Friday, October 20, 2017

Looking Out for the Interests of Others

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV)

It happens on a weekly basis, at the very least, but often much more frequently. My wife will ask me to do something—put away the laundry, help to clean the house, run an errand—and my first thought is about whether I really want to do that. I don’t plan it; it’s just an instinctive response. Like all of us, I just naturally think of myself first.

In a selfie, me-first world, the cultural current is so strong, so dominating, that what Paul is addressing here is often not even on the radar of believers. Our normal is to focus on us and put ourselves always at the front of the line in our daily priorities. Even many of our apparent other-centered activities such as volunteering, going on mission trips, giving financial support, can be rooted in self-centeredness. Doing such things can give us experiences to talk about and share photos on social media, make us feel good about ourselves, can look good on a resumé, or assuage guilt over not being good enough for the Lord.  Even in our most other-focused moments, it is quite easy to have selfish motives.

So what are we to do to be more selfless, more other-focused, when our natures and the culture is bent far over in the opposite direction? Paul gives us a clue here—humility.  He goes on to say after the above passage that our attitude should be that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to grasp, but instead humbled Himself.  The only cure for selfishness is humility.

We tend to live life with an entitlement mentality—we should be able to do what is best for us because we’re the most important.  To become humble is to recognize we are not the center of the universe, that everything does not revolve around us, our needs and wants. Rather, it is the Lord who, as Creator of all things, is by default the Center of all things.  And Jesus serves as an example that even God was willing to humble and put others before Himself. So we are without excuse.

But we keep making them. We’re too busy, too tired, will get to it later, or we were totally unaware, as was the excuse of the goats in Matthew 25. The only way out of this is through self-reflection, humility, and repentance. Self-reflection is necessary to see the need for humility, and genuine humility leads us to change from swimming with the natural currents of our natures and our world to reversing and swimming against them.  

Today, recognize that looking out for other people’s interests rather than our own is not natural and therefore will not be easy.  But it is the command of the Lord and we cannot just ignore it.  So reflect on your life and attitudes.  Is it rife with selfishness?  Then come before the Lord in humility, asking forgiveness, and for discernment and strength to live for the interests of others, particularly for those of the Lord Himself. 

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Building on the Bedrock

“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)

No matter where you turn, there always seems to be trouble. Every day headlines on newsfeeds blare out the terrible things that are happening at home and abroad. There is so much trouble, in fact, that many just seek to ignore and avoid the news. Instead, they turn their attention to funny or heartwarming videos, uplifting stories, and the like.  

But one can only avoid trouble for so long before, as Jesus promised, it comes knocking at your door. Grief, sickness, rejection, injustice, disappointment are just a few of the troubles that we likely will face along our journey in life.  It is difficult to prepare for the moment of trouble because likely we won’t see it coming.  It just suddenly appears on our doorstep—the death of a loved one, the rejection by someone important to us, the evaporation of a long-held dream.  However, we can prepare ourselves for the fallout that always comes from the trouble.  

I once saw a counselor to deal with some personal issues and during one of our sessions, he pointed out the foundation of a house is solely dependent upon that which it is setting. The foundation, he said, could be excellent, but if what is underneath it is anything less than bedrock, it is in danger of crumbling.  The foundations of structures which are built on bedrock will survive even if what is built upon it is destroyed.  What the counselor was saying to me is that though my life had suffered damage, the fact that Jesus was my bedrock was the reason I could have hope of rebuilding, of bouncing back.

The danger of experiencing trouble exists when we build our lives on other things than the bedrock of Jesus.  It is why some people leave the faith or remain in a life-long depressive state after trouble strikes.  Their lives were built on something else.  Jesus was a part of the structure rather than the bedrock.  I have often seen this with students who love being a part of campus ministry, love the friends and the fellowship they have. When the “trouble” of loneliness and isolation hits after they graduate and move to a new town or city where they know no one and everything is new, their faith begins to crumble. The problem is they had built their faith on something other than Jesus.  Campus ministries are great; friends are great; but they cannot sustain a life that is beset by troubles.  Only Jesus can do that.

Today, know the best way to plan for the eventual troubles you will face, or to deal with the troubles you are now facing, is to make Jesus your bedrock.  Build your life upon Him and Him only.  Nothing is more solid and stable than the Rock of our salvation and strength. (Psalm 18:2

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Let Him Have It!

“You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob.  Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.  I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.  In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.  

But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us. You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations.  You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale.” (Psalm 44:4-12 NIV)

I don’t remember how old I was, perhaps around nine or ten.  I think it was at Christmas, but I am really not sure.  All I remember for certain is what I said to my dad: “I hate you!”  What caused such vitriol?  That, too, is lost in my memory.  All I know is I said it.  To this day, it makes me shudder.

My dad was far from a perfect father.  In fact, orphaned as a young child, he grew up without learning basic parenting skills.  Through adult eyes I see how handicapped he was by an unbelievably difficult childhood.  Yet, he still loved me and I knew that.  Perhaps that is why, in my child’s mind, I knew I could express the anger that had built up within me without fear he would beat me or reject me.  

One of things I love most about the Psalms is the emotional honesty contained within them.  The writers hold nothing back.  They are effusive in their praise of God, while also being brutally honest in expressing their frustrations with life, their enemies, and with the Lord Himself.  In this particular Psalm, the writer is in utter dismay over the Lord’s (perceived) abandonment of His people, even though they have remained faithful to Him.  And he lets Him have it.  He tells the Lord, in so many words, “you sold us out, and on the cheap at that!”  

Imagine saying that to the Lord of the universe.  It is enough to make you shudder.  Yet, you see this time and again in the Psalms and throughout Scripture—men angry with God and showing no fear in expressing it.  Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is useful for teaching (II Timothy 3:16-17), so what are we to learn from this?

I think it is the same thing I knew about my father, that he loved me enough to take my anger without rejecting me.  Many times we hold things in because we are afraid of what might happen, but God loves us and will not reject us just because we are angry with Him.  The writers of the Psalms, in particular, demonstrate that for us.  We would be wise to follow their example.  Anger has a corrosive effect on our spirits when we hold it in.   The Enemy knows that and often whispers the lie, “You can’t say THAT to God!”  Indeed you can because God loves you and is big enough to take it.

Today, are you harboring anger toward God?  Then get it out.  Let Him have it!  It will do your spirit good and you will experience just how much God loves you.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Maintaining Facades

“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” (John 2:24-25 NIV)

By and large, most social media profiles paint a positive picture of the owner. Look at most posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. and they usually portray someone who has a happy life and is on top of things. There is excitement, fun, and good things happening. The picture painted is one of a contented and joyful life.  Perhaps this is why research studies increasingly show excessive times on social media can cause depression http://cultureandyouth.org/social-media/research-social-media/social-media-and-depression/ People tend to buy what people are selling on their social media platforms and then see how far short their own lives fall in comparison to others.  

