Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Reminder

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:8-14 NIV)

I grew up watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the Peanuts classic written by famed cartoonist, Charles Schulz.  Schulz was also a committed Christian who occasionally used his comic strip to reveal his religious beliefs.  In his Christmas show, in the final minutes, Schulz unashamedly has Linus recite the passage above, but cleverly inserts something that reveals its true meaning—Linus lets loose of his security blanket.  At the same moment he is saying, “Fear not,” (NIV: “Do not be afraid.”) he drops the blanket.  Now, as any fan of Peanuts knows, Linus was attached to his blanket regardless of the many attempts by the other Peanuts characters to separate him from it.  It is a continuous theme of the strip.  So, the belief is Schulz was being very intentional in this scene to communicate something important, essential really, which is that true security is found in Jesus.

Like so many of us, Linus sought security in something else—his blanket.  We may have long ago put away our blankets and stuffed animals that gave us solace when we were children, but most of us still hold onto security blankets of another sort.  It may be a relationship, a job, a home, our status, or traditions of the past.  Or we may feel our lives are on the edge and are seeking after similar things because we see them as promising security.  Regardless, like Linus, many of us live our lives clinging to that which we feel makes us secure.  

The message of Christmas, the announcement from the heavenly realms, is that the Savior of the world, Immanuel, laid aside His security to come be with us so that we might find true security in Him.  As it was in the 1st Century, so it is still today that men and women seek to assuage their fears from the things of this fallen world.  And, as was true 2000 years ago, so it is today: They always come up short. True security can only come through Jesus. 

In the last scene of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Linus lays his blanket at the foot of the Christmas tree. The symbolism should not be missed. The wonderful message the angels brought on the morning of the Savior’s birth is we can be spared the endless, grueling search for security.  No more flailing about to grab hold of whatever we can find. All that is needed is to lay down the “blankets” to which we cling and embrace Jesus instead.  

May this Christmas you find joy in this world because you believe with all of your heart that Jesus reigns and your security is found only in Him. 

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, December 9, 2016

Hope for as Far as the Curse Is Found

(Author's Note: We've come to the end of our Fall Semester and so, as is my tradition, I will be taking a break along with the students.  We have a rather long break this year, so while the students won't be back until January 17th, I may get back to writing a little sooner.  MAYBE.  Have a very blessed Christmas season and a Happy New Year!  Jim)

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV)

In my years in vocational ministry, I have traveled to many parts of the world to assist missionaries in carrying this message to the very people for which it was intended—the poor, the brokenhearted, the prisoners held captive by the darkness.  I have worked with people, young and old, who live in conditions almost beyond imagination and who suffer greatly, who are in the grip of alcoholism or drug addiction, or who worship false gods.  Perhaps for most of us, this is what comes to mind when we think about mission work—going to a faraway place where people are poor and suffering and share with them the Good News. 

Yet, go to almost any city or town in the U.S. and you will find the same. Several years ago, my wife and I, along with several students, assisted a local ministry in a trailer park.  We went from trailer to trailer handing out Christmas gifts.  Many of the people we visited were unemployed, alcoholics or drug abusers, and living in very dilapidated housing.  I have found people in similar circumstances throughout the country as I have taken students on mission trips over spring break, whether it be in urban areas such as Jackson, Mississippi and Philadelphia, or in rural areas such as in Kentucky or on a Native American reservation in Show Low, Arizona.  

The truth is the poor, the brokenhearted, and those held in bondage by the darkness are not far away from us.  This message that Jesus came to proclaim (Luke 4:16-20) is for everyone, both near and far. One may indeed be called by the Lord to take it to a faraway land, but it is just as needed here at home.  As that wonderful Christmas carol, Joy to the World, proclaims, “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”  And it is found throughout the world, including in our own communities.

Today, realize you don’t have to go to the other side of the world to proclaim the wonderful message of Isaiah 61.  There are people very close by who need to hear it.  All they need are people willing to deliver it.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Soft, Gentle Light

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12 NIV)

I am a morning person. I have been for most of my life. I have always liked the quietness and solitude of the early hours of the day. These days when I wake up to a darkened house, one of the first things I do after coming down the stairs is plug in our Christmas tree lights. I love looking at them, as well as the soft glow they cast throughout the first floor of our house.  In the wee hours of the morning, I find them comforting and adding to the peace of the morning.

When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” I envision that same soft glow effect as there is in our house this morning.  It is not a glaring or intrusive light, but rather one that illuminates while at the same time drawing our eyes to it.  

