Monday, February 29, 2016

Escaping the Vicious Cycle of Sin

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)

Paul knew all about ungodliness and worldly passions.  For while he was upright in many ways in his earlier life (Philippians 3:4-6), Paul considered himself the “worst of sinners” (I Timothy 1:16) because he directly persecuted the church of the Lord.  He had been filled with anger and hatred toward those who followed Jesus.  His inflamed passions led him to imprison believers and to approve of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1).  Yet, in spite of this, Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and revealed to Paul that He had chosen him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.  

When Paul left Judas’ house after three days of prayer and reflection on his life (Acts 9), he was a changed man.  I believe in those three days he realized the emptiness of his life and how wrong he was.  And I believe he reached that point because of the grace of God.  

Grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions because it cleans our slate, it erases all the bad stuff we’ve done.  It frees us up.  So often, sin is like a vicious, downward cycle.  We sin; we feel bad; we sin some more; we feel even worse; we sin again hoping to feel better and end up again feeling worse.  But when the grace of God appears to us, when He says, “I forgive you,” it gives us the opportunity to be free of the vicious cycle, to get a fresh start.  And when we embrace His grace, there is incentive to say “No” to sin because we have experienced freedom from the vicious cycle sin causes.

Today, if you are caught in the grip of sin, know there is hope through the grace of God.  It can wipe your slate clean, just as it did Paul’s, and teach you how to say “No” to ungodliness in your life.  God’s grace is indeed the only way out of the vicious cycle of sin.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016

Steal, Kill, Destroy

“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)

It seemed right out of a soap opera.   A married man with children.  A young mistress.  A torrid love affair.  The wrath of a woman scorned. For three days, I listened to the sordid details of a marriage destroyed as a member of a civil court jury.  It was heart wrenching to see the brokenness of the individuals involved on both sides and the havoc wreaked by sin.  As I sat in the jury box listening, I was reminded of Jesus’ words in this passage.  

There is nothing redeeming about Satan.  His intentions are ONLY to steal, kill, and destroy.  Disguising sin as something alluring and exciting is his game.  He draws us into his trap by deceiving us, by blinding us to the actual consequences of our actions.  Like moths lured to the light of a fire, he wants us to see only the beautiful light, not the looming destruction that is an integral part of it.  And if we fall for it, there will be something stolen, killed, or destroyed.  

In the case I listened to, it was trust and love that were destroyed. Stable childhoods were stolen and consciences seared.   The sin that became so enticing has wreaked destruction not only on the lives of the principals involved, but will likely negatively affect their descendants. Sin is that potent, that destructive.  It may offer a temporary reward, but the price one has to pay is very steep.

Think about any sin, be it sexual immorality, greed, bitterness, dishonesty, etc.  They all lead to something being stolen, killed, or destroyed.  It may seem attractive at the time to engage in an adulterous or immoral affair, to set your hope on money or things, or to hold onto a grudge toward someone, but these temptations are designed to take away from you the wonderful life God has promised to those who love Him and submit themselves to Him.  Steal. Kill. Destroy.  

Today, recognize the power of sin to destroy, not only you, but also others around you.  It may look attractive, but what lurks behind that fa├žade is a trap waiting to ensnare you and take away the life God has promised you.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Word as a Mirror

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-24 NIV)

The mirror is an ubiquitous object around the world.  There are very few people who neither own nor have access to a mirror.  Think about how many times a day you see your reflection.  In the bathroom, in the hallway, in the car.  And what do you see?  Ah, that is an important question.

Mirrored images are accurate representations of ourselves, but that objective image can get marred when it reaches our cerebral cortex.  It can become disconnected from reality.  A skinny young woman sees a reflection of a fat one.  An old man still sees a younger version of himself staring back.  An outwardly successful person can feel a failure’s gaze.

The truth is we rarely see ourselves correctly.  We tend to err toward thinking too much of ourselves or thinking poorly of ourselves.  As a teenage boy, I stood in front of a mirror looking at my hair.  If there were locks of hair sticking out, I cut them off.  After I finished, I was quite pleased with the way I looked.  Until I went to a hair stylist, who shook his head at what was a disastrous haircut.  I had misperceived what I truly looked like.  

I think the same is true spiritually.  Often we see ourselves in ways that are wholly inaccurate.  You may view yourself as a “pretty good” person and be content with that image, when God says you are a sinner and fall way short of His glory (Romans 3:23).  You may still see yourself as a terrible individual because of your past even though the Lord says you are forgiven if you have confessed your sin to Him (I John 1:9). You may think it normal to be bitter towards someone who hurt you, until you realize you are to forgive just as Christ forgave you (Colossians 3:13).