The truth is no one has a perfectly happy and contented life. It is a myth, but one we have tended to perpetuate down through the ages. Before social media made it so easy, people have constantly attempted to make their lives seem better than they are, and, like today, other people tended to believe it.  Our default mode is one that assumes our life circumstances, faults, and sins are worst than most; thus, it leads us away from authenticity to creating an outside persona that seeks to obscure the true reality of our lives. Routinely, celebrities and politicians are exposed as being nothing like that of their public personas, but the fact is we all hide things from public view, whether the state of our social lives, marriages, or our private behavior.  We create an outside that is meant to obscure the reality of the inside.

This becomes a major spiritual problem because the Lord wants to make us whole on the inside, but we hamper His work when we are so focused on maintaining the façade of our lives. This was his main criticism with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They sought to look good and righteous on the outside to the people around them, while totally ignoring the major issues they had inside of them, such as self-righteousness, greed, etc. It frustrated Jesus so much that He could not help them, that He let loose on them.
  
Jesus didn’t hate the religious leaders; He loved them.  But their refusal to acknowledge the true condition of their lives and instead to double down on maintaining their façades, drove Him to speak the blatant truth. He knew what was inside of them.

He also knows what is inside each of us. We may fool others, but we can never fool Him. And we shouldn’t want to. He is the One who loves us despite the depth of our sin. But our nature, handed down by Adam and Eve is one that seeks to hide and obscure the truth about ourselves. By doing so, we deprive ourselves of the much needed love and acceptance for which we long, and exchange it for something far less and for which we receive no true contentment.

Today, consider how your outside compares to the reality of what’s inside of you. What are you hiding?  Whatever it is, know the Lord sees it clearly and yet still loves you.  He wants to deal with it, but first you need to let Him by dismantling the façade you have worked hard to maintain.  Then the joy and contentment that has eluded you will be within your grasp. 

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017

Finding a Lonely Place

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16 NIV)

My wife, in particular, and I had been through a very tough week heading into Fall Break with the death of her mother 9000 miles away in South Africa. As it is for anyone experiencing grief, life still goes on for the people around you. The world does not stop just because yours has. This does not imply people are unsympathetic or callous to your loss; it’s just not their loss. And they have their own lives to live, needs to be met and responsibilities to fulfill.  The clamorous noise of life is still resounding for them and, as Jesus exhibited, the best way to deal with this fact is to withdraw from it. So we went to the beach, to the noise of the ocean waves and sea gulls, and the rhythms of the tides to rest and pray.

With so many needs and limited time, it is a fair question to ask why Jesus withdrew from the people to “lonely places”? Why not gut it out and continue to sacrifice for others? In the Western, and particularly the American, culture, we are practically obsessed with activity and success, and most Christians are no exception.  Pastors are evaluated and evaluate themselves on the basis of numbers and busyness. I recently talked with one colleague who said he hadn’t had a real vacation in more than seven years. And even if he had, the typical American vacation is more exhausting rather than restful; thus the popular statement, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation!”

As with everything in life as a follower of Jesus, we need to observe and imitate what He did as far as it is possible for fallen human beings to do. And one of the things He repeatedly did was withdraw from the hubbub of life in order to be refreshed by spending time with the Father without all the competing distractions, including legitimate ones such as people in need of healing, food, and comfort. For Him, the legitimacy of the needs was not the issue; rather it was the necessity of spending time with the Father for His own well-being. If it was true for Jesus, then most certainly it has to be true for us.

As I write, I recognize I am one of the worst at this. I like staying busy; I like my time occupied by tasks to accomplish and people with whom to meet. Withdrawing to be alone with the Lord has always been a challenge. But I need it and so do you, and not just when traumatic things occur in our lives. We need it on a regular basis, as a part of the rhythm of our lives.  We need to withdraw from school, work, social media, and the needs of our friends and others to be replenished by our Heavenly Father, just as Jesus did. 

I can confidently say our trip to the beach was exactly what we needed. And it reminded me of how important it is to find a “lonely place” regularly to spend time in reflection and prayer. It may be a hiking trail, a park, or even the quiet corner of a bedroom where we are undisturbed by the noise of normal life and able to talk and listen to the Father.

Today, ask the Lord to help you find a lonely place where you can go and spend time with Him.  It is what Jesus did. Isn’t it wise to follow His example?

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

It Doesn't Matter What You Believe

(Author's Note: Fall Break arrives tomorrow so I will be taking a break as well.  WftW will return on Monday, October 16th.  Jim)

“I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me.  I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:5-6 NIV)

I heard on the radio recently a writer discussing the religious view of a politician with whom she vehemently disagreed.  The man had said he believed a pregnancy resulting from rape shouldn’t be terminated because God had allowed that new life to form.  She said, “I just can’t believe in a God who would allow such things to happen.”  

She is not alone.  There are a lot of people who, because of one thing or another, refuse to believe in a God that does not suit them.  Typically, it involves some sort of suffering or tragedy.  They refuse to believe in a God who would allow a child to die, a violent storm to wreak havoc, or a loved one to contract cancer.  Or it may be the restrictions to living how they wish, such as couples living together, engaging in homosexual relationships, or just wanting to live lives however they choose.  They refuse to believe in a God who would dare restrict their freedom.

Their refusal to believe leads them down one of two paths—they either become atheists or they construct a God they can believe in.  They imagine Him as they want Him to be.  It may be a God that loves everyone and doesn’t care that much about how they live their lives.  Or a God who set creation in motion, but doesn’t involve Himself in the day-to-day details.  

But the reality is, it doesn’t matter what they believe, or what I believe. The beliefs of human beings don’t have any sway over who God is. Just because an atheist doesn’t believe God exists, that unbelief has no impact on the truth of His existence.  Or if I choose to make certain attributions to God, that doesn’t necessarily make it so.  The truth is it doesn’t matter what you or I believe about God.  We do not determine who He is.  He is God and He defines Himself.  We can learn about Him through what He has created (Romans 1:20) and through the Scriptures (John 5:39-40), but we are not the determiners of who He is.  We can choose to accept Him or reject Him, but we can’t wish Him out of existence or recreate Him into a more acceptable God.  He is God and there is no other.

Today, recognize God is who He is, and your beliefs about Him have no effect on His existence or His nature.  What really matters is that you get to know Him as He is and submit to His will for your life.

