Thursday, March 31, 2016

Taste and See

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.” (Psalm 37:8-9 NIV)

I was a very picky eater when I was a kid.  My mom used to serve those frozen pot pies and I would insist she remove the peas from my serving. There were few vegetables I liked.  When I got older, my taste for veggies changed little, until one day while I was a college student.  My roommate had prepared broccoli and cauliflower and offered me some. I declined, telling him I didn’t like either of them.  He then asked me a question for which I was unprepared: “When was the last time you even tried either of these?”  

Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it.  At the time, I just knew I didn’t like those vegetables.  I concluded it had been at least a decade or more since I had tasted them, and he urged me to give them another try.  And what do you know, they weren’t that bad!  In fact, I rather liked both of them.  

It is the human tendency to cement thoughts and experiences from our childhoods into our adult minds.  This often leads to false conclusions, such as the one I had about not liking cauliflower and broccoli.  While this is fairly innocuous, others carry far greater consequences, such as feeling unloved as a child and concluding as an adult you are not truly lovable.  Or being molested and growing up believing adults cannot be trusted.  Or, as I did, growing up in a home where I was taken to church, but saw little love between mom and dad, which shaped my views of Christianity as a young adult.  I viewed it as a religion that made little practical difference in one’s life.  

As my college roommate challenged my view on certain veggies, others challenged my views on the Christian faith.  In essence, in both cases they were saying to me, “taste and see.”  What I had concluded from my childhood experiences they were calling into question.  “Taste and see if what you think is really true.”  It wasn’t with regard to the veggies, and it wasn’t with regard to Jesus.

I have spent my adult life essentially urging students to do what my college friends pleaded with me to do.  For so many, by the time they reach college age, they are living on their immature conclusions, sincerely held, but wrong.  Many have concluded God is a spoiler of fun and lifelong dreams, or a harsh taskmaster who is never satisfied, or is uncaring because if He cared, He wouldn’t have permitted such terrible things to happen to them.  And so they reject the faith altogether or they keep up appearances while harboring these conclusions out of fear of what others will think.  

But having tasted the Lord as a college student, I recognize I was wrong about Him.  He was nothing like I had imagined Him to be, nor is He anything like many current students’ conclusions about Him.  Just this past week, I witnessed the results of a student tasting God again, having concluded years earlier that she was unacceptable to Him. Instead of anger and disappointment, she found love and acceptance. 

Today, if you are holding on to negative conclusions about the Lord you originally drew while you were a child, let me encourage you to taste the Lord again and see if He tastes differently to you.  I believe you will find, like I did, He tastes a lot better than you imagined.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Intruder

“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?’

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:50-58 NIV)

A late colleague of mine used to say that death is an intruder.  Most of us try hard not to think about our mortality, even though death takes place all around us.  Just in the past week, my cousin passed away, a neighbor’s mother died, as did our neighbor across the street.  And last night I received a message from a student that a dear friend of hers is now receiving hospice care. 

As I told someone the other day, while death is all around, we each find it hard to imagine it ever happening to us. So we often live in denial. But the reality is death will continue to intrude on our lives, so we have a choice: We can ignore it out of fear and loathing, or we can acknowledge the truth that our earthly bodies will pass away at some point, perhaps sooner rather than later.  Unlike what we might think, we have no guarantee of a long life.

We have just celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and with it the promise of our own path to Eternity through Him who overcame death. Like our own death, our resurrection to new life can seem surreal to us. We can believe it will happen, but it is hard to imagine. Yet, in this fact lay our hope and the cure to the fear of dying.  As C.S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle, the final book in his Chronicles of Narnia series: “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 the 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.”

When we can contemplate our deaths in this way, the sting of death—the seeming finality of it—is removed.  For we know that for those following Jesus, it is in reality only the beginning of life, not the end.

Today, don’t fear death’s intrusion on your life.  It is a certainty for us all, but it doesn’t have to frighten us or lead us to despair.  For in the Resurrection we find hope and reassurance that our death or that of someone else (if they are a believer in Jesus) is not the end of the story, but, in fact, just the very beginning of it.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Empty Grave

(Author's Note: I will be taking advantage of the Easter Break next Monday and Tuesday to catch up from a Spring Break that wasn't for me.  WftW will return March 30th.  Have a blessed Resurrection Weekend! Jim)

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Then they remembered his words.” (Luke 24:1-8 NIV)

It has been many years since I have visited the graves of my father and mother.  One thing, however, I know for sure, their remains are still there where they were buried more than 30 years ago.  It is the same with every grave in every cemetery, except for one.  Underneath every marker, there are remains, except for one.  

