Friday, September 30, 2016

Putting Others' Interests Before Our Own

“Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.  But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.’

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)  So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.  Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, ‘Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.’” (Genesis 13:5-17 NIV)

If you are with a group of people in someone’s home and see a comfy chair, will you immediately seek to sit in it or allow someone else that honor?  If there is one cookie left, will you take it or wait to see if anyone else wants it?  Or if you see a parking spot in a nearly full lot and see another person heading for it, will you try to beat them to it?

I am guessing most of us, if we’re honest, will answer these questions in the affirmative of getting what we want rather than to defer to someone else, because that is our bent—to serve ourselves.  It takes intention and discipline to put others’ interests before our own.  That is why, as I heard happened recently, that a college student remains in his seat on a bus rather than giving it to an elderly man.  People tend to think about themselves and their needs first.

That is why this story of Abram (later called Abraham) and his nephew, Lot, got my attention.  In this ancient culture, the elders were respected and honored.  It was a given their needs and wants came first.  Thus, when their families had grown too much for the land to sustain them, Abram rightfully could have chosen both where he would settle and where Lot would reside.  Yet, he didn’t.  In fact, he gave his nephew first choice.  And, not surprisingly, Lot chose what he saw as the best land—flat and well watered.  Rather than say, “No, Uncle Abram, you choose first,” Lot did what comes naturally to all of us, he took advantage of the opportunity to satisfy his own desires.

We learn later that life did not turn out so well for Lot, but notice the Lord honored Abram.  He was far from a perfect man, but he is known as a man of faith.  Instead of grabbing what he could for himself, He trusted God to provide for his needs, and this story is a testimony to that.  

Today, consider the generosity of Abram when you see that comfy chair, someone in need of a parking spot or a seat, or that last cookie on the plate.  For the Lord is pleased when we sacrifice our needs in order to bless others. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sin's Fall from Favor

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:1-4 NIV)

This week I attended a meeting of local pastors.  One topic that came up was false teaching in the church.  One pastor shared about a couple who was about to get divorced who received encouragement from their pastor that it was not wrong to do it because that was what grace was for.  In this passage, Paul condemns that view, as well as those of many others who seem to believe and promote that grace sanctions any behavior.  

I grew up in a time where sin and judgment were the dominant themes of many churches.  “Revivals” were routinely held to call both unbelievers and believers to repentance.  Altar calls went on for long periods to give people the opportunity to consider their sin and repent of it.  Guilt and shame were tools of motivation by pastors and evangelists and they wielded them with great delight and fervor.  Most were well intentioned, I believe, but they erred in their lack of emphasis on grace and mercy.  

Now we live in a different time.  Judgment, guilt, shame have fallen out of favor with the culture.  And, as with so many things, the church has followed.  What is taught now and sung about is God’s love and mercy—His grace.  Most sermons that are preached, most books that are written, most songs that are sung focus heavily on God’s love.  Sin is talked about primarily as a minor annoyance that everyone deals with but is no match for the awesomeness of God’s grace.  This view is exemplified by the pastor’s comment to the couple on the road to divorce.  Sin doesn’t matter because of God’s grace.  

But just as the preachers and evangelists of an earlier generation got it wrong to focus almost solely on sin and judgment, so, too, do many of today’s pastors miss the mark in relegating sin to relative insignificance. If Jesus had to offer up His life for crucifixion because of it, how dare we treat it as unimportant and insignificant.  How dare we give the impression to the people God created to be in relationship with Him that it doesn’t really matter how they live their lives when the very sin they’re stuck in, and for which Jesus died to set them free, is preventing that very relationship from existing and growing.

As Paul relates, grace is meant to set us free from bondage to sin in order that we may live a new life; not, as many seem to believe, to give us permission to continue living the same way, just without the guilt.  

Today, recognize grace is not an excuse for you to do as you please, but rather the means by which you can be set free from the vicious cycle of sin in your life.  It is meant to lead you to repentance (Titus 2:11-14), not just to receive forgiveness.  Jesus didn’t die so you could remain stuck in sin.  He died so your life can be changed into one that honors and is obedient to Him.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A More Balanced Prayer Life

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)

Think about your average small group or church at the time prayer requests are being shared.  What requests are made?  Typically, they involve people who are sick or struggling.  Sometimes, they are made for people who are traveling or making important decisions.  On campus, they often revolve around tests and projects.  Rarely, if ever, do you hear a request made to have more love for the Lord and people, more knowledge and insight into the things of God so as to be able to discern the best way to live each day.  

Now there is nothing wrong with asking for prayer for Aunt Sue’s struggle with cancer, dad’s search for a new job, or your week full of tests and projects due.  Yet, like one’s diet, it’s good to have a balanced approach.  

Paul’s prayer here is focused on long-term spiritual growth and transformation.  That is to be the goal of every follower of Jesus, but in terms of our prayer lives, we too easily become focused on what’s right in front of us—the tests, the illnesses, etc.  What’s missing often are the deeper prayers, such as this one that Paul prays.  When we focus solely on the difficulties right in front of us, we can miss out on the resources that ultimately help us to deal better with the trials and struggles in life.  

Any casual reading of Acts and the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John reveal a 1st Century life full of difficulties.  Yet, Paul’s prayer is not focused on any particular one.  Instead, it focuses on the broader, and deeper, need to be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” which is the ultimate purpose of each of our lives.