The Word of God serves as an accurate mirror for us to see our true selves.  It corrects any distorted images, good or bad, that we may have of ourselves.  It really is the only true mirror into which we can gaze and get an accurate reflection of who we are.  

Today, if you want to know who you really are, then spend time gazing into the mirror of the Word.  Study carefully the image it reflects.  It is likely you will find the previous view you held of yourself quite different from the one it reflects.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Life to Enjoy

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (I Timothy 6:17 NIV)

One fear people often have of following Jesus is that life will end as they know it.  No more fun.  No more laughter.  Life, they imagine, will be so dull and boring.  This view, I think, flows from a belief that God does not want us to have fun and enjoy life.  In its extreme, this conjures up images of God on His throne peering down from heaven on the lookout for anyone enjoying themselves and zapping them when He finds them.  According to this view, a life devoted to God is sure to be a miserably dour experience.  

Now there are those who call themselves Christians who view God this way and are willing to submit to what they think He calls them to, and perhaps this is from where many get this skewed and inaccurate view of the Lord.  Yet, this brief statement by Paul paints an entirely different picture of God.  He says the Lord, rather than wanting us to have no pleasure in life, instead “provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Really?!  Now there is something to shout from the mountaintops—God wants us to enjoy ourselves!  Everything He created is for our enjoyment.

But Paul throws out this caveat: True enjoyment comes from first putting our hope in God.  He did create all things for our enjoyment, but the things He created are not to become a substitute for Him.  And therein lies the proverbial rub—many people seek enjoyment, pleasure, or entertainment as their god.  They worship the created instead of the Creator.  

God truly intended us to enjoy life, but He specifically created us to enjoy it through Him, not apart from Him.  Today, know if you are seeking to follow the Lord, life is yours to enjoy.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

True Transformation

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27 NIV)

Jesus knew our tendency is to focus on how we appear to others rather than on whom we truly are.  That our concern tends to be more on what others think about us than what God already knows about us.  He called out the Pharisees for this, but He also calls us out as well by the very fact His words are preserved in the Scriptures for us to read and meditate upon.  

And the Church desperately needs to do this.  Why?  Because it has become enamored with how things appear rather than how things truly are.  I recently read a Facebook post by a pastor proclaiming life change was taking place because a group was at a big conference. Now I have been to enough conferences, revivals, etc. to know the vast majority walks away relatively unchanged, just as they do coming out of the church doors week after week.  

This may strike you as harsh, but think about it for a moment.  How much of our impression of the movement of God is based on outward things—the sheer numbers or the emotions proclaimed?  Many people proclaim “great things” are happening at their churches or at certain conferences, but what is that opinion based upon?  Typically, it is the numbers, the emotions, or the feel people have in being there.  Rarely is there talk about the hard evidence of transformation—not just attendance but actually lives that exhibit true change.  

It is so easy to be fooled by the outward show, but the true test is what is taking place on the inside.  We can show up to a lot of events, but the question is, are we encountering Jesus in such a way that leads to real change in our lives?  Sadly, I think, as we look across the breadth of the Church, the answer is no.  Lots of activities and lots of people showing up, but little transformation.  Great experiences?  Yes.  Emotional highs?  Yes.  Life-transforming change?  Very little. 

I write this because I have worked with many students who have been to plenty of conferences billed as “life-changing,” but they were not changed.  They have been in “dynamic and powerful” youth groups, but came to college with little understanding of what following Jesus involves besides participating in Christian events and adhering to certain beliefs.  And more importantly, I have experienced this myself. Of all the conferences I have attended since becoming a Christian, I can say only one was truly transformative for me.  Change for me has rather come from seeking to walk daily with Jesus, obeying Him, and confessing to Him when I don’t.  

In an age of hype and emotionalism, I think we have missed what the key to life-change really is.  It is not chasing after emotional and spiritual highs, or keeping up the pretense of some great spirituality, but rather humbling ourselves before God by acknowledging our sinfulness and our deep need for Him.  Only then will we experience true transformation.

Today, appearances aside, what do you look like on the inside?  If it is a very different picture, then know the Lord has already seen it and would love to clean it up.  All you have to do is come to Him and humble yourself, and then true transformation will begin.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Time for Action

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” (I Timothy 6:11-16 NIV)

I like action movies, not so much those “B” movies with gratuitous violence, but those like the “Bourne” movies or ‘Taken.”  There’s a plot that’s constantly moving and keeping you on the edge of your seat. They’re definitely not boring.

In talking with people both inside and outside the church, I often get the feeling they view the Christian life more like a boring movie than an action flick, long on words and short on action.  But if you read the Scriptures carefully, like this passage, you will see there is a consistent call to action.