On that faithful day over 2000 years ago, women who had been close to Jesus expected, as we all would have, to find the remains of their friend and teacher in His tomb.  He was dead; no one would have expected His remains to be anywhere else.  They had gone there to tend to His body, but it was gone; the tomb was empty.  He had risen!

At no time, before or since, has this ever occurred.  Of the billions of people who have died since the earth was created, only one has ever died and then risen from the grave, never to die again. This is what sets Jesus apart from everyone, including so-called religious prophets or leaders.  Mohammed died and remains in the grave.  Buddha died and his grave is occupied.  

So crucial is this fact that if proven to be right, no one could deny the superiority of Jesus.   The rulers during the time of Jesus’ death knew that, so they concocted a story to explain the empty grave (Matthew 28:12-14).  Additional stories and “theories” have been espoused down through the centuries to explain what happened to Jesus’ body, including that He actually recovered from His crucifixion.  As Paul declares, the empty grave is the foundation for all that we believe. Without it, it is our faith that is empty (I Corinthians 15:12-19).  

Today, embrace the hope of the empty grave of Jesus.  Because He lives, we know death has no permanent hold on us.  One day each of our graves will be empty as well.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Choked Out

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:11-15 NIV)

In my many years working with college students, I have witnessed the parable of the soils play out countless times.  Students hang around for a week or two, having never been involved with anything Christian and finding it a bit intriguing, and then are gone, concluding this “Christian thing” is not for them.  I’ve also see students be excited about the Lord, but buckle under the pressure of family and friends who believe they have become “holier than thou” and the subsequent ridicule and rejection.  And I’ve seen many students, much to my joy, who have embraced all that the Lord had for them and have gone on to produce much fruit for His Kingdom.

But what I have seen most is students who love the Lord but never really mature spiritually over the four or so years they are on campus. As Jesus describes, worry—about classes, friendships, romantic pursuits, and the future—pursuit of material things, and the pleasures of college life, chokes their potential growth.  They attend large group meetings, participate in small groups, and maybe even go on mission trips, but they remain immature.

Choked is a good word to describe what happens.  When a person gets choked, she is deprived of air.  When plants get choked out, they are deprived of sun and nutrients claimed by other plants.  When a person’s spiritual life gets choked, it is the things of life that deprive them of time, focus, and energy necessary for growth.  

As humans, we are finite and limited beings.  We can only do so much. To be an elite athlete, one has to eliminate enough distractions to allow the time for training.  To become a doctor, one has to make time for study and extensive preparation.  Maturing in so many areas of life requires attention and time.  And for that reason, so many never reach what was possible for them to attain.  

Maturity in any area of life doesn’t happen without sacrifice and intentional focus. If we want to grow, then we must devote the time to doing so.  It won’t just happen.  

Today, if you want to mature spiritually, know you must be intentional in minimizing the distractions in your life that choke out the vital light and nutrients you need to grow. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Owning Our Weaknesses

“’Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’  But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’” (Luke 22:31-34 NIV)

It is a common human failing that we try to present our best face even though, deep down, we know what we are putting out there is far from the truth.  It’s a pride thing.  We do not want people to know who we truly are, so, when given the opportunity, we attempt to present a more favorable impression.  Like Peter did.

Peter wanted to impress the Lord with his bravery and commitment. When Jesus warned of his impending struggles, Peter’s response was to counter Him with a tale of his “unto death” commitment.  Jesus didn’t buy it; instead telling Peter directly that he would soon deny he even knew Him.  

When I am counseling dating couples, I will often ask them about their physical relationship.   Typically, they try to downplay their struggles.  I recall one couple telling me they were doing okay in that area, but later admitted they were often in bed together.  

The problem with our pride is it attempts to cover up who we really are, and, thus, makes us weaker and more vulnerable to falling.  Jesus knew that and so gave Peter the opportunity to acknowledge His weakness.  Instead, Peter decided to hold onto his pride and put on a brave face.  However, Jesus wouldn’t stand for it and confronted him with the truth.  Interestingly, Peter is silent after that.  I think He knew Jesus had exposed him and there was nothing more to say.

No doubt that awhile later, when the rooster crowed (Luke 22:60), Peter was devastated and humbled.  But as a result, he became a man who relied on the strength of the Lord.  He became a man who instead of boasting about himself, boasted about the Lord and his need for Him.

