What I think so often lacks in much of our discussion on the issues of the day is any sense of humility.  There is so often a sense of arrogance in the expression of our opinions.  We’re so sure we are right and those disagreeing with us are wrong and perhaps, just plain stupid. And it is quite possible we are right, just as Job was correct about having done nothing to deserve the suffering he’d had to endure. But what the story of Job reminds us is that it really doesn’t matter how right we are. We have no excuse for arrogance, because as soon as the Almighty God comes on the scene, we are nothing.  Job and his friends were all called out for their inflated views of themselves. 

When the Lord shows up among the humans, the playing field is leveled. We are all sinners in need of His grace and mercy.  And our wisdom is nothing when compared to His.  This is a much-needed reminder as we enter into what looks to be a very volatile presidential election season, where it will be tempting to post our deeply held opinions.  

Today, remember, as Job did, your standing before your Creator and Lord.  You are nothing compared to Him.  So when you are tempted to opine on something, then you can express yourself with humility rather than arrogance.  A dose of humility will do us all a lot of good in the months ahead. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Sign of Maturity

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:14-19 NIV)

A colleague dropped by my office last week.  Both of us rely on others to provide the financial support for our ministries and the conversation drifted in that direction.  A church planter, he said members of his new church had not grown up in church and were very new to the faith. Thus, he said he could not yet depend on much support from their weekly offerings.  Why?   Because financial generosity typically comes as people spiritually mature.  

This is evident as Paul expresses his appreciation to the Philippian believers.  Note that he says they were the only ones in the region that had been willing to financially support his work.  The reason for this I think was this church was the first one Paul planted in the area and thus the oldest.  They had had some time to mature in their faith and had begun to embrace the belief that God does indeed supply all of our needs.

Unbelievers and those who are young in the faith often cling to the idea that what they have is what they have.  Nothing else is magically going to appear.  If they give away hard earned money, how will bills be paid or financial goals be met?  And the self-centered way of life is still entrenched—one’s own needs and wants are first and foremost. Generosity is a sign of spiritual maturity.  

It is only as we grow closer to the Lord that we begin to realize we can trust Him to provide for us and thus become more like Him in our generosity.  He loves when that happens! (II Corinthians 9:7)  He loves when we grasp the idea that it is better to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)  He loves when we give of our resources and have faith that He will still supply all that we need.  Doing so demonstrates our dependence on Him.

Today, examine your attitude toward giving to the work of God’s Kingdom.  Are you a cheerful giver or a reluctant one?  The answer will reveal a lot about your maturity in the Lord.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Better Deal

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV)

He had everything the Jewish world had to offer—fame, prestige, and power.  Paul (at that time, Saul) was riding high as he made his way to Damascus to further curtail the rising and troublesome sect known then as “the Way.” (Acts 9)  But then he met the Lord and everything changed.  Instead of continuing to persecute the followers of Jesus, he joined them.  Rather than being the persecutor, he joined the ranks of the persecuted.  He gave up everything to follow Jesus.

One of the biggest struggles for people deciding to follow Jesus is what they will have to give up.  While grace and forgiveness are free, the cost of following Jesus is high.  Our earthly goals and aspirations—they must be surrendered.  Our lifestyles—brought into line with His will.  As Paul writes in another letter, our lives are no longer our own, but were bought at a price. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)  And for many, it seems too high a price to pay.  

But Paul put the price in perspective.  Compared to what he gained, it was nothing.  All the fame, prestige and power he had to relinquish in order to follow Jesus were like garbage (the Greek word could also be accurately translated as excrement).  What he gained was far superior to what he had given up.  

Were there temptations to return to his previous life?  In the midst of beatings and other trials, I am sure there were.  But I think each time he came to the same conclusion the disciples came to when most of the people had deserted Jesus—“to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68) Nothing was better than following Jesus.

Today, recognize all the things you have in this life, when compared to knowing Jesus, are really nothing.  Like Paul, put them into perspective and don’t cling to them.  Give them up for something far superior—Jesus Himself.  You will definitely get the better deal.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Joyous Reunion

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-18 NIV)

In just a few hours, I will be reunited with my wife who has been visiting family and friends in South Africa for nearly a month.  It really hasn’t been that long, and I have coped, I think, rather well, but I am really looking forward to being together again!  Life just hasn’t been the same without her.  

