Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Upgrading Your Spiritual Security

“Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’” (John 10:7-10 NIV)

Everyday we take actions to prevent ourselves from being victims of thieves and robbers.  In restaurants or stores, women keep a close eye on their purses or handbags.  We lock our front doors, our windows, and our cars.  We have passwords and firewalls.  We live in a world full of thieves and robbers looking for opportunities to steal what does not belong to them.  Thus, we take precautions.  

Jesus tells us of a thief that wants to rob us of more than just our material possessions.  He wants to steal our hope, our joy, and our very souls.  Yet, how many precautions do we take against his schemes? We lock the doors to our apartments or our homes, but how often do we guard ourselves against falling to temptation?  

Working with students I am often amazed at how those in relationships talk about their physical struggles, but then I learn they are spending time on a bed, together, in the dark, watching a movie.  Talk about leaving the door wide open for the thief!  Or those who want to follow Jesus, but still feel it necessary to hang around their friends from their old life.  It’s the equivalent of putting a sign on your car saying, “Please Take This.”  

Satan is a liar and a thief.  Always has been; always will be.  And like a burglar, he is on the prowl looking for victims.  If we only guarded our souls like we daily guard our possessions, he would be much less a threat.  

Today, consider what precautions you are taking.  Is there a need for an upgrade in the spiritual security of your life?  If so, now is the time to make a plan and implement it.  The thief is working the neighborhood.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why Do You Call Him Lord?

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:46-49 NIV)

It is a simple question intended for all of us who claim Jesus as our Lord.  If it is true what we say, that Jesus is our Lord, then why don’t we do what He tells us to do?  Most of us would likely answer it’s because we are sinners.  This is obviously true, but I think that is the easy answer and a means of protecting our pride.  Our tendency toward sin becomes an easy excuse, but ignores another truth.

A complete reading of the Scriptures reveals the Lord desires us to submit to Him and follow Him.  But it is our choice.  Despite what people often think, God is far from overbearing.  While He has the power to force us into submission, He chooses not to do so, at least until the end of time. He has given us a free will to follow Him or not.  It is up to us to choose.

And like those in Jesus’ day, many of us want to have it both ways.  We want to claim Jesus as Lord and still do as we please.  But Jesus sees the hypocrisy in that and asks the obvious question: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” For isn’t that the definition of “Lord,” that submission is given to one with such a title, that obedience to such a person is understood?

What the people of Jesus’ day had done, and what we do as well, is make “Lord” a title for Jesus without the requisite obligations that come with it.  We want to claim Jesus as Lord of our lives without actually submitting to Him.  We want to live our lives as we please, but then pretend He has a central role in them. We would rather He serve us than we serve Him.

Think about it.  Do we really want to submit our future to Him?  If you are single, are you willing to submit to the Lord even if it means you might never marry?  Are you willing to submit your vocation to Him even if it means doing something very different than you have planned?  

And what about the present?  Are you willing to forgive and reconcile with someone who has caused you pain?  Are you willing to change your lifestyle to a manner more pleasing to the Lord?

And what about the past?  Are you willing to forgive as the Lord has forgiven you—both yourself and others?  

The truth that Jesus laid bare is we so often want to do what we want regardless of what He says.  We want our way more than His.  We can call Him “Lord,” but the truth of that is borne out by how we live in submission to Him.

Today, if you call Jesus “Lord,” is it more than a mere title.  Are you living in submission to His will?  If He is truly your Lord, then you will seek to do what He says to do.  You may not always succeed, but there will be no question of your desire to do so.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Danger of Greed

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5 NIV)

Sadly, it happens every year on Black Friday.  People are killed or injured during the annual shopping day.  According to, in the last 10 years there have been nine deaths and 102 injuries directly involving Black Friday shoppers. People have been shot, trampled, stabbed, beaten, pepper-sprayed, and hit by cars while seeking the year’s best bargains. 

Jesus warns us to be on our guard against greed because life consists of more than just what we can possess.  And Paul identifies greed for what it is—idolatry.  We in the West usually view idolatry as something practiced in ancient times or in primitive cultures.  We picture idols as wooden or bronze statues residing in temples to which people bring offerings and bow down in worship.  We don’t typically view ourselves as in danger of practicing idolatry.

But I can’t help get the image of idolatry out of my mind when I view videos from Black Friday.  People camped out in front of large buildings containing items they desperately want, rushing through the doors to grab them, and then paying out hundreds of dollars to own them.  

