Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Different Response

(Author's Note: The school year has reached its end and thus it is time for me to take a much needed break.  WftW will return on August 16th.  Have a blessed summer!  Jim)

“But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.  But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. (Acts 17:5-15 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that things politically in our country are growing more unstable by the day.  We the people are increasingly breaking into factions with little regard or respect for others. For followers of Jesus, it can be very disheartening to be stereotyped into hateful, bigoted people.  Our instinct, my instinct, is to fight back and join the battle for our “rights” and begin hating those we perceive wanting to take them away.  

During the past few days, I’ve been reading Acts and the example of the early believers, such as Paul, in facing much greater opposition, has been a reminder and an encouragement to me.  Time and time again, Paul and the other believers faced persecution.  They were harassed, ridiculed, beaten, and jailed for being associated with Jesus.  What impresses me is it did not stop them from continuing to proclaim the gospel and they did not respond to their opposition in kind.  Most of the time, in fact, they just moved on to other audiences.  They sought to reason with their detractors, but they never sought to retaliate.  One doesn’t get the sense they hated those who hated them.  They just continued to proclaim the message.

Sometimes, we American believers get too caught up in the fact that our country was founded on religious freedom, and, thus, we focus on demanding that freedom more than on loving those who might seek to deprive us of it.  That’s a problem.

Love is the essence of the gospel message because God is love (I John 4:8).  When we’re more inclined to stand up for our rights rather than loving those opposed to us, then we remove ourselves from the line formed behind Jesus.

I am seeing this more and more among fellow believers.  Reacting out of fear rather than in security of the Lord, they are lashing out at those who are against them and the message of our Lord.  They are adopting the same tactics as the ones used against them—political maneuvering, hateful speech, and no demonstration of grace.  Temptations, really, to all of us who are lined up behind Jesus, but ones that need to be resisted at all costs.  

The believers of the 1st Century endured more persecution than almost all of us and the way they handled it should be an example for us in these politically and morally unstable times.  Face opposition with love and grace, attempting to reason with those opposed to us, and, if unsuccessful, moving on to others with the message of the gospel.  But never, ever being filled with hate or resentment.  Rather, asking the Lord to fill us with His Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-25), whose fruit will lead us to respond very differently than our enemies.

Today, if you disturbed by what is happening around you and how people are treating you as a follower of Jesus, reflect on how the early Christians responded to their detractors and ask the Lord to fill you with His Holy Spirit, so that you will not respond in kind. 

© Jim Musser 2016  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Stepping Onto an Unknown Path

“The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’  So Abram went, as the LORD had told him….” (Genesis 12:1-4 NIV)

I was well established in a campus ministry at the University of Kansas years ago when I got a strong sense from the Lord that I would be leaving that ministry.  I didn’t know when; I didn’t know where I would go.  I just felt strongly I would be leaving at some point.  Eight months later, I found myself out of that ministry and with no idea where I would be headed next. It was the beginning of a fascinating journey.

This month, many students are graduating from college and find themselves in a similar position.  They have no idea what is next.  Even if they have a job lined up, it is brand new territory in which they are entering.   

Throughout the Scriptures, men and women were asked to step out in faith onto a path with an unknown destination.  Noah, Abraham, Esther, David, Jeremiah, Hosea, Mary, Paul, and many others were called by God to go into a future with many unknowns.  Yet, in every case, the Lord blessed them, and their journeys, though often difficult, were fulfilling beyond their imaginations.  

Four months after I resigned my ministry position at KU, I was offered the opportunity to direct a struggling ministry at Appalachian State University, an obscure school (at the time) in the mountains of North Carolina.  It was unfamiliar territory, but I knew the Lord was calling me there and so I went.  Nearly 12 years later, I can say I have been blessed beyond my wildest imagination.  Though there were a lot of struggles early on, God has done amazing things and I am enjoying campus ministry as much as I ever have.  But it took a big step of faith to get here.

For those of you who are graduating, or just facing a major change of direction in your life, there is one thing you can count on: the Lord will be going before you.  He knows where He is leading you, even if you do not.  You can trust Him.  The journey on which you are about to embark won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be fulfilling beyond what you can imagine if you remain faithful in following His lead.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Strategy To Cope with Stress

“So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” (Psalm 143:4-5 NIV)

I’m starting to see smiles and hear sighs of relief as students finish their final exams.  Days and weeks of stress and anxiety as approached the end of their semester are beginning to abate.  The relief is palpable.  

It is always this way at the end of a semester or school year.  Students are relieved and, for the vast majority of students, they do well in their classes.  But when the next semester begins to draw to a close, the same anxiety and stress once again arises.  It is difficult for them to remember that they managed to do well in previous semesters.  It is a vicious cycle of stress and anxiety, and then relief.  

David employed a strategy that students, as well as the rest of us, would be wise to emulate.  When he became stressed, he focused on the Lord—His greatness and His faithfulness.  He would remember how God had protected him and rescued him before. He let the past experience with the Lord inform his present.  Can’t we all do the same?

