Friday, April 21, 2017

Thinking You're Right When You May Be Wrong

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10 NIV)

Looking back to last year’s election season, one thing stood out to me more than any other—the lack of humility, not merely from the main candidates, but among the vast majority of social media commentators. People’s opinions were not couched in cautious terms.  There was rarely a hint of hesitancy that perhaps a person’s opinion might be wrong or not fully informed.  Their opinions were deemed as facts that were undisputed, regardless of which side they were on.

But are we always right?  Is every conclusion we reach irrefutable?  At a glance, it often seems so.  And I think it is the fruit of a seed planted more than two decades ago on many campuses—my truth is my truth. Put another way, when a person was confronted with an opposing view: “that’s your truth” became the defensive response.  The seed of the relativity of truth was planted and, long after, the bitter fruit is appearing in bunches.

Truth has become something that we each control. Personal truth has replaced Truth. We are now free to reach whatever conclusions we want and the expectation is we have the right not to be challenged on their veracity.

The question is, have we grown so arrogant that we are not even willing to submit ourselves and our views to God?  Are we so convinced of our opinions that we cannot even countenance the thought that perhaps we are wrong?

The bent of our culture reflects human nature. We are prideful and obstinate.  We want to believe what we want to believe and we want to do what we want to do.  I’m like that and so are you.  It is a fact that is inherent to each of us. It has been so since Eden. Thus, there is much cause for us to be vigilant against our pride. It is so natural to us that it will easily overwhelm us if we are not intentional about combatting it.  

As I look at many who profess to follow Jesus, what concerns me is the lack of awareness of this problem. Just because we say we’re followers of Jesus doesn’t mean we are always following Him in the proper way. We are sinners who all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is the greatest hubris to think we have everything right.

Today, recognize your truth is not necessarily or automatically the Truth. Because of your inherent pride, you may have some things wrong.  Let this fact lead you to submitting and humbling yourself before the Lord. The more you are willing to do that, the less likely you are to be wrong when you think you’re right.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Smell of Life and Death

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” (II Corinthians 2:14-16 NIV)

It was a faint smell at first emanating from our dining area, almost a sickening sweet smell to my olfactories.  But within a day, the odor was clearly identifiable—it was the smell of death.  A couple months earlier we had seen a mouse run for cover down a heating vent.  I put poison in the crawlspace and we never saw it again.  The unwelcome intruder, we suspect, died not far from where it last appeared, for that is where the smell was the most intense. For more than a year, my wife said she could still detect its lingering scent.

The smell of death is immediately recognizable.  There is never a doubt about what the odor is.  This is exactly the point Paul is making of his experience sharing the gospel.  Those whose hearts are open to it, like a pleasant aroma, are drawn to it.  Those whose hearts are hardened, like the smell of death, are repulsed by it.  

I was like that when I was young.  I thought true followers of Jesus were weird and I wanted nothing to do with them.  They repulsed me.  But then in my first year of college, I became acquainted with a few.  The love and joy I saw in their lives was very attractive to me.  I was drawn to Jesus through them.  

Salvation only comes through complete surrender of our wills to God. For many, that very thought outweighs the love and joy which accompanies the surrender.  The idea of giving up their will is repulsive. They cannot stand it and will reject any notion of it.  

In our culture today, one of the worst social offenses is to offend someone.  So we go out of our way to avoid offending anyone. However, the fact is the gospel is offensive to those who reject it and any attempts to make it more palatable so they will be more accepting dilute its message.  Neither Paul nor Jesus were concerned about offending people.  They just spoke the truth in love and accepted whatever response they received.  

Today, know the gospel will be offensive to people whose hearts are hardened.  In it, they smell the aroma of death.  It is to them a repulsive odor.  But others whose hearts are open will smell the scent of life and embrace it.  Regardless of the reaction you may receive, always be willing to share the message that to you smells so sweet.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

True Worship

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24 NIV)

Worship is a word whose meaning has been greatly diminished over the years.  “Reverent honor or homage paid to God or a sacred personage” is how Dictionary.com defines it.  For most believers today, however, it just means singing praise songs.  Worship leaders are, by definition, leaders of singing.  They will often, to open a set of praise songs, say to those gathered, “Let’s worship the Lord together.”  