Today, consider the content of Paul’s prayer.  If you are like me, your prayer life could use a lot more balance.  This prayer would be a good place to start.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Our Protector

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:1-8 NIV)

Almost every day, many of my Facebook friends are posting or sharing articles on this year’s presidential race, and most have the theme of protection.  Hillary is going to protect us from that “deplorable” Trump. Trump is going to protect the country from liberals like Hillary.  She will protect the nuclear codes from the likes of Trump.  He will protect the country from “going down the tubes.”  She will protect the dignity of the office of the President.  He will protect the rights of Christians.  She will protect the rights of minorities.  And on and on it goes.

I am not going to reveal in this space who I’m for or against, but one thing I do know is that our ultimate protection is found in the Lord, not in any politician.  Regardless of the outcome of the November election, I know there are going to be many who will be aghast at the thought of who will soon be sitting in the Oval Office, and just as many who are breathing a sigh of relief that the other won’t be. But the truth is, regardless of who wins, the Lord, the Creator of the universe, is still in control.  Perhaps much to the chagrin of many, He will have allowed the outcome for His purposes and He will use it to accomplish His will.

As my wife and I were talking over the weekend, it is quite possible things will get a lot worse in this country over the next four years for the express purpose of getting both the nation and the Church to repent—the nation from its rejection of God’s authority and the Church for its shallowness, lack of commitment, and focus on worldly things, such as power and prestige.  

The fact is, regardless of who is elected, we error to look to them to be our protector or savior.  The Lord Almighty is the only One who can fulfill that role.  He indeed uses people, including those of less than honorable character or intentions, to serve His purposes, but He is ultimately our protector.   In the strangest political year I have ever experienced, I find comfort in this.  In November, I will vote and I will likely follow the returns to see who wins, but I won’t be fretting about the outcome because I know the Lord is still in control. Whatever happens, He will use it to accomplish His will, which is good, pleasing, and perfect

Today, if you are anxious about the upcoming election, recognize the Lord remains in control.  Rather than the election somehow thwarting His will, He will use the results to accomplish it. In the midst of the chaos and upheaval of this political season, may this provide you with peace of mind and a sense of hope for the future. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

Becoming Properly Trained

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

There used to be a show on called “Restaurant Impossible.”  The premise was the host came to the rescue of a failing restaurant and sought to turn it into a successful one in just two days.  I remember one episode where the featured restaurant was a small, family-owned one in South Carolina.  The owners literally knew nothing about the business and were serving up mostly frozen, canned, and pre-mixed items.  They were losing around $10,000 per month.  

So the host, chef Robert Irvine, came in with his crew and did a total makeover of the restaurant, created a new menu, and attempted to show the owners and staff how to make their restaurant a more pleasant experience for customers.  I was skeptical from the start after seeing how little the people knew about cooking and running a restaurant.  That was all going to change in two days!  I doubted it.  

Well, according to the show, the restaurant had a successful reopening and Mr. Irvine could claim another success story.  However, I went online a bit later and checked out some of the reviews of the restaurant months after the show was filmed.  While there were a couple favorable ones, most cited poor service and poorly prepared food.  The most consistent favorable comments related to the d├ęcor, which was totally redone by Mr. Irvine’s crew.  

The lesson learned here for me is you can’t become skilled in something without proper training, and that a two-day course will not make you qualified, particularly if you don’t have even a base knowledge that goes with a certain skill.  

The same applies to being a follower of Jesus.  I know many who put out their sign, “Follower of Jesus,” but have no clue of how to really do it.  Like the South Carolina restaurant owners, they may be sincere but they have never sought to be properly trained.  So what they serve up is canned fare that attracts few people.  And hearing a sermon once a week or spending a weekend at a retreat is not going to change that. Only through thorough training can we effectively learn how to follow Jesus.  And the first step is to become students of the Scriptures.  It is the most effective tool in establishing a base knowledge of what is involved in living the life Jesus wants us to live.  Obedience to what it says is the important next step, but you can’t be obedient to what you do not know, just like a cook can’t prepare a certain dish without knowing the recipe.  

Today, recognize you cannot truly follow Jesus without the base knowledge of what that means.  Getting thorough training from the Scriptures will put you on a successful path of following Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Seeing Troubles Through the Lens of Eternity

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:7-18 NIV)

People I have been talking with lately have been having lots of troubles. Lots of illness car problems, and financial stress.  Others are dealing with family stuff—parents sick and siblings dealing with issues.  So focus on school and on ministry is difficult.  Troubles, at the very least, are a distraction, and, at worst, can suck the life right out of us.   And they are nothing new.  Troubles are part of living in a fallen world.  

In the 1st Century, Paul was dealing with troubles of his own.  He was being persecuted both physically and emotionally because he had abandoned Judaism and embraced Jesus.  The Jews were furious and the Romans were annoyed.  Everywhere he went, the Jews harassed him and stirred up the crowds.  The Romans, who held civil order in the highest regard, then would have to come in and quell the disturbance. His life was constantly being threatened and there were times he reached the breaking point.  (II Corinthians 1:8-9)

Yet in these times, Paul learned a lesson—to fix his eyes not on what was going on in his life, the troubles he was enduring, but on his hope in Jesus and the promise of better things to come.  In comparison, then, his troubles seemed, in his words, “light and momentary.”  In fact, he viewed them as a means to achieve a greater eternity because his troubles compelled him to lean more heavily on God.