“Flee,” “pursue,” “fight,” “take hold,” all are action verbs.  There is nothing passive about them.  Flee from what?  The temptations of the world, particularly greed.  Pursue what?  The qualities of God.  Fight what?  All the forces seeking to convince us to give up our faith, to believe and live like the rest of the world.  Take hold of what?  The promise of eternal life for those who follow Jesus, a promise which is held out to us but which we must embrace.

There is nothing passive about following Jesus.  We are in a battle with evil forces, forces that seek to deprive us of what God has promised to those who are faithful to Him.  If we sit passively by and do nothing, we will be defeated.  Paul knows this and instructs Timothy accordingly.

Today, heed Paul’s words.  Consider what you need to do in order to win the battle being waged against you.  Now is not the time to sit idly by; now is the time for action.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016

Growth

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (II Thessalonians 1:3-4 NIV)

Growth is a part of life.  If a baby isn’t gaining weight, the parents know something is not right.  If a toddler doesn’t progress from crawling into walking, it is an indication something is wrong.  If a child doesn’t show intellectual progress as she proceeds through elementary school, parents and teachers know something is amiss.  Growth is a given in life for babies and children.

The Scriptures often compare our relationship with God to physical development.  Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be “born again” (John 3:3).  Peter writes that we should be like newborn babies in seeking spiritual nourishment so we can “grow up in our salvation” (I Peter 2:2).  And Paul writes that our goal as followers of Jesus should be to mature so that “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15 NIV).  Spiritual growth is expected.

The question is, do we see anything wrong when we are not growing? Are we content with remaining in the same spiritual state we reached a year ago?  In my years of ministry, I have seen many people content with their spiritual immaturity.  Aside from attending a weekly meeting, they make no effort to gain spiritual nourishment.  I have met people who have been believers for most of their lives who are, in most respects, still in spiritual infancy.  Something is indeed amiss because, like babies and children, we are to continue to grow spiritually.  

When we examine our lives, we should see a steady growth pattern from the time we first surrendered ourselves to Jesus.  That is the norm. If it is anything different, then something is amiss.  

Today, take a look at your life.  In the past year, what growth do you see?  If there is little to none, then know this is not normal.  Something is wrong and intervention is warranted because God intends for you to keep growing and maturing.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016

In the Face of Evil

“What misery is mine!  I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. The faithful have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains.  Everyone lies in wait to shed blood; they hunt each other with nets.  Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire—they all conspire together.  The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge.

The day God visits you has come, the day your watchmen sound the alarm. Now is the time of your confusion.  Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend.  Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:1-7 NIV)

As is my custom, I read the news this morning.  It contained stories about a suicide bombing in Turkey, a presidential candidate promising to use torture against the nation’s enemies, a woman who has endured a year of cyber-bullying, and the trial of a woman accused of attacking a pregnant woman and removing the baby from her womb.  In reality, this is a fairly normal news day.

If we dare read the news on a regular basis, we are quickly reminded of how fallen our world is.  We can be the proverbial ostrich with our heads in the sand, immersing ourselves in our own worlds of entertainment and distraction, but sooner or later the reality of this deeply sinful world will find us, no matter how hard we try to avoid it.  Therefore, it is comforting to read these words of the prophet Micah.  He, too, found himself in a world of mayhem, where each way he turned evil was there.  Was he disturbed?  Obviously.  Was he anxious and frightened? Most likely.  

But what Micah did in response to his situation provides a lesson for us all.  He walked by faith, not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).  He put his hope in the Lord, believing He was ultimately in control even if his world seemed under siege by evil.  Echoing the words of Jesus, he took heart that the Lord could overcome anything the world threw at him.

Today, do you feel overwhelmed by the world around you?  Are you discouraged and anxious about the evil you see?  Then heed the example of Micah, a man who was in similar circumstances and had similar feelings.  Trust in the Lord that He sees what is happening and is in control.  Draw near to Him as a child draws near his father when he is afraid.  In His arms you can feel secure, even when evil is nearby.

© Jim Musser 2016  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Experiencing Spiritual Intimacy

“Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (I Thessalonians 3:11-13 NIV)

I remember hearing a story a number of years ago about a student who was graduating and lamenting the years she had spent with close friends without ever experiencing truly spiritual fellowship.  They had had great times together and lots of laughs, but she realized there was something missing.  She had been observing some younger students and how their relationships were similar but, at the same time, different. They had fun times together, but it went beyond that.  They were experiencing a deeper intimacy, one born out of sharing in God’s Word together, opening up about fears and failures, and praying together. And the tears of disappointment flowed as she realized what could have been.

