Monday, October 31, 2016

Blaming the Victim

“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:2-11 NIV)

I know a man who was married to a woman who was unfaithful to him. Eventually, she moved out and sought a divorce.  I blame him.  He shouldn’t have married her in the first place. The warning signs were there and he ignored them. He also knew deep down that God didn’t approve. Instead, he plowed headlong into a tumultuous marriage because he was lonely and thought he could somehow change the woman.  He paid the price.  He didn’t deserve the treatment he received, but I blame him because he was unwise and foolish.  Had he avoided making such a bad choice, he wouldn’t have suffered so much.

That man is me.

Last week, I had a conversation with a student who told me of what he had learned in a class that day on sexual assault.  He was appalled at how badly men often treated women on campus.  When I mentioned that the vast majority of sexual assault cases on campus involve alcohol, he immediately accused me of blaming the victims.  He is not alone.

We live in a culture where pointing out someone’s bad choices and the consequences from them is taboo.  “Blaming the victim” is the catchphrase and it is applied liberally.  When bad things happen to people, typically it is viewed as someone else’s fault. And if there ever was a victim in the Scriptures, it was the woman caught in adultery.

How was it that so many religious leaders knew of her sin?  It seems to me it was some sort of set-up.  Perhaps they knew of her affair and sought to exploit it in order to trap Jesus.  Or maybe the man she was with feared being exposed and reported her.  In those days, women had very few rights or protections.  Regardless, given she was dragged before Jesus by a mob, we can naturally view her as a victim regardless of her sin.  And, if reading this story for the first time, we would naturally expect Jesus to end his comments to her with “Then neither do I condemn you.”  Instead, He went further.  In today’s parlance, He blamed her.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  She was the victim of this “lynch mob,” but Jesus held her responsible for her poor choices. He forgave her, but He didn’t excuse her.

This is crucial to understand because the Scriptures never give us an excuse for sin regardless of our reasons or the consequences we suffer.  We cannot blame poverty, a poor home life, genetics, or anything else the culture says is responsible for behavior considered wrong by God.  And we can't consider ourselves blameless for our choices just because the consequences were severe. We are without excuse, but our tendency is to blame God or others.  In the case of sexual assault on campus, few are willing to acknowledge the role drunkenness plays and that choices were made which were unwise and even foolish.  In my case, I could easily blame my ex-wife because I was the victim of her infidelity.  But the truth is, I put myself in a vulnerable position in the first place because of my own sinful desires.  I blame the victim and Jesus did as well.  He held me accountable and I asked for His forgiveness.  But just as the adulterous woman was not condemned for her sin, neither was I.

This is the important distinction we need to make.  While we are responsible for our choices and the consequences that may flow from them, the Lord does not condemn us.  Therefore, His mercy allows us the possibility for redemption, but only if we stop blaming everyone but ourselves.  

Today, if you are the victim of your own sin, then put the blame where it belongs.  Confess and repent.  The Lord does not condemn you for what you’ve done, but He does command you to learn from your mistakes and make better choices in the future.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Devil at Work

“While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’

When he said this, he called out, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.”’

‘This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.’” (Luke 8:4-15 NIV)

I see this parable played out daily on the college campus.  At the beginning of the school year, in particular, there will be students who are not believers that attend some of our events.  They’re either invited by other students or who just happen by and are curious about what is going on.  There interest leads them a bit further in, but then, suddenly, they’re gone, not to be seen again.  Fear and doubt overwhelmed their curiosity.

There are also other students who seem determined to get onto a better path in life.  They declare they’re going to make better choices and give up the sins in which they are entangled.  Soon, however, their courage and determination fail in face of the temptations that have tripped them up before.  Instead of forging a new path, they instead return to the well-worn one.

The most common is the third part of Jesus’ parable. Students at the beginning of the year often say they really want to grow in the Lord and get involved in our ministry.  Within a few weeks, however, the demands of classes, the worries about relationships, and the many distractions that come with college life overwhelm their desire for spiritual growth. There enthusiasm wanes and the excuses grow.

While these examples are from a college campus, they are a composite of life regardless of one’s adult age or status.  The strategy of our enemy is remarkably the same.  He wants us to doubt or fear making a decision for Jesus.  If we make that decision, then he wants to render it ineffective, either by overwhelming us with temptation or persecution so that we will find it just too difficult to continue following the Lord.  Or he will seek to distract us, either by worries or pleasures, anything to remove our focus off the One leading us.  

It is an effective strategy that has proven itself down through the ages. And the key is the enemy usually remains out of sight. Like an astute political strategist, he works behind the scenes undetected.  He makes it look like things are happening naturally—doubts rising from reason, fears resulting from events, and distractions being “just life.”  As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, the enemy’s greatest weapon against us is getting us to be unaware of his existence or work.