Thankfully, Marianna has only temporarily been absent, but all of us likely have experienced a separation that seems more permanent in nature.  My grandmother died when I was in high school.  My dad passed when I was 19 and my mom five years later.  And as I have continued on the path of this life, others I have known and cherished have moved on to Eternity.  This is the reality of life in a fallen world. None of us escape having to deal with death and separation from the ones we love, and the grief that comes with it.  

But those of us who know the Lord do not have to grieve as the world does, as ones without hope of ever seeing our loved ones again.  Just like I will be reunited with my wife today, I will one day be re-united with my grandmother, my dad, my mom, and all those with whom I had a special relationship in this life because they all knew the Lord.  And the Lord, because He rose from the dead, provides the way to escape the throes of Death through eternal life.  Thus, one day there will be a big reunion for all who know and worship Him!

Today, if you have ever lost someone close to you to death or are facing the prospect of someone passing from your life, be encouraged by the hope that is found in Jesus.  If they followed Jesus in this life, or even expressed their allegiance to Him just moments before they died, then you will indeed see them once again.  Your separation is only temporary.  A joyous reunion is planned!  What a day that will be!

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

Snow Days

(Author's Note: I wrote this a year ago, but with the Blizzard of 2016 upon us and classes cancelled today, it seems especially appropriate to re-publish it.  Jim)

“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's 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 2016 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Sin Whisperer

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (II Corinthians 7:8-11 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I often hear a whisper in my ear reminding me of various past sins.  The intent of the one behind the voice is to keep me enslaved to regret and despair.  It took me awhile, but like Paul, I am aware of his schemes.  

The sin whisperer is the devil and his hold on us is dependent, in part, on his ability to get us to regret our sins.  You might find this curious and ask, shouldn’t we regret our sins?  Based on what Paul tells the Corinthian believers, the answer is no.  If we spend our time regretting our past actions, he says we are stuck in “worldly sorrow.”  On the other hand, if we repent (truly turn away from our sin), then we have no reason to regret because repentance sets us free to focus on the future rather than the past.  John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)  In other words, the sin is gone and never to be held against us.  So if it no longer carries any penalty, then there is no reason for regret.  We can move on from it into freedom.  

But the devil prefers us to remain in bondage to our past, so just as we are moving on, he whispers into our ear, reminding us of our ugly choices and that we do not deserve grace and forgiveness.  Rather, if we took sin seriously, then we should continue to regret what we did. And thus remain captive to our sin and under his control.

This sin whisperer is a clever one.  He speaks to our sense of fairness and rationality.  I did wrong and therefore deserve punishment.  It sounds right and true.  But it is a lie, for the truth is no one who knows Jesus as his Savior and Lord is condemned (Romans 8:1) Grace has declared us innocent of the charges and has set us free from the punishment of sin; thus, there is no need for regret, which only leads us back into bondage.  

Today, what sins in your life are you regretting?  What lies is the devil whispering in your ear?  Know that his scheme is to keep you in bondage so he remains in control.  But here is the truth: If you have confessed and repented of the sins he keeps bringing up, you are forgiven and have no need to regret those choices. Under God’s grace you are innocent and have no need of regret.  You are free to move on and leave the past in the past.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Be Encouraged

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV)

I was a sophomore in high school and, to that point, had not really excelled in anything.  I struggled in math, had been cut after my first tryout with the basketball team, and was finding it difficult to find my place in the social hierarchy of high school.  I felt like the proverbial fish out of water.  At that point, I wasn’t sure my life was going to amount to much.

Then one day during my Creative Writing class, the teacher, having read our latest story submissions, asked me to read mine.  She said it was the best in the class.  All I remember about the story was it was a sappy tale about two teenagers in love.  But I do remember vividly how I felt being singled out for praise and to hear the teacher say she believed I could be a good writer, something I had aspired to be.  It was exhilarating to receive that praise and to have someone believe in me.  

I can imagine the Philippian believers felt similarly when they heard these words from Paul.  It was not an easy time for them.  They faced persecution on all sides—from the government, from the Jews, and from their fellow citizens who rejected Christianity as a strange cult.  I think confidence in their newfound faith was very low.  But when they heard Paul’s words of encouragement, I can imagine their confidence soared.  He believed God had done something significant in their lives but had only just begun.  He was going to finish what He started!

Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged in our journey of following Jesus.  We no longer see the dramatic growth we saw when we first began, and our excitement has diminished.  We wonder, perhaps, if this whole “Christian thing” was over-hyped.  Is God still at work in us? Paul’s answer to the Philippians is our answer as well.  Yes, the Lord is at work in us and He will continue working until He has finished what He started!

Today, know that the God who started a good work in you is not finished yet.  Regardless of how you may feel now, He is still at work in you and is going to complete what He started.  So be encouraged.  You will one day be the person He originally created you to be.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Transcendence of Jesus

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)

My wife is 9,000 miles away on the other side of the world in South Africa.  We talk every day and yesterday, while we were talking, I mentioned seeing the moon rising in the east.  On her side of the world, from where she was sitting, she said she could see the moon as well, in the western sky.  A half a world apart, we were seeing the same moon at the same time. 

People all over the world have viewed that same moon down through history.  Regardless of the color of our skin, our cultural heritage, where we live, or where our respective ancestors lived, the moon has never changed.  The one my wife and I saw from very different geographical perspectives yesterday is the same one viewed by all who are living and who have ever lived.

My experience yesterday put this verse in a much clearer perspective.  Though our world has changed in unfathomable ways over the past 2,000 years, Jesus is still the same.  Though the people who worship and have worshipped Jesus down through history are vastly different, He is still the same.  And though we may be separated by several time zones or by centuries, the One whom we worship as Lord is the same.

The Church has always held its history in great respect because, as the Hebrew writer notes, it is through that history by which we are surrounded by “such a great cloud ofwitnesses” that unites us as believers regardless of time or culture.  Think about it: The Jesus that Peter and Paul worshipped is the same as you and I worship.  And the Jesus that hundreds of millions of people have worshipped down through the ages is the same as we worship today.  And the Jesus the believers in rural China, the Massai believers in Kenya, and the believers in South Korea worship is the same as you and I worship. 

Like Peter while walking on the water, it is only when we take our eyes off of Jesus that we begin to sink into the waters of division and disunity as a community of believers.  I think this is why the Hebrew writer, after speaking of the cloud of witnesses, commands us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Because He is unchanging, He is the one fixed point in our lives and in all of history by which our lives are kept on the right course.  Without Him, we lose our sense of where we are and where we are headed. 

Today, recognize the transcendence of Jesus.  Down through the ages, across cultures and geography, He is timeless and omnipresent.  He is our fixed point in life, what unites us as a community of believers.  He always has been and always will be.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

Finding Shelter

“The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?  When the wicked advance against me to devour me, 
it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; 
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.  One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, 
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.  Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD.” (Psalm 27:1-6 NIV)

As I awoke this morning, I heard the wind howling and saw the snow blowing. The outside temperature was in the teens.  Thankfully, I was safe inside.  The heat pump was on and the house was warm.  It is on these types of mornings that I am particularly grateful for shelter.  My house protects me from the elements, whether a raging snowstorm, bitter cold, or pouring rain.  And if I am caught out in the open during a storm, I will immediately seek to find shelter to protect me.

Jesus says our lives will be filled with trouble (John 16:33) and, speaking from personal experience, I have definitely found that to be true.  Not every day, mind you, but often enough.  And I am guessing this is true for you as well.  So where do we go when we are in trouble, when we find ourselves unprotected in this world?  

The Scriptures refer several times to God being our shelter, One to whom we can run to in times of trouble.  What a wonderful promise! When the storms of tragedy, heartbreak, and suffering roll into our lives, we have a place to run, a place of safety and comfort.  When we are overwhelmed by life, we are not stranded and on our own.  The Lord is there to shelter us.  All we have to do is run to Him.  And therein lies the rub.  

Many of us try to handle the storms of life on our own.  We attempt to find other means of shelter when trouble comes.  I once knew a woman who, as her troubles increased, so did her frenetic activity.  She attempted to busy herself to avoid dealing with her troubles.  Others seek shelter in relationships, alcohol, drugs, pornography, or food. These things may provide temporary relief, but as many find, instead of sheltering one from trouble, they create more.

Today, know God is the only real shelter against the storms of this life. So the next time you find yourself in trouble, run to Him.  He is your only real protection.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

Forgetting God

“When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” (Hosea 13:6 NIV)

There is an old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” that gets to the heart of what the Lord is saying through the prophet Hosea. When life takes a terrible turn, when the woes of this world come crashing down on us, it is then we tend to cry out to God, but in the midst of life going our way and our needs being satisfied, this is when we tend to make Him an afterthought.  