There is nothing greater than the spiritual intimacy between brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we can share our lives honestly with others, encourage one another through the Word and through prayer, when we can challenge one another to live meaningful and purposeful lives, we realize how rich relationships can be.  I think Paul and the Thessalonian believers had this type of relationship.  Throughout his first letter, Paul speaks the language of intimate fellowship.  

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:2-3)

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (2:7b-8) 

“For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (2:18-20)

There is a bond between them that reflects love and intimacy.  It is a bond we, too, can share with other believers.

Too often we are quick to settle for shallow relationships.  We want to hang out with other believers, but remain satisfied with only talk that revolves around work, school, kids, weather, sports, etc.  We are satisfied to allow “God talk” to remain within the confines of Sunday mornings and small group Bible studies.  This is what happened to that student years ago.  But she came to regret it when she saw what could have been.  

The kind of intimate fellowship that Paul experienced with the Thessalonians and this student observed is available to us.  It is not some far-fetched dream or unattainable desire.  It is within reach of all who seek the Lord and share their lives with one another.  We just can’t settle for less; we must actively and intentionally pursue it.

Today, examine the relationships you have with other believers.  Have you settled for spiritual shallowness when you could be experiencing spiritual intimacy?  Know there is so much more you can experience if you will only begin to pursue it.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Keeping Our Pride in Check

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’

Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’

‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

‘At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.”

‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’” (Matthew 18:21-35 NIV)

Yesterday, I wrote of the difficulty in admitting we are wrong because of our pride.  It is also the source of our inability to forgive others.  Pride inevitably leads us to focus solely on ourselves.  Life is always about us if pride has its way.

When Peter posed his question about forgiveness to Jesus, his pride was behind it.  He was looking for confirmation that he was a very gracious and compassionate man.  To forgive a person seven times? Wow, how generous!  Yet, as He was so ought to do, Jesus humbled Peter with His response.  He compared Peter’s mercy with that of God and Peter came up short, very short.

Pride always leads us to paint ourselves in a favorable light. It leads us to focus our attention on comparing ourselves with others.  In Peter’s case, he thought he was very magnanimous compared to others.  But Jesus showed the standard by which we are to compare ourselves is not other people, but God.  By doing so, pride is constrained by humility. Compared to God, we are nothing regardless of what image we may have created in our minds.  

It is through humility, then, we are able to forgive others because we recognize God’s mercy towards us.  How can we say we will never forgive so and so when we acknowledge God has forgiven us for offenses far greater?  If we can, then pride has fully captured our hearts.

I have met many who remain bitter for years over offenses committed against them.  They may say things like, “I forgave them,” or “I’ve moved on,” but in reality unforgiveness remains.  Pride leads them to mouth forgiveness while withholding it.  Sadly, they remain in bondage and risk the same treatment on their day of judgment.  For the Lord will not tolerate a lack of mercy in our hearts when He has bestowed so much on us.   

Today, are there individuals in your life towards whom you have bitterness and whom you refuse to forgive?  If so, then recognize that pride has captured your heart.  If you freely receive the forgiveness of the Lord, who are you to withhold it from others?  As Paul tells us, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).  You may think the offense too great to forgive, but applying the Lord’s standard instead of your own will keep your pride in check and secure He is merciful to you when you stand before Him after you have taken your last breath.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dealing with the Plank in Our Eye

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42 NIV)

Jesus is pointing out, in rather humorous fashion, one of our inherent traits: we naturally look at other people’s faults while ignoring our own.  Take, for example, friendships.  When they go awry, it is natural to blame our friend.  I have talked with many students regarding struggles with their friendships.  It is quite rare for them to reflect on their own contributions to the fracturing of the relationship; rather, they focus on what their friend did wrong. 

This can also be true when things go wrong for us in life.  Our natural instinct is to blame others for our situation, whether it be our parents, siblings, teachers, employers or someone else.  We tend to focus far less on our own contributions to the situation. 

We are also seeing this play out in our nation’s politics.  Almost everyone, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, points their finger at their perceived opposition while rarely ever acknowledging their own shortcomings or errors in judgment. 

Why is it so hard to acknowledge when we are in the wrong?  How is it that we can so easily focus in on the faults of others while completely overlooking our own?  Could it be pride?  I think so.

Going all the way back to Eden, our tendency is to cover up our wrongdoing.  We shift blame; we make excuses; we deny.  Just as Eve and Adam were loath to admit their sin, we, too, hate to admit we’re wrong.  It is just our natural bent that has its root in pride.  We might be willing to admit we are sinners, but getting to the specifics is a lot more difficult.  But it is in the specifics that we face down our pride.