In order for us to truly become the men and women God created us to be, we need to own our weaknesses rather than denying them for the sake of our pride.  The quicker we do that, the stronger we will be.

Today, consider in what ways you are trying to hide your weaknesses. Owning up to them is much better than suffering the humiliating fate Peter did.  He learned the hard way.  You don’t have to.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Where Does Our Hope Lie?

“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:11-14 NIV)

Two fields never cease to amaze—technology and medicine.  And combined, well, you just sit back and marvel.  Nearly two years ago, I had my natural knee replaced with an artificial one, a combination of titanium and plastic.  It feels so natural that I like to tell people if I were to wake up one day with amnesia, I would think it was the original. Amazing.  Almost every joint in the human body is now replaceable. Even valves of the heart can now be replaced with synthetic ones.  And through the development of new vaccines and treatments, people are living much longer and surviving diseases that once were thought to be terminal.  

And when we look at the evolution of computers, that, too, is amazing. The first portable computer I remember was one the size of a piece of carry-on luggage.  Now a computer can fit in the palm of your hand and we all have them.  They’re called smart phones and it is amazing what they can do.  

Yes, the developments of technology and medicine are mind-boggling and the temptation is to put our hope in them, but even with all the advancements, two things remain upon which they have had not one iota of impact: sin and death.  

For millennia, the Jews had put their hope in their religious sacrifices to take away sin.  They devoted themselves to a life of rituals, but to no effect.  For many today, religious rituals have been cast aside in favor of science and technology.  In them, they believe, are found the keys to life and the solutions to a fallen world.  Like the Jewish priests, daily they enter their labs or an Apple store looking for new advancements in which to put their hope.  And indeed they will find them.  No one can deny it.  Yet, regardless of the awesome new discoveries, sin remains and death is still the ultimate destination for all who live.

This is the stark reality of the modern advances of technology and medicine.  They can do a lot for us, but they cannot overcome sin and death.  And this is a sober reminder we need often because the lure of these advancements can dull us to truth—only Jesus can save us.  And if He is our only true hope in this world, then our devotion to Him is paramount.  He is the key to setting us free from the bondage of sin and relieving our anxiety at the specter of death, for He made the required sacrifice that made all the others unnecessary.  His death and resurrection made victory over sin and death possible.

Today, consider this: To which should you owe your devotion and put your hope—to that which ultimately has no power to free you from sin or death, or to the One who has the power to set you free from sin and give you the hope of Eternity?

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016


“Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.” (Revelation 3:4-12 NIV)

When I was reading the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 recently, one word stood out to me—overcome.   Jesus uses it in addressing each of the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyratira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  Repeatedly, He says, “He who overcomes will…” He who overcomes will have the right to eat from the tree of life.  He who overcomes will escape the second death.  He who overcomes will be given the right to sit with the Lord on His throne.  In other words, he who overcomes will be rewarded.

The churches to which Jesus spoke were not having an easy time of it. Persecution and false teaching were rampant in the 1st Century. Remaining faithful to the Lord was a real challenge and many were falling away.  So Jesus wrote to warn and to encourage.  He warned of the consequences of falling away and encouraged the faithful to hold onto the faith because those who do will be greatly rewarded.  

Twenty centuries later, conditions may not seem as dire, but the challenge to overcome is still applicable to each of our lives.  The prince of this world seeks to draw us away from the narrow path that leads to life, just as much today as 2000 years ago.  It may be through false teaching (e.g., I’m saved so it doesn’t matter how I live my life.); it may be through greed or thirst for fame that leads us to compromise; it may be through idolatry, that we want something so badly we will forsake the Lord to have it.  Regardless of what it may be, we can be assured the enemy is seeking to draw us back onto the wide, easy path that leads to destruction. 

There is significance in Jesus encouraging all seven churches to overcome and remain faithful to Him.  It is a message for all believers down through the ages and for us today.  There is danger in giving up and forsaking the faith, but there is great reward in overcoming the temptations and difficulties we encounter in our daily lives.

Today, pay close attention to the message of Jesus.  The person who overcomes will be greatly rewarded.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Path to Strength

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

I recently had breakfast with a friend who told me of his concern for his wife.  “She just pushes everything down; she never talks about things.” He was concerned because she has been having unexplained physical problems that her doctor finally concluded were due to stress.  