We don’t normally think that way, do we?  When troubles come our way, we usually become consumed by them.  We don’t look beyond them because they fill up our entire view.  But Paul shows us a better way to live.  Rather than be consumed by our troubles, let them propel us into a deeper dependence on the Lord.  Rather than letting them fill up our entire view, see them through the lens of eternity and thereby reduce them to what they truly are—light and momentary distractions.

Today, while it may seem very difficult, begin to look at your troubles through the lens of eternity.  If you can do it, then what you are going through will no longer look so big or so terrible.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jesus Is the Answer

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Romans 15:5-9 NIV)

The past several days have been like so many others in our nation, except now they are much closer to home.  A man in Charlotte, two hours from where I live, was shot and killed by police.  A day earlier, police killed another man in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well.  What followed, as has happened in other cities, were protests and, in the case of Charlotte, riots.  

People across the country are upset by the way many African-Americans are being treated by police, while others are upset by what they consider unfair criticism of the police who, they say, have a very difficult and dangerous job, in dealing with often a hostile public.  While I have opinions on this, the focus of this space is on Jesus, His Word, and its authority in our lives.  So what does He have to say regarding this volatile issue?  

It is very simple, really, as Paul states in this passage.  We should have the same attitude toward others, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status, as Jesus has towards us.  He values each of us and shows mercy to us all.  In other words, He accepts us as we are and loves us and we should do the same.

But simplicity is always complicated where sin is involved.  Things, as the British love to say, get muddled.  For each of these shootings, there are always different perspectives, reasons given, and excuses made. Justice, regardless of one’s view, is rarely believed to have been served.  And so it will continue to be unless Jesus is seen as, and allowed to be, the solution.

Perhaps many of you see this as too simplistic, but the Word says it is Jesus, and only Jesus, who will set all things right, who will restore them to what they were originally created to be (Revelation 21:3-5). If He is not the answer in Charlotte, in Tulsa, in Baton Rouge, and cities filled with tension across our country, then who or what is?

Today, consider how you view and treat other people.  Do you have the same attitude toward them as Jesus has, as He has toward you—one of acceptance and mercy?  If anything is to change in our country and in our communities, it has to begin with Jesus.  Nothing will truly change without Him.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wedding Invitations

“Then a voice came from the throne, saying: ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, 
you who fear him, 
both great and small!’  Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! 
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, 
and his bride has made herself ready. 
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)  Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’  And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’”  (Revelation 19:5-9 NIV)

Working with college students, my wife and I receive a lot of wedding invitations, and I am often invited by couples to officiate their wedding ceremonies.  While invitations to celebrity weddings or those of the social or political elite may be highly coveted for purely selfish motives, most reflect long-standing relationships with the bride and/or groom. Invitations to weddings, then, are not extended lightly or without thought.  And sometimes the process of culling a potential guest list is excruciating as a couple attempts to meet the demands of their budget and venue.  Do you invite her great-aunt Sally?  What about his great-uncle Joe?  

What it will usually boil down to is the closeness of the relationship.  If you have 250 seats and have selected 240 on your potential guest list of 300, the last ten people you select will likely be determined by the closeness of your relationship with them.

This beautiful passage in Revelation depicts the uniting of God and the Church (all the followers of Jesus) in a glorious wedding celebration. And the angel of the Lord declares, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”  And the invitation is delivered only to those who have had a relationship with the Groom.  Unlike a lot of weddings, Aunt Sally is not going to be invited on the fact she is related to the bride’s side of the family.  Uncle Joe the same.  To get invited to this wedding, you must know the Groom and have a relationship with Him.  But His guest list is not limited by venue size or budget.  In fact, the whole world can come—on that one condition: they must have a relationship with the Groom.  

Today, know how blessed you are if an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb is awaiting you.  But don’t assume if you know or are related to some of the wedding party, that will score you an invitation.  It might work that way for a lot of weddings, but not this one.  For this one, you have to have a relationship with the Groom.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lining Up 2

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’  Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’  Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’  He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’  Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’  The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’  He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’  

Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.  Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” (John 21:15-19 NIV)

The Lord’s questioning of Peter was meant to redeem his previous denials that he even knew Jesus.  But it is what He said afterward to which I want to draw attention.  He gives Peter a sense of what lies ahead for him—imprisonment and death.  And then the Lord says, like a platoon leader preparing his soldiers for deadly battle to build up their courage, “Follow me!”  And Peter did, ultimately giving up his life for Jesus. 

I wrote yesterday about how our culture hypes events and merchandise to get people excited to line up for them, and how many are looking for the same kind of excitement when they are looking for motivation to follow Jesus.  For that reason, I wrote, many people find it difficult because what Jesus offers us is the call to take up our cross and follow Him.  It is the path of self-denial and sacrifice.  That path is hard to hype and is why few will find it.  Sadly, however, many in the Church indeed try to hype it in hopes of making it attractive.  But it is a mistake and here is why.

I often receive mailings and messages touting an upcoming conference, typically geared toward youth, and they always proclaim how my life (or those of students) will be changed by attending. Typically, they promote a catchy theme, and a well-known speaker (“he has spoken around the world and is the author of many books”) or band.  I also see the same on social media regarding Christian gatherings—hype upon hype of how this or that event will be life-changing.