Today, be on your guard against the devil’s schemes.  He wants you to doubt, to fear, and to be distracted.  He will do whatever he can to ensure your faith does not grow and reproduce.  The choice you have is whether or not to let him have his way.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fearless Faith

“Keep you lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:5-8 NIV)

Anxiety is the number one presenting problem of students across the country at university counseling centers.  Students are anxious about their classes, relationships, sexual assault, the future, etc.  My wife facilitates a group for students struggling with anxiety.  Prescriptions for anxiety-related medication have risen dramatically during the past few years. Where is all the fear coming from?  

In the 80’s and 90’s, there was increased focus on child abductions.  It was then that pictures of missing kids began appearing on milk cartons. The Amber Alert was also later created.  Increasingly, parents began fearing for their children’s safety.  On top of that, safety warnings began appearing for all types of child-related activities and products, from playground equipment to car seats, and from bicycle helmets to cribs. And then there was 9/11, when international terrorism came to our country’s shores.  Just so many things out there that could harm our kids. And, unintentionally, we passed our fears on to them.

The Hebrew writer speaks of looking to leaders for the encouragement and faith to stand firm when fear is knocking on the door of our lives. For children, this would be their parents; yet, what do they so often see?  In my experience working with college students, I can tell you what they see often is fear.  I have led countless mission trips, taking students all over the country and to many countries around the world.  I have not lost a student yet.  But frequently I hear about, or talk directly to, parents who are afraid to let their kids participate.  Fear of terrorism, accidents, poor living conditions, or just being out of continual contact leads some parents to deny their kids permission to go on these trips.  

The reality is fear is contagious. This is why it is spreading on campus. Students see few examples of their peers who aren’t anxious about something.  And for Christian students, it is the same.  

What is needed in our homes and on our campuses if this is to ever change is those claiming to follow Jesus to heed the counsel of Scripture: Do not be afraid.  It is given countless times in both the Old and New Testament.  Look it up.  And the reason for this is God can be trusted.  Fear is a tool of the enemy.  To combat it, we must live by faith that the Lord can be counted on.  Parents need to entrust their kids to Him and provide examples of fearless faith regardless of the circumstances.  Students need to cast their fears upon the Lord and get on with the business of living their lives fully for Him.  Fear is crippling, but it need not be.  

The assurance the Lord gave us through His Word, written millennia ago, is still valid because He does not change.  He is the same today as He was then, and will remain the same forever.  So today, if you are struggling with fear, cast it upon the Lord.  He can be trusted.  And pass this faith onto others, particularly your children if and when you have them.  The need is great to raise up a generation of fearless followers of Jesus who will go with Him wherever He leads.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Isn't That Just Like Jesus?

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31 NIV)

I have been reading the Gospel of John during the past several weeks. It’s my favorite Gospel because John does such a masterful job of showing Jesus as both divine and human.  There are so many great stories that only John tells—the lonely and outcast Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), the woman accused of adultery (John 8), and Thomas’ struggle with doubt that Jesus was truly alive (John 20).  But probably my favorite story is when Jesus appears on the beach while Peter and some other disciples are out fishing on the Sea of Galilee (John 21).

The disciples have been out all night and have had no luck.  Not a single fish has been caught.  As the sun begins to rise, Jesus appears on the beach and, as if He didn’t already know, asks if they have caught any fish.  When they answered in the negative, He tells them they will find some on the right side of their boat.  And sure enough, they did—153 large ones to be exact.  We know this because the disciples were so impressed with what had happened that they counted every one! And then He offered to fix them breakfast.  Isn’t this just like Jesus, to do the miraculous and the mundane all at the same time?

When He encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, it was a normal, human encounter.  He was thirsty and asked her for a drink. But He knew all about her, her loneliness and her sins.  His gentle probing into the depths of her life led her to faith and, in turn, a whole village. Isn’t that just like Jesus to transform a sinner into an evangelist?  

And when the woman caught in adultery was paraded before Him by a host of male accusers, His focus instead was on the men.  Which of them had never sinned, He asked?  He then should be the one throwing the first stone of her execution.  As they one by one left in shame, Jesus spoke gently to the woman, reassuring her that she was not condemned, but firmly telling her she needed to change the way she was living.  Isn’t that just like Jesus, to speak the truth to both the self-righteous and the sinner?

When Thomas so firmly stated his doubts, Jesus appeared out of nowhere and told him to feel with his own hands the wounds of His crucifixion.  He then rebuked him, saying, “Stop doubting and believe.” Isn’t that just like Jesus to show up sometimes and leave no doubt?

John says he tells these stories about Jesus so that we might believe in Jesus as Messiah and the Son of God and thereby find eternal life.  He has certainly told some great ones and they have the ring of truth.  To me, they sound just like Jesus, and I certainly believe He is the Son of God and my Lord and Savior.  Today, I hope you do as well.