We are told to carry one another’s burdens, but that is a hard command to follow when people won’t reveal what their burdens are.  Thus, I believe Paul’s exhortation is a dual command.  We are to carry others’ burdens, but if we have a burden that is weighing us down, we are to let others know so they can help to carry it.  From experience, the former is easier to do than the latter.

When I was a junior in college, my father passed away.  At the time, I was a student leader in my campus ministry.  Because of that, I believed I needed display a sense of strength.  Upon returning from the Thanksgiving Break and informing fellow students of my father’s death, I was deluged with expressions of sympathy and concern.  “I’m fine,” I said.  “Dad’s in heaven and I’m celebrating that.”  People were impressed and, after a week or so, the sympathy and concern faded. And that’s when the real grieving started, but I kept up my brave face.

I appeared well on the outside, but I was crying on the inside.  And when people failed to inquire how I was doing, I became angry.  One day I vented to the ministry secretary, who was like a second mom to us students.  After hearing me out, she said, “Jim, we are not mind readers.  We don’t know what’s going on with you unless you are willing to tell us.”  It was shortly after this that I began to realize the full extent of Paul’s command to carry one another’s burdens and to understand why it is so much harder to allow our burdens to be carried.   

I was too proud to show my weakness and my neediness.  I believed the lie that, particularly as a leader, I always needed to portray an aura of strength.  That accomplished two things.  First, it deprived others of the opportunity to fulfill their responsibility of helping to carry my burdens.  Secondly, while appearing strong, it actually made me weaker.  The Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9)  And, as a result, when we are weak, then we actually become stronger (II Corinthians 12:10).

This is why it is so important to not only carry the burdens of others, but to allow them to carry our own.  The simple acknowledgement that we have a burden too heavy to bear alone is an admission of our own weakness.  It is at that point God can begin to work and make us strong.

Today, if you have a burden too heavy to bear alone, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to tell someone.  Your acknowledgement of weakness is, in reality, your path to strength.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tearing Down the Walls of Hostility

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:13-22 NIV)

There is a great schism in our country right now, evidenced by the presidential races in our nation’s two political parties.  Both have significant groups of people who are angry at the government and those in the political class they perceive running it.  They disagree with the mainstream of their respective parties and vehemently oppose each other.  This hostility showed itself last week at several Donald Trump rallies.  Protesters and supporters of Trump shouted and shoved, as well as a few coming to blows.  And while the physical hostility may still be rare, verbal hostility is ramping up on social media, cable news shows, and on the editorial pages of the nation’s newspapers.

For followers of Jesus, it is a unique and opportune time, as well as a dangerous one.  In Paul’s time, the hostility between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) was palpable in the culture and in the Church.  It was the result of an enmity that had existed for generations.  Other than when they absolutely had to, Jews did not associate with Gentiles.  Now they were being told (Acts 15) that Gentiles were welcome without giving up their “Gentileness.”  Paul is addressing the fallout amongst the Ephesian believers.  He points to Christ as the great equalizer because through Him everyone has access to the Father.  There is no longer any distinction and, thus, no need any longer for the wall of hostility existing between them.  Through their mutual commitment to Jesus and love for Him, the wall could now be taken down.

Fellow brothers and sisters, Republicans and Democrats of all stripes, and those unaffiliated with either party, now is the time to heed Paul’s words.  There are principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) that are seeking to destroy our unity as followers of Jesus by drawing our allegiances away from the Kingdom toward political power.  Members of the same family are becoming hostile to each other and the walls of political preference are going up.  On the one side are those who agree with us and on the other is everyone who disagrees.  Rather than in Christ, we are being tempted to form our unity around our political beliefs.  But our allegiance is first and foremost not to a political party or philosophy, but to Jesus. And Jesus does not build walls of hostility amidst His followers, but rather tears them down.  For the truth is, regardless of our views on the current state of our nation and the proper solutions for it, we are all in need of God’s grace.  None of us is superior to another.  It is this recognition that helps keep our pride in check and can bring peace in the midst of hostility.

Today, check your attitudes toward your brothers and sisters who believe differently than you on political issues.  Are they hostile?  Then bring them to Jesus, to whom you owe your salvation.  For He loves those with whom you disagree just as much as He loves you.  And rather than hostility, His will is for there to be love and peace between you.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Special Possession

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10 NIV)

I have known a lot of students over the years that, despite being very gifted, intelligent, and having great personalities, have had a very low view of themselves.  Despite all the evidence, they don’t see anything special about who they are.  