I don’t know about you, but in my life I have literally attended hundreds of conferences, retreats, and concerts, and I can only name one that truly changed my life, meaning its purpose and direction.  It was the Urbana missions conference, the gathering of mostly students every three years sponsored by Inter-Varsity.  The rest, for the most part, have been encouraging, enjoyable, and often challenging, but not life-changing.  

Where I have experienced the most life-change, rather, is through the experiences I have had in my daily life, and, quite frankly, many of them have been difficult and often extremely painful, such as the deaths of my parents when I was a young adult, my first wife’s unfaithfulness and her abandonment of our marriage, and being forced out of a ministry I dearly loved.  Others have been immense blessings such as deep friendships and a second chance at marriage.  Many have taken me out of my personal comfort zone, stretched in ways that caused me to depend more and more upon the Lord.  I am the changed man I am today because of God working through the ordinary, and often mundane, things of life.  

We live in a world of hype and, unfortunately many Christians think that is what God needs to help Him change people.  On the contrary, the Creator of the universe needs no hype.  Rather, what He needs are people, like Peter, who are willing to follow Him day in and day out no matter what the cost because they love and trust Him.  This is truly how lives are changed.  

Today, if you want your life to change or those of others, know it will likely not be a conference or a concert that does it.  Rather, it will be an intentional decision to obey the Lord’s command, “Follow me!” and then doing it out of love for Him and trust in Him no matter what lies ahead. Based on my life’s experience, that’s worth lining up for!

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

Lining Up

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.  And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.”

‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.’” (Luke 14:25-33 NIV)

Locally, they were lining up this past weekend.  The Miami Hurricanes came to our small town to play our Mountaineers.  Anticipation had been building for weeks.  On Friday night, students started camping out in hopes of getting the best seats possible.  And on Saturday morning, the line grew exponentially.  It was the same at Apple and phone stores across the country as the new iPhone 7 was released.  People lined up and waited for hours for the opportunity to purchase the latest version of the iconic phone.

When people really want something, they’ll line up for it—either out of excitement or desperation.  In our country, for the most part it is the former.  We line up for big games, concerts, and giveaways.  In other parts of the world, it’s often out of desperation.  People in Venezuela line up for food and other necessities because of countrywide shortages.  Refugees line up for food, medical care, and for passage to another country.

Seeing people line up this weekend led me to thinking about the challenges of getting people to sacrifice to line up for Jesus.  There are always lots of excuses.  I’m too busy.  I have too much homework.  My first priority is my family.  And the list can go on and on.  The reality, however, is we always make time for that which is truly important to us, or for which we have a desperate need.

In His teaching to the crowd of followers, those who found Jesus intriguing and interesting, He lays out what is needed to follow Him. Unlike what we are often led to believe today, it is not emotional excitement, but rather thoughtful intent.  Much of our society is moved by emotion.  That is why games, phones, concerts are so hyped.  The consensus is the sellers and advertisers must create a buzz.  “Big,” “must-see,” “event of the year,” “best ever,” are just some of the adjectives used to get us excited.  

But what is exciting about picking up a cross and giving up everything to follow Jesus?  There is little immediate satisfaction in that!  And that is why I think it is so hard for many to truly follow Jesus.  What it requires is intent born out of desperation.  I need a Savior because I am hopelessly lost.  As long as we have to be motivated by excitement, we will struggle to follow Jesus where He wants to lead us.  

And if you doubt that, then think about how easy it is for people to get excited and sacrifice to stand in line for a mere game, an electronic device, or to hear some band, but can’t really get excited enough to sacrifice time and effort for the King of kings and Lord of lords.  It’s not wrong to get excited about different things.  The problem lies with allowing our lives to be directed solely by emotion.  Jesus will always be on the short end of that one.

Today, what motivates you to live for Jesus?  Is it emotional excitement?  Do you have to get “fired up” for Jesus to do much for Him?  If so, then recognize it will never be enough because following Jesus has always been more about intent and need rather than levels of excitement.  Lining up to follow Jesus is a rational decision of one who knows his deep need and recognizes He is the only One who can meet it.    

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Difficulty of Love

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)

I have been thinking about love lately, not the romantic kind that people have long mistaken to be what this passage is talking about, not the “feeling” kind of love that is conjured up by engagement and wedding announcements, but the “loving” kind of love, where love is actually practiced and not merely felt.  

Yesterday was a perfect example for me.  I had written an email to someone regarding some financial issues that were causing me a lot of stress.  I had questions and I was confident she had some answers, but I was not expecting an immediate response.  These were just some things for her to think about in looking ahead to a more serious discussion.  Several hours later, my phone rang and this woman’s name was on the screen.  She sensed my anxiety from the email and took time out of her schedule to immediately answer my questions.  This was an act of love on her part—she was being kind.

Later in the day, after returning home, I had lingering irritation from something that had happened earlier.  That irritation spilled out onto my wife while we were working together to fix dinner.  Instead of responding in kind, she loved me—she was patient.

When I look at this passage, I am humbled.  Loving is really hard and, so often, I am not very good at it.  When I put my name in the place of love, it is clear how far short I fall of God, who is love (Romans 3:23; I John 4:8).  It shows me how much I need the Lord to help me to love the people around me.  It is not natural, nor is it easy.  I am always thankful for examples like the ones I have cited above.

Jesus told His disciples that people would recognize them as His followers by the way they loved each other (John 13:35).  This is so much easier said than done, so much easier taught than practiced, so much easier assumed than actually lived out.  Often, I think we overestimate our ability to love on our own.  To love is a divine ability that does not come natural to us.  We need help, lots of it.  