I believe this is why the Lord has made confession the door through which we pass to gain forgiveness (I John 1:9).  Through confession, we acknowledge the truth, which paves the way for reconciliation, both with the Lord and others.  And when we acknowledge our own specific sins, we are also in a much better position to help others with their own struggles.  Rather than being “holier than thou,” we are a fellow sinner seeking to help. 

Today, examine your life and your relationships.  Are there issues that could be more easily resolved if you were to acknowledge your own contributions to them?  Have you been blinded by your own pride and living in denial?  Examining what is stuck in your own eye can make things more clear and create opportunities for reconciliation and solving problems with others.

© Jim Musser 2016 

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Implications of John 3:16

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36 NIV)

John 3:16 is probably the most recognized verse of Scripture in the world.  People, who know little or nothing of the Bible, probably are at least aware of this reference, even if they don’t know what it says.  “For God so loved the world…” It is often displayed on signs at sporting events.  Back in the 80’s, a guy wearing a rainbow-colored wig was a fixture behind the goalposts of NFL games holding up a sign saying, “JOHN 3:16.”  And former NFL player Tim Tebow was known to write John 3:16 on the eye black patches under his eyes on game days.

Everyone knows of it, but do we fully understand its significance and implications?    What does it mean that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son?  This teaching from Jesus clarifies it for us.

It is always easy to love those who are loveable or who love us in return.  But how easy is it to love those who are ungrateful toward our love or even just plain wicked?  How easy is it to love our enemies, those who despise us, or those who have harmed us or want to do us harm?  For most of us, it is impossible even to imagine that kind of love. “For God so loved the world…”

When you place these passages side by side, then you begin to realize the depth of God’s love.  He didn’t just give His Son for the sake of those who love Him, but also for those who hate Him, those who benefit from His love but who have no appreciation for it, and those who don’t even believe He exists!  Can anyone of us love like that?  Can we even conceive of loving someone like Hitler or an Islamic terrorist?  Or, perhaps closer to home, someone who has deeply betrayed or hurt us? Probably not.  But God did and that’s what makes John 3:16 so significant and so amazing.

The world is full of wicked people and people who are ungrateful to their Creator; yet God still loves them and is merciful toward them.  And, He calls us to do the same.  “For God so loved the world…”

Today, know the implications of John 3:16 are huge for each of us who follow the Lord.  We love because He first loved us (I John 4:19), including the ungrateful and the wicked. If we are His ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:20), then we must do the same.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Safety Idol

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39 NIV)

Recently, I was talking with some students about our upcoming mission trips, one to Europe and the other to Central America.  What I heard is what I am very accustomed to hearing: their parents weren’t crazy about the idea of them traveling to a foreign country.  Too far and too risky.  Who knows what could happen to their kids?

Sadly, these parents, many of whom claim to love Jesus and to follow Him, worship at the altar of the safety idol.  And by doing so, unintentionally block or discourage their children from following wherever Jesus wants to lead them.  

We live in a society that worships safety.  We expect, perhaps even demand, a risk-free life.  This is particularly true when it comes to our children.  We see dangers to them lurking everywhere—in our yards, in community parks, at school and on the playground.  We are fiercely protective and, while that often can be lauded, for the Christian parents, it is often reveals a lack of trust in the God who knew them before they were born.  

Like so many parents, those who follow Jesus have bought into the lie that life can be made safe, that our fate is solely in our hands.  The truth is life has never been safe.  We are all mortal beings whose lives can end at any moment.  Life in this fallen world is inherently risky.  So we have a choice.  We can take full responsibility for our own safety and the safety of our children, which leads to a risk-adverse lifestyle and puts limits on the true lordship Jesus has in our lives.  Or we can put our trust in the Lord and follow wherever He leads, which is also risky.  

It is risky because Jesus makes clear following Him involves “taking up our cross.”  The cross in the 1st Century was an instrument of execution.  It symbolized suffering and death.  While it is for us a symbol of hope, we have made it much too shiny and pretty.  There is blood on it and we can’t ignore it.  

To take up our cross is to give our fears to the Lord and follow Him in faith wherever He is taking us, knowing that if we die, we will be with Him in Eternity.  There are no exceptions due to safety concerns.  We either trust Him or we don’t.  This is also true for our children who are becoming adults.  If they are truly seeking to follow the Lord, do we really want to impede them out of fear for their safety?  Does not the Lord care more for them?  And do we love our children more than the Lord?

