Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Moving On

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)

We live in a “move on, move forward, ready to leave it behind” culture. If a star athlete or a politician is caught up in some type of controversy or illegality, the typical response is, “I’m ready to move on;”  “I’m ready to move forward from here.”  In other words, the person usually is saying he is ready to get out of this uncomfortable situation as fast as possible. The Christian culture is becoming no different.

People in churches become upset about something or someone, complain about it to others, but when needing to actually reconcile the situation, the common response is, “I’m ready to move on.”  And they often do, to another church.

What’s interesting about this command of Jesus is it is very hard to follow in a move on, move forward, ready to leave it behind culture. Because when you do realize someone has something against you or is angry with you and you seek them out, you are likely to hear, “I don’t want to discuss it.  I’m ready to move on.”  Nothing has been settled. There is no reconciliation.  The conflict is merely brushed aside, but certainly not forgotten. 

Paul tells us that, as followers of Jesus, we have a “ministry of reconciliation,” bringing people back into a right relationship with God. (II Corinthians 5:18)  That is the theme of the whole Bible—God seeking to be reconciled to His people.  It makes sense then that Jesus would place a huge emphasis on believers being reconciled with each other, to the point of putting the burden on the one who is not angry to seek out reconciliation with the person who is.  

If we are called to be a part of God’s work of reconciling people to Him, then doesn’t it make sense we should be more adept at reconciliation with fellow believers?  Instead of moving on, we should be going back to the person toward whom we have hard feelings and be reconciled. There is a time to move on, but it is definitely not before making every attempt to restore a relationship that has been broken.  

Today, if you have something against a fellow believer, or know of someone who is upset with you, then make it a priority to go to that person and talk through the issue.  You may instead want to move on, but it is clear from Jesus that is not an option for those who follow Him.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

When You Feel Your Foot Slipping

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:18-19 NIV)

When you are walking along a narrow mountain trail or climbing a rock wall, the greatest fear is that your foot will slip and you plunge hundreds of feet.  Years ago, I was hiking in Colorado and was attempting to climb onto a rock ledge, but it was a little icy and my feet started to slip. For a few moments, I froze in fear.  I didn’t fall, but I still remember the brief feelings of terror.  A few years ago, a student recounted the story of a friend who lost his footing on a trail and fell literally head over heels more than 1000 feet down a rocky slope.  Miraculously, he survived and recovered.  But hundreds of people fall to their deaths each year because they lose their footing while hiking or climbing.  

So the Psalmist’s metaphor conveys a dire situation, one in which he is overwhelmed with fear.  This Psalm has been a comfort to me at times when I have been overwhelmed by life. “My foot is slipping,” is the perfect description of those times when life is too much.  Yet the words that immediately follow, “your unfailing love, Lord, supported me,” are the exact words needed to bring calm and comfort to a fearful heart.  

Life comes at us very hard sometimes and it is easy to feel like our feet are slipping beneath us; yet when that happens, we need to realize that we are not alone in our situation.  The Lord is there with us.  In the midst of our fear, He will console us and will not let us fall.  

Today, if you feel like your foot is slipping, know the Lord is right there to comfort you and to keep you from falling.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Worry: Taking God Out of the Equation

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5b-7 NIV)

I can’t count the number of times I have quoted to stressed-out students the last part of this passage.  And I have often grabbed their attention by telling them worrying is a sin.  I have found it a necessity in a culture consumed by worry and anxiety, where it is considered a normal part of life.

Yet, while reading this passage recently, something struck me that I had never before realized—that being in a state of anxiety or worry is the result of pride.  Before you dismiss this out of hand, look at the context of this passage.  Leading up to verse 7 is Peter’s call to humility, both before one another and before God.  And the result in doing both is finding God’s favor.  

In trying to explain worrying, I have often told students it is the attempt to control something (test results, job prospects, a romantic prospect, etc.) over which, in reality, we have no control.  We worry because it gives us some sense, albeit false, of control.  But I have never connected it to pride, until recently.