Light has the potential to both blind and illuminate, depending on darkness of our surroundings.  The more dark, the less the intensity of the light needed.  A lighted match is sufficient to illuminate a cave, but wouldn’t do much in broad daylight.  But turn on a spotlight in a very dark place and it will blind everyone.

Jesus came into a very dark world—sin reigning and humans separated from their Creator.  He could have come in all His Glory as a spotlight to show how deep and pervasive our sin is.  But we would have been blinded by the intensity of the pure light.  Instead, He came as a light much softer and more gentle.  He came as a human being just like you and I, but because He was God, there was divine light emitting from Him. However, His humanity softened it so that it would be gentle and not piercing, alluring rather than jarring or repulsive.  In a way, like the light in our home this morning.  

This is how I view the message that propels our celebration of Christmas. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (9:2) It is the light that illuminates the darkness and brings comfort and peace. 

Today, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, regardless of the state of darkness in your life, know He is the light that can dispense with it, turning your darkness into the hope of dawn, bringing peace and comfort like beautiful Christmas tree light on a cold, dark morning.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Experiencing Rejection

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. 
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. 
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, 
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; 
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; 
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:1-6 NIV)

Rejection is a hard thing.  A friend recently shared with my wife how she had mentored a student for several years only to be told her approach didn’t work for her anymore; she was moving on to someone else.  I remember a few years ago, my wife was meeting with a student on a regular basis and then, after the semester break, the student said she was too busy to meet and she basically never saw her again.  And in my many years of ministry, I, too, have tasted the bitterness of rejection by people who didn’t like what I said or how I did things.  I remember one woman, in a church where I served as an elder, would not speak to me because she disagreed with a decision the elders made.  Even after I sought to reconcile with her, she would have nothing to do with me.  

The truth is, a life well lived is going to include rejection along the way. It is part of the falleness of our world.  And this will especially be true if we have chosen to follow Jesus.  Peter warns us (I Peter 2:20-21) that following Him means walking along the path of suffering and, as Isaiah writes, this suffering includes rejection.  

The desire to be accepted and liked is a powerful one.  Yet, the pursuit of acceptance by others can lead us down the road to a compromised life, standing for nothing more than what others desire from us.  The reason Jesus was despised and rejected was because he embodied, and spoke, the truth.  He was only out to please His Father, no one else.  And this, too, is the life to which we are called if we are following Jesus.

Today, remember the One you follow; He, too, was rejected.  Yet, He remained faithful to the will of His Father.  Through His strength, you have the ability to do the same.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A New Identity

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:16-21 NIV)

There is a tendency in our world to define ourselves by our troubles or deficiencies.  “I am an alcoholic.” Or drug addict.  “I am a cancer survivor.”  “I am a sexual assault victim.”  “I am OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).” Or ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I especially see this tendency among students, who often view themselves through the lenses of their struggles. As Paul rightly surmises, this is a very worldly point of view that increasingly is becoming normalized among Christians.

As we approach the celebration of Jesus’ moving into our neighborhood, it is good to remind ourselves of the reason He came. He didn’t come to just hang out with us, to make us feel special because someone like Him wanted to associate with people like us.  He didn’t come in an attempt to boost our self-esteem.  And He surely didn’t come to reinforce the idea that we are who we are and we can never change.  Or, as one student put it, we just have to be resigned to “wrestle with our demons.”  No. He came to transform us into new people, to give us full lives (John 10:10). 

But to hear many talk, this isn’t reality.  Rather, they imply we just need to accept we are who we are and deal with it the best we can.  Then the question must be asked, what difference is Jesus to make?  Is He there just to comfort us in our pain and suffering?  Is He merely a heavenly chaplain?  Is He powerless to bring about change within us or in our circumstances?  

From my reading of the Scriptures, this is not the picture of Jesus that I see, and from my own experience, this is not who He is.  What I see and what I’ve experienced is the Jesus that Paul describes to the Corinthians.  He takes people bogged down in sin and shame, overwhelmed by life, unsatisfied and unfulfilled, without meaning, and transforms them into new people, set free and living with a new joy and purpose.  

The reality is sin separates us from God and robs of us the joy He intended for us.  Unlike what the world tells us, this is not normal from the viewpoint of the Lord.  It is an aberration for which He came to correct.  To be blunt, it is a lie from the deepest regions of Hell that there is no hope for us in our current state, which we just have to accept our lives the way they are.  “NO!” comes the cry from the heavenly realms.  There is hope and it is Jesus.  He came that we might be reconciled with God and be transformed into the people He created us to be.  