©  Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Finding Protection from the Elements

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:4-8 NIV)

My wife and I love garden-grown tomatoes. We learned several years ago that cherry tomatoes do much better in our cooler, wetter mountain climate than do the larger varieties. This year, one potted plant was producing delicious fruit (yes, tomatoes are fruit!) and almost daily we were in heaven enjoying our little harvest. Then, in early September, a cold snap was predicted.  Temperatures were to dip into the upper 30’s, which would likely weaken the plant and end it’s ability to produce more fruit. Yet, the plant was full of little green tomatoes and we wanted badly for them to ripen. 

So we devised a plan: Every evening we would put the plant in the garage to protect it from the cold and then put it outside again the next day as it warmed up.  We have been doing that for several weeks now and it has worked brilliantly!  That plant doesn’t look too good with its yellowish and brownish leaves, but almost every day, we are able to pick a handful of luscious red tomatoes.

What we have done with that plant is to nurture it in the midst of the elements. We have given it the best opportunity to produce fruit by protecting it and giving it the best environment in which to continue to flourish.  In essence, Jesus describes the same thing for us in nurturing our spiritual lives.  

The world can be a harsh, cold place, where the elements (stress and worry, distractions, temptations, and bad influences) can threaten to lessen or even destroy our ability to produce fruit. Thus, as were my wife and I with our tomato plant, we have to be proactive to protect our lives from the threatening elements and intentional about creating the optimal environment for us to continue to thrive.

The Lord said that environment consists of being very close to Him. As long as we are maintaining a connection to Him, we are safe and will be productive. What we cannot do is to assume we are impervious to the spiritual elements that seek to steal, kill, and destroy our fruit and our very lives. (John 10:10) We must seek protection from them and put ourselves in the most ideal environment in which to grow. And that is being close to Him—in prayer, in His Word, and in authentic fellowship with other believers. It is in this setting that we will be nurtured and where we can continue to grow and produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). 

Today, consider what kind of environment you are placing yourself in. Is it the type that will protect you from the destructive elements and will nurture your growth?  If not, then perhaps it’s time to be proactive and make a plan to protect yourself and find a much safer, more nurturing place—close to the Lord.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Little Things

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:19-23 NIV)

Yesterday, my wife and I spent much of the day sharing memories about her mom. Her funeral was in the morning and it was our way to be present without being there.  One of the most meaningful and enjoyable things we did was to read some of the letters she wrote to my wife while she served as a missionary in various parts of the world. It was easy to imagine her sitting at her dining table with pen in hand updating Marianna on the latest news from home. And, in the midst of the translation (from Afrikaans to English), I could hear her voice. She was a faithful letter writer, a small thing when you think about it, but such a wonderful and meaningful thing now that she has left this world.

If a celebrity or someone very accomplished dies, the world always points to the person’s achievements, whether it be awards won, money made, or his or her impact on the world at large. The emphasis is on the big things they did. But I can guarantee you that is not the focus of those who knew them best.  Oscars, Nobels, inventions that changed in some way how we live are not the things family and friends remember or appreciate the most.  Rather than the big things that catch the eye of the public, it is the little things that mean the most to those closest to the deceased—the short letters or notes written, the small acts of kindness, the shared experiences that don’t seem that big at the time. 

Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on aiming to do big things, to change the world in some way. It reminds me of someone whose goal is to have a book published without understanding the fact a book is made up of many words, which form paragraphs, which, in turn, form the chapters that make a book.  It can only be written if one writes using individual words in sentences, and it will be determined to be great only if the use of the individual words exhibits great skill. To write a great book, you have to be excellent with using the individual words.  In the same way, it is the compilation of very small things over a lifetime that makes a life. What one does in the minutes and hours of daily life contributes more to greatness than some one-off achievement.  Those are the things the people closest to us will remember and the ones on which the Lord places the most emphasis.  

My mother-in-law, by the world’s standards, didn’t achieve much in her lifetime.  She wasn’t famous; she didn’t change the world. But she was faithful in the life she was given. She was faithful to her husband of over 50 years; she raised and loved six children; she loved the Lord; and she faithfully sent cards and wrote letters. Her life was rich and meaningful because of the little things in which she was so faithful.  Now I believe she is receiving the reward of much greater things.

Today, realize the sum total of your life is not determined by a few big accomplishments; rather it is by the little things you do over the course of your lifetime. It is the faithfulness in the small things that one day will lead to much greater things.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, October 6, 2017

Presence

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15 NIV)

Sorry for your loss. It is used so much in social media feeds to respond to someone in grief that it has become almost passé. It is meant to convey sympathy, but to me it has always sounded a bit shallow; a convenient all-in-one phrase that doesn’t truly bring much comfort, but gives us comfort to say it. We may not know what to say—sorry for your loss. We may be afraid of saying too much, but do not want to remain silent—sorry for your loss.  We may feel we just don’t have the time to invest to comfort someone—sorry for your loss.

This may offend you because the phrase is so ubiquitous, you have probably used it.  I don’t think I ever have, but I am guilty of typing out a quick 1-2 sentence response on a Facebook newsfeed and thinking I have brought comfort.  So I am writing this morning not as one looking down my nose at those who express their sympathy in tweets and four-word phrases, but with the realization the age of social media has made most of us oblivious to how we truly mourn with those who mourn.

This all came to mind yesterday when my wife and I were discussing whether or not to post something about the death of her mother. She was reluctant because she really didn’t want to read “sorry for your loss” dozens of times. I responded that is probably what she should expect if we post it.  Her response was clear and on target: “Whatever happened to mourn with those who mourn?”

The problem we have in a social media age is we are accustomed to having everything quick and easy. Someone has a birthday, post a few celebratory words.  Someone graduates, do the same.  There is no cost and only a moment’s investment.  To be clear, we mean well and have the best intentions, as I have when I’ve done the same, but in the midst of the technological maelstrom we find ourselves, I think we believers have been blinded. 

To truly mourn with someone (or rejoice), we have to invest our time and ourselves. Sure, it is nice to get a lot of comments and there might be some comfort in them, but for most of us, we need more personal investment, particularly from the ones we know well.  We need a voice, a touch, a listening ear. We need presence.

I remember days after my father had died and I was back at college, I longed for my friends to inquire about how I was doing. I needed their presence to help me in my time of grief. It was the same when my mother died and when my first wife wanted a divorce. 

The problem is what we need is no longer in fashion. Neighbors often never speak to one another. We don’t drop by other’s homes. We don’t call. Instead, we meet in neutral places; we text, send a tweet or post on Facebook or Snapchat.  So when a person is in mourning, what happens? Hardly anyone visits or calls, or sends personal cards or letters. Rather, the person is inundated with short electronic messages and four-word phrases. And the result is often isolation and loneliness, of which no one is aware because they think there is plenty of comfort already being given. 