I sometimes see the same thing in those who claim to be followers of Jesus.  Though they are “chosen,” have “royal” ties, are citizens of a “holy nation,” and a “special possession” of the Creator, it is often difficult to distinguish them from anyone else because they don’t view themselves any differently.

Peter was writing to people who were a minority in the midst of a majority of unbelievers, just like we are today.  He was seeking to remind them they were different and to encourage them to live their lives differently than the majority around them.  It is easy for our identity to be swallowed up when we are surrounded by people who believe and live differently than we do.  This is why so many college students forsake living out the faith with which they were raised.

Yet, as Peter knew, when we fully realize who we are in Christ, it is easier to embrace the life that runs contrary to the world.  When we understand our special standing, we are motivated to declare the praises of the One who loves us and shows us mercy.  And then, in the midst of the darkness, His wonderful light shines brightly through us, attracting those in the darkness whose hearts are open to His love and mercy.  

Today, recognize that in Christ, you are a special possession of the Lord and that He wants His light to shine brightly through you so that others may know, too, how special they are.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Our Defender

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah as well. All their captors hold them fast, refusing to let them go.

‘Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon.’” (Jeremiah 50:33-34 NIV)

Yesterday, I wrote about a sidewalk at an Atlanta homeless shelter. Today, I have another story about that sidewalk through which the Lord revealed another truth.

We were out in the yard playing with the children.  Laughter and excitement filled the air as they played various games.  I was walking and observing them when I noticed writing on the sidewalk.  The kids had access to chalk and one of them had written, “Jermaine is stupit (sic).”  Another slanderous statement with another name accompanied it, a sentence that has faded from my memory.  But I do remember the feelings of disgust, anger, and compassion that washed over me.  The shelter was a place of hope for these kids who had so much going against them, and one of their own was adding more abuse and heartache to already troubled lives.  

I walked around for a few minutes contemplating what I should do, if anything. I told one person in charge, but he was so busy with other things, he didn’t act, and, at that point, I’m not sure what I expected him to do.  Then it came to me, an overwhelming sense that I should erase the offensive comments.  So I sought out a broom and some water, and, as the kids returned to the building, I washed and brushed the chalk away.  After I finished, it was as if the accusations were never made.  

For much of the evening, while we were watching the kids do karaoke, I thought about this.  Why did I feel so strongly the need to do this?  It didn’t take long to figure it out.  Having been with these kids for a few days and hearing stories from their moms of the struggles they had endured, I felt protective of them.  They had been through enough and I didn’t want them to have to endure more.  I felt the need to defend them.  And I believe this was from the Lord.

We may feel beaten down by others and by life, but God is our defender.  The accuser may be constantly whispering to us that we are losers, or fat, or ugly, or stupid, but the Lord is also there to vigorously defend us.  He will not let those mean and damaging words remain unchallenged.  He will erase them with His righteousness, which covers all those who belong to Him (I Peter 2:24).

Today, if you are feeling the taunts of the accuser, know that you have a Defender who is vigorous in His fight on your behalf.  Whatever the accusations, He will erase them with His righteousness.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Sidewalk Obscured

“They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.  When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’  

For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.  Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him.  And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.  A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.  When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.” (Luke 8:26-35 NIV)

We were at a homeless shelter in Atlanta tasked that morning with sprucing up the large back yard of the facility which was where the kids played, but had been neglected for many years.  I focused on cleaning up the meandering sidewalk that wound through the property.  Leaves and dirt covered it.  At one particular section, half of it was obscured by weeds, which had found the layers of silt an inviting place to take root. So I began taking my shovel and exploring to find the edge of the sidewalk.  Once I found it, I began to clear away the weeds and dirt. After an hour or so, the sidewalk was restored to its original width. What was for so long hidden was now revealed.

As I was doing this restorative work, I was reminded the Lord desires to do a similar thing in the lives of the homeless with whom we were working.  People don’t just suddenly find themselves on the street. Layers of poor decisions, abuse, violence, hurt, and despair were building for months and years prior to their being homeless.  And after they get there, more layers of the same continue to cover over whom they once were.  Like the demon-possessed man, the real person is obscured and practically unrecognizable.  It takes divine eyes to see what lies beneath.  

What the village saw was a crazy, violent man; what Jesus saw, however, was a man held captive by forces beyond his control.  He saw what lay beneath the outward toll of his suffering.  He saw the sidewalk rather than just what had accumulated on top of it.  Thus, He restored the man to what he was created to be.