The biblical understanding of pride is one where humans insist on being in control, thinking of themselves as the authors of their lives, and doing what they please. God is left out of the equation (Psalm 10:4).  The opposite of pride is humility, the act of putting God back into the equation.

So when we think why we worry and are anxious, is it not because we take God out of the equation?  We instead wrest control of the situation because we can’t trust God with it.  We are too proud to release our grip on it.  

The challenge is we rarely think of worry and anxiety in this way, as I did not.  Rather, we think of it as normative to the human experience, perhaps even a sin with which we struggle, but if we begin to look at it in terms of our pride, maybe that can change our perspective when we begin to worry or become anxious.  To we as followers of Jesus, to remove God from the equation of our lives should be the last thing we ever want to do.  

Today, if you struggle with worry and anxiety, humble yourself before the Lord, confess your bent toward self-reliance, and give back control of your daily life to the Lord.  Only then will you be free of the burdens that weigh you down.  While they are too much for you to bear, He can easily carry them and He wants to.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Problem with Justification

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’

He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ (Luke 10:25-29 NIV)

I once had a student e-mail me asking if going to bars was wrong.  She wrote that other Christians had been critical of her, but she didn’t see anything wrong with it.  And then she added, “Jesus hung out with people who drank.”  With that, she joined the expert in the law and so many others who seek to justify their behavior by adapting a biblical truth to fit their own desires.  

The student wanted to go out to the bars, not because she sought to minister to “sinners” like Jesus (Luke 5:30-32), but because she wanted to be like her friends and do what they did without guilt.  So by citing what Jesus did, she sought to justify her behavior, just as the expert of the law did.  He was steeped in legalism, and so after answering Jesus’ question with the two greatest commandments, he wanted Jesus to break down His meaning of “neighbor” because when we parse the meanings of words, it is easier to find loopholes by which we hope to justify behavior that deep down we know is wrong.  With His parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus eliminated the loophole he was looking for.

Justification comes easily to us.  In our hearts, we so often want to do what we want to do, so we seek to find ways to justify doing it.  I know a woman who wants to do what she wants right now and is justifying herself by saying God wants her to live in freedom.  He indeed does call us to freedom (Galatians 5:1), but she is conveniently avoiding the biblical fact this freedom has limits (Galatians 5:13; I Corinthians 10:23) because she wants to live without restraint or obligation.  

We also employ justification when we are caught in sin, by seeking to minimize it in some way.  I struggle when sometimes disagreeing with my wife.  My response sometimes is too harsh, but I have a tendency to justify myself by blaming her for how she says something.  People caught viewing porn will often say, “It’s not really a problem for me like it is for other people."  I have had unmarried couples who have spent the night with each other tell me “nothing really happened.”

Another common justification in response to knowing we should do something when in fact we just don’t want to do it is, “ I’m too busy.”  We find plenty of time to do the things we want to do, but when it comes to things that in our hearts we don’t want to do, this becomes a convenient way to justify not doing it.  

Today, think about in what ways you attempt to justify sinful behavior. It’s not that you don’t do it, but, instead, what are you going to do about it?

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Model for Us All

“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thessalonians 1:3 NIV)

This semester at our large group meetings we are focusing on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  As I told the students this week, I think it is a timely letter for us as followers of Jesus.  Increasingly, our culture is less for us and more against us.  Particularly on university campuses, we are seen as a hindrance in their push for tolerance and diversity. We are often stereotyped as “haters” and viewed with suspicion by many. So there is much to learn from the believers who lived in Thessalonica at a time when discrimination and persecution were rampant towards Christians.  Both the Romans and the Jews considered followers of Jesus a threat.

But what we learn from Paul’s letter is the faith of the Thessalonian believers was steady in the midst of many trials and they became known throughout the region for the lives they lived (vss 7-8) , so much so that Paul calls them a model for all believers in how to live for Jesus.