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Freedom Found in Truth

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32 NIV)

Here is an observation about this year’s presidential campaign: In the 1990’s, so-called “evangelical Christians” were aghast at the immoral behavior of President Bill Clinton and supported his impeachment by the Republicans because they said he was unfit for the office.  Many of the so-called “liberal Christians,” however, defended him, saying his issues were personal.  Fast-forward to the present and now it is many “evangelical Christians” defending Donald Trump’s immorality as acceptable because “we’re all sinners,” and the so-called “progressive Christians” calling him unfit because of his past behavior. 

Politics over and over again proves the worldly adage, “truth is relative.” Those running for elected office, and those supporting them, tend to use truth when it works to their advantage and avoid it when it doesn’t. The truth in the ‘90’s for one side was that character matters and for the other it was about policy.  Today, the argument is the same, but the sides have flipped.

The fact is truth is often quite inconvenient to our plans and ambitions, and to our pride, so we often deny it or twist it.  Or in the oft chance truth works in our favor, we will declare it unabashedly.  Either way, truth is viewed subjectively.  And, thus, instead of experiencing freedom, our use of truth keeps us in bondage.  

Jesus says freedom is found in obedience to Him and He is the Source of truth.  Lies, therefore, find their source in the “father of lies.” The Truth promises freedom and the Liar seeks to keep us in bondage by avoiding the truth.

We can see this play out every day.  Hacked emails reveal what is really going on.  Videos reveal what has been hidden.  When one knows the truth, but seeks to live a lie, there is bondage.  Over my life I have seen many who hide behind lies, terrified that people might know the truth about them.  They have kept up the fa├žade of a good marriage, hidden an extramarital affair, denied having a problem with alcohol or drugs, or pretended to have a love for Jesus when they loved the world far more. Hidden, however, are the shackles, the chains of bondage.  

The truth is lies can never set us free.  They may provide some temporary sense of relief or satisfaction, but they will always hold us in bondage because of the innate fear of being exposed (John 3:20) The only way to freedom is through truth.

Today, are you hiding behind a lie in order to avoid the truth?  If so, then know only the truth can set you free.  It may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, but the freedom will be worth it.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Poisoned Well

“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” (John 4:13-14 NIV)

I read an article yesterday about the continued problems with contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.  A year after the story broke about lead contaminating nearly all the city’s water supply, the majority of residents are still unable to use the water coming out of their taps.  It is truly a sad and tragic story. But it is not the only one.

As I have observed this political season and think back over the decades I’ve been a follower of Jesus, I realize there has also been an ongoing crisis regarding contamination of the living water of which Jesus speaks to the woman at the well.  The problem with water contamination is it is often not immediately detected.  Years can pass without a person knowing what they are drinking is poisoning them. The same is true spiritually.  

The contaminants vary, but all will produce sickness and some even death.  Tradition and legalism have long been a favorite choice of our enemy.  Many churches have been rendered ineffective by clinging to unbiblical traditions and merciless legalism.  But he is crafty and adaptive, so as our culture has become in recent decades much more accepting of various behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyles, he has introduced unlimited grace into the stream.  Paul warned of this contaminant in Romans 6.  Pursuit of greed, worldly power, and adoration are other examples of the living water being contaminated. The end result is water intended to bring freedom, healing, and transformation instead brings spiritual sickness and death.

Many of the residents of Flint are using water filters in order to remove the lead in their water.  For us as believers, the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures is the filter we need to remove the contaminants.  Too many of us do not regularly ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), which enables Him to be in control and guide our judgment. And far too many of us are weak in our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures.  As a result, it is difficult for us to filter out the contaminants in what is presented to us as living water.  Thus, while we may believe we are drinking in that which gives us life, in fact, what we are ingesting is making us sick and perhaps slowly killing us.  

Today, recognize the danger lurking when you seek to drink from well of Jesus.  Our enemy has sought from the beginning to poison it, but in a way that is difficult to detect.  The only way to protect yourself is through being filled with the Holy Spirit and having a comprehensive understanding of the Scriptures. Doing so will restore the living water to its pure state.   

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Battle with Our Feelings

“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)

You can just sense the struggle within David to maintain hope and faith in the midst of his overwhelming circumstances.  Like a rollercoaster, his emotions are up and down, twisting and turning within him.  One moment he is praising the Lord and the next he is gripped by anguish and despair.  He is at war with his feelings and it is palpable.  You get the strong sense he is attempting to will himself to trust God when all things around him are pulling him in the opposite direction.  

Sometimes this is life as a follower of the Lord.  Circumstances can overwhelm us and our feelings pull us away into fear and anxiousness; yet David demonstrates how we need to fight through our feelings and engage our will to remain focused on the hope we have in God.  Our culture has elevated feelings to be the ultimate guide in life, but feelings are not always trustworthy.  For example, I may continue to feel guilt over a sin I committed and confessed to the Lord; yet the Word says if I confess my sin, the Lord forgives it. (I John 1:9)  In which am I to place my trust: how I feel or what the Lord says in His Word?  