Today, remember and cling to the hope there is in Jesus. Your identity is found in Him. He does not count your sin against you or define you by it, and neither should you.   

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

Never Omit the Cost

“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, 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)

It happens almost every year in campus ministry.  A student commits to being a leader for the next school year, and then, sometime during the summer or just as school begins, he backs out of the commitment.  The reasons vary, but usually it involves a lack of a time due to other commitments.  Students are often very excited about being in leadership, but in their exuberance often fail to contemplate the cost in time and energy.  

A similar thing can happen with new believers.  They start out all excited to follow Jesus, but then they fall away.  They aren’t prepared for how difficult it is going to be.  

Often, I think, this is the fault of the church.  We so desperately want people to become followers of Jesus that we try to make it easy for them.  We tell them all they have to do is say the “sinner’s prayer,” or that if they only give their hearts to Jesus every problem will be solved in their lives.  This is not what Jesus told people who were showing interest in following Him.  Instead, He told them it would be a very costly decision and that they should consider carefully before making it.   How costly?  You should be prepared to give up everything in your life—your goals (Luke 9: 59-62), your family (Matthew 10:35-37), and even your very life (Mark 8:35) to follow Jesus.  

This is a steep price and Jesus tells us we should consider carefully whether or not we are willing to pay it.  As He implies in His parables, to make the decision lightly is to risk personal embarrassment and public disgrace for the Lord.   We probably can all think of at least one person who falls into this category.

The cost of being a follower of Jesus is high.  We do no favors to anyone by making it sound easy.  If Jesus felt it important to explain the costs clearly, then we need to as well. 

Today, recognize we serve a Lord who demands our willingness to give up everything to follow Him.  When telling others about Him, you should not omit that fact because He never did.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016


“When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

‘Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.  Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.’

One of the experts in the law answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.’  Jesus replied, ‘And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.’” (Luke 11:37-46 NIV)

Sometimes, we just need a good kick in the rear.  I am not talking about corporal punishment, but rather to be told the truth about ourselves when we would rather live in denial.  This is what Jesus did with the Pharisees and when an expert in the Jewish law took exception, he spoke truth to him as well.  

Jesus was not afraid to offend people.  He didn’t go out of His way to do it, or get some unseemly pleasure from it.  He just spoke the truth, and if people, even His disciples (John 6:60-61), were offended, then so be it.  Truth brings freedom (John 8:32) and He was going to tell it no matter what because He loved people.

I am so grateful for the times in my life where people have confronted me with the truth.  My campus minister pointed out some anger issues in my life when I was in college.   While being totally distraught over a relationship break-up, a seminary professor pointedly asked me if I had truly given the situation over to the Lord.  And not too long ago, the then chairman of my ministry board challenged me on a personal trait that needed some adjustment.  All three of these men spoke the truth to me and I am grateful they did.  I desperately needed to hear it and I consider their truth-telling as acts of love.  

We live in a world where, increasingly, people want to be told what they want to hear even if it is not the truth.  There is a steep price to pay for that—bondage.  If the truth can set us free, then the lack of telling it keeps us in slavery to bad habits, sloppy work, emotional immaturity, etc.  

Today, know the great value of hearing the truth.  If someone is loving enough to tell you the truth, then receive it.  It can set you free from what’s holding you back to become what God created you to be.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Making Room in Our Hearts

“Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” (II Corinthians 7:2-4 NIV)

Recently, I met with a student who believed (mistakenly) that I was against him and a choice he had made in his life.  As we began to talk, he shared that his heart had begun to harden toward me.  We talked things through and ended up reconciled.

Paul was in a similar place with the Corinthians.  He had written some difficult things to them and their hearts were hardening towards him. That is a natural reaction to people who may say or do things we don’t like.  Yet Paul had a long history with the Corinthian believers.  He asked them to “make room” in their hearts for him.  

Making room is an intentional act that requires extending grace.  We may not fully understand why a person says or does something, but making room for them in our hearts means we extend to them grace, believing their intentions were honorable or that they just made a mistake, hurtful perhaps, but forgivable.  

Far too many relationships become strained or end because we harden our hearts instead of making room in them.  We jump to conclusions, allow our hurt feelings to lead us, and forget the positives that helped nurture the relationship in the first place.  Yet, grace is the hallmark of one who follows Jesus and it must be extended often.

Today, is there someone toward whom you have become hardened?  If so, make room in your heart for them.  Extend to them the same grace the Lord has given you. 

© Jim Musser 2016