So what was it about the lives of these believers that made them so outstanding and resilient in how they lived for Jesus in the face of so much resistance?  First, Paul says the work, or fruit, of their lives was produced by faith.  Many times we try to make things happen out of our own strength.  We’re going to go out and convince people to follow Jesus with our great arguments and persuasive skills.  Or we’re going to go do “great things” for God and change the world.  Or, we’re going to create some exciting new project or ministry to demonstrate the love of God.  Many of these things can be good, but often they are not done in faith but rather out of our own strength.  In essence, we are trying to do things on God’s behalf instead of allowing Him to do things through us.  The Thessalonians didn’t make this mistake.  They trusted God to do the work through them.

Secondly, they labored for the love of the Lord rather than out of obligation or for their own glory.  So many people do good things because they feel obligated to do them, either from guilt or a desire to earn favor with God, or for what attention it will bring them.  The former leads to burnout and is not sustainable over the long haul, while the latter has no eternal value (Matthew 6:2-4)  

Finally, the believers in Thessalonica didn’t put their hope in present circumstances or worldly things.  Rather, their hope was in an Eternity with Jesus.  Life in a fallen world has many ups and downs and, eventually, it comes to an end for each of us.  The Thessalonian believers recognized this and so put their hope in something far more solid and lasting.  Thus, when things were bad for them, which was often, their faith remained steady and their relationship with the Lord continued to grow.  

What about you?  How does your faith and life compare to that of the Thessalonian believers?  If they are a model for all believers, as Paul says, then we each would benefit from studying and following their example.  Today, consider how you are living out your faith in comparison to the Thessalonians.  They were able to thrive even in the tough times.  Will your faith enable you to do so as well?

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Danger of Hearing What We Want to Hear

“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: “Hear the word of the LORD!  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!  Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins.  You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD.  Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. Even though the LORD has not sent them, they say, ‘The LORD declares,’ and expect him to fulfill their words.  Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, ‘The LORD declares,’ though I have not spoken?’” (Ezekiel 13:1-7 NIV)

A few years ago, I read a book by a popular author that proclaimed the Heavenly gates will be open to all even if they reject Jesus in this life. According to the book, they will have eternity to change their minds and enter into Paradise.  What soothing words to a world that wants to live as they please.  

I was reminded of this book as I read recently this passage from the prophet Ezekiel.  He lived in a time where Israel was about to be severely punished for turning away from God and to idols of her own making.  Yet, there were prophets, claiming to speak for God, that were saying nothing bad was going to happen.  Everything, they said, was going to be all right.  The Lord, speaking through Ezekiel, declared them false prophets proclaiming visions out of their own imaginations. They were telling the people what they hoped was the truth and what they knew they wanted to hear.  Sound familiar?

The world is full of people claiming to speak for God telling us that He wants us to be rich, that there are many ways to Him as long as we are sincere, and that Hell is not a permanent destination for those rejecting Him.   They tell us things that come from their own imaginations, not from God.  

And like the Israelites, many of us are taken in and seduced by these false prophets.  Who wouldn’t want to hear that God endorses gaining wealth to spend lavishly on ourselves?  Who wouldn’t want to know that as long as you are sincere in what you believe, you are fine.  And who wouldn’t want to believe we can live however we want in this life and receive an eternity full of second chances in the next life?  

The problem is that these prophets do not speak for God.  He speaks for Himself in His Word, and a thorough reading of it reveals what He truly says.  False prophets gain popularity and a following because people don’t know the Word; thus they are vulnerable to following what they think sounds good to them.  

Today, know the best way to avoid being seduced by the false prophets of our age is to know the Word of God.  For what we don’t know is left to our imaginations and that can be a dangerous place to be.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

God's House

“Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. 
What kind of house will you build for me? 
says the Lord. 
Or where will my resting place be?  Has not my hand made all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:44-51 NIV)

Chances are you were in a church service yesterday where a church leader referred to the building in which you were sitting as “God’s house.”  If not, no doubt you have heard often the church building called this. It is a misconception that has been around for a long time.  