I can recall one of our worship band members a number of years ago, sharing that she thought she had been worshipping when helping to lead songs, but realized during a mission trip that she wasn’t truly worshipping.  In other words, she learned worshipping God involves more than just singing songs of praise to Him.

The Jews and the Samaritans both believed worship was defined by place and ritual, like many today who believe worship takes place in a church building and through singing.  Yet, Jesus defined “true worship” as being done “in the Spirit and in truth.”  In the Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit and implies a relationship, a connection on a deep level with God. In truth means worshipping with honesty and authenticity of the heart rather than just going through the motions.  

True worship then flows from a real relationship with the Lord and a heart that is truly awed by who God is.  It indeed can be expressed through singing, but is far from limited to words combined with melodies.  We can worship the Lord through reading His Word, through how we conduct ourselves at work or in school, through how we treat our friends or our enemies.  We pay honor to God by how we live our lives day to day.  

Today, recognize your worship of the Lord is not limited to singing praise songs or hymns on a certain day in a certain place.  It is to encompass every aspect of your life.  And most importantly, it is to flow out of a real relationship with the living God.  Otherwise, it is not truly worship.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

From the Darkest Hour to a Bright New Dawn

(Author's Note: The University will be taking a break until April 19th, and so will I.  WftW will return on that day.  Have a wonderful Resurrection Weekend!  Jim)

“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he’s calling Elijah.’

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:33-39 NIV)

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’” (Mark 16:1-7 NIV)

It is often said that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn. Certainly, it was very dark, literally, as Jesus hung on the cross on that Friday.  Mere hours before He breathed His last, ominous clouds rolled across the sky blocking out the sun and creating a surreal scene--the Son of God, the Messiah, shamefully and powerless, hanging on a Roman cross.  There was no darker moment in human history.

But just as I’ve experienced this week taking out our friends’ dog in the early hours of the morning, before the dawn, it is dark but there is a sign of a dawn soon to break.  Stepping out into the cool air, my ears are besieged with the sounds of birds happily singing in anticipation of a new day.  Similarly, at the darkest moment of that day more than 2000 years ago, there was a sign of a new dawn to come.  The heavy and thick curtain that shielded the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple suddenly was ripped in half like a worn bed sheet.  Though no one understood the meaning of this at the time, three days later its meaning would become clear.

When the grieving women came to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid, good and unexpected news awaited them; a new dawn pushed back the darkness.  “He is risen! He is not here.” Three days earlier, they could never have imagined what they were hearing and seeing.  The darkness then was too overwhelming.  But there had been a sign indicating the hope that was soon to be fulfilled.  

Our lives will inevitably be visited by deep darkness during our time on earth. It is the way of life in a fallen world.  But in the midst of that darkness, there is a Source of hope so powerful that even Death itself cannot defeat Him! As He reminds us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)  

Today as we celebrate Good Friday, know that it is “good” because though it was the darkest moment in human history, it was a prelude to the greatest moment in history—the Resurrection!  So if or when you are facing a dark period in your life, take heart in the hope of the Resurrection.  If He can overcome Death, He can bring you through your darkest hours into a bright new dawn!

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When You're Not Feeling It

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” (Matthew 26:36-39 NIV)

To use today’s vernacular, Jesus just wasn’t feeling it, this called-to-die thing.  He really wanted a different path to take, so He cried out to His Father to give Him one.  He was feeling overwhelmed at what lay just ahead for Him and He wanted a way out.

We can all identify with the human struggle with which Jesus was dealing. None of us feels like going through difficult experiences.  If based solely on our feelings, we would choose the less painful path every time.  But there is more to making decisions in life than how we feel.  If Jesus had made the decision in the garden to follow His feelings, life in this world would be dramatically different.  But, instead, Jesus was obedient, and we are the beneficiaries of that obedience. 