It is a battle to override where our feelings lead us.  David clearly demonstrates that for us.  However, the Lord is trustworthy in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.  They may feel overwhelming, but that’s just how it feels.  The truth is the Lord has overcome the world and all the troubles it inflicts on our lives (John 16:33).

Today, regardless of what circumstances may be overwhelming you, put your hope in the Lord.  While you cannot always trust your feelings, you can always trust in Him.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Reclamation Project

“When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!’ For Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you impure spirit!’

Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.’  And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.  When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.  Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” (Mark 5:2-20 NIV)

Yesterday was an amazing day in the High Country of North Carolina. Not only are the Fall leaf colors at their peak, but also I was able to hike to some of the highest points on the Blue Ridge Parkway to gain an awesome vantage point.  But don’t misunderstand me when I use the word “able.”  I am being literal and not using it as a synonym for opportunity.

Two and a half years ago, I had a very bad knee replaced.  Hiking like I did yesterday was not possible before without major consequences like pain and swelling.  So, for the most part, I had stopped doing any hiking that was very long or very steep.  That would describe the hike my wife and I did yesterday.  Yet, I had no pain or swelling, or even shortness of breath.  It was amazing!  In the past two years, in many ways I have been able to reclaim the days of my youth.  What I was unable to do, or only to do with great pain, I am now able to do as if I were still a young man!  And every opportunity I get, I give praise to the Lord for it.

My experience reminds me in a way of the demon-possessed man whom Jesus healed.  He was in a pathetic condition, one that was inflicted upon him by demons.  He was no longer the man he once was, physically or mentally.  He was an object of fear and trepidation.  No one wanted anything to do with him.  

But Jesus, with just a few words spoken with authority, allowed this man to reclaim his humanness.  The demons fled and the man returned to his right mind.  Now the man, grateful as he was, wanted to follow Jesus, but the Lord told him to go back home and tell everyone what had happened to him.  And he did so with much excitement, I’m sure.  

Reclaiming something vital in our lives is always a reason for praise. Whether it be a reconciled relationship, a long lost friendship, or a return to health, reclamation is a cause for celebration.  

What is so encouraging about this story and so many others of Jesus’ ministry is His ability to restore people to whom they were created to be—the demon-possessed man, the leper, the tax-collector, the adulteress.  Jesus is in the reclamation business.

Today, know that whatever is holding you down from being all that God created you to be, He can make you right again.  He can reclaim you, like He did me, not only physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well.  And whether you have already experienced it or are just now desiring it, it should cause you to tell others about the Lord who achieved it for you.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Debt We Could Not Pay

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV)

I recently read an article about the enormous debt college graduates have incurred while earning their degrees.  One woman took over $150,000 out in loans to earn a liberal arts degree.  She is now living with her parents and working a low-wage, part-time job.  Another had the choice of going to an elite private school or a state university. Because she thought the private school would gain her a better reputation, and job opportunities, she chose it even though it cost three times as much.  This graduate is now working two jobs, not in her field of study, just to make the monthly payments on her student loans.  She referred to herself as an “idiot.”

It is this huge indebtedness that has led some to demand all student loan debt be cancelled.  Good luck on that one!  No one forced these graduates into debt.  It was their choice to go to college and to choose a particular school to attend.  It was also their choice of selecting a major. Because going into debt was their choice, it is unlikely banks are going to cancel it.  

This makes the fact of our sin debt being forgiven all that more astounding.  Like those college graduates, we chose to sin, to rebel against God.  No one made us do it.  And our debt is so great; we will never be able to pay it off.  Yet, unlike banks with student loans, God chose to cancel our debt.  Totally.  Completely.  We didn’t have to do a thing!  One moment we were buried in debt; the next it was gone!  

The only condition was that we stop trying to pay it off and start a relationship with the One who cancelled it.  Not a bad deal, if you ask me.  

Today, realize what a tremendous position you are in.  A debt you freely incurred and could not pay was cancelled.  You now owe nothing except your life.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Relevancy of the Old Testament Law

“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.

“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.

“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:1-9 NIV)

As I was doing my daily reading of the Scriptures yesterday, I found myself in Exodus where God gives Moses the law.  As I was reading, this particular section struck me as to its relevancy to our culture’s current state of affairs.  Often people assume the Old Testament laws are anachronistic, with little application to modern life.  I think these laws, for instance, prove otherwise.

“Do not spread false reports.”  How many of us see some story shared on Facebook and share it without first checking to see if it is factual? Social media is often a giant rumor mill spreading falsehoods, which only add fuel to the many burning cultural fires.

“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.”  In the past several years we have witnessed peaceful protests turning violent and riotous.  Why? Because what would ordinarily be considered wrong becomes acceptable because many are doing it.  A significant number of students get caught up in binge drinking because “everybody’s doing it.”

“If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.”  Sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it?  There is a lot of hate out there pointed toward Christians.  How many of us are willing to ignore it and to help our enemies, to be kind to them, when we see them in need?

“Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.”  People are often quick to believe what they first hear without knowing all the facts.  Often this results in dire consequences for an innocent person.  Just as with false rumors, we need to be slow to accept charges against people until we have the facts.

“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.”  Money and power clearly can be corrupting influences.  We need to be on our guard against their influence. Corruption is corrosive to any culture.

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”  Immigration has been a political “hot button” for many years now.  What often gets lost in the heat of the battle is the humanness of the foreigners and the fact each of them has also been created by God.  There are legitimate arguments on both sides of this issue, but what we cannot afford to lose is the recognition that God loves the foreigners as much as He loves each of us.

As Paul says in II Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”   Today, may this passage from the Scriptures accomplish that very thing.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Being Prepared for Trouble

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

Often it is easy to convince ourselves that this life is wonderful because things are going well for us.  We landed the job we wanted.  We’re blessed with a wonderful marriage or dating relationship.  Everything seems to be going our way.  Like the famous brand wants to remind us, “Life is good.”  

Except when it’s not.  Last week, in just seven days, I attended the funeral of the father of an alumna of our ministry who had unexpectedly died, received news of a student’s mom being diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, and learned of a teenage son of friends having a rare form of cancer.  For them, life is not so good right now.

Add to that the increasing political turmoil in our country; the suffering of people in Aleppo, Syria; the hunger crisis building in Nigeria; the North Koreans’ ever-increasing nuclear threat; and, closer to home, the severe flooding across the eastern part of North Carolina; and one is quickly brought back to the reality this world is full of trouble, whether we are experiencing it directly at this particular moment or not.  Trouble will eventually come upon us; it’s just a matter of time.  

The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we prepared for it? Because trouble almost always comes unannounced, it’s too late to get ready after it arrives.  In this simple declarative statement to His disciples, Jesus warns trouble is coming.  Suffering, persecution, and death.  Accompanying them will be tremendous stress and anxiety.  In essence, Jesus is asking them if they are ready for what they are about to encounter.  He knew they were not.  

So He gives them this encouragement through another declarative statement: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  It took them awhile, but through the power of the Holy Spirit and an all-out commitment of faith that what Jesus said about Himself was true, they indeed were overcomers.  Trouble visited them often, but their faith stood the test.

In a world of chaos and suffering, it is tempting to pretend we will be exempt from trouble, or we can distract ourselves from the looming difficulties we will experience, but the truth is in this fallen world, we will have trouble.  So the question is, are we preparing ourselves for it?  Are we drawing closer to Jesus? Are we reading His Word and putting it into practice in our lives?  Are we spending time in prayer? Or are we just going through the motions of being a Christian, without there being any real substance or commitment?

Today, know the only way to overcome the troubles you inevitably will face in this life is to submit fully to the One who has overcome the world.  And as I mentioned above about the events of last week, troubles come upon us suddenly and without warning.   Now is the time to start making your preparations.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Value of What We Build

(Author's Note: We are headed into Fall Break tomorrow, so I will be taking a two-day break as well. WftW will be back on Monday.  Blessings!  Jim)

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” (I Corinthians 3:10-15 NIV)

Donald Trump is proud of the company he built and claims we will all be proud of the wall he will build on our nation’s southern border.  Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple is also known for what he built--iPods, MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads.  By all accounts, he was a creative (and marketing) genius.  

The world focuses a great deal of attention on what we accomplish, but I am reminded this morning that the Lord has a different view of what we build in our lives.  It is easy to get caught up in the world’s view of what’s important, whether it be the latest technological advancement, fame, or some personal achievement.  We can be lured into thinking we are building something significant for ourselves.  And by the world’s standards, we may be.  However, the world is not the ultimate judge of the achievements of our lives.  

Paul says there is only one foundation on which we can build that truly has any value and that is Jesus.  That is a hard truth because there are a lot of people in this world who are doing or have done a lot of great things.  Are we to conclude that if they weren’t doing those things on the foundation of Jesus, they are of no value?  It appears so, at least for them in eternity.  

There is no doubt people produce things of value to us, whether good deeds or good technology like the MacBook on which I am writing this devotion.  But the question we all must ask ourselves is: Are the things we produce in our lives of value to God?  For it is to Him we will one day give an account for what we’ve done.  

Today, remember that regardless of what the world says about your achievements, it is the Lord who will have the final say on the value of what you’ve accomplished.  His word is the last and the most important.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Missed Opportunities

“Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”

‘But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

‘Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”

‘Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

 ”Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”

‘Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”’” (Luke 14:16-24 NIV)

I was talking recently to a student leader who was discouraged that her attempts to help other students grow deeper spiritually were being rebuffed.  Deeper, challenging questions were met with blank stares and silence, or shallow answers.  I told her this was the hard part of ministering to people.  