It may sound rather picky to focus on such a distinction, but it has had major ramifications for the Church, just as it did in Stephen’s day, when the Church began.  The focus of the Jews was on the Temple. Everything revolved around it.  And that continued even after Jesus, the Messiah, came into the world, even after the curtain of the Holy of Holies was ripped down the middle upon His death (Matthew 27:51), and even after the Holy Spirit was poured out onto the apostles and onto those who believed their message (Acts 2:1-4).  They wanted to hang onto the Temple; God wanted them to hang onto Him.

The great temptation for we humans is to cling to that which we have made and to fit God into it.  Stephen is saying here that the Lord of the universe is far too big and awesome to be contained by bricks and mortar.   In trying to reduce God to fit into what we have made, we actually resist what the Lord is trying to do.  And that is to become a personal God.

When the curtain of the Holy of Holies was torn in two, it symbolized that people, not just the High Priest, could access God’s Presence, and not just once a year, but continually.  In fact, as Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:16, those who believe in Jesus become the temple of God, the place where He resides.  The temple is no longer one of bricks and mortar, but of flesh and blood.  Thus, the charge of Stephen against the Sanhedrin (a Jewish tribunal) that they always resist the Holy Spirit makes more sense.  They wanted to keep God contained and access to Him limited.  And instead of God going with them, they wanted to leave Him behind in the place they built for Him.  We are tempted to do the same thing as well.

Today, recognize that God’s house is not a church building, but you, if indeed you are a follower of Jesus.  And when you enter that church building on Sunday mornings, instead of entering into God’s presence, you are entering into His neighborhood, which consists of hundreds of houses where in each the Lord resides.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Insensitivity of Jesus

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’

Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’ He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’” (Matthew 15:7-14 NIV)

In the minds of many, Jesus was a very gentle, soft-spoken, always nurturing and approving man.  As they picture Him, He was very sensitive and would never be one to hurt people’s feelings.  Tender and kind is how they always think of Him.  

But like so many things from the Scriptures, this view has been “cherry-picked” from a much broader description of our Lord.  It is always a human tendency to conjure up the picture of reality that we most prefer. If we are about “law and order,” then we will more likely view God in the terms of judgment and punishment of wrongdoing.  If, however, “tolerance” is more to our liking, we will tend to lean toward a benevolent view of the Almighty, One who is non-judgmental and accepting.  And we can always cite Scriptures to prove our position.

As a result, the modern-day view of Jesus is a caricature of the real One.  “Inoffensive” would not be an accurate description nor would our understanding of being sensitive apply well to Him.  Consider these encounters Jesus had with people:  He confronted a lonely woman shunned by her community with the sin in her life (John 4).  When Peter was trying to be encouraging and supportive, Jesus responded by equating him with Satan and calling him out as a “stumbling block.” (Matthew 16).  When a woman was set up by religious leaders as a tool to trap Jesus, He told her to leave her life of sin (John 8).  And after healing a poor invalid man, Jesus warned him that if he didn’t get his life straight, something worse would happen to him (John 5).  And, of course, there were His encounters with the Pharisees.  

If we look at the whole of the Gospels, what we find is a very different picture of Jesus than many in our society today try to paint.  In fact, if the real Jesus were alive in human flesh today, He would be hated by many for His offensiveness and insensitivity.  If you find this difficult to believe, just imagine He said some of things today that He is recorded saying.  

The one thing that can clearly be said about Jesus is He always spoke the truth.  And, if God is indeed love (I John 4), then we know when He told the truth, it was from the motivation of love.  He loved the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery.  He loved Peter.  He even loved the Pharisees.  And if He were walking among us today, you can be sure He would not let our society’s fear of being offensive or insensitive to stand in His way of telling the truth.  