But this is not limited to Black Friday.  Think of every time a new iPhone is released.  People line up by the thousands all across the country in order to be one of the first to own them.  It is not much of a stretch to overlay these images on those of idol worshippers in line at their temples.

I think Paul added “which is idolatry” to draw our attention to the great danger of greed.  An idol is something to which we give great value and worship.  But the Lord warns us, “You will have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) 

You may not consider yourself an idolater, but if greed has captured your heart in any form, then you are guilty of idolatry.  Today, examine yourself to ensure that you worship the Creator rather than the created. For your life consists of more than you can possess.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Thanksgiving List

(Author's Note: Tomorrow we begin our Thanksgiving Break, so I will be taking a break as well.  WftW will return on November 28th.  May you have a very blessed Thanksgiving holiday!  Jim)

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)

As we approach our national day of Thanksgiving on Thursday, here is a partial list of the things for which I am thankful on a continual basis:

*The grace and mercy of Jesus, who loves me and saves me despite my sin.

*My wife of 11 years, a woman of faith beyond what I could have asked or imagined, and far more than I deserve.

*My vocation, to which He surprisingly called me more than 30 years ago and through which He has blessed me abundantly.

*Our home, in which we moved two years ago this week.  What a blessing it has been as an outlet for our gifts of hospitality, hosting many a stranger and friends alike, and as a gathering place and second home for many students.  

*Shelter, food, and clothing. In a wealthy nation such as ours, it is easy to take these for granted, but in reality they are blessings from above.

*Good health.  Even as I approach the fringes of old age, I feel as though I’m still 30, but with a lot more wisdom.  Another blessing from above!

*Good friendships, both those of many decades and those of just a few years.  

*The beauty of the place in which we live.  Every day we have the privilege of seeing beautiful mountains, forests, and streams, which people drive for hours to see.

*Our nation, which is far from perfect, but still provides us with so much for which we can take for granted—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, decent roads, effective local governments where trash is picked up, electricity and water are reliable, mail is delivered in a timely fashion, and elections are fair.

*The firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of others.

Remember, being thankful is one way to fulfill God’s will in your life. Today, what is on your thanksgiving list?

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016

Being a Shining Light

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9 NIV)

As our pastor read this passage yesterday, it stood out to me as something very appropriate for the time we are living in right now.  So let’s take a closer look.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Always. Not occasionally.  Not sometimes. Not when we’re feeling good or the circumstances of our lives are just right. Always. No matter what is going on. 

It is always helpful to know the context of Scripture and this is no exception.  At the time he was writing, Paul was in a Roman dungeon, chained to a Roman guard. Not the most idyllic situation. Yet, he is encouraging his fellow believers, who were also being persecuted, and us to rejoice, not in our circumstances, but in the Lord.  

“Let your gentleness be evident to all.”  With the advent of social media, coarseness in our conversations and the way in which we relate to others is in and gentleness is out.  The command here is to be intentionally gentle.  If it is to be evident, it must be demonstrated.  Paul is calling us to intentionally be different.  He may be echoing his command to the Thessalonians not to “quench the Spirit,” but to allow Him to produce His fruit, of which gentleness is one, within us.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  Again, imagine the context in which Paul is writing.  He has plenty about which to be anxious.  But he eschews the “go it alone” approach.  He leans on the Lord.  And he focuses on what blessings he’s been given, not on what he is currently lacking.  

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  What transpires when we rejoice regardless of our circumstances, when we allow the Spirit to have His way with us, when we continually lean on the Lord amidst the circumstances of our lives, and are always mindful of how God has blessed us?  There will be a peace in our lives that is unexplainable and totally irrational.  This was true of Paul if we look at his situation.  How in the world could he have such a positive and content attitude while imprisoned in a Roman jail?  It makes no sense, but is such a tremendous witness to the power of God.

Today, recognize the world is desperate for such a witness.  We are living in times of great upheaval and uncertainty.  People are fearful, angry, and discouraged.  There is a strong need for a counterbalance in attitude.  Will you bring that to your campus, in your workplace, among your friends and family?  I think this is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Let your light shine before others.” 

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016


“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)

This is a short story and it appears only in Luke’s gospel, but it is a must read for every member of a task-oriented culture.  Jesus has come to visit the sisters of his good friend, Lazarus.  Martha, being very aware of the cultural practice of hospitality, is busy preparing a meal for this special guest.  However, she becomes increasingly frustrated at her sister for not helping with the preparations.  Instead, Mary is hanging out in the living room listening to Jesus.  Finally, Martha can take it no longer, and in a breach of Jewish etiquette, implores Jesus to scold Mary for her laziness.