Today, read these words of Jesus carefully.  Following Him is risky and He never said otherwise.  In the midst of our own fears, we have sought to create a different and safer path on which we and our children can follow Jesus.  There isn’t one.  If we try to save our lives and always protect theirs, we will end up losing ours and teaching our children the same lie.  Instead, let us entrust our lives and those we love to our Creator and Lord who will always protect us, even if He allows us to die.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Recognizing Our Value

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.  What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:10-14 NIV)

We have probably all done it at least a few times in our lives.  Many of us have done it frequently, and some basically have it as our state of mind.  We think we have little value in this world.  Our looks don’t compare to those who faces (and bodies!) grace the covers of popular magazines.  We don’t have the talents of others we know.  And we aren’t as popular among our peers.  It is easy to feel lost and alone in the world in which we live.

This parable is most often used to talk about evangelism; that we shouldn’t stay in our Christian bubbles, but go outside and reach the lost.  But it has a broader context.  Jesus was saying everyone has value, not just the Christian, not just the lost.  In other words, I have value and you have value.  There is no one on this planet that is without value. There is none for which the Lord would not leave the flock and pursue if they became lost.  

It is so easy in these days when the external is the focus and what we look like and what we achieve is the basis of our worth, to look in the mirror and see staring back at us something of little or diminished value. Yet the One who made us would go to the ends of the earth in search for us if we became lost.  Our absence would not go unnoticed.  We are THAT valuable to Him! 

Today, know that person you see in the mirror is of great worth to the Lord.  No matter what you look like or how insignificant your life seems to be, He values you.  And if you feel lost, know it won’t be long before help arrives.  He is already looking for you.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How To Deal with Evil in the World

“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.  Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:  He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.  For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:1-9 NIV)

There is a lot of talk in this political season of all the evil in the world and what the next president needs to do to make the country safe.  Talk of the danger of immigrants, terrorism, and war dominate the news and the discussion.  We are a country on edge about all that is going on around us.  

In these times, David, no stranger to the perils of this world, has some wonderful counsel for us that we may find somewhat counterintuitive. The whole Psalm is a guide for how to respond to the world in which we now find ourselves.  

Not so surprisingly, if we think about it, David tells us to focus our attention on the Lord rather than the evil that is taking place around us. It is so easy to get obsessed with all that is going wrong, but David is reminding us that God is truly in control, even if it doesn’t seem that way in the moment.  The Lord can be trusted.  

He also reminds us of our hope in Eternity where everything wrong will be put right and justice will prevail.  It is difficult to remain calm when evil seems to reign, but David warns we are in danger of falling into evil ourselves when we let our emotions get the best of us.  Anger and revenge are understandable emotions in the face of such evil as 9/11 and the beheading of innocents, but they leave us vulnerable to the clever schemes of the Enemy.  Paul echoed this when he said, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.” (Romans 12:19

What we must recognize is that evil not only reigns outside of us, but is also seeking to reign within us.  Continually turning our focus to God in the face of evil prevents that very evil from also consuming us.  

Today, if you are focused on the evil in the world and fear it, follow David’s counsel and instead turn your attention to the Lord who is in control and in Whom you can trust.  Evil in the world is a terrible thing, but it is even worse when it takes hold of our own hearts.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Man Upstairs

“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrews 12:25-29 NIV)

Last night, after his team was victorious in the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning said he wanted to thank “the man upstairs” for the experience of winning the title.  It never ceases to amaze me how casually people take the Almighty God.  From referring to Him as someone rather like an affable uncle living in the attic to the “Hey God” with which many begin their prayers, as if He is merely an acquaintance dropping in for a chat.  Many seem to treat the God of the universe like the person next door and not that big of deal.  Think about that for a moment.

We worship the God who created everything and owns everything.  He is the God before whom all will bow and confess that He is Lord. And He is the God who will be our Judge. Can we really treat Him casually?

I think the casualness of our society has crept into our view of God. Because we treat everyone, our President, our professors or bosses, and our parents with such nonchalance despite their roles of authority in our lives, I think we have unconsciously forgotten how truly awesome (meaning the historic definition of that term) the Lord is.  He is far above and beyond anyone we have experienced or can imagine.  He is not just another friend, or a casual acquaintance, or someone who lives a floor above us.  He is God, the One and Only.  His power is unfathomable.  There is no one like Him or who can come anywhere close to being compared to Him.  

So, today, let’s stop with this nonsense that we can treat the God of the universe so casually.  Have we lost our minds?!  Instead, let us recognize who He truly is and approach Him with the reverence and awe He deserves. 