Today, put your name in the place of love in this passage.  See how you fare.  I am guessing it will be a humbling exercise as it was for me.  The reality for you and me is we need divine help to truly love.  Now would be a good time to ask for it.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Great Lie

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:4-6 NIV)

If you search on Amazon for “self-help” books, there are nearly 50,000 titles.  Books about how to help oneself overcome any number of problems have been around for centuries, but have only increased over time as more and more people turn to others rather than God for help.

The great lie of all lies that was told back in Eden (Genesis 3:4-5) continues to deceive us to this day: We don’t need God; we can do for ourselves. All we have to do, according to the self-help formula, is to have the right knowledge and discipline to become the person we want to be.  Want to overcome an addiction to food, sex, or alcohol?  Then follow this plan.  Want to stop the self-defeating thinking and behavior that are getting you nowhere?  So and so has just the plan for you to overcome your problem.  

Self-reliance seems to be hardwired into us.  We just naturally want to do things for ourselves just like our ancient ancestors.  However, the words of Jesus could not be more clear: Apart from Him, we can do nothing.  Leaving Him out of the equation of our lives will not achieve for us what we truly desire. 

Every day I see many students trying to do life on their own.  They may claim to follow Jesus, but their self-reliance pulls them in the opposite direction.  They are consumed with worry about school, relationships, and the future.  They fight a losing battle with lust and porn.  Their self-worth is tied to what others think of them.  I find they want to do better, but usually on their own.  The same could be said for an equal number of post-college adults.  

Usually, we really do want to overcome our struggles and the bad habits we have.  The problem is with our hardwiring.  Our strong bent is to try to do it apart from the Lord.  And, as the Lord clearly says, that will always fail.  

Today, consider what you struggle with.  Whatever it is, if you truly want to overcome it, then give up on the repeated attempts to do it on your own apart from the Lord.  It won’t work.  It never has.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Listening to Jesus

“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

“While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” (Luke 9:28-36 NIV)

If you have ever been to Washington, D.C., you know it is a city of monuments and memorials.  The most famous probably are the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, but there are dozens of others including the Viet Nam Memorial and the  Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  These monuments and memorials are to honor the great figures and events in American history.  And that is what we do when we want to honor or memorialize someone of significance.  We build a monument.

So we can understand Peter’s urge to build something in recognition of what he had just witnessed—the glorious appearance of two of Judaism’s greatest heroes, Moses and Elijah side by side with Jesus. So why then does Luke include the parenthetical statement, “He did not know what he was saying,”?  Honestly, probably none of the disciples questioned it at that moment.  Only when God the Father spoke out of the cloud did his suggestion then become ridiculous.  

By wanting to build monuments for all three, Peter was equating Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.  Without thinking, he was creating a Jewish Trinity, equal, but distinct.  There was only one problem.   Moses and Elijah were mere men, while Jesus was the Son of God.  The Father quickly reminded Peter and the other disciples of this fact and the idea of building monuments was quickly dropped.
How easy it is for us to put people or experiences on equal level with Jesus, and allow them to have equal influence or authority in our lives. I have seen people put friends right up there with Jesus, or a girlfriend or boyfriend.  I have seen some allow a certain experience, like a mission trip or a summer camp, to become their guide for life.  Yet, we always need to be reminded of the words of the Father, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  

Today, recognize there are a lot of good things in life, including great relationships and experiences, but none deserve a place equal to Jesus.  He is Lord and you need to listen always to Him above all others.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Our Need for Mercy

“Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.

‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”  So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

‘Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

‘The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” “My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’” (Luke 15:11-32 NIV)

This is likely a familiar story to you, one that has long been interpreted to show God’s amazing grace toward those who have foolishly abandoned Him to pursue their own desires and lived to suffer the consequences.  The father’s embrace of his repentant son symbolizes the Lord’s great mercy toward those who humble themselves before Him.  

But there is more that we can learn from this beautiful story.  Most of the focus historically has been on the younger son and the mercy the father showed him after he wasted his inheritance.  But what becomes clear, if we look a little deeper, is how both sons, the older and the younger, wasted their inheritance.  While the younger son draws the greater attention through the sheer audacity of his request for his father’s money and subsequent very poor choices in spending it, the older son, likewise, is wasteful with his inheritance with legalism and a lack of humility.  It is clear by his reaction to his father’s show of mercy to his younger sibling that he has a sense of entitlement and the lack of appreciation for what he already has, which often accompanies it.  

This story, if we look closely, is played out in modern times over and over.  The younger brother represents the person who will be ruled by no one and thinks it’s his right to live as he chooses, even though all that he possesses has been given to him.  Think of college students whose parents are paying all their expenses who choose to party their way through school and don’t attend their classes.  Or gifted athletes who spend the millions they earn on lavish living and end up financially ruined within years of the end of their careers.  Think of young people who have been raised in the faith, but upon leaving home, choose a different path.  Many stories have these folks written about how they had to look up at the bottom before they realized their desperate need for God.

The older brother, as Jesus intended, represents religious people who are under the false notion that they have earned God’s favor by the way they live.  This, too, is played out every day behind the walls of church buildings and homes in the hearts of those who fail to understand their desperate need for God.  They are proud of their righteousness and, like the older brother, look down on anyone who fails to meet their standards of behavior.  Think of the preachers who shout and condemn students every fall and spring on college campuses across the country. Think of people who refuse to associate with someone based on politics or lifestyle.  Think of people who focus more on the sins of others than on their own.  