I once knew a woman who would invite people to her home for a meal, but would spend the whole time preparing the meal and then cleaning up.  She barely spent any time with the guests she had invited into her home.   She was keen on hospitality, but then missed the essence of it. I think this was Jesus’ point to Martha.  When we get so focused on the task that we miss the people involved, we have missed the point entirely.  Here was the Son of God in the living room and Martha thought it more important to be in the kitchen.

It is easy to look at her and be critical, but how often do we do the same?  How often do the tasks at hand overshadow the people in our lives, whether it be a spouse, our children, friends, people in need, or the Lord Himself?  It is so easy to get distracted from what is truly important.  What Jesus told Martha boils down to priorities.  He didn’t criticize her for wanting to prepare a meal, but rather her failure to recognize the unique opportunity before her to spend time with Him.

There will always be tasks to complete, but what this story illustrates for us is those tasks can, at times, distract us from focusing on the people in our lives.   As you go about your day, remember the story of Mary and Martha.  You may have a lot to do, but don’t allow those tasks to distract you from more important opportunities that may come your way.  
© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Culture of Distrust

“They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.’

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’

But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’” (Numbers 13:26-33 NIV)

The Lord had promised the Israelites to give them the land of Canaan. Now He told them to assemble a reconnaissance team to enter the Promised Land.  When they returned, the consensus was the obstacles were too great for them to enter.  The people were too big, too strong, and too many.  The conclusion was attempting to occupy the new land would be suicidal.  

This reflected a cultural distrust that had long existed among the Israelites.  Countless times since their God-led escape from Egypt, they had questioned His wisdom and ability as He led them on this journey. Only a very small minority had trusted the Lord throughout, and one of those was Caleb.  His was the only voice raised to object to the pessimistic findings of the team. “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it,” he confidently proclaimed. However, they would have none of this wistful thinking.  They understood the realities on the ground and would not listen to such foolishness.

As I look at Christians today in our culture, I see many similarities with the Israelites.  On campus right now, students are in their final weeks of the semester and most are stressed out and worried about their projects and exams.  I try to remind students that worrying is actually a sin and that they should hand over their anxieties to the Lord, but it usually has little effect because all around them their brothers and sisters in the Lord are stressed and worried. It is the culture in which they live and they are carried away by it.

It is a similar culture in the adult world.  We live by sight rather than by faith in the God who always keeps His promises.  It is a culture of distrust.  

This is what Caleb faced and we face it, too.  The vast majority does not trust God.  What they say and how they live provides the evidence for that.  They worry about money, the future, the present, the past; they avoid an intimate relationship with the Lord for fear of what He might ask them to do; they think prayer often is an excuse for not taking “real” action; they fear suffering and death so take whatever steps to avoid either; they fear being outcasts so do everything to fit in.  In sum, they live in distrust of God and rely rather on themselves.

Even in the face of “reality,” Caleb held fast to the promise of God.  He had promised them possession of Canaan; thus, He would deliver no matter how impossible or impractical it seemed.  He went against his culture and was rewarded for it.

Today, consider our culture’s effect on your walk with the Lord.  Are you living boldly by faith, following Him wherever He leads you, being obedient to His commands no matter how difficult or impractical they seem to be? Or are you allowing the culture of distrust to influence you, to where, while claiming faith, you are relying on yourself rather than God?  Caleb has given all of us an example to follow.  We would be wise to do so.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Coffee Grounds Faith

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:14-20 NIV)

Yesterday, I was sitting in my office working and enjoying a cup of coffee from my favorite coffee shop in town.  I lifted my cup to savor the last bit that was left.  Suddenly, I found myself literally spitting it back into the cup.  Unbeknownst to me, coffee grounds were sitting at the bottom and, in that last sip, I had sucked them into my mouth.  It was a disgusting experience.  And it gave me an even greater understanding of what Jesus was telling the Laodicean church.

The people in the church were completely satisfied with their lives. Obviously, they were participating in church gatherings and must have believed they were in good standing with the Lord.  Yet, He called them lukewarm and said that though they thought they were rich, in fact they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”  Not exactly a ringing endorsement and not likely what they expected to hear.  