Today, recognize the Jesus of the Gospels is different than how He is often pictured.  He was willing to be offensive and insensitive if that was what was necessary to truly love people.  He understood, as we should as well, that the best way to love people sometimes is telling them the truth and not worry so much about their feelings.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bringing Life into Dead Places

“The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep.  He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. He asked me, ‘Son of man, do you see this?’

Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh.  Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.  Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:1-12 NIV)

The “Dead Sea” is an appropriate name for a body of water in Israel that is eight times saltier than any ocean.  No plants or animals can live in its extreme salinity.  That is what makes Ezekiel’s vision all the more interesting.  Notice that the Dead Sea comes alive.   A river, that started as a trickle and grows wider and deeper as it goes, flows into the salty body of water and replenishes it with fresh, life-giving water.  And all along the way, the river is bringing life—trees bearing luscious fruit and healing leaves growing on its banks and abundant fish swimming in its waters—living waters that have the power to turn death into life.

The Temple was the center of the Jewish faith and at the center of the Temple was the Holy of Holies, the place where once a year the High Priest would enter into the presence of God.  So the picture Ezekiel’s vision is painting is of the day when living water would flow from the presence of the Lord into the spiritually dead world.  

When Jesus met the woman at the well (John 4:1-26), He identified Himself as the source of “living water.”  And then later in John 7, He says this: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (v. 37-38)

The vision of Ezekiel is the picture of Christ entering the world and the living water flowing from Him into human beings who, in turn, allow this water (the Holy Spirit) to flow from them into a spiritually dead world, bringing life wherever it flows.  This is the picture of what the Church’s impact is to be in the world.  Sadly for many, however, experience with churches has only brought more death—death through legalism, hypocrisy, abuse, and shallowness.   To the point they have given up on finding any life there.  

Yet, the Church is the Lord’s means by which the living water flows. We, His followers, are His temple (I Corinthians 3:16), and the water that brings life is to flow from us.  

Today as we begin a new school year, let us see our campus (or our workplace or neighborhood) as a dead sea that is in desperate need of life.  Let us allow the Holy Spirit to flow powerfully through us so that everywhere we go, we bring life into dead places.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Putting Aside Our Fear and Anxiety

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” (Psalm 2:1-4 NIV)

If my Facebook newsfeed is any indication, people are anxious and afraid of what is happening in this country and around the world.  The presidential race has Democrats/liberals terrified of a Trump presidency, while Republicans/conservatives have the same fears of Hillary Clinton in the White House and, for many, angst toward a Trump victory as well. There are also fears surrounding Islamic terrorism, police shootings and police being shot, the inhumanity of the conflict in Syria, and the sense that things are rapidly deteriorating in our world.  

It is so easy to get caught up in the constant drip of bad, even horrifying news.  We can feel scared, powerless, and hopeless.  This is, of course, exactly what our Enemy wants.  He wants to steal our joy, kill our hope, and destroy any sense of security beyond what we see (John 10:10).  He wants us to focus entirely on the immediate rather than the eternal, the principalities and powers of this world rather than on the One who stands outside of time and history. 

This is what leads us to apathy and inaction or into a panic that something must be done immediately.  Fear typically drives us to the extreme of one direction or the other.  

But here is some good news that can set our hearts and minds at ease. God knows fully what is happening in this world, the extent of the evil occurring, and the plots by the powerful to hold onto their power.  He is not intimidated or cowered by what they do.  In fact, the Psalmist says He laughs and scoffs at their ambitions to be in control.  Not saying He laughs at the pain of the innocents inflicted by them, but rather at their hubris.  What power they have is miniscule compared to the Almighty.

For reasons only known to Him, the Lord allows evil people to do evil things, but it will not always be so.  There will be a day of reckoning for evildoers.  But even with much evil in the world, we can be assured that God has not lost control.  He has a divine plan and it is working its way to completion.  The Enemy only wants us to focus on the chaos of the moment, but know the Lord is at work in the midst of the chaos, just as He was when Jesus was nailed to the cross.  Not everything is as it seems.