The bent of our culture is to want to stay in our comfort zones, safe in front of our screens, inside our living spaces, or keeping to our schedules. But mourning along side others cannot be accomplished that way.  Presence is required. There is no substitute. 

Today, if you know someone who is grieving a loss, figure out how you can be present for them, to mourn with them.  It may be dropping by for a visit, a phone call, sending or giving a card or a gift that would be meaningful. There are a myriad of ways to mourn with someone. Our duty as Christians is to figure out how to do it well, rather than what is the most comfortable or convenient for us.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Our Unimaginable Selves

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

It happened early in the summer during my recovery from heart surgery. I was reclining on the couch, thinking about our ministry to students. One of them came to mind in a vivid, almost vision-like, way. She was standing in front of a group of young women speaking to them. That was it; but it was so vivid and so surprising that I am convinced it was from the Lord.  I thought and prayed about it for several months, unsure whether I should keep it to myself or share it with the student.  In the past several weeks, I had felt an increasing sense the time was approaching.  This week, at our large group meeting, she sat close to me, so I knew the time had come. Immediately after the meeting ended, I approached her and told her what I had envisioned. She was taken aback and unsure how to comprehend it, but thanked me for telling her.

Something I say fairly regularly to students is that the Lord wants us to become the men and women He created us to be. His original intent for us has been marred by sin, so He wants to re-create us. Like Michelangelo as he contemplated the block of marble in front of him that would eventually become David, God sees something the normal eye does not see. The great artist saw within the block of marble something beautiful, beyond the imagination or conception of others. In the same way, the Lord sees us in the midst of our encasement, our beauty and value hidden by the hardness and opacity of sin. But inside our “tomb,” we cannot see it; the darkness is overwhelming and often complete.

I believe that is the case with this student. She has struggled and fallen many times. She is unable to see who she really is. What she is surrounded by seems impossible to penetrate or to escape. She is stuck.  

This is exactly what Satan wants, for us to feel hopeless and powerless. He wants us to give up and just accept our predicament as unchangeable.  Look around and you will find many living just like this—they’re not good enough, have made too many wrong decisions in life, and are beyond saving. So they just muddle on through life until it’s over. Perhaps you feel this way or know others who do. 

What the Lord wants us all to know is sin doesn’t have to have its way with us. The Great Artist has both the desire and ability to recreate us. He can apply his skill and eye for beauty to chip away at what bounds us to eventually reveal who we truly are.  But it takes time, just as it took Michelangelo more than two years to bring his David out of that marble slab. But those who commissioned him had the confidence he could do it well before the statue began to take shape.  

Today, know the Lord is at work on freeing you. Be confident in His ability and be willing to allow Him to chip away. Like the student with whom I shared, He has a vision of who you truly are and what you can become. He can make you into the person He created you to be even if now you can’t even imagine it.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Living with Both Hope and Humility

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.” (Luke 5:8-10 NIV)

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (I Timothy 1:16 NIV)

These two passages reflect a fine line of how we are to view ourselves. Upon being in the presence of the Divine, Peter knew he was totally unworthy, recognizing how far short he came to the glory of God.  This was before he experienced His grace and he was scared and wanted nothing to do with Jesus.  

Paul also had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and was rattled by His presence, knowing what a rebel he truly was. Yet he, too, experienced the mercy and grace of Jesus and, like Peter, was invited to join the Lord in His ministry to the lost on earth.  

What draws all of us to Jesus is the combined knowledge of our own sinfulness and His grace and mercy in spite of it.  Yet, it is a temptation to forget the sheer depth of our sinfulness once we cross over into grace.  It is easy to become prideful and look down on others who have yet to experience the freedom and forgiveness Jesus offers.  Thus, the judgment and condemnation of people and lifestyles that so often comes out of churches.  Or to go into the opposite direction and, because of the grace and mercy of our Savior, gloss over how offensive sin is to God as if it is not that big of an issue.  

The image of Peter’s fear in the presence of the Lord is a good reminder of how serious and deep our sin is.  Yet, Paul’s declaration that he, the “worst of sinners,” is an example of the depth of God’s mercy, is a proper counterbalance to the reality of our sin.  We need not despair, but we can never forget our need for mercy.  Thus, we can live lives with both hope and humility.

Today, never forget the depth of your sin and your desperate need for the Savior.  Yet, never forget how much He loves you and wants you to be a part of His redemptive work in the world.  Both are necessary in living a life following Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Going High

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.  Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.  Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1-9 NIV)

Like millions of others five years ago, I was glued to my computer screen watching Felix Baumgartner’s jump from 24 miles above the earth.  A giant helium balloon had carried his tiny capsule to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere where, in a pressurized suit, he would climb onto a platform and jump back toward earth.  For one, who as a kid once dreamed of becoming an astronaut and watched the first moon landing, this took me back to those exciting days of space exploration.  

As Baumgartner climbed onto the platform of his capsule and prepared to jump, he said, “Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.”  And then he was gone, disappearing rapidly back into the wide expanse of the earth, a tiny dot on a giant canvas.  

There is something about going high that puts one’s life into perspective.  I remember the astronauts of Apollo 8 reading Genesis 1 as they orbited the moon and looked back at the blue planet hanging in space.  They and many around the world realized in that moment how small we really are compared to God and the universe He created.  I have that same feeling when flying at 36,000 feet and looking out on the earth below.

David writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers…who is mankind that you are mindful of them…?”  In pondering the immense creation around him, David realized, in spite of the power and position he held, how small he truly was.  By going high in his mind, he gained a proper perspective.

A former astronaut who watched Baumgartner’s jump said the high perspective one gets from space helps you to realize the world doesn’t revolve around you.  Perhaps we all need to have that experience!

Today, though you may not be able to reach the height of space, look up and around to gain a higher perspective.  See how truly small you are compared to God.  Life, as Felix Baumgartner realized 24 miles above the earth, is not about us.  We are so small.  No, it is about Him who is so great and so majestic, and who from His lofty perch, looks down upon you and me with love and mercy. 

© Jim Musser 2017 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Telling Stories of God's Grace & Mercy

“When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they 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 found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:34-39 NIV)

The technician doing my echocardiogram (a sonogram of the heart) last week said, as she was reading my chart notes, she wondered how I was able to come to the hospital on my own. Until she came to the part which revealed my aortic valve replacement surgery last spring. The condition of my heart six months ago, as revealed by the last echocardiogram, was so poor that she concluded I was unable to do much physically. When I told her that I had exercised regularly and had hiked up Grandfather Mountain, among the highest peaks in North Carolina, she literally gasped. She couldn’t believe I was able to such things with the very poor heart function I had.