It was a divine wake-up call they needed to hear and so do we.  It is so easy, as the Apostle Paul implies, to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. (Romans 12:3)  We grow satisfied with where we are in our lives and with the Lord.  Where we once were “hot” for the Lord, we may have grown lukewarm.  And like those coffee grounds in my mouth, Jesus finds lukewarmness disgusting.  So much so, He would rather us be rejecting Him than tepidly following Him!  

This smacks dead in the face of our often “better than nothing” approach.  At least we are in church every Sunday.  At least we aren’t doing THOSE things.  At least we are giving some money to the poor. Jesus finds this approach disgusting.  What He wants is not half-hearted efforts, but humbled and fully committed people.  Just like I want to be drinking the coffee and not the leftover grounds.

Today, know the Lord loves you and this is why He is warning you.  Are you lukewarm in your faith?  Then it is time for a change of heart only He can give.  He is waiting and knocking.  Will you humble yourself and let Him in?

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Need for Prayer

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)

We have heard for years how polarized America is becoming and, for many, this was borne out by the election of Donald Trump last week.  To many, this is one of history’s greatest catastrophes; too others it is an act of God.  From either perspective, or one that is leaning in one direction or the other, I sense there is little understanding of this counsel Paul is giving Timothy.

I can imagine the vitriol one would receive on social media if it were suggested we pray for President-elect Trump.  “No!” I imagine the response, “his election is illegitimate and we need to oppose him at every turn!”  I can also easily imagine the same if it were suggested to pray earnestly for those protesting in the streets, those calling Trump supporters racists, bigots, and xenophobes, and those who sincerely believe half the country has lost its mind.  “They should stop whining, shut up, and go home.  They lost!”

The context of Paul’s counsel is crucial.  Followers of Jesus were being routinely persecuted. They were distrusted, considered extreme and even delusional, and were outcasts in Roman society.  And at the highest levels of the Roman Empire, they were viewed as enemies of Roman rule.  Yet, Paul urges believers to pray for those who are their accusers and persecutors.  

I wonder how many believers on either side of the presidential election are committing themselves to diligent prayer for those on the other side?  If you voted for Trump, are you praying in earnest for those who may consider you any number of things that are far from flattering?  If you view Trump’s election as a horrid thing, are you praying in earnest for those who see it differently?  Honestly, I doubt it.  And the reason is it is just too easy to dig ourselves in and reinforce our own self-righteousness.  Our enemies serve as our justification for just how right we are, so we spend our energy promoting that because it serves our self-interest.  

However, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us demands a humility that is hard for us to swallow. For it is in the face of our enemies that our self-righteousness most strongly rears its ugly head.  Because we see ourselves being right compared to our enemies, we tend to forget our own fallenness.  Jesus and Paul, through their teachings, call us back to reality.  God loves everyone and Jesus gave His life for everyone, not just the good people.  Thus, we are called to love our enemies because God loves them, and praying for them is an expression of love.  

Today, regardless of your view of the our President-elect and the people who are for or against him, recognize as a follower of Jesus you are called to be praying earnestly for those you may consider your enemies. The truth is, He loves them just as much as He loves you.  And just maybe, your prayers and those of others will have a calming effect on our nation as a whole.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pushing on Through

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

To be honest, I didn’t really want to write this morning.  I felt weary and a little discouraged.  The motivation was just not there and I was tempted to take the easy way out—dig into my archives and pull out a gem from the past.  It would be easy and you readers would likely never know. 

That is what weariness and discouragement can do to us.  We start to cut corners or give up altogether when the motivation and enthusiasm are lacking.  It is easy to do and easy to rationalize.  Probably one of the most overused terms in recent times is “burnout.”  People tend to apply it quite liberally as an excuse for not following through on responsibilities or just not having much enthusiasm.  While there are legitimate cases of burnout, where rest and pulling back from responsibilities are necessary, much of what people describe as burnout is just the normal grind of life in a fallen world.  

Life is hard and, sometimes, we just need to accept this fact and push on through it.  I didn’t want to write today, but that is what I have committed to do and so I am pushing through my own internal resistance to do it.  And what helped to motivate me was this passage.  

Life indeed was hard for the early followers of Jesus.  They were persecuted and often killed as a result of their faith.  The Hebrew writer sought to encourage them not to give up or give in and renounce their faith.  He reminded them of the believers before them who had endured much the same, and then he pointed them to Jesus.  He told them to fix their eyes on Him in the midst of all their struggles.  He had endured much, but was victorious in the end.