As Jesus’ points out in His parable, not everyone is ready or willing to seize the opportunity given them to go deeper with the Lord.  Sadly, it is an opportunity missed, but a fact of life.  We can easily get caught up with what is right in front of us and miss what matters most.  That may be school, work, a relationship, or just our desire to be comfortable rather than stretched.  

For those of us who are trying to pour what the Lord has given us into others, we learn from this parable the futility of continuing to pursue those who are not interested in what opportunities we are offering them. Instead of wasting our time and energy on people with all kinds of excuses of why they can’t make time to grow spiritually, we are to focus on those who are eager and hungry to go deeper.  This is not to say we give up on the others.  We can continue to pray for them, but our energy should be focused on those eager to seize the opportunity to grow. 

Today, recognize the opportunities to grow that the Lord may be offering you.  They can easily be lost in the midst of the busyness and attractions of life, but they are opportunities not to be missed.  And if you are one seeking to be used by the Lord to minister to others, don’t spend a lot of time pursuing people who have little interest in growing. Instead, look for those who want to seize the opportunity to go deeper with the Lord.

© Jim Musser 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

Having Faith in the Midst of Unfairness

“So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.  As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.  Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?  Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers agreed.

So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.  When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.  He went back to his brothers and said, ‘The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?’

Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.  They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, ‘We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.’

He recognized it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’  Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’ So his father wept for him.  Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.” (Genesis 37:23-36 NIV)

Often, life is unfair.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but it is because we don’t live in a perfect world, rather a fallen one.  When unfairness occurs, we want to scream and protest.  There are many who go so far as to blame God and become embittered toward Him.  I recall early in my ministry counseling a student whose ex-girlfriend began dating his best friend.  He was inconsolable.  “It was so unfair!” he claimed.  He remained bitter, blamed God, and eventually left the narrow path that leads to life.  

What this young man missed, and so many do, is that God is in complete control.  Nothing happens without either His permission or direction.  Reading just this part of Joseph’s story, one could easily conclude how unfair life was for Joseph.  And it didn’t get better for a long time.  He was enslaved and then falsely accused of sexual assault by his owner’s wife and imprisoned.  He was indeed treated very unfairly.  But what we don’t see at this point in the story is the Lord’s plan to use this unfairness to accomplish something great in Joseph’s life.  The whole story is one of the most beautiful in all of Scripture, topped only by the worst case of unfairness known in history—the execution of Jesus.

God used Joseph to save Egypt and his family, and He used Jesus to save us all. But it wasn’t really fair to either, was it?  Joseph suffered much and Jesus suffered even more.  There is often among us that God being for us and not against us means that things will always go well for us. It is, however, an undeniable fact that God often uses unfairness in life to accomplish something greater and far better. And it is by faith that we must walk in the midst of it to avoid resentment and bitterness.  

I can attest to this in my own life.  My parents suffered before their deaths when I was young, but they became followers of Jesus as a result.  My first wife abandoned our marriage, which eventually led me to being asked to resign from a ministry position I had held for more than 20 years; but the result was a refreshing new ministry and a wonderful second marriage.  God proved to be faithful in what seemed to me so unfair.  He had greater plans that I just couldn’t see in the midst of those moments.  Only long afterwards did my vision clear so I could see His steady hands had been surrounding those unfortunate events the whole time.  

Today, know whatever unfairness you may be experiencing, or have experienced, in life, the Lord is in control and has plans to use these things for a greater good.  You may not see that yet, but in time you will if you walk in faith.

© Jim Musser 2016

Friday, October 7, 2016

Facing the Storms of Life

“One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and set out.  As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.  ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples.  In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’ (Luke 8:22-25 NIV)

Much of the country is fixated on Hurricane Matthew, which is currently making its way up the east coast of Florida.  Headlines during the past week have focused on the extreme intensity of this storm and the need for those in its path to make preparations.

I was talking yesterday with one of our staff about someone who used to be involved with our campus ministry.  This person has had a more difficult road in life than they would have anticipated just a few short years ago.  I shared that I believe this is one of the purposes of our ministry—to prepare students to face the storms of life that they will eventually experience.  

College life is indeed filled with many pressures, whether they involve school, relationships, or the future, but what every college graduate knows is these pressures are just the “outer bands” in the storm that is life in a fallen world.  Whether they realize it or not, today’s students will face much greater troubles and stress in the years to come.  They will, with few exceptions, look back on their college lives with a longing for the “good ol’ days.”

The reality for us all is that over the span of our lives there will be many storms.  Divorce, chronic illness, a miscarriage, caring for aging parents, the loss of a job, are just a few of the many potential “troubles” Jesus predicted we would experience in life.  The question we must all ask is: are we prepared for them?

The disciples, while on the lake, were not when the storm unleashed its fury.  They panicked and failed to see the Source of their safety.  They were tested and failed.  I see similar things on campus.  Followers of Jesus find themselves in the midst of a storm and panic.  Instead of being focused on Jesus, their eyes are fixed on the waves and the wind.  As with the disciples, it is a small test.  Bigger ones are coming.  