Isn’t this the purpose of ministry?  Isn’t this the mission of Jesus, to restore lives to what they were intended to be?  While perhaps it is easy to see this in ministry to the homeless, but it is really the same for all of us.  We each have, to some degree, had our true selves obscured by the effects of life in this fallen world.  The remnants of sin have left their mark on us, obscuring who we truly are. Like the soil gathered over a sidewalk, they provide an inviting place for the noxious weeds to take root and thrive in our lives.  This is what Jesus desperately wants to clear away.

Today, if the hurt and despair of sin has obscured who you really are, then know Jesus wants to restore you.  He sees who you really are and were meant to be.  If you allow Him, He will clear all of it away to reveal the man or woman He created you to be.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Measure of a True Believer

(Author's Note: Spring Break begins this weekend, so I will be taking a break during which I will be leading a group of students on a trip to Atlanta to work with a homeless ministry.  WftW will return on March 14th.  Blessings!  Jim)

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:15-24 NIV)

It seems “evangelical Christians” are an important voting bloc this presidential season, particularly among Republicans.  Every candidate is emphasizing how “Christian” they are, visiting churches, Christian colleges, and quoting passages from the Bible.  But as Jesus warns in this passage, BEWARE of what you hear from those who want your vote or, for that matter, anything else.  People will often say a lot of things to get what they want.  

Rather, Jesus says to pay close attention to what people do in order to determine who they really are.  I often tell young men and women on campus who are interested in romantic relationships to observe how the man or woman they are interested in conducts himself/herself in the presence of others, because you can learn a lot about someone by observation.  It is harder with politicians because most of what we see is what takes place in front of a camera; yet there can be hints of whom they really are if we pay close attention.

With regard to any relationship, wisdom leads us to pay attention to what the person does rather than merely taking what he says as certain truth.   Rather, the truth is always eventually borne out in a person’s life. Just ask any married person.  

So when we are seeking to evaluate whether a politician or a potential boyfriend/girlfriend is a true follower of Jesus, it is best not to be in a hurry to draw a conclusion.  Instead, we should practice being an astute observer.  How does this person conduct his life?  How does she handle herself in difficult situations?  Does the content of his day-to-day life reveal a person who is committed to Jesus?  Is the spiritual foundation of her life as solid as she claims it is?  

Today, know that claims of faith are easily made, but the true follower of Jesus seeks daily to be obedient to the One whom he claims as his Lord.  This is the measure by which the Lord will use to judge everyone.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Facing Hostility

“When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:2-6 NIV)

I have experienced it and I’ve witnessed it many times over the years of my ministry to students.  Family members can be among the most doubtful and hostile when it comes to walking with the Lord.  When I was in college, there was a point when my mother thought I was part of a cult and one of my brothers thought I was taking “this religion thing” way too far.  After spending my adult life in vocational ministry, my siblings and extended family long ago accepted my choice and several embraced it, as did my mother whom I had the privilege of baptizing not long before her death.  But when it comes to matters of faith, family members often become obstacles.

Mission trips to faraway places, ministry internships, and calling students to follow Jesus wherever He leads often brings me into conflict with their family members, either directly or indirectly.  I recall one time having a face-to-face conversation with a father whose daughter desired to travel to Haiti with a group I was leading.  Actually, it was more like a monologue where he just kept telling me how dangerous the country was and how much more he and his friends knew than I did. He wouldn’t allow her to go and we came and returned without incident.  

Another time, another father called me about his daughter accompanying us on a trip to South Africa.  In a very agitated voice, he asked question after question, each more filled with doubt than the previous one.  Amazingly, he later gave his approval, but not until after his daughter was almost beside herself by her father’s doubts and worries.  

And I have heard countless stories from students seeking to do internships or pursue ministry opportunities of family opposition to their pursuits.  This opposition has included demands that they cease and desist with their plans, threats to withdrawal their financial support, calling them “lazy” and “beggars” because they will have to raise their salaries, shaming them for turning their parents’ payment of their college education into a “bad investment,” etc.  

As Jesus experienced and prophesied, those closest to us, who know us the best, will often be the ones who oppose our faith the most.  As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt.  Our family and those we grew up with know us.  As they did Jesus, they interpret our expressions of faith as somehow being arrogant and “holier than thou.” Or, they just think we’ve gone over the edge.  And they refuse to support us.