Both groups, in essence, are wasting the inheritance the Lord has given them, and both arrogantly believe it belongs to them.  The one believes it is theirs to do with what they want, while the other believes they have been given charge of it to keep and protect it.  

The truth is the inheritance, the riches of God’s grace, belongs to Him. It always has and always will.  And it is not something any of us has earned or is entitled to possess.  We all are guilty of mishandling what we’ve been given. Thus, regardless of whether we are reflected more in the younger son or the older one, our need for the Lord’s mercy is the same.

Today, examine your heart.  You have been given a great inheritance. How are you spending it?  Regardless of your answer, be assured of the Lord’s offer of mercy and your desperate need for it.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, September 12, 2016

Biblical Literacy

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15 NIV)

I read an article this morning about a journalist who found high school students in a charter school were unaware of the death of Osama bin Laden several years after a U.S. Seal team killed him. He was appalled enough by their ignorance that he started the News Literacy Project, which focuses on getting young people interested in national and world news, and learning how to discern what is true and what isn’t—a very important skill in the age of internet, where fiction often co-exists with the truth, but without distinctive markers.

This article reminded me of my own sadness and frustration with people who have grown up involved in a church, but are basically ignorant when it comes to the Bible.  They often know the popular stories, such as the ones about Noah, Daniel and the lions’ den, and Zacchaeus climbing the tree, but lack a comprehensive understanding of biblical teaching.  I was heartened recently by a conversation with one of my former students who told me how grateful he was for the experience he and his wife had with the campus ministry I lead.  They now lead a church small group and he told me how little the members know about biblical teaching or how to pray.  

Sadly, this has been my experience with so many students entering college who have grown up in a Christian home and have attended church since they were babies.  They know very little about what the Scriptures truly say and how to apply their teachings to their everyday lives.  But even more alarming is the fact that there are many older adults who have been involved in church their whole lives for which the same can be said.  I recall being a guest preacher at a church where the elders gathered around me requesting I handle almost every part of the service, including the Communion meditation and the prayer time. Perhaps it was their fear of public speaking, but it struck me as odd that not one of the men was willing to pray or to teach from the Word in front of the congregation of which they were the spiritual leaders.  

In our campus ministry, we have long had what is the Christian version of the journalist’s News Literacy Project.  We are seeking to do what Paul sought for Timothy—to help them know the Scriptures thoroughly enough to handle them correctly.  We not only teach from the Word, we have them read it and discuss its application. We encourage them to read it regularly on their own, studying it and applying what they read.  

As with the news, there are people out there teaching things they claim are biblical and true, but not all are as true as they seem when the whole of Scripture is brought to bear on their claims.  Over the years of my ministry, I have had many students enter college with firm beliefs regarding the Christian faith, only to leave believing different things because they actually studied the Scriptures and let them be their guide on what to believe rather than their church or family tradition.  

Today, consider what your biblical literacy is. How much do you really know about what the Word says beyond what other people tell you? How much time do you devote to personally reading and studying it per week?  If these questions make you uneasy, then likely you are not as biblically literate as you thought or need to be.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Being Ready for the Day

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

Time-Warner Cable has an ad on Pandora saying, “We’ll send you out ready for your day!”  The ad refers to giving you the latest news, weather, and traffic reports.  I have thought about that since hearing it during some of my morning workouts.

What truly prepares us for the day ahead?  Is it knowing what has been happening in the world overnight, what the weather is going to be, or how congested the morning rush hour is?  I suppose this information could be of some help, but I doubt it is enough or the appropriate information to send you out ready to face whatever is ahead.

Part of the problem is this information doesn’t do anything about yesterday.  It doesn’t resolve the conflict we had with a friend.  It doesn’t remove the regret of a poor decision.  And it doesn’t change our present circumstances if they are less than favorable.

The writer of Lamentations was in a bad place.  Before his eyes, his beloved Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, was being destroyed by the sin of its people.  When he woke up each morning, the latest information was not going to change that.  Sleep is a great escape from our troubles, but when we awake in the morning, we are faced with them once again.  

But the lamenting writer found comfort in the timeless news of the Lord’s mercies (or compassions, as the NIV translates it).  They are new every morning!  So no matter what you experience the day before and what awaits you when you wake up, His mercies are right there as well.

In my life, I’ve had quite a few nights where sleep brought escape from my troubles, but reality was waiting for me in the morning.  After my mother passed away when I was in grad school, this passage brought me great hope and comfort.  And it has in times since when I have found life almost too hard to bear.  Instead of being consumed with my troubles, the hope in the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness has kept me going.

This morning, if you are waking up to the troubles that are carrying over from yesterday, know the Lord is providing you what you need to be ready for your day—His mercies, which are new every morning.   

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Stress Points

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?  My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.  Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.  Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.  I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?  Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’  My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’

Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42 NIV)

We all have them.  They may change over time, but, in some form or other, they will be ever present with us.  I’m referring to those things that create stress for us.  I call them stress points.  Working with college students, it is easy to identify at least three of their stress points—school, relationships, and the future.  Every semester of every year, these three are predominant in causing stress for students.  And they often mistakenly think that once they have finished school, their stress points will lessen or disappear altogether.   If it were only so.