I found out how bad it was last spring and, since, I have reminded myself, and been reminded, just how much grace the Lord showed me. There were literally dozens, if not hundreds, of times when I unknowingly put myself in grave danger, such as hiking up Grandfather Mountain. My valve could have, and perhaps should have, failed due to the exercise regimen I kept. Yet, that pre-surgery exercise was what helped me recover so quickly and so well because I was in great physical condition as I began my rehab. 

Like Jesus commanded the man delivered from demon possession, I told the technician this, and have told many others, to let them know how much the Lord has done for me.  A lot of people like to give me credit, because of my hard work and dedication, but the reality is I was close to dying and my commitment to exercise increased that likelihood. But the Lord spared me and took the very thing that should have exacerbated my condition and turned it into an asset for my recovery. Even as I type this, I feel “blown away” by the reality of what He has done for me.  It has not grown stale from repetition, but still carries the same emotional and spiritual weight it did from the beginning.  

I also have plenty of other stories to tell regarding the things God has done for me. And I tell them because it glorifies Him to do so. It is a way to put a practical face on the grace and mercy of God for people who are skeptical about how much the Lord really loves or cares.  What about you? How has the Lord shown you grace and mercy in your life? Are you telling anybody? 

Today, know the Lord wants you to tell those stories.  It is a way to show your appreciation to Him, as well as revealing to others just how awesome He is.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Pull of Money

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:10-15 NIV)

I enjoy college basketball, particularly played by a certain team in eastern Kansas known as the Jayhawks, one of the “blue blood” programs in the college ranks.  I have been a fan for more than 30 years, having served on the KU campus for more than 20. So it was with much interest that I read stories recently of the FBI’s investigation into the corrupt relationship between college coaches and the athletic apparel company, Adidas.  Could KU coaches and their highly esteemed program be implicated?  I am hoping not, but, honestly, I won’t be surprised if it happens.

Money is powerful.  So much so that Jesus says if we are drawn to worship it, giving it supreme value, then it prevents us from worshiping God. It is something of which we need to approach warily and be on our guard.  The evidence is everywhere.  Governments around the world face the challenges of corruption. Corporate America is governed often by greed and the lust for more and more profit, not only by its high-level employees, but also by the investors in their companies. School sports, down to the elementary school level, are no longer about developing kids’ characters, but more and more about the money that can be made, through travel teams, clinics, and specialty coaching.  What is driving this?  Money.  Money for organizers’ and agents’ pockets, and for parents who obsess about college scholarships and big payoffs for their tireless efforts to develop their child’s athletic potential.  

It is no coincidence that many Christian parents are absent at church services on Sundays, because of their kids’ sports schedules.  Many games and tournaments are played on Sunday mornings.  They may contend that money has no hold on them, but the shift in priorities could not be more obvious.

Sports, however, is merely one example, and probably one of the lesser ones in terms of money’s influence in our lives.  For all of us, money offers the temptation to be our provider for the things we both need and want.  Rather than a means by which God provides for us, it becomes in our minds the source for our security and pleasures.  So we are reluctant to give it away to anything that doesn’t promise to meet a need or want. For example, last week our church youth group held a fundraiser and I wanted to give something to their cause.  I opened my wallet and found a twenty and a one-dollar bill, and I felt money’s pull.  I was honestly hoping to see a five because I was willing to part with that much, but that twenty wanted to remain in my control and I wanted to control it.  

That is the power of money. When we are called to part with some of it, or most of it, can we resist its pull and let it go?  Can we give 10 or 20 percent of our income as a tithe?  Can we let go of money we have saved for something we want in order to respond to the leading of the Spirit to give it to meet a need? When these questions are asked, then the truth of our Lord’s proclamation becomes clear.  Last Sunday, I was tempted to value my money more than God.  I wanted to keep it; He wanted me to give it away.  The end result?  I pulled out the twenty and put it in the basket.  I chose at that moment to worship God rather than money.

Today, recognize the pull money can have in your life, whether you have a lot of it or not much at all.  If you believe it is the provider for your needs and wants, you will pursue it and hold onto it.  And you will choose it over God every time.  Instead, realize the Lord is your Provider and He will take care of your needs and many of your wants. Then you can hold onto money with a loose grip, knowing that even if you give it away, you will always have enough of what you need.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Evidence of the Creator

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25 NIV)

I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye though it has been five years since I witnessed it. The sun had just set when I noticed a heron silhouetted in the orange, rippling water of the Currituck Sound on the eastern coast of North Carolina.  My with and I walked closer to get a better look.  The elegant bird was out for some evening fishing.  He waded in the shallow water, extending his long neck out to look into the water for his prey.  Barely moving, he waited.  Then suddenly his head shot into the water and he grabbed a sizeable fish.  He held it for a while as it flapped, but then it grew still.  He stuck it back into the water a couple times, presumably to see if it was still alive.  Then with a quick flick of his head and neck, the bird swallowed the fish whole.  We could see the fish quickly slide down the bird’s throat, and then it went back to look for another.

If we had been filming a documentary for Animal Planet or National Geographic, I can imagine the narrator explaining the heron had adapted to its environment by developing its long neck and sharp beak in order to catch fish.  For this is the common narrative to explain the creation around us.  Credit is given to the created rather than to the Creator.  

Yet it seems obvious to me that the evidence of the Creator is all around us.  The distance of the earth from the sun is exactly the right distance to sustain life.  The earth’s rotation is exactly the right speed to maintain proper gravity.  The atmosphere is perfect for our bodies.  Do these facts not tell us of an awesome Creator, meticulous in His design?  Or what about the vastness of the universe, glimpses of which we have seen from the Hubble Telescope or the intricate design of atoms and molecules that we have seen from the microscope?  Or the intricate and unique design of human beings, male and female?  Is there any question we were designed for one another, for procreation and pleasure?

It is clear then why Paul says we are without excuse if we deny the existence and supremacy of God.  The evidence is all around us and unmistakable.  Yet to those whose hearts are rebellious against Him, they will continue to believe a lie and devote their hearts to that which is created.  And their thinking is the dominant narrative for anything involving Nature, and that means there is danger for those of us who worship the Creator.  We will be tempted to compromise, to appear less strident in our views, to accept this other narrative as plausible while still claiming to follow the One who is over all creation and through whom all things were created (Colossians 1:15-16).  Paul is very clear about the dangers of doing so.

Today, take a look around you.  See clearly how God reveals Himself through that which He created.  It tells us something, that there is only one God. He created everything just as He wanted it, and He is supreme over everything that is created.  If you choose to believe otherwise, you will be without excuse.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Avoiding Becoming a Fool

“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” (Proverbs 26:11 NIV)

When my wife and I used to live further out of town, this time of year was when the mice began looking for a cozy place to nest for the winter and they always seemed to think my storage shed was an ideal spot.  My strategy every year was to put a number of traps in the shed and it was usually very effective.  But one time, I recall, one was able to make a bold escape.