Following Jesus means to follow His example.  In the garden, when His feelings were telling Him to avoid death at all costs, Jesus responded with obedience.  His desire to please His Father overrode the strong feelings He had to escape His fate.

Life is full of difficult, and even painful, decisions.  Our feelings are always going to lead us to take the easy way out.  It is always easier to walk away from a broken relationship than to stay and repair it. It is always easier to stay “in” with friends than to take a stand against their behavior. It is always easier to give in to temptation than to run from it. But life following Jesus is not about doing what feels good or is the easiest; it’s about being obedient.

Today, meditate on the example Jesus left us in the garden.  Even though that night He wasn’t feeling it, Jesus still was obedient to His Father’s will. Aren’t you glad He was?

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In His Time

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 NIV)

Sometimes we want to push things forward; sometimes we want to hold back.  As the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything, but we don’t always have the timing down right.  We’re ready for a romantic relationship and so we push for one; or we aren’t ready and so push one away.  We may have our eyes on a particular job or make plans for a dream trip, but it doesn’t work out the way we had hoped.  The timing was just off.

If you read the Bible thoroughly, you will find that God’s timing is perfect. The angel of the Lord stopped Abraham just at the right time from killing his son, Isaac.  He sent the fish to inhale Jonah just in time to save him from drowning.  And He timed Jesus’ arrival on earth and subsequent death to have maximum impact in the world.  

As we look ahead in our lives, we need not be anxious about how things are going to work.  When will I get married?  What will I be doing after college?  How long should I remain in my current job?  These are questions God will answer in His time.  We can give thought to them and make some tentative plans, but, as Proverbs 16:9 says, it is the Lord who directs our steps.  In His time.

Today, may you find comfort in knowing that God’s timing is perfect. You can trust Him to work things out—in His time.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Pragmatic View of Life

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’” (John 12:1-7 NIV)

I’m a very pragmatic guy. Just ask my wife.  She tends toward a “dreamer” approach to life.  Just the other day, she had an idea, and immediately I began a pragmatic dissection of it.  What about this? What about that?  That’s just the way I’m wired and my initial thought process with anything is always from a pragmatic point of view.

So in reading this passage, I can immediately identify with Judas’ point of view. Yes, as the narrator confirms, his motives were impure when he suggested the money be spent in a more practical way, but, in ignoring that minor detail, I see his point.  Why not split the difference and show deference to Jesus in some way, while saving the perfume and using it to help others?

This pragmatic view of things is not limited to Judas.  Many people have it and I have often been on the receiving end of questions similar to that of Judas.  Why spend all that money to go on a mission trip when you could just as easily spend it on needs here at home?  Or why not send the money instead of yourself?  Why do you want to earn a degree and then spend your life “begging for money” in a support-based ministry when you could rather be earning money?  Why do I need to spend time reading the Scriptures or praying or serving others when I have so much studying to do?  Why should I give a portion of my money to God’s work when I can barely get by with what I have?

In acknowledging my own pragmatism, I have also had to realize the Lord is not so concerned about what may make sense to us.  His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55). And He owns the whole universe.  We tend to be pragmatic because we seek to conserve resources and use them wisely, but the Lord has access to everything He needs at anytime. Waste, as we know it, does not exist for Him.  So though in a worldly sense Judas had a point, from the Lord’s perspective, Mary’s use of the perfume was right on the mark.  

Over the years of being a Christian, I have grown in my understanding and willingness to follow the Lord’s lead in overriding my pragmatic approach to life.  It has not been an easy journey and still at times my pragmatism can get the best of me. But I see more and more how living by faith means being less pragmatic and more obedient to be more free with my resources—time, money, wisdom, abilities—than often seems to me the reasonable course. I have had to learn to trust Him for His provision in my life.  Even if He asks me to do “crazy” things with my resources, He will replenish them in some way. That is, in essence, living a life of faith.  

Today, if the Lord is asking you to do something that seems to be a waste of your resources, remember the pragmatic thing to do is not always what He wants you to do.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Getting Caught Up in the Crowd

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’” (John 12:12-15 NIV)

It was my first week as the new campus minister for Campus Christian Fellowship at Appalachian State University and on the afternoon of our first large group meeting, we were informed that our venue was not available due to a scheduling error.  Our student leaders scrambled to find a place to meet.  They settled on the concrete amphitheater outside of the student union.  I learned later we needed a reservation to use it and we weren’t permitted to have amplified instruments.  