Jesus never gave up, never got burned out.  He can be our source of strength and encouragement to continue to push through when we grow weary.  Today, if you, like me, are feeling weary and discouraged, don’t give in to the temptation of cutting corners or giving up.  Fix your eyes on Jesus and push on through.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

Too Slow and Too Quick

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20 NIV)

My wife decided shortly after being on Facebook Wednesday to go “off the grid” because she didn’t want to read all the nasty things that were being written—nasty things about Donald Trump, about Democrats, about Republicans, and about America.  I don’t blame her.  It’s a very caustic world in social media and it has been for a long time.  

I have witnessed things being written by people I know which I am fairly confident would never be said in the same rude and hostile manner if the other person were sitting on the other side of the table.  Social media seems to have made us comfortable to say things in ways we would unlikely say them if we were face to face with people.  

It has been clear for years that people are angry about many things and social media has served as an outlet for that anger, but at a tremendous cost, particularly for the Church.  Too many Christians have joined the social media fray and used it to voice their anger at the culture, whether they think it is unjust and marginalizing or casting aside long-observed biblical truths.  Sometimes it seems Christians on social media are like a circling firing squad.

Reading this command clearly demonstrates how many of us have turned it on its head.  We are too slow to listen, but very quick to speak and become angry. This, of course, is not new.  If it were, James would have had no reason to give the command.  However, social media has had a steroidal impact on our bent to let our tongue and emotions lead us.  

This is the way of the culture, but following Jesus has always been and always will be counter-cultural.  Once again, Jesus is the anchor that keeps us moored and from being carried away by the currents of any society, and Scripture reveals the particulars of what that looks like.  It is amazing to me how practical the Scriptures really are and this directive in James is just one example.  Following Jesus is not just about what we believe; it is also about how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis in all types of situations.  And this includes how we interact on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  

Today, consider how you can live out this command in James.  What does it mean for your interaction with people, particularly on social media?  It is a question we all should be asking, especially this week.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Self Talk

“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)

As I periodically checked social media yesterday in the wake of a surprising, and for many, an unimaginable presidential election result, few in my feeds were happy to say the least.  Several wrote they were grieving or in mourning.  Some were very angry. Many were perplexed about the state of the country.  I also came across several antagonistic comment discussions.  Let’s just say the mood of many was grim.

I spend a lot of time talking with students who are struggling with a variety of things.  Often my counsel is to do a little self-talk to help work through things.  I have practiced this for years and have found it helpful, although more than once I’m sure people have thought I was a bit “off” hearing me when I thought no one could.  What can I say?  I’m a verbal processor!  

In fact, it seems, so was David.  This Psalm is a fine example of self-talk.  David is very distraught—crying, in fact.  It seems to him that everybody is against him.  He has enemies all around.  He is in a very dark place.  He is not feeling hopeful in spite of his faith in God. Circumstances have overwhelmed any confidence he had.  In desperation, he cries out to God.  However, as for many of us, the Lord doesn’t immediately respond and comfort us.  Instead, there is silence.  

So David begins to talk to himself.  He recalls the gladness He once had in the presence of the Lord and His people, and wonders how he could be so distraught when he once had such joy.  He knows the answer: God.  So he tells himself to put his hope in God even when things currently feel hopeless.

But, this is no easy fix.  It doesn’t take immediately. Through the rest of the Psalm, David struggles with being convinced.  But, and this is the key, he doesn’t give up.  At the core of his being, he knows the Lord is the answer to his problem.  In a place of darkness and hopelessness, he knows God is the one who can lead him back into the light and restore his hope.  

If you are finding yourself despondent over this week’s election results, know there will be forces seeking to keep you there. But remember, like David, your hope is not based on your immediate circumstances or the seemingly bleak prospects for the future.  Your hope is in God, who is faithful and trustworthy.  

Today, remind yourself of that, saying it aloud if you must, and many times over if that is what it takes.  It may seem weird, but David found it helpful and he was a man after God’s own heart.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Comes Next

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

We woke up this morning with a new President-Elect.  As the closeness of the election indicated, nearly half of our country is terribly disappointed and the other half is at least satisfied and many jubilant. And if my social media feeds have been any indication, there are many Christians on both sides.  So what now?

Really there is only one response: We love one another even if we disagree with each other.  And we love our new President whether we agree or disagree with him.  This is why the way of Jesus is narrow and few take it because it demands us to die to ourselves, to put to death our base instincts, and to let go of our sense of fairness.  If people hate us, we are commanded to love them anyway.  If we associate with only those who share a similar viewpoint, then we are no better than those we consider our enemies because similar associations are easy and lived out by all.  