Not finding a trap where I had placed it, I searched the shed suspecting the critter had caught its foot in the trap and had drug it somewhere else, fully expecting to find a dead mouse.  However, what I found at the opposite end of the shed was an empty trap, well, almost empty.  A piece of the tail was still there surrounded by gnaw marks.  The mouse had chewed off its tail in order to escape the trap!  Smart mouse, or so I thought.  

I set the trap again, placing it in the same location, and checked it the next day.  Once again, I had caught a mouse.  As I picked up the trap to dispose of the critter, I noticed half of its tail was missing.  The same mouse had returned to the same trap, but, unfortunately for it, the results were different this time.  Not such a smart mouse after all!

How often do we escape a bad situation only to return to something similar again?  I remember getting out of a bad relationship in college shortly after deciding to follow Jesus, but against the advice of many, decided to return to it with even worse results.  According to Solomon, I was a fool, and I would wholeheartedly agree.

By his definition, all of us have been fools at one time or another, repeating the same mistakes over and over.  Parolees are notorious for committing crimes within months of being released from prison.  There are students who, despite their falling GPA’s, refuse to discipline themselves in their studies, opting rather to continue the lifestyle that contributed to their academic decline in the first place.  I know people who have struggled financially for years, but continue to make the same poor economic choices.  

The challenge is to take a step back and examine the bad choices we sometimes will inevitably make so we will not repeat them.  However, that is much easier said than done.  If it were easy, the world and our lives would be more perfect because we would learn from our mistakes and those of others.  Yet, the overwhelming evidence is we don’t learn so easily.  So what do we do to avoid becoming fools?

The Psalmist gives us an answer: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” (Psalm 111:10) Having fear of the Lord is not being afraid as much as having a deep respect for our position in relation to God.  We are far inferior and having a fear of the Lord is recognizing that.  And when we do, we realize how much He has to teach us.  That willingness to listen and obey is what will help keep us from being fools.

Today, recognize it is not enough to just get out of a bad situation.  The question is how can you avoid getting into a similar one that may have even worse results?  Humbling yourself before the Lord and gaining understanding from Him is a good place to start and the best way to avoid becoming a fool.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Fighting Persecution

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12 NIV)

In light of the recent controversy involving the National Football League and the National Anthem, memes of Tim Tebow kneeling in prayer on the football field are appearing on social media from those deriding the media and others for their hypocrisy.  It is all right for players to sit during the Anthem, they observe, but what Tebow?  Why was he so derided for what he did?

I have seen these memes and comments from friends on social media, and they follow what has been a trend for some time: Believers like to complain and murmur about their unfair treatment by the culture at-large.  In the 80’s and 90’s, it was movies and art that sent many believers into rage, protests, and boycotts, as they interpreted them as direct assaults on their faith.  Likewise, issues such as prayer in schools, same-sex, marriage, and even, saying “Merry Christmas” have stirred the pot of the so-called “culture wars.” And, as the name implies, many believers have been anxious to do battle, to push back against what they perceive as a frontal attack on their core beliefs.

What has surprised me over the years of observing this, and particularly more recently with the dominance of social media in our lives, is the seemingly utter shock and incredulity of many believers that their faith is under attack.  And, as a result, many hit back hard, some with reasoned arguments pointing to the blatant hypocrisy of the other side’s positions, and others with a full dose of cynicism.  The question is, why do we so often believe we need to defend against the attacks aimed at us or at our Lord, particularly in light of what He says?

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Where in this quote from the Sermon on the Mount do we get the idea persecution is something we should resent and fight against?  Or why such a surprise when it happens when the Scriptures are so clear we WILL be persecuted as a result of our faith? And why do we feel the need to rail against how we are treated as Christians by the culture when Jesus says to “rejoice and be glad”?

Perhaps it is because this is exactly where our enemy wants to lead us—to expend our energies fighting fleshly battles rather than the more important ones against the principalities and powers of the heavenly realms. A thorough reading of the gospels reveals the Lord spent little time attacking those persecuting Him, with the exceptions of the religious leaders of the day.  He didn’t bother because the work of the Kingdom was calling and it was far more important.  He knew the hypocrites and the persecutors would, in time, have their day of judgment.  With that assurance, He didn’t waste His time and energy on them.  And neither should we.

Today, if you are all wound up about how you or your faith is being treated by the culture, it is time for you to re-examine the Scriptures. What you will see is persecution is inevitable and should be embraced rather than resented.  There are far more important things on which to focus and expend your energy, and you should start today.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

Persevering Through Hard Times

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-6 NIV)

“Snowflakes” is a derisive term used to describe young people (mostly) who promote the need for “trigger warnings,”  “safe spaces,” and the curtailing the use of “offensive speech.”  We have some of this on our campus, but not as much as on others.  Regardless of where you might stand on this, there is no doubt that young people, and our nation as a whole, struggle with life when it gets difficult.

As was highlighted during one of our recent staff meetings, students tend to want difficulties to just go away.  They hate difficult times and, when they happen, they want relief immediately.  I believe this is the reason the number one presenting problem at university counseling centers is anxiety.  As a culture, we have moved away from seeing the value of perseverance in the midst of the inevitable difficulties in life toward trying to eliminate the difficulties so we don’t have to suffer.  Many parents do all they can to make life less risky and painful for their children, thinking they are helping their them, but, in reality, what they are doing is depriving them of experiencing the value of perseverance through difficulties.  

It is our natural bent to be risk-adverse.  This is why Jesus stated that to follow Him, we must be willing to “take up our cross,“ a symbol of suffering. And by doing so, the Lord implies there is value in suffering.  

I have referenced passages from both Paul and James that talk of the value of experiencing trials and suffering.  Both say it enhances our character.  In other words, we become better, deeper, and stronger as human beings when we persevere through difficult times rather than looking for an easy way out.  

As I look back over my life, the spiritual growth spurts have come at some of the worst times in my life—a devastating break-up with my girlfriend, the deaths of my parents while a very young man, and being abandoned by my first wife.  In a strange way, that only the Lord can bring about, I am far more spiritually mature because of what I have suffered.  