But those of us who are living life with school in the rearview mirror know this is a myth that only has legs on college campuses.  We know from experience that the stresses of life typically increase rather than decrease.  Financial pressures from student loan debt and just the demands of living life.  Expectations of employers.  The pressures that accompany marriage and having a family.  Caring for aging parents. The list goes on and on.  The reality is for all of us that life is stressful and, at times, overwhelmingly so.  

The Psalmist, it seems, was experiencing the latter.  The circumstances of his life were pulling him down.  He believed in and trusted the Lord, but at the same time he was struggling to keep the faith and remain hopeful.  He reminds himself of the faithfulness of God, not once, not twice, but three times.  In the situation he finds himself, faith does not come easily.  In fact, he is willing himself to believe, to trust, and to remain hopeful.  

I find this very encouraging because I struggle with the same thing.  In times of great stress, I can find myself overwhelmed and my faith in the Lord weakened.  But in those times, I have tried to follow the Psalmist’s lead and not let my anxiety overwhelm me even if the circumstances of my life are doing just that.  Rather, I try to remind myself (sometimes out loud) of God’s faithfulness and provision.  But, as with the Psalmist, it is often a mighty struggle.  And that should not be a surprise or a discouragement.  Our flesh is weak and we have an Enemy who seeks to steal our joy.  Life trusting the Lord will be a battle and we should expect nothing less.  Yet, we have the promise of the Lord that if we trust in Him, we can overcome whatever stress we face in this world.

Today, or in the future, if you are feeling overwhelmed by life, take a lesson from the Psalmist.  Will yourself to trust the Lord.  He will help you overcome whatever you are facing.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Bridge of Grace

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13 NIV)

While I was working on my master’s degree in counseling, I worked one semester as a teaching assistant and taught my own class.  It was a freshman-level class for students interested in exploring career options. As with all classes, there were projects and papers.  I thought I did a decent job, but I was demanding.  

At the end of the semester, the students filled out the required class evaluation forms and my supervising professor warned that students are often very negative in their critiques.  When he handed me the stack of forms, he said, “Don’t take these personally.”   Well over half said something like this: “Jim is a nice man, but…” and what would follow were their criticisms of how tough and demanding I was.  

I was thinking about this the other day after hearing a student criticize another ministry.  “They’re okay, but….” I admit saying similar things sometimes about people, ministries or situations.  However, what I am also learning is grace is the bridge over the “but….”  

None of us is perfect.  We all have our flaws, idiosyncrasies, and shortcomings.  In other words, we all need to be on the receiving end of grace.  Since that is the case, Paul says, we should be quick to extend grace to others when their imperfections irritate us or even offend us.  It is so easy, perhaps even natural, for us to descend into the valley of criticism, but recognizing our own need for grace can help us to take the bridge instead.  

This is not to say we are to ignore people’s shortcomings.  In fact, “bear with” implies a full knowledge and experience with imperfect people. Yet, despite the imperfections, we are to continue to love and accept our brothers and sisters.  We are to take the bridge instead of going into the valley, remembering the words of Jesus, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV)

Today, as you interact with fellow believers and encounter their shortcomings, remember the bridge of grace is always the best path to take.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Blessings Missed

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 NIV)

My wife and I were walking around a nearby lake, a popular spot for both tourists and locals, when we saw this huge turtle going for a late afternoon swim.  As we were watching it and marveling at its size, a mother and teenage daughter walked by.  The mother, seeing us staring at something, turned to see what we were looking at.  “Is that a turtle?” she asked.  We confirmed her suspicions.  Then she turned to her daughter, “Look at that turtle!”  The girl didn’t say anything, but continued to walk and to stare at her phone.  The mother tried again, “Did you see the turtle?”  The girl, annoyed by her mother’s insistence, continued to stare at her phone and explained, “I’m trying to send a text, and, no, I didn’t see the turtle.”  As they continued to follow the trail out of our sight, the girl never took her eyes away from her phone.

Some would say this is a modern-day phenomenon and a sign of the times, but people for a very long time have found it alluring to focus on things other than God’s creation.  The phone and computer screens are only the latest distractions.  Before that there were (and still are) television, radio, record players, newspapers, movies, books, games, etc. that have captivated our attention to the exclusion of what God has created.  It seems our bent to be easily distracted by that created by humans and drawn away from that created by God.  

Many years ago, I remember meeting some young men at a youth ranch in southeastern Kansas.  They were from big East Coast cities and when I asked them what they thought of Kansas, they told me the dark and the silence of the prairie had frightened them initially.  All their lives, they had lived amidst artificial noise and light, never traveling beyond the confines of the city.  The countryside was a foreign and uncomfortable place for them until they grew accustomed to it.  But then, they told me, they grew to enjoy it and embrace it as a place to more clearly see the awesomeness of God.

I live in a beautiful place that is a destination for many to experience the grandness of the forests and the mountains, and to breathe in the cool, fresh mountain air.  But even so, I find I have to be intentional to break free from the distractions of the screens to take in what is around me, which, importantly, doesn’t just include the mountains, but also the people who the Lord also created.  The allure of my devices created by humans is always seeking to divert my attention away from all He has created.  