© Jim Musser 2016 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Believing the Lie

“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.  But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” (Jonah 2:8-9 NIV)

Working with college students for most of my adult life, I have seen it happen many, many times.  The siren calls of idols leading them to turn away from the love of God.  For some it has been a romantic relationship; for others it’s the promise of a great career; for still others it is the longing to be popular in the sight of others.  The end result is someone loved by God rejecting His love in favor of something more immediately appealing but with little lasting value.  

This is the devil’s game, to draw our attention to those things that promise immediate gratification so that we will ignore that which will satisfy our deepest longing.  In a culture enthralled with the immediate and the thrill, this is the perfect strategy.  And the end of the wide path is littered with the tortured souls who fell for the lie.

Jonah was loved by God and called by Him to be a prophetic voice. But instead he ran from God and embraced the lie about which he speaks.  But in the stomach of a giant fish and at a point of desperation, he realizes the truth.

This is often the case.  We embrace worthless things and forsake God, but at a point of desperation when things do not work out according to our inflated imaginations, we come to recognize the truth and turn back to the One who has always loved us.  Thus, to coin a term of C.S. Lewis, it is a severe mercy when the consequences of our turning away from the Lord open the path for us to return to Him.  

The fact is broken people are often the ones most willing to seeing the truth.  Try telling a person that his romantic pursuit is a bad idea, or that a career path will ultimately prove unsatisfactory.  They are unlikely to listen.  Only when the truth is borne out is there the possibility of returning to the Lord, and only then if bitterness does not take root first.

The only way to avoid the enemy’s deception is to be steadfast in believing and declaring the truth: “Salvation comes from the Lord.”  No relationship, career, or fame can ever accomplish what our hearts ultimately long for—a relationship with our Creator.

Today, are you accepting the lie that satisfaction can come from something other than the love of God?  If so, then realize the danger you are in.  You may end up in desperate straits like Jonah or at the end of the wide path of which Jesus spoke, which is strewn with the lost souls of people who believed the same lie.  But know this, the Lord loves you and longs for you to return to Him.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trash Day

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV)

In our neighborhood, every Thursday is trash day.  Each week, my neighbors and I dutifully roll our trash bins to the curb, as well as our recyclables bin.  Unlike when I was a kid when everything was trash, now some things are viewed as reusable.  I thought about this passage this morning because of Paul’s use of the word garbage. (The Greek word he used is actually closer to our word sh** in meaning, but translators feel more comfortable with a less offensive translation.)  

Paul had been writing about his BC (before Christ) days and the picture he paints is one of his rolling out his old life to the curb and leaving it there.  It is garbage and he has no need for it.  It is now worthless.  

If you visit a landfill, you will likely find things that once were considered valuable by their former owners.  Television sets, computer monitors, pizza boxes whose contents caused eyes to light up and mouths to water, and remnants of once luscious fruits or vegetables. All once prized, now considered worthless.  

Paul had what his culture considered an enviable life.  He was educated and a prominent Jewish leader.  He was faithful to his religion and held in high esteem.  But one day, after an encounter with the Lord on his way to Damascus, Paul decided to take his past life and throw it into a trash bin.  With what He had now, he had no use for it any longer.  

When we meet Jesus and entrust our lives to Him, this really is how it should be.  The temptation from our enemy is to convince us to keep our old life because it is still quite useful to us.  But we need to recognize, like Paul, the garbage it really is.  Trusting in ourselves, living for ourselves, working to possess things that will not last or satisfy. In comparison to what we have in Jesus, indeed these things deserve to be thrown away.  

Can aspects of our old lives still be of use?  Yes, if we are willing to let God recycle them for Kingdom purposes.  Someone might have great business acumen and used it previously to enrich himself.  That same ability can be now used for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.  In the same way, past experiences can be recycled for the benefit of others.  It is clear from Paul’s numerous letters that he allowed the Lord to use his past life for the glory of His Kingdom.  It was garbage compared to Jesus, but the power of the Lord could turn it into something useful.

Today, how do you view your life before coming to know the Lord?  Are you still trying to hang onto it?  If so, let today be your trash day. Take your old life and roll it to the curb, letting God take it away.  He may recycle some of it for a better use, but the reality is it is just garbage compared to who He is and what He can provide you in its place.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Prescription for What Ails Us

“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)

People worry.  A lot.  In fact, sometimes I think it is the national past time.  Parents worry about their kids’ safety and futures.  Students worry about classes and what they are going to do after graduation, and whether they will ever meet the “right one.”  People worry about their jobs, the economy, and the state of the world.  They worry about getting cancer and growing old.  They worry about almost everything.

From what I can tell, this is not a new problem.  People have always tended to worry.  Jesus told the people not to worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:34) And here Paul tells the Philippian believers not to be anxious about anything.  Worry, it seems, is something human beings are prone to do.  Yet, the Scriptures are clear it is not something we should do.  What to do?