Today, are you experiencing some difficult times?  If so, don’t seek an escape from them, and do not become overly anxious.  The Lord wants to use these times to mold you into the person He created you to be. Rather than run from them, embrace them as teaching moments from the Lord.  Even though they make us miserable in the moment, persevering through hard times allows us to look back and see the amazing things He has done through them.  What the enemy intends for our harm, the Lord can use for our good. That has definitely been true in my life.  I believe it can for yours as well.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Need for Repentance

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 NIV)

It occurs almost like clockwork. A catastrophic event happens and talk of God’s wrath against sinful man emerges.  And so, in the summer of major hurricanes, such talk is in vogue once again. Back in 2004, Franklin Graham was roundly derided for his comments that Hurricane Katrina’s visit to New Orleans was the Lord’s retribution for the sin of the city.  Televangelist Pat Robertson is also well known for attributing natural events to God’s hand.  Naturally, most recoil at blaming such destruction and the loss of life on the Lord’s wrath.  

The argument goes that a loving God would not do such things and those who say and/or believe such things are hypocrites because of their own sin.  It wasn’t much different in the 1st Century.  It was a widely held belief that bad things happen to bad people and good people were spared the cruelties of life because of their goodness. Thus, as He walked the streets of villages in Judea, Jesus heard this viewpoint when tragedy struck, such as the Galileans being slaughtered by the Romans or the tower of Siloam collapsing and killing 18 people. They were assuming the people got their just desserts for living sinfully. And like modern-day critics of such assumptions, Jesus was quick to correct them, but with a twist.

The critics of today lambast any talk of connecting anyone’s lifestyle with tragic events.  Any talk of “they deserved it” is quickly shot down, just as Jesus did to the Jews of His day.  But rather than just merely rebuke them, He reminded them of the need for repentance in everyone’s life.  That is something never uttered by today’s critics of the idea of divine retribution.  The prevailing attitude today is anyone should be able to live as he/she wants without consequence and their lifestyles are not to be judged as wrong.  Talk of repentance is out of vogue and has been replaced by the idea that God is benevolent and loves us regardless of how we live.  It is a half-truth.  

Indeed, God loves us unconditionally, in the sense that His love for us does not depend on how we are living.  But, and it is a big BUT, Jesus’ call to repentance cannot not be conveniently ignored.

Repentance is, by definition, turning away from sin and heading in the direction of righteous living.  One cannot assume if he lives as he pleases, he will be just fine.  On the contrary, Jesus says quite strongly, “He will perish.”

Today, recognize your need for repentance.  It is not just for the “bad” people, and it is surely not out of vogue. The Lord demands it.  You and I would do well to obey Him.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Excuses

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 14:16-23 NIV)

This morning I am going to a prayer meeting on campus with some of our students. It’s been going on for several weeks now, but I’ve always had excuses of why I couldn’t go.  Last week, my wife referenced this parable of Jesus when I offered my reasoning for why I wasn’t going to attend.  It was effective in changing my mind.

Through His story, Jesus is pointing out a universal truth of humankind: We easily can come up with excuses not to do things we really would rather not do. In my work with students, the excuses for not participating in things or for not praying or taking time to read and study the Scriptures is often the generic, “I’m too busy.”  Sometimes, they get more specific.  “I have to study for a test.”  “I have a paper due tomorrow.” I have to work.” “I’m meeting with a friend.”  Of course, some excuses are actually valid, but the truth is we find time to do the things we really want to do. We may not have time for prayer, but we have plenty of time to watch Netflix and hang out with friends.  We may not have time to participate in a Bible study, but we have plenty of time to go for a hike or work out at the gym.  

It’s a matter of perspective and this is what Jesus is driving at. What are the priorities of our lives? Is growing in our relationship and devotion to Him at the top of the list, or is it far down, crowded out by the things we truly want to do and the things we feel obligated to do.  Note that excuses of the people in the parable weren’t lame, but reasonable to a degree.  As was often the case, Jesus used hyperbole to make His point, which is true with this story. If we call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, then He, by definition, has to be our first priority. What He draws into question is whether or not this is evidenced by the daily life choices we make. We may claim one thing, but do our lives back that up or reveal something else?

Today, consider the choices you are making.  Do they reflect your commitment to Jesus or more to your own interests and desires?  If it is the latter, know that while you may have excuses, they may be found wanting by the Lord because of the truth behind them.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Heaping Up Those Burning Coals

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” (Romans 12:18-20 NIV)

There are traditions in every religion which call adherents to defend their God.  Muslims, Hindus, and, yes, even some in realm of Christianity, feel called to take action in defense of their God or gods.

The Apostle Paul lived in similar times when people were quick to pull the trigger on defending their gods.  Acts 19:23-41 tells the story of a riot by the worshippers of the Greek goddess, Artemus.  They believed Paul and other Christians were blaspheming by advocating that Artemus was no god at all.  They rioted in defense of her deity.

So this passage is significant because of the times in which he lived and the times in which we live as well.  Paul is telling us that, unlike worshippers of other gods, we do not need to defend God or seek revenge on His behalf.  In fact, he takes it one step further.  Not only do we not need to defend God, we should respond with kindness rather than revenge toward those who are attacking Him. 

In the times that we now live, this should give us pause.  Who do we consider the enemies of God and how do we treat them?  Are we responding with thoughts, words, and actions of revenge?  Would we rather get back at them than be kind to them?  

Today, recognize the Lord is calling you to kindness toward His enemies rather than revenge.  He does not need you to come to His defense.  In due time He will set things right, but for now He wants you to start heaping up those burning coals of kindness on the heads of those against Him.  Sounds like a great plan.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Measures

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. 

Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (II Corinthians 10:12-18 NIV)

As part of my cardiac rehab, I was working out on a stationary bike, doing around 120 rpms with a fairly high resistance, and sweating profusely.  A woman walked by and said, “You’re working way too hard.” A little later, after I explained a little about my physical challenges over the years and that I’m seizing the day now than I can once again do vigorous exercise, she said, “I can’t stand it!”  Whether she was referring to my working out so hard or her loathing of the machine, I’m not sure, but it brought to mind how easy it is to compare ourselves to others and the dangers of it.

When I’m working out these days, it feels good and I often feel like I am so much younger than I am.  And when I observe all the others in their workouts, I’m tempted to think how much better shape I’m in compared to them. But when I wander in that mental direction, I have to quickly remind myself with whom I am making the comparisons.  I once asked one of the interns, a college student, what resistance he used when riding the bike.  It was nearly twice what I used.  

As Paul rightly says, when we compare ourselves with just ourselves as the standard or others who seem to fall below us, we are not wise. We are always going to find others with whom to compare ourselves to whom we are going to appear superior. But they will be the wrong measure. Instead, it is wise always to measure ourselves against the Lord. 

Measuring ourselves against anyone else can easily lead to self-righteousness or self-loathing. We tend to think we are better than we are or, conversely, worse than we are. When I compare myself physically to elderly people, I can think I’m quite the athlete, but against younger people, I get a dose of reality that I am not nearly as good as I have imagined. It all depends on the measure.