Loving our neighbor, according to Jesus, goes far beyond whether we like the person or agree with them.  God blesses both the righteous and unrighteous, those who are His friends and those who are His enemies. In other words, the Lord has set the example for us.

So moving forward after such a contentious election season, our response needs to be one of graciousness to one another.  There is likely to be much antagonism in the coming days and beyond. Followers of Jesus need to set the example of loving those with whom we disagree.  We don’t need to condemn or disparage each other. 

As we begin a transition in our government and, perhaps, in our country, let’s keep in the front of our minds that the Lord expects us to love each other regardless of our political beliefs.  It may not be easy, but Jesus never promised it would be. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Price We Cannot Pay

“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:4-6 NIV)

Over the years I’ve worked with students on campus, there is a theme that remains constant among those who consider themselves good or bad and are thinking about eternal things—they have to earn their way. Some consider themselves Christians, while others identify with other religions or consider themselves “spiritual.”  Regardless, all have a religious mindset that is nothing new.

All god-based religions ever devised have one thing in common—you have to earn your way into the favor of the Deity.  In Hinduism, one has to live many lives to eventually reach Nirvana.  In Buddhism, it is similar. One’s Karma is made of actions, good and bad, and those actions determine one’s destiny.  And in Islam, a divine scale will be waiting adherents to weigh their good deeds and bad.  If the scale falls toward good, then heaven awaits; if towards evil, then eternal punishment.  

When God presented the Law to the Israelites, it was not meant to be a way to earn salvation, but as a lesson about how, on our own, we can never live up to God’s expectations.  Instead, it was meant to lead us to Jesus. (Galatians 3:24)  Sadly, the vast majority has chosen to hold onto the Law, whether Judaic or some other legalistic system.  There seems to be an innate need to earn one’s way rather than to accept a free gift of eternal life.  It was true in the 1st Century as Jesus walked the earth and it has continued for the past 2000 years. Yet, the Scriptures say that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And Jesus said there is no other way to God than through Him (John 14:6).  In other words, there is no way to earn our way.

Yet, so many continue to attempt it or, at least, think that’s what they need to do.  In many ways, it’s admirable and that is probably its attraction.  We always feel better when we earn something.   But the truth is, eternal life is not something we can earn.  The price, a perfect life, is beyond our ability to pay for it.  

Today, recognize earning God’s favor by our own efforts is an old and failed way of living.  Instead, know that in Christ you have been released from the old way and now serve in the way of the Spirit, not out of hope of earning God’s favor but out of gratitude for His wonderful love.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Danger of Good Intentions

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!” he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’

Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” (Matthew 16:21-23 NIV)

Peter had good intentions.  His Lord was talking about suffering and dying and, of course, this was a terrible thing in Peter’s mind.  He believed Jesus to be the Messiah.  He had His best interests in mind when he rebuked Him, but his intentions were based on ignorance.  He didn’t have a full understanding of what the future held.  Imagine if Peter had gotten his way and Jesus decided not to go forward with His sacrifice.  I would not be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.  We all would still be carrying the weight and consequence of our sin.  We would be without hope.

Good intentions can often lead to unforeseen, and negative, consequences.  The church growth movement of the 1980’s desired to grow the numbers of people attending church.  It emphasized that people like to associate with others like themselves.  The result?  The unintended segregation of churches along socio-economic and racial lines.  The late Jerry Falwell started “The Moral Majority” in the late 1970’s out of concern of the moral decline of the nation.  He was right to be concerned, but the unintended effect was to convince many believers morality could be legislated and transformation could be achieved through power rather than love.  The 1970’s Christian musicians who began the Contemporary Christian Music movement had the intent of creating music that was easier to sing and more appealing to ears of young people who were rejecting most hymns as “old-fashion.”  The result over the past 40 years is an increasing emphasis on performance-based songs, which are written for professional quality voices and can be properly sung by fewer and fewer people. The gathering of worshippers in many churches has more the feel of a concert these days.  And one last example is today’s desire by many church leaders to destroy the stereotype of Christians by the culture at large as “haters.”  As the culture has become increasingly accepting of behavior once considered sin as normal, they have sought to emphasize grace over judgment.  The unintended consequence of this, however, is the jettisoning of repentance from Christian doctrine, something Paul warned about in Romans 6:1-2.  