In this passage we find a four-point prescription for what ails us.  We tend to focus on the negative, all that could go wrong.  Instead, Paul says to concentrate on the positive and by so doing we will develop a different outlook.  Secondly, he says that instead of being anxious about something, we should take our worries to God in prayer.  And third, he says we should recognize that God is near to us and thus in control of the situation.  We can trust Him.  Finally, he says we need put these into practice.  

When I find myself in a state of anxiety or worry, it is because I have failed to do what Paul instructed.  I become focused on the problem or fear instead of more positive things.  I am consumed by my worry, so much so that I forget to take it to the Lord.  And I fail to trust He is in control even when I feel I am not.

Today, know you do not have to be consumed by worry and anxiety. The Lord has provided you a way out of that kind of living.  And if you are worried about not being able to change your worrying ways, the same prescription applies to that, too!  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hope and Change

“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’

But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.’” (I Samuel 8:4-9 NIV)

And so it begins.  With the Iowa caucuses last night, the 2016 presidential election campaign is now in full swing.  And like every campaign, many people think if their candidate prevails, he or she will change the direction of the country more to their liking.  For some, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump is the answer; to others it is Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.  This year, in particular, it seems the voters are looking for a strong leader who will get things done and shake up the gridlock in Washington, as well as keep us safe from threats from around the world.  

It seems our bent is to look for someone in which to place our hope. We want someone in whom we can trust to look out for us and defend our interests.  And after years of disappointment, that yearning is particularly strong.  Yet, it was a mere eight years ago when the country was tired of politics as usual, of the divided state of our country, and longed for a change.  I can still recall the jubilation, particularly among college students, when Barak Obama won the presidency.  They believed they had found their answer to America’s problems and change was on its way.  

The Israelites were in a similar mindset.  They were looking for change. They were weary of the way things were and threats to their nation abounded.  God had been their Leader, but they wanted change—to be like other nations and to have an earthly king rule them.  They were convinced that was the answer.  However, a casual reading of I and II Samuel, along with I and II Kings, will demonstrate how wrong they were.  In fact, the Lord said their desire for a king was a direct rejection of Him.

In the midst of this presidential cycle, this should give us all pause.  No human can change this nation for the better unless first the people are willing to humble themselves before the Lord.  For all of those who thought President Obama was the answer back in 2008, this should be quite clear, as it should be for those who supported George W. Bush before him.  Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, or whoever becomes our next president, will not be the savior of this country.  Only the Lord can do that.

Today, if you think the country is in need of change, don’t make the mistake of the Israelites in thinking a president will make all the difference.  Rather recognize it is the Lord who is the true King and only through Him can real change occur.  You can pray for the right person to be elected, you can vote for whom you think will make the best president, but never put your hope in him or her.  Our only true hope is found in the Lord.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, February 1, 2016

Giving Thanks No Matter What

“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)

During the past week, I’ve heard of brothers and sisters in the Lord dealing with the tragic news of cancer diagnoses, broken relationships with family members or friends, and dreams of the future being derailed by unforeseen circumstances.  

As I have written many times, life is hard.  Very few of us escape without a number of rough patches along the way.  So the question is, how do we handle them when they do come?  Of course, there are many responses when life gets difficult, both positive and negative. Some of us soldier on, putting one foot in front of another, while others find it hard just getting up each morning.  Some of us remain hopeful for the future while others fall into despair.  We all handle the hard times differently, but I think all of us find it difficult, if not incomprehensible, to be thankful in the midst of them.  Yet, this is what Paul commands us to do.

“All circumstances” does not leave exceptions.  Give thanks except when your mother dies? No.  Or give thanks except when your significant other ends the relationship. No.  The fact is Paul leaves zero room for exceptions.  Whatever our circumstances, thanksgiving is always appropriate.  

This may be hard to comprehend, but we see it in Jesus.  On the night He was betrayed by Judas, He gave thanks (I Corinthians 11:23-24). When He was about to embark on the most painful and humiliating day of His life, He still was able to give thanks.  How?  Because He knew His Heavenly Father was in control.  

When we entrust our lives to the Lord, then we know that in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, good or bad, the Lord is there with us and in control of things.  And we have the promise of Romans 8:28 to reassure us that He will bring good out of whatever we are facing. Thus, there is always reason to be thankful.

Today, whatever hard things you may be facing, remember the Lord is in complete control.  So give thanks today for His goodness and mercy, for His love and compassion, and for His ability to bring good out of bad.  No circumstances you are facing or may face can ever change that.

© Jim Musser 2016