We should compare ourselves to God for two reasons.  First, it is quite humbling and keeps us from self-righteousness and ignorance of our true standing.  It leaves no doubt: we are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Second, it levels the field of our tempted comparisons.  What good is it to compare ourselves with other sinners who are on the same level?  There are no distinctions of sin; there is just sin.  When we admit that we are merely sinners without any claims of righteousness, then we are in the position of accepting the truth that we are loved despite our sin (Romans 5:8).

Today, consider the measure against which you measure yourself. Are you being wise and measuring yourself against the righteousness of the Lord? Or are you falling into the trap of measuring yourself against yourself or other sinners like you?  The latter will keep you in bondage to self-righteousness or self-loathing.  The former will set you free to live life humbly and with the knowledge you are deeply loved despite your shortcomings.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Planting and Watering

“For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

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.” (I Corinthians 3:4-11 NIV)

This past weekend, the ministry I direct celebrated being on campus for 25 years.  In attendance were many alumni from those 25 years—a few now middle-aged, many married with small children, and some in the early stages of their post-college lives. What an encouragement to see them continuing to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ!

There were testimonies about the beginnings of the ministry and about the many years that followed. A quarter-of-a-century of the Lord’s work in students’ lives. Years devoted to planting and watering, and the blessings in often seeing the Lord’s harvest through the fruits of faithful laborers.  Many of the testimonies focused on me and the impact I had on the lives of alumni, but while I appreciated the comments, I am, and always have been, merely a planter and waterer. I have worked hard to maintain that perspective, the same one the Apostle Paul held regarding his ministry.  

I say, “worked hard” because there is a strong pull to take credit where it is not due.  We, or others, want to pat ourselves on the back for the results of our work, but, as the agricultural metaphor implies, a farmer can do his best at planting and watering his crops, but he cannot make them grow or produce fruit.  All he can do is be faithful in planting and watering the seeds. The harvest is out of his hands.

Often, that harvest is slow in coming.  The seeds are planted and watered faithfully, but little or no growth is evident.  That doesn’t necessarily mean nothing is happening.  Just as a seed germinates underground, the spiritual work of the Spirit is often unseen for many months or even years, but there is still much happening beneath the surface.  Planting and watering requires a lot of patience, of which many times I am lacking.  I want to see the evidence of the effects of my labors.  

These are the challenges when we are about the work of planting and watering seeds of the Kingdom, but as I was reminded this weekend, they are worth overcoming in order to enjoy the harvest that the Lord brings—lives built solidly on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

Today, know the importance of planting and watering in God’s Kingdom. For if you are a follower of Jesus, then your role is to be planting and watering seeds in the lives of those He puts in your path.  It is a challenge, but the fruit the Lord will produce from your efforts, and the enjoyment they bring, will be more than worth it.  I know. I have tasted them often.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Joy of the Lord

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.’

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” (Nehemiah 8:9-12 NIV)

When you first fall in love, you feel like you can overcome anything—poverty, resistance from parents, anything that is thrown your way. Love, as the saying goes, can conquer all.  

The Israelites had just returned to a Jerusalem in ruins.  There were no houses and few businesses.  Yet Nehemiah had felt the call of the Lord to rebuild the city and he had begun with the walls.  In these ancient times, a city’s walls were vital for protection and symbolized a strong and vital community.  Now that the wall had been built, Nehemiah had called the people to return.  

At the dedication of the wall, the Word of the Lord was read and the people were cut to the heart by the recognition of their sin.  For the Lord had allowed the city to be destroyed because of the disobedience of the Israelites. (II Chronicles 36:15-19)  Their eyes welled up in tears of grief and fear.  But Nehemiah exhorted them not to grieve, but instead to celebrate.  He said, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

All of us have and will continue to experience difficult times, whether by things thrust upon us or by things of our own making.  In those times we will find ourselves very low, but we need not weep or mourn.  Like young people in love, the joy we have in the Lord can carry us through whatever we face.  For the Lord is above all things and our troubles, no matter how great they may seem, are, as Paul describes them, “light and momentary” (II Corinthians 4:17) The joy we have in the Lord far outweighs them all because we know there is coming a day when all our trials and sorrows will pass away.  So this joy, this hope, is a source of strength when times get really hard.

Today, if you are going through a difficult time, know the joy of the Lord can be your strength.  Regardless of what you are facing, His love can conquer it. 

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Chasing After the Trendy Things

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3 NIV)

Apple announced this week the coming release of the i-Phone X into the marketplace, and the question immediately was raised: Will people pay $1000 for a smartphone? Apple seems confident they will and what they hope to do is create a buzz about this phone, as it has done with every one of its phones since the original, so people will jump on the bandwagon and plop down their 10 “Benjamins” to own one.

That’s how it works in the marketplace: Get enough people’s attention to a product, convince them it’s the next hot thing, and watch as others quickly follow in order to be “in” and trendy.  The sellers don’t want people to ask if they really need it, just follow the crowd and buy it! The sad thing is many people’s lives consist of this chasing after what is the “in” thing without a lot of thought about the long-term consequences. 

Isaiah paints a picture of a middle-eastern market where vendors are competing for the attention of buyers.  They are yelling and reaching out to lead people back to their stalls, offering “a very good price” for their wares. If you have ever been to one of these markets (there are similar ones in Africa as well), then you know how chaotic they can be. And in Isaiah’s market, there is one vender selling something very different and is trying to be heard.  It is the Lord.  He is selling something that is not “hot” or trendy, but rather steadfast and reliable.  It does not provide a temporary rush when you hand over your money, but rather pays out long-lasting dividends such as peace, contentment, and everlasting life. But so often He is drowned out by the other vendors and His wares fail to draw much attention because they have to compete with more flashy and interesting products. 

Think about our marketplace today.  People are selling trendy things such as smartphones, apps, games, diets and food, clothing, etc. All tend to drown out the voice of the Lord and what He is offering us. Our fallen natures lead us to be attracted to the “shiniest” and most exciting things. And they can provide temporary satisfaction, but they have a short shelf life, which is the lifeblood of the retail business world. “Get something new; it will give you greater satisfaction!” Until it won’t any longer.

Today, what are the trendy things that are grabbing your attention, but distracting you from what the Lord is offering? Don’t be like the masses and spend your life chasing after the latest and most trendy things. The satisfaction they offer is very short-lived and a lifetime of pursuing them will leave you ultimately empty and disappointed. Only the Lord can satisfy your deepest needs. You will never regret wading past the crowds and ignoring the screaming vendors to get to the One who offers the best there is and ever will be.

© Jim Musser 2017