When I see the checking and savings accounts are becoming lean, my instinctive reaction is to begin to panic.  How are we going to pay all of our bills?  Where’s the money going to come from?  But I can calm myself by remembering that we have been in financially tight situations before and the Lord has always provided.  More than a decade ago, when I found myself without a job, I dealt with that stress by remembering I had once been in a similar situation after completing grad school.  I remembered how the Lord provided me with a ministry position.

Stress and anxiety will always be a struggle, but the best way to handle it is to employ David’s strategy—remembering the Lord’s faithfulness to us.  He brought us through difficult times before; He will do it again.  He can be trusted.  Today, remember that.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Spiritual Battlefield

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

Talk of spiritual warfare, in our culture, is often viewed warily.  It carries with it a sense of extremism or kookiness, depending on one’s point of view.  It is just not taken seriously.  Sure, people say, the Bible talks of the devil and demons, but that was a long time ago and we know so much more now about the way things work.  And, so, they live their lives without much thought that they might be living amidst a spiritual battlefield.  It shows.

In my many years working with college students, I see where this ignorance leads.  Young men and women unaware of the traps set by their Enemy bring much pain and heartache on themselves.  Boyfriend and girlfriend spend time alone in one another’s bedrooms.  Failure, guilt, and, sometimes, a pregnancy are the result.  Thinking their value lies in what people think of them, they party to be accepted.  The consequences can be devastating—sexual assault, a fatal fall from a window, an arrest, or killing someone while driving.  And thinking tragic events in their past completely define them, they are often filled with bitterness and self-loathing, which often leads to self-harm, including suicide, drug addiction, and severe depression.  

The spiritual battlefield is filled with casualties such as these, which could be prevented if people took these words of Paul seriously.  I think this is what C.S. Lewis had in mind when he wrote The Screwtape Letters decades ago.  Satan is real; his schemes against us are real; and his triumph is greatly dependent on our ignorance of those schemes. Lewis, in brilliant fashion, gives us a glimpse into these spiritual strategies that are formed against us.  He only hoped that people would listen.  

Sadly, many didn’t and don’t.  They continue to live in a fantasy world devoid of the spiritual reality that our Enemy’s intent is to steal our joy, kill our true purpose in life, and destroy any hope for Eternity (John 10:10).  In that, Satan accomplishes his greatest strategy—that we ignore or are unaware of his destructive work.

Today, recognize your life is a spiritual battleground upon which Satan seeks to carry out his schemes.  Don’t let him!  Put on the armor of God so you might be equipped to escape his traps and live life fully as the Lord intended.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

Living for Jesus in Our Daily Lives

“ And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV)

Yesterday, I asked the question, what difference does Jesus make in your life?  I asked it yesterday as it relates to handling life’s stresses. Today I ask it as it relates to how you live life.  How you study and prepare assignments; how you work as an employee; how you treat others.

For a lot of life, it seems people just want to get through it.  For college students right now, they just want to be done with school.  For those with full-time jobs, they just want to get to the weekend.  For those in difficult relational situations, they just want to move on.  But what is lost in this type of thinking is there is a lot of life contained in these time periods.  I recently made the observation to a student who couldn’t wait for the week to be over, that a normal week is comprised of five days. Thus, if one continually lives for the weekend and coasts through those five days, imagine what that looks like over a lifetime.  Imagine the time wasted!

The difference Jesus should make in our lives, according to Paul, is that every aspect of our lives matters because our lives are lived for Him. We study, write papers, and take exams as though He is our professor. We work at our jobs as though He is our employer. We treat others—our significant other, friends, and strangers—as if it is He with whom we are interacting.  We don’t live for the weekend; we live for Him daily. We don’t go to school just to get by; we go with the desire to do our best. We aren’t in relationships only for what we can get, but in order to bless others.  

Paul says elsewhere that our lives not our own, but that we were bought at a price (I Corinthians 6:19-20).  Thus, if we follow Jesus, we are to live life differently from those who don’t.  Instead of living for ourselves, we live for Him.  And that means how we live out the day-to-day details of our lives.

Today, the question to ask is, how can I best live for Him?  What does that look like for me in how I approach school, work, or relationships?  If you are honest, it will likely look much different than you have been living.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What Difference Does Jesus Make?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

It’s the time of year where students are stressed for multiple reasons. For all of them, final exams are lurking.  For those graduating, what the future holds, for most, is still an unanswered question.  And many are embarking on new adventures, such as internships and mission trips to foreign lands.  

The typical response is to freak out, to post angst-filled messages on social media, to live in denial and resort to pursuing distractions that will alleviate their stress—movies, video games, hanging out, and spending hours on their phones. And some will exhaust themselves pulling all-nighters in desperation to prepare for exams.  

This is the campus culture and to the students living in it, it seems normal.  Similarly, in the adult, working world culture, it seems normal to stress out over the demands of one’s job, marriage, children, financial security, and the future of the country.  