To my amazement, a stream of students began to fill the seats.  I had been told when I accepted the position that the group would be 30-40 students.  Approximately 150 came that night!  In the ensuing weeks, that number grew to 250.  It was an absolutely crazy and overwhelming time.  I was brand new to the area; I was the only one on staff; and the ministry was in a financial crisis.  Yet, how could I not be excited about so many students wanting to be a part of the ministry?

I admit the excitement did grab me.  The largest group I had ever led was around 100, and that was after many years of leading groups not any larger than 50 students.  There was energy and enthusiasm, and the fact that the numbers would be impressive to potential financial supporters didn’t hurt either. We were in desperate need of them.

So I got wooed by the crowd into thinking significant things were happening. It wasn’t until the next year when one of our student leaders came to me with some sobering news: things were not as they seemed. He let me know of drinking parties being planned in the parking lot after our weekly meetings, of students sleeping together, and of inappropriate behavior during pick-up games of Frisbee and basketball. There was also pushback against my leadership.  All of which I was unaware. Instead, I was focused on the crowd and keeping my head above water.

While there were committed students in our ministry, what I had missed is what many in ministry miss: crowds are not necessarily indicative of spiritual success.  Often people show up just because others are showing up, or because of a talented speaker or, as in our case, a talented worship band.  On Palm Sunday, it was the charismatic Jesus that drew the attention of the crowd.  But in reality it didn’t mean much. This same crowd that was shouting “Hosanna” only a few days later would be shouting “Crucify!”

Right now, the ministry I lead is again relatively small—around 40 students.  I admit there are times I am tempted by envy looking at larger ministry groups on campus.  I miss the energy and excitement that comes with a large crowd.  But then I remember this passage and the ones that follow it that describe the huge crowd dwindling down to zero. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, no one in the crowd supported Him and not even one of His disciples was anywhere to be found.  I am once again reminded that the size of any ministry is not indicative of its significance.  We often believe that and get swept up in being a part of something big, but Palm Sunday proves otherwise.  What was going on in the hearts of the crowd was something not immediately apparent, but it came to light quickly enough.  Jesus, however, knew it all along.  He was not impressed by the size of the crowd or beholden to it.  He continued to speak the truth and remain faithful to His Father’s will.

Today, recognize success is not measured by size or popularity, but by faithfulness to the Lord.  While the energy and excitement of the masses can be exhilarating, worldly success is never a substitute for faithfulness to what the Lord has for you. You may be part of a massive church or ministry, but remember all may not be as it seems. Rather than get carried along by the excitement, focus on being faithful to the things of the Lord.  And if you are a part of a small church or ministry, don’t be discouraged.  Size is not a concern to the Lord, but faithfulness is.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, April 7, 2017

Fighting for the Faith

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 3-4 NIV)

Have you ever felt really uneasy about a friend’s behavior and have been reluctant to talk with her about it?  Is there something that bothers you about the lifestyles or beliefs of some of those in your church or ministry?  We are not a society that relishes confrontation, but Jude says we need to have more of a “fighting spirit” when it comes to the Christian faith.  

From reading the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, we know there were people seeking to alter and thus diminish the message of the Gospel.  There were those who said grace was not enough to receive salvation, while others claimed grace covered over all sin and thus one could live as he pleased without consequence.  Jude was dealing with the latter and was quick to tell his friends not to turn a blind eye, but to fight for the faith.

How often do we feel the need to fight for the faith, to stand up against wrong thinking and living among our Christian brothers and sisters?  Of course, Jude is not talking about physical confrontation or threats.  He is talking about having the courage to speak up for the Truth in situations where it has been clearly distorted.  When Christian friends justify their sin by saying, “We all sin, and God forgives me,” Jude says we need to speak up and contend for the Faith that calls us to confession and repentance.  When someone says, “