Pride is an insidious sin of which we are often unaware.  But what else can explain this tendency to think we don’t need God, are not dependent on Him, when life is going well for us?  Is it not the sense that we have earned the good things coming our way or that somehow we are entitled to them that leads us to forget God when life is good?

Through Hosea, the Lord is recalling how He provided for the needs of the Israelites to the point they were satisfied with life.  But that did not lead them to appreciate Him or give thanks to Him.  Rather, it led those who were religiously devoted to think they  deserved it because they were “God’s people,” and those who were not to think that somehow the idols they had created with their own hands were responsible for life going so well for them.

Our pride shows, as did theirs, when we do not recognize all good things come from God. (I Timothy 6:17) In fact, when things are going great for us, rather than forgetting about the Lord, we should be filled with praise and thanksgiving.  But as the Scriptures show over and over again, this is difficult for us.  Our bent is to get lax in our appreciation for the Lord when life is going good.  So what are we to do?

Echoing the words of the Apostle Paul, we must cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. (I Thessalonians 5:18) And to do that, it must be intentional and daily.  

So today, think about how the Lord has blessed you and then give thanks for those blessings.  And do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  For the truth is, when we take the time to think about all that we have in life and recognize from Whom they come, we cannot possibly forget the Lord.  Instead, our lives will be filled with thanksgiving toward Him.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bellbottoms and Shoulder Pads

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32 NIV)

I recently read an article talking about future trends in the church.  The author spoke enthusiastically that “online church” would be a thing, as would “experience over content;” that is, that people are going to be more drawn to the experience they have in a church over whatever is said or done.  Hmmm.

Over my many years in vocational ministry, I have seen many purveyors of “exciting” new church trends and strategies, but most are rooted in the trends of the culture rather than the truth of the Scriptures.  One example is the church growth movement of the 1980’s where the emphasis was increasing church involvement by gathering people who look and think the same.  The thinking was, contrary to Scriptural teaching, that the way to grow your church was by attracting the same socio-economic class of people as made up the core of your congregation.  It was all the rage for many years.  

Then came the “seeker-friendly church” trend, which postulated that in order to reach unbelievers, you had to make your church a place in which they felt comfortable and were not put off by too much emphasis on deeper biblical teaching.  While the intent was admirable, the model of the New Testament church was cast aside in the midst of jumping on the bandwagon.

The danger of being trendy (think the bellbottoms of the early 70’s or the shoulder pads for women in the 1980’s) is you have tunnel vision. You only see how cool the trend is without any sense of its long-standing value.  That is why so often, as is the case with those of us who wore bellbottoms and the women who wore outfits with shoulder pads look back and exclaim, “What were we thinking?!”  The same can be said about trends in the church.  What once looked fabulous in the moment can look very different as time moves on.  

This is why it is so crucial to examine any trend in the corrective light of Scripture.  We are fallen human beings and the trends we create and follow often reveal that.  Jesus is the truth and only in Him can we escape being seduced by trends that seem cool but are unbiblical. Think about the trend cited by the author I referenced above: experience will trump content.  So should local churches concentrate on giving people a good experience, even if that means telling people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear?  Or singing songs they like over songs that might have more biblical content?  Should we stop talking about the need to reach the world with the Gospel because people are more concerned with their own problems and needs?

The problem with trends is they mostly involve what people want rather than what they need.  It is not necessarily wrong for the church to try to stay in tune with the cultural trends, but the danger always lurks that the church will trend toward reflecting the culture in which it resides rather than the Lord whom it is to serve.

Today, remember all trends look good in the moment, as did bellbottoms and should pads.  That is why they are trends.  But as followers of Jesus, we need to evaluate every trend in the light of the Word.  It is the only way in which to avoid saying later, “What were we thinking?!

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Lavish Nature of God

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3-10 NIV)

As I was reading this passage earlier this week, one word jumped out at me—“lavished.”  I think many people believe God to be very stingy. This is why I think people are hesitant to wait on God to bless them in certain areas of their lives because they see Him as inherently reluctant to do so.  For instance, many people get into, or choose to stay in, romantic relationships that aren’t spiritually healthy because they don’t believe God will bless them with anything better. Or they commit a sin and believe God could never truly forgive them for what they did.  Or they resist a calling to pursue a different career than they imagined for themselves, thinking they would never be happy doing that.  In other words, they believe the Lord would call them to do something they would hate.  