But it is exactly in these times, that as Christ-followers we must ask, what difference does Jesus make?  In this passage, Paul, who had a much more stressful life than 99.9% of us (II Corinthians 11:23-28), tells us not to be anxious about ANYTHING.  I suppose we can assume that includes exams, paying the bills, future plans, etc.  Instead, he tells us to handle every stressful situation by taking it to the Lord.  Hmmm, how many of us take that very seriously?  

It is so easy for us to claim the Christian label for ourselves, while practically living similarly to those who have no faith.  As James exhorts us, we need not just to read the Word, but do what it says (James 1:22). And that includes its solution to dealing with our stress and anxiety.  

Today, consider the circumstances in which you find yourself and which are causing you a lot of stress.  Are you dealing with it any differently than those who do not follow the Lord?  What difference does Jesus truly make in your life at a practical level?  The answer to this question can be very informative with regard to the true nature of our faith.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reliance on God and His Body

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (II Corinthians 1:8-11 NIV)

It is interesting in this passage that Paul writes of needing to be dependent on God, which somehow also involves help from the prayers of others.  How does that work?  It would seem that to be totally dependent on God excludes dependence on everyone else.

Perhaps the key is found in I Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  Thus we’re not really being dependent on other people when we ask for help through prayer, but on the Lord Himself through their prayers.

But let’s be honest, most of us are not in the habit of naturally relying on God or others.  Our usual bent is to be self-sufficient, like the four-year-old who says, “I can do it myself!”  Somehow, in our minds, needing help implies weakness.  So we don’t ask for help; we just plow ahead, pretending we have everything under control.  But the Lord knows different; He knows we need help because He created us to be dependent on Him.  Our fallenness is revealed when we seek instead to rely on ourselves.  

So God often uses circumstances to drive home the point that we are dependent on Him.  An illness, a tragedy, a dangerous or traumatic situation; anything that will make us fully aware of our dependence on Him.  For Paul it was threats on his life.  And when we find ourselves in the midst of these situations, we begin to understand our need for the Lord and His body.  

Today, recognize your total dependence on the Lord.  Do not hesitate to lean on Him and the prayers of His body.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Let's Celebrate!

“I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.  Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.  Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.  They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.” (Psalm 145:1-7 NIV)

This past week has been full of celebrations.  I was taken on a celebration “binge” for a major birthday—five days of events!  And today is my wife’s birthday, so there will be more celebrating.  

Celebrations are an integral part of the human experience.  Birthdays and anniversaries draw attention to us, but most celebrations in which we take part are focused on others.  And all celebrations are held in the context of relationships.  Can you think of a celebration that does not involve a connection with someone else?

Celebrations give the opportunity to remember, honor, thank, and enjoy the people in our lives and all they mean to us.  This is why David wrote this Psalm. He wanted to celebrate the Lord and others to join with him.  
While we usually celebrate things like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays annually, celebrating the Lord can easily be a daily endeavor, and most certainly a weekly one as we gather together with fellow believers.  If you read the whole Psalm, there is much to celebrate, for He has done so much for us!

Today, celebrate the goodness and greatness of the Lord.  Remember all He has done for you and those around you.  Indeed, celebrating Him should never end!

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

Embodying Grace

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3 NIV)

Over the past week, in light of a major birthday, I have been reflecting on my life.  One of the things I see is a vast growth in grace towards others.  With maturity comes humility.  This is what Paul is urging in his letter from prison.  He was an arrogant man before he met Jesus on that unforgettable trip to Damascus, confident in his beliefs and impatient with any who disagreed with him.  But Jesus exposed who he really was and, as a result, he was humbled.  

Now, years later, we see the result.  What Paul is asking of the Ephesians (and us) is not what we would expect from the man headed to Damascus.  He has changed, dramatically. He has matured and it shows.  His life now embodies grace.

One of the things I long struggled with was former students’ disregard for what I (or others in my ministry) had poured into them.  Many just moved on with no contact or show of appreciation through financially supporting the ministry that had spiritually supported them while in college.  I used to let that eat at me.  I took it personally.  

But as I have matured, I have been able to have more grace.  I have realized more and more if the Lord had the same attitude toward me when I failed to show my appreciation to Him, I would be in big trouble. Elsewhere, Paul says, “forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  And this is the measure that will lead to increased grace in our lives.  Every slight, insult, and hurt inflicted upon us should be viewed in the light of how the Lord treats us when we do the same to Him.  

I have also found this very freeing.  Instead of being focused on people in my past, I can focus on those in my present.  Instead of focusing on those in my present with whom I am holding grudges, I can focus wholly on those who need my attention and ministry.  And when the people who have caused me frustration come to mind, my thoughts toward them can be ones of grace and love, which results in peace instead of stress.  

Today, are there people in your life with whom you are frustrated or worse?  Consider these words of Paul.  Measure your response with the Lord’s response to you.  What will result is more grace and that will lead to more peace and freedom in your life.  

© Jim Musser 2016