The hope we can find in the story of the disciples is when the biggest storms appeared later in their lives, they held fast to the Lord.  They were prepared because the focus of their lives turned from themselves to Jesus.  No longer did everything revolve around them but around the Lord and serving Him.

Today, recognize the preparation needed to face the inevitable storms of your life is to focus more and more on Jesus.  He is the one who has overcome the world, and He is the one who can calm any storm in which you find yourself.

© Jim Musser 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Labels

“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.’  Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’  ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.

‘Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’

Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’  The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” (Luke 7:36-50 NIV)

Recently, I was looking online at life insurance policies.  My current policy ends in a few months and I’m looking for a new policy to replace it.  On one site, I was asked to take a health quiz, with questions such as: Are you a smoker or have you ever smoked? What is your driving record?  Do you have family members who have ever had, or died as a result of, heart disease or cancer?  After I answered the questions, the results were that I was merely in “fair’ health.  

The reality is I am probably in the best health I’ve been in my whole life. I work out three times a week, my cholesterol is as low as it’s been in over a decade, and my blood pressure is as well.  Yet, because of my health history and that of my family, this particular insurance company’s evaluation of my health is one of skepticism as it relates to my future.

The story of the “sinful woman” is just one of many the Gospels tell of people whose futures have already been predetermined by a skeptical society.  Promiscuous women, crippled men, corrupt officials, and people with incurable diseases and afflictions were all viewed as having no prospects of a better life.  They were defined by either what they had done or by the afflictions from which they suffered.  The tax collector. The adulteress.  The prostitute. The leper.  The man born blind.  And in those labels was found no hope.

But Jesus changed that.  The tax collector was given a new vocation. The adulteress and the prostitute were forgiven.  The leper and the blind man were healed.  While society attached labels of hopelessness to these men and women, Jesus saw beyond the pessimistic outlook to who they really were and who they could become.  

In my work on campus, I see many students accepting the labels given to them by themselves or others.  They consider themselves “losers,” “worthless,” “depressed,” “anxious,” “stupid,” “ugly,” or a number of others by which they define themselves.  

Just as Jesus did in His days on earth, He sees beyond these labels and defines no one by them.  What He sees, rather, are individuals in need of healing and transformation, both of which He can bring.  He is not put off by the present nor the past.

Today, consider the labels by which you define yourself.  Are they the result of what people have told you or of what you have done?  If so, know these are no obstacles for Jesus.  He is in the business of removal and restoration—removing labels and transforming people into what they were created to be.  What He has done for millions, He wants to do for you as well.

© Jim Musser 2016

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Taking God Lightly

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:42-51 NIV)

Several years ago my wife and I celebrated our anniversary at a very nice local restaurant.  Since it specialized in game meats, I decided to try the wild boar chop or, as our server described it, “pork with an attitude.”  When it was delivered to the table, I immediately noticed a lot of fat on the edge of the chop.  As I cut into it, I discovered one end was literally nothing but fat.  I am typically not one to complain, but I knew this was not a good piece of meat.  So I told our server and she said she would consult the chef.  She returned to say, somewhat embarrassingly, that the chef was aware of the fattiness of the chop, but had decided to serve it anyway.  She apologized and told me a new piece of meat was being prepared.  My assumption is the chef, or his assistant, thought he could get away with serving that low quality chop. Perhaps he thought I wouldn’t notice or just wouldn’t complain.  

I wonder if that is not how we approach sin sometimes.  We think we will be able to get away with it because we think no one is watching or that, somehow, it will be ignored.  If so, we take God far too lightly.  And this is the point of Jesus’ parable.  If we, as the Lord’s servants, are given a responsibility, He expects us to fulfill it.  Just because He is not physically present, doesn’t mean we are going to get away with being negligent or downright disobedient.  

To be given a responsibility and then intentionally not carry through with it is a sign of disrespect to the one in charge.  There will always eventually be consequences for that.  I have no doubt my complaint last right reached the restaurant manager and the chef got an earful.  

Today, remember disobedience to the Lord is a sign of disrespect.  He is not a hard taskmaster, but He does demand respect.  

© Jim Musser 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Security of Living by Faith


“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

The photo has been replicated thousands of times by locals, students, and tourists.  People perch themselves on a rock extending out over the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in a place known as Rough Ridge. After seeing it in pictures so many times, finally last weekend I put myself in the same spot.  Comments about the photo included, “Are you nuts?”  “Not sure I'd be sitting there!” “Yikes!” and my favorite, “Let's do work on longevity, okay?”

It looks scary, doesn’t it?  But looks can be deceiving.  Honestly, as I approached the edge, I didn’t know what to expect.  But the rock was solid. I sat down a half a foot away from the edge and slid into position with my legs dangling over the rock.  What surprised me was how safe and secure I actually felt.  Even though my legs were hanging over the edge, the “seat” actually pitched back from the edge so my center of gravity was a foot back and moving away rather than towards the valley below.  So while my wife breathed a sigh of relief when I moved back from the edge, I felt I could have sat there for hours without a care in the world.  