What the word “lavished” reveals is God is far from stingy with His love and grace.  Rather, He longs to bless us far beyond what we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  Generosity is at the heart of who He is, generosity in love, grace, and mercy.  He longs to lavish us with all of these.  

Today, know God is not stingy, and He is for you, rather than against you.  You are His child and He wants to lavish you with His love, grace and mercy.  All that is needed from you is trust in that truth.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The True Church

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20 NIV)

One of my former students is the pastor of a church whose motto is they’re a church for people who hate church.  It’s a clever pitch because there are so many who are negative toward the institutional church. With the ascendance of social media in recent years, stories abound about abuse of all sorts and thrown in for good measure are the typical charges of hypocrisy, arrogance, and intolerance. 

But what people often describe as “the church,” is a variety of institutions run by human beings for a variety of reasons, as opposed to the Church, which is headed by Jesus Christ and whose members are committed to serving and glorifying Him.  The latter is not contained in one particular building or in one denomination.  Rather it is made up of all who humble themselves before the Lord, confess and repent of their sins, are baptized in His name, and are filled with the Holy Spirit.  The former, like the synagogue in the time of Jesus, are run by human beings whose commitment is often greater toward the institution and its evolving traditions than to the Lord.  Thus, it is important to recognize the difference.

If we listen to the voices of our culture, even we believers will be persuaded to think negatively toward the Church because the distinction is never made.  Of course, the Church is not yet perfect, as any serious reading of the letters of Paul and Peter will easily attest as will any honest observance of any true believer.  As Paul states, we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Yet, the Church is not headed by a charismatic pastor who needs a private jet to get around, or one who takes advantage of children, or one who hates anyone who disagrees with him.  Rather, it is led by the One through whom all things were created, who is the image of God—Jesus Christ.  And its members, while not yet perfect, live out lives surrendered to His will, in obedience to Him, and humbly seek His grace and mercy when they fail.  They are the body of Christ and their lives reflect His ministry on earth.  While a minority of churches has few true believers among them, the vast majority has some and many are filled with them.  

But one thing is true and must be understood: Your church or a church you may have attended and left with very negative feelings is not the Church.  The Church is headed by Jesus and its members are sold out to Him. 

So today if you are struggling with negative feelings toward a particular church, don’t confuse it with the Church.  For the Church is not defined by a building with a sign out front saying such and such church, or by those inside its walls.  Rather the Church is and always has been defined by its distinction of being led by Jesus and being filled by those who love Him and humbly submit to His Lordship. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Making Resolutions

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34 NIV)

It’s the 11th day of 2016.  So how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?  The ritual of making resolutions at the start of a new year is matched only by the inability of keeping most of them.  So why do we continue to it?  Perhaps it makes us feel better about ourselves. We know there is a great need for improvement and recognizing that fact, and expressing a desire to do something about it, means we’re not all that bad.  This year I’m going to shed some pounds, which means I really care about my body as opposed to being someone who has just given up on himself or herself.  This year I’m going to study harder and become a better student, which shows my desire to become responsible and prepared for the real world.  This year I’m going to spend more time with the Lord, which demonstrates I am getting serious about my faith.

What most resolutions have in common is they are future-oriented and not very specific as to how they will be accomplished.  What I am going to do today to help make this happen is rarely contemplated.  Now Jesus does not address New Year’s resolutions, but His statement in the Sermon on the Mount gets to the heart of their shortcomings.  

Resolutions to have a better year miss the point and set us up for worry and failure. They put the focus on us even if our resolution is to be more helpful to people.  Jesus says to seek first the kingdom, not to lose weight or be a better person.  While those may not be bad ambitions, they are not to be our first priorities.  Rather, our first priority is to seek God, daily.  

If you read what comes before this passage, you will notice people were worrying about what they would have to eat and what they would have to wear—their daily necessities.  But Jesus didn’t tell them to go work harder and be better people in order to assure they had the provisions they would need.  No, He told them first to seek God, and then everything they needed would be provided.

Like those in Jesus’ audience, we tend to focus (and worry) about what we need to do and what is going to happen.  We make resolutions about the future, but tend to ignore the priorities of today.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Jesus is telling us our first priority as we start a new year is not to make and fulfill resolutions, but to seek Him every day.  

Today, make it your priority to seek Jesus every day and, in doing so, you may be surprised at how little you need to make resolutions in order for positive change to happen in your life.

© Jim Musser 2016