Today, if you are filled with fear and anxiety about the state of our country and the world, or even your own life, know the Lord is in control. Though things may appear chaotic and out of control, they are not as they seem.  He is still in charge and unfazed.  So put your trust in Him and let go of your fears.  In the parlance of the day, He’s got this. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Finding Our Identity in Christ

“And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.  That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. (II Timothy 1:11-12 NIV) 

After winning a silver medal in the men’s synchronized diving event last week, David Boudia and Steele Johnson did an interview with an NBC reporter.  Both are strong Christians and one would have expected them to give glory to God for their performance, as has been common over recent years for other athletes.  They did that, but in a way that was very different. Instead of merely giving thanks to God or Jesus, they captured the essence of what it means to follow the risen Lord. 

In a world where we continually identify ourselves by what we do or by how much we achieve, these Olympic athletes, having just achieved remarkable success, stated clearly and without shame that their identity in Christ was the source of meaning and purpose in their lives.  And they went even further.  They stressed how much their relationship as brothers in Christ played a crucial part in who they are.  David mentioned the encouragement he and his wife received from Steele, and Steele referred to David as being a great mentor as well as a friend.  

Like the Apostle Paul, these men know Whom they have believed and in Whom they have entrusted their lives.  This faith forms their identity as men/husband/father/friend.  Their particular achievement as divers, as well as everything else they do in their lives, is viewed through the lens of faith in the Lord.  And in that they have no shame or embarrassment.  

What about you?  From where does your identity come?  Is it from what you do, how you look, or how many social media followers or likes you get?  If so, take a lesson from these men of great achievement.  Jesus is the only One who gives us an identity that lasts beyond this life and has any eternal meaning.  He is the Rock on which our lives need to be built. As an old hymn says, “all other ground is sinking sand.”

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Unswerving Faith

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)

There was a turning point in the life of Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps’ life back in 2014 when he was stopped by police for swerving in and out of lanes while driving at more than 80 mph.  He was intoxicated and arrested.  Phelps has said often since then that was a pivotal moment in his life.  He had hit rock bottom.

Swerving while driving is an indication that something is very wrong. Either the driver is distracted—looking down at a phone or adjusting the radio—or is physically or mentally impaired.  Either way, swerving is a bad thing.

Interestingly, the Hebrew writer uses the term “unswervingly” to describe a healthy faith.  In the same way swerving while driving is dangerous, so, too, when our faith is inconsistent while moving along the path of life.  If we are “all over the place,” it is a sign there is trouble.

However, many conclude, like intoxicated drivers, they’re really fine. Emboldened by their lack of understanding of God’s grace, they think they are still safe.  No danger here, they say.  But there is plenty.

As a new school year begins on campus, the erratic swerving has already begun.  Men and women, literally and figuratively, will be all over the place and taking others with them, many who profess hope and faith in the One who is faithful.  New ways of living and new ways of thinking will be tested out. They will convince themselves they’re okay and no one is in danger.  That is, until they truly are. They’re in an accident, they’re pulled over, or they just wake up one morning with the realization they’re in a spiritual ditch.  This is what happened to Phelps and it was the beginning of a spiritual revival in his life.  

This is an example of God’s grace, but He would prefer we never swerve in the first place.  “Let us hold unswervingly…”  This is His desire for us.  To stay true to our faith.  To resist the temptations of the world to pursue that which is spiritually empty.  To remain steady and consistent while moving along in life.  

Today, consider your life.  Can you describe your faith as unswerving? If not, know danger is lurking even if you don’t sense it.  For a man or woman of faith, someone under the influence of God, is steady and consistent.  And that is the way He wants it to be for each of us—unswervingly remaining on the path that leads to life.

© Jim Musser 2016