Imagine Peter in the years after Christ’s Ascension thinking of his earlier rebuke of Jesus.  I can see him shaking his head in relief that what he so strongly thought was right never came to pass.  He now clearly understood what Jesus had in mind.  In the same way, we can more clearly understand God’s plans and will when we consult His Word and let it speak to us rather than bringing our limited understanding and seeking to find verses to support and justify it.  We may have, like Peter, good intentions, but the consequences may have very bad and unintended consequences.

Today, realize the more you know and understand the Scriptures, the less likely it is you will fall into the same trap as Peter or any modern-day equivalents.  Your good intentions need to be well informed, or what you intended for good may result in just the opposite.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Citizen's Perspective

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21 NIV)

Along with millions of others on Wednesday night, I watched the long and exciting seventh game of baseball’s World Series.  Two teams sharing a combined misery of nearly 120 years without a title—the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians—battled it out until the 10th inning until the Cubs finally prevailed, setting off delirious bedlam among their fans around the country.  It was a joy to watch.

But in the celebratory aftermath, something odd began happening. Stories began appearing memorializing long-suffering fans that had died before seeing their beloved team “win it all.”  The famed brick wall of Wrigley Field became an impromptu memorial to faithful fans who missed out on the earthly celebration.  Facebook posts also began to appear saying departed relatives and friends were “looking down from the best seats” and joining in on the celebration.  Suddenly, it seemed, an earthly event took place whose significance was so great to gather the attention of the heavenly realms.  

This is a common belief—departed loved ones caring deeply about the events that once so enamored them in this earthly life.  Sports and entertainment figures often say a parent or a spouse is “looking down” and enjoying a certain award or achievement.  Or they will point to the sky as if to say, “I know you’re watching, so this is for you.”

I understand the sentiment.  It’s a way to honor and remember our loved ones and is an expression of our deep emotional connection with them after they have departed this life.  However, I also see the danger of making too much of what we do here.  Do we really believe a sport or an award to be so great or so important to attract the eyes of those of the dearly departed?  Do we really think after experiencing the realities of Heaven and being in the presence of Jesus, the King and Lord of all, the win of a long-suffering sports team or the presentation of an Oscar creates awe among the departed saints?

The danger I see is that we see ourselves primarily as citizens of this world; thus, what happens here we view as of supreme importance and consequence.  The fact is, however, as Paul reminds us, we are citizens of heaven.  As such, our focus should be more on what is valued there.  

When my wife moved to the States from South Africa, she didn’t even know what the Super Bowl was and couldn’t have cared less about it, because in her country, rugby and soccer are the premier sports. To Americans, this is almost unfathomable.  But the truth is, American sports do not have the attention of all the world’s citizens because they are focused on things in their own countries; their priorities and interests are different from ours.  I think the same is true of those now living in the heavenly realms with the Lord.  

What is of great importance to us is not necessarily of any interest to them.  For what they are experiencing is far better than anything they experienced on earth.  While we may want to believe they are actively following what happens here, I think they are too busy enjoying real life to much care about the happenings on earth.  The Lord has replaced them with something much, much better.  If they can give a glance back at this life, I think it is only to wish we could join them.

Today, remember you are a citizen of Heaven and your longings should be there.  For that is where the real celebration is taking place.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Telling the Lord to Go Away

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.  When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’

Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11 NIV)

Many years ago, a student asked to meet with me.  She had been involved in the ministry I directed but had dropped out a couple of years before.  I had not seen her since, but had wondered about her.  She told me she had walked away from the Lord during that time, but had now returned to following Him.  During our conversation, she said something that, at the time, amazed me.  She said she had seen me on campus a number of times, but went out of her way to avoid me because seeing me convicted her about the way she was living.   The very sight of me convicted her!  

It took me awhile to figure this out, but I finally realized, to her, I represented the Lord and seeing me reminded her of her life of sin. Now imagine Peter’s experience with Jesus.  No wonder he told Him to go away!

The Scriptures tell us that light and darkness must be separate (II Corinthians 6:14) and Peter himself later says that believers are called out of darkness into the Lord’s wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)  Light, in the biblical sense, exposes darkness (sin), so when Peter truly realized whom he was dealing with, he felt very exposed as a sinful man.  His instinct was to tell Jesus to go away.  

Isn’t that our instinct as well?  Like the young student when she saw me on campus, we want to run from the Lord out of fear our sin will be exposed.  Yet, we need to hear the words of Jesus, “Don’t be afraid.” We fear at least His scolding and at worst His condemnation, but we will receive neither.  There is no need to tell Him to go away or to avoid His presence.  As He did with Peter, He will accept us where we are, forgive us, and then use us in the work of His Kingdom.  