As I looked at the comments on my photo, it brought to mind how many people think faith in God is nuts and living it out even more so.  In my many years working with college students, I have seen this played out time and time again:  parents thinking their kids are unhinged to earn a college degree and then “throw it away” to pursue campus ministry or a life in missions where they will have no certainty of income; students thinking it’s crazy to waste time and money serving others on a spring break or summer mission trip when one could be earning money or having a lot of fun; students’ relatives fretting about the dangers of traveling to another country to serve when “there are so many needs right here at home.”

Like people viewed my sitting on the edge of that rock as crazy or dangerous, so, too, do people often see faith in a similar way.  But what they often see as reckless is far from the reality.  Unlike what many think, walking by faith is not blind. Rather it is based on the accumulated evidence that the Lord is trustworthy.  The Hebrew writer follows his statement about faith with a list of many who had lived by faith, such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses.  The confidence of which he writes is not based upon blind belief, but rather on the evidence of those who had lived by faith and found the Lord trustworthy.

I realized long ago everyone lives by faith, perhaps not in God, but in many other things.  When we apply the brakes of our car, we are doing so in faith; when we flip a light switch in the dark, we do so in faith; when we eat a meal prepared for us by someone else, we do it in faith. It is faith because we cannot guarantee the outcome.  We cannot say definitively the brakes will work, the lights will come on, or the food is not poisoned, but we still have faith.  Why?  Because the evidence is strong that what we hope for is going to happen.  That strong evidence gives us confidence in the outcome even though we cannot prove it.  I climbed out on the edge of that rock because the overwhelming evidence suggested it was safe.  Thousands of people had done it before me and no one to my knowledge had ever fallen off.  The evidence was further confirmed as I saw others do it right before I did. And then I experienced it for myself and gained even more confidence because it was indeed safe.  

Walking with the Lord, contrary to popular opinion, does not require blind faith.  There is plenty of evidence that He is trustworthy in whatever He promises or asks of us.  It may look and feel scary, even nuts, but the reality is far different.  Living by faith in the Lord is very secure.  Just ask those who have done it.

© Jim Musser 2016








Monday, October 3, 2016

A Shared Problem and Solution

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:13-22 NIV)

It was a “feel good” story that I couldn’t resist sharing on my Facebook page last week.  Police officers in a California town had given a bicycle to a young black man who had been walking several miles each way to work every day so he could save up for college.  With the news, and my newsfeed, filled with tragic stories of black men killed by police, this story helps us to see that an alternative narrative is possible.  

I have no idea if any of these police officers are followers of Jesus, but I do know this is a glimpse of what “breaking down the wall of hostility” looks like.  These officers, though of a different race or ethnic group, treated the young man as an equal, one deserving respect and kindness.  

We tend to think our country is the only society dealing with race and discrimination issues, but, in reality, it occurs in every society and has since the Fall.  In the 1st Century, Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) were hostile toward one another.  The Jews viewed the Gentiles as sinners and unworthy of God’s blessings and mercy.  The Gentiles viewed the Jews as belonging to a weird sect of people who only believed in one God, which was viewed as very ludicrous thinking in a polytheistic culture.  At worst, they hated each other; at best, they viewed each other with suspicion and distrust.  

Even after Jesus rose from the dead, His followers struggled with the idea that God’s grace was given to the Gentiles.  Read here of their reaction to the Holy Spirit coming upon Cornelius’ household.  Even Peter struggled with his own prejudice long after Jesus ascended into heaven.  Read here how Paul called him out when he refused to eat with Gentiles for fear of upsetting Jewish believers.

Whether we want to admit it or not, prejudice is in our fallen DNA. We’re bent toward it.  It is difficult to relate to those who are different from us, and often, to justify it, we consider ourselves superior.  Our prejudice isn’t always limited to race or ethnicity; it can be toward others in a different economic class, social class, political affiliation, religion or church denomination, or even fans of a different sports team.  And, as I wrote several weeks ago, Jesus is the only way to overcome our prejudices.

As He says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me.”  The fact is we are all sinners and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).  Sin, in other words, makes us all equal, regardless of our skin color, ethnicity, etc. So we all have a shared problem that has only one solution—Jesus.  

What Paul is saying here is the prejudices we inherently have can cease when we acknowledge our mutual sin and our mutual need for a Savior.  In other words, we are all in the same sinking boat and we are all dependent on the same Source for our rescue.  

Today, consider honestly the prejudices you hold.  Confess them to the Lord and humbly acknowledge that, as a sinner, you are no better than those toward whom you have considered yourself in some way superior.  They are your equals, and, if they are followers of Jesus, your brothers or sisters as well.

© Jim Musser 2016