But, as did Jesus, we still must carry on and do that to which we’ve been called.  And, as it happened with my mom, that faithfulness can often lead others who once opposed us to change their minds.  They see the commitment and they see the fruit that comes from being obedient to the Lord.  

So, today, if you are getting opposition from those closest to you, know you are not alone in that.  Even Jesus faced opposition from those in His hometown.  Yet, He did not quit or tone it down.  He continued to pursue and carry out the will of His Father.  And, indeed, so should you. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Living Today

“Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (Hebrews 6:9-12 NIV)

A recent post on Facebook read, “Friday, hurry up and get here. Pleasssssssssssse!”  It was Monday.  

We are not, by and large, a very patient society.  We are in a hurry to get to where we want to be.  A student can’t wait for the end of the school year.  A single can’t wait to find that special someone.  A guy in his 50’s can’t wait for retirement.  We often live for tomorrow and loath today.  

Thus, words like diligence, faith, and patience may be hard for us to fully comprehend; yet the Hebrew writer says these are required to live a successful life as a follower of Jesus.  In the passage preceding this one, he writes of those who have fallen away from the faith.  From what he writes here I would assume it was due to a lack of the very things he says are necessary.  They couldn’t wait for the promised blessing of eternal life.  Life was too hard and too tempting.  So they succumbed to the desires of the moment.  

Our lives are made up of many days and years.  Eternity, for most of us, is likely still a long way away.  To get to where we want to be will require much diligence, faith, and patience.  It won’t happen NOW, yet every day gets us one step closer.  So how we live today, tomorrow, and the next day is important.  

Today, be diligent in how you live.  It makes a difference and helps get you closer to where you want to be.  Continue to have faith because the Lord is faithful in keeping His promises.  And be patient because your rendezvous with eternity will arrive eventually and quicker than you might imagine.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Finding Perfect Balance

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” (Hebrews 13:7-9a NIV)

I once knew a woman who did her doctoral thesis on Jesus and the Myers-Briggs Personality-Type Indicator, a personality test.  The test breaks out one’s personality into a combination of four distinct categories.  If one has a balance between two of the categories, such as introversion and extroversion, it is referred to as the “X type.”  This woman’s thesis was Jesus was the X type across all four categories, being perfectly balanced in each.  I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say the Hebrew writer recognizes Jesus’ balance when he commands us to not be “carried away” by the many strange teachings that pop up in life, like the one I heard last night on public television that our bodies can actually age backwards as we grow older, à la Benjamin Button!

We live in a time where being extreme is becoming more and more attractive.  Both of our political parties are currently involved in a battle between those who want a more balanced approach and those who favor some type of revolution to replace the existing system.  We have people on both sides of the immigration debate both here and in Europe, some wanting to seal their countries borders to keep immigrants out and others who believe their countries’ borders should be wide open.  

We see this tendency, too, within the beliefs and practices of various groups in Christianity.  The “liberals” call for acceptance and non-judgment of anyone regardless of their behavior or attitudes toward it, to the point there seems to be no recognition of sin, and “conservatives” tend to judge others in such a way to presume there is no grace.  

And this is the way the devil likes it.  C.S. Lewis captures his strategy perfectly through the demon Screwtape (in The Screwtape Letters) when he says, “All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.”  The devil has us where he wants us when we allow ourselves to wander off into the extremes of our attitudes or behavior.  For when we enter this territory, we can see no other truth than our own.  While we may sincerely claim God led us there, the true ruler of the territory in which we reside is someone quite different and he gladly lets you believe whatever you want.

Jesus, on the other hand, is steady and balanced.  While extremists on all sides may claim He is with them, He is on nobody’s side; rather, He calls us to the middle where there is judgment with mercy, where there is both faith and works, where there is realistic thinking about the world, but no fear, and where the pursuit of love and righteousness is more important than the pursuit of power.  While some may argue that Jesus is extreme, He really isn’t.  Instead, He is perfectly balanced.  He never changes.  He is same in the 21st Century as He was in the 1st Century, regardless of the many attempts to shape Him into the image we have of Him. 

Today, as you are exposed to the claims and counter-claims from the territories of the extreme, remember who the ruler is of those lands and what his real strategy is (John 10:10).  You would be wise to avoid the extremes, except the extreme devotion to Jesus who never changes and who desires to bring perfect balance into the lives of any who follow Him.

© Jim Musser 2016