Today, do not be afraid of the Lord because of your sin.  He knows all about it.  In spite of it, He still has plans for your life.  Just don’t tell Him to go away and you will be amazed at what He will do!

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Can He Kill It?

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:5-11 NIV)

There is a great scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Souls have gone to Heaven to check it out.  They can stay if they want or go back to Hell; it is their choice.  There is one soul that has a lizard on his shoulder.  The lizard doesn’t like Heaven and wants to go back.  The soul encounters an angel and immediately the lizard feverishly begs to return to parts down under.  The soul begins heading that way when the angel says, “Do you want me to kill it?”  A battle of wills begins between the soul and the lizard as the angel continues to implore to destroy the wicked lizard.  

The lizard represents entrenched sin in our lives that keeps us from an intimate relationship with God.  With it, people develop a comfortable, albeit destructive, relationship.  When the Spirit of God begins to convict us and asks us permission to eliminate it from our lives, the lizard begins pleading and rationalizing with us to let him live.  A battle of wills begins; we know what we need to do, but the fear of what will happen next or the sheer pleasure of the sin makes us reluctant to allow it to be put to death.  

In the book, the soul agonizes over the decision, the lizard pleads for his life, but finally the soul gives permission for the lizard to be put to death.  Immediately, the lizard is transformed into a noble stallion on which the soul rides off into a deeper part of Heaven.  Once a slave of the lizard, he is now master of a wonderful steed.

What Lewis captures so beautifully is the power of God to do amazing things in our lives when we allow Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to put to death sin that is enslaving us, whether it be lust, greed, pride, hate, an addiction, etc.   Sin, in a strange way, can be a source of comfort to us.  It can become so an integral part of our lives that we gain some security and comfort from it.  But, without a doubt, it is a huge obstacle in becoming what the Lord has in mind for us.  We cannot fully know, but we can trust Him to have our best interests at heart.  The soul in Lewis’ tale finally garnered the courage to give permission for the lizard to be put to death.  The result was one he could not have imagined—he went from slavery to freedom and his cruel master was transformed as well.

Today, what is enslaving you?  Will you let the Lord put it to death?  He will gladly do it, but needs permission from you.  If fear is holding you back, know death of that sin will transform your life in ways you can now not even imagine.  Can He kill it?

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How Badly Do You Want It?

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14 NIV)

It has been over two years since I had a very bad knee replaced.  It had for years prevented me from doing things I enjoyed, such as hiking and playing tennis.  Even walking had become more difficult and painful.  So when the time came for the replacement surgery, I was so ready.  But I knew a long road to recovery lay ahead of me.  I had read and been told often the rehab process would take much effort and would not be easy.  My experience bore that out.  

The first six weeks I could barely sleep because of the pain and a “restless leg-type” issue.  The exercises I was given were extremely challenging and often quite uncomfortable.  Even after I was able to walk normally, the knee was nowhere near ready for activities involving running, jumping, and climbing.  That took a year to just begin those types of things.  But then, it was another year before I began to feel like I did long ago when my bad knee was still functioning well.  

As I look back, it was all worth it and I knew it would be. That is why I continued to press on through my rehab.  I wanted so badly to walk normally again, to exercise in a way that I could gain much more conditioning and strength, and to enjoy once again activities that had been only distant memories.  So I pressed on through the pain and discomfort, as well sacrificing the time, to achieve what I wanted.

As my wife often says when I share some story, there is a spiritual lesson in this.  How badly do we want to attain spiritual maturity?  How much do we truly want to know Jesus on a deeper level?  So much that we are willing to put in the hard work to achieve it?

If we look at our lives, we can easily see what we value by where we invest our time and effort.  If we are truly committed, if we really want something, then we will put in the time and effort in to achieve it.  This is true in school, relationships, careers, and, yes, in acquiring a deeper relationship with the Lord.  If you want it badly enough, you will press on hard to achieve it.

So today the question is: how badly do you want to deepen your relationship with the Lord?  Does it go beyond merely saying you do because that’s what’s expected?  Do you REALLY want it?  If so, then you should be willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Gone will be the excuses of busyness, tiredness, not knowing where to begin, or a myriad of other reasons you may have been giving up to now.  If you truly want it, then you will do what it takes.  If the price seems more than you’re willing to pay, then perhaps you need to question how much of a desire you truly have.

© Jim Musser 2016