Today, consider how much attention you devote to your screens or other human-made things that allure you away from that which the Lord has created for you to enjoy.  If He made them for your pleasure, then you are missing out on some wonderful blessings if you allow yourself to be allured away by other things.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Broken Heart of a Lover

“But she carried her prostitution still further. She saw men portrayed on a wall, figures of Chaldeans portrayed in red, with belts around their waists and flowing turbans on their heads; all of them looked like Babylonian chariot officers, natives of Chaldea. As soon as she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea.  Then the Babylonians came to her, to the bed of love, and in their lust they defiled her. After she had been defiled by them, she turned away from them in disgust.  When she carried on her prostitution openly and exposed her naked body, I turned away from her in disgust, just as I had turned away from her sister. Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt.  There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.” (Ezekiel 23:14-21 NIV)

I don’t know how it happened.  I admit Ezekiel is not a book that I have spent a lot of time reading over my years as a follower of Jesus, but I have read it, a number of times.  But when I read this passage a few days ago, it didn’t sound familiar.  I wondered how could I have glossed over previously this little nugget—“there she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses”?!  I was once again reminded how earthy and direct the Lord’s language can be.

Often I think we consider God some kind of cosmic prude, who is uncomfortable with the ways of the world with which we are so familiar. We can’t envision Him speaking in the type of coarse language we might use.  Perhaps this passage can put an end to this sort of thinking.  
The Lord seems to speak in such direct terms when idolatry is at issue. In this case, Israel longed to be like other nations.  They had sought to form an alliance with Assyria, and when the terms proved too demanding, they then turned to Egypt.  Both nations had their own gods and evil practices, such as sacrificing children.  Israel turned her eyes away from the Lord and lusted for attention from these nations.  

Have you ever been in a relationship where your deep devotion has been betrayed?  If so, like me, you know the deep hurt that results. This was the position the Lord was in with Israel.  He had shown her deep devotion, rescuing her from slavery in Egypt, providing her with her own land and blessing her with material wealth and worldly stature.  Yet, she spurned His devotion out of lust for another.  This is a love story gone bad, and God revealed His broken heart in the most graphic language.  

We live in a different time now.  God no longer makes covenants with nations, but with individuals.  But His heart is no less devoted.  He longs for us to have an exclusive relationship with Him.  Yet, there are others lurking about who threaten the relationship, things in this life that seek to stir up our lust and to steal our devotion to the Lord.  

Today, consider if there are individuals or things in your life that you are lusting after, which are drawing you away from the Lord.  The graphic language He uses in reference to Israel’s betrayal can give you a sense of how deep His devotion is to you and how hurt He is when it is spurned for something else.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

Putting an End to Self-Condemnation

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

Most of us are experienced in self-condemnation.  Even those of us who appear self-confident on the outside, have no problem berating ourselves from within.  Recently, I was talking with a student who does just that.  It is a habit and it has been long established. 

Our Enemy is known as the accuser. The thoughts in our head—“You’re no good;” “You’re unworthy;” “You’re so stupid;” “You’re a hypocrite.”—come directly from him.  He wants to fill our minds with accusations, all of which, if we are followers of Jesus, are false.  This is his game and he plays it oh so well.

So many of us struggle with our self-worth.  Our minds are filled with the accusations cited above or ones similar. And the way we often handle them plays right into the Enemy’s hands.  He wants us to continually doubt our worth in order to tempt us to resign ourselves to a life with no hope.  If we are not worth much, why have hope, why try?

I have met many students like this over my years on campus.  They embrace the accusations in their heads and live accordingly.  They either reject God outright, spend their energy trying to prove their worth, or live in a perpetual state of guilt. 

If this is you, then look at this passage, print it out and put it on the bathroom mirror, have it on a card and carry it with you wherever you go, or just memorize it.  In whatever way will work, get these words into your head and into your heart.  IF YOU ARE IN CHRIST, YOU ARE NOT CONDEMNED!  And then REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT every time an accusation comes into your mind.

The truth is the Accuser is telling you lies.  He condemns you and wants you to condemn yourself.  And, likely, that is what you are doing.  But here is a question for you: If the God of the Universe and your Creator doesn’t condemn you, what right do you have to condemn yourself?

Today, when the accusations come and you are tempted to believe them, repeat these words: I am a child of God and loved by Him. Because I am in Christ, He does not condemn me.  If you are a follower of Jesus, no truer words can ever be spoken.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Embracing Difficult Times

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV)

Before you start reading this, go back and read these words from James again.  Find anything surprising, or even astounding?  How about (this is my paraphrase), “Consider it a joyful privilege when you have to endure various trials…”  

Let’s think about that for a minute.  So James is saying when you have a difficult roommate situation, you should be joyful.  When you are out of a job, you should embrace the situation.  When you suffer a great loss, your grief should be enveloped by a greater joy.  Any trial or difficulty, in other words, should be welcomed with an attitude of hope and resolve.

In my life of faith, I have encountered numerous trials of significance—including the deaths of my parents while in my 20’s and abandonment by my first wife—and I learned a lot from those experiences, but I can’t say that, at the time I was going through them, I embraced them with joy.   Yet, looking back at those experiences, I can see James’ perspective.  I do find joy in what I learned and the spiritual growth that came as a result.  In fact, I have grown more during the trials of my life than at any other time.   And that, I believe, is the point James is making.  

We should embrace trials in our lives because it is during those times when the Lord can do His most significant transforming work.  His goal is to make us mature and complete.  The difficulties that we face in our lives help to achieve that goal.

Today, if you are facing a difficult time in your life, don’t seek to run away from it or become embittered.  Instead, embrace it with joy as an experience God will use to help you mature in your faith.  

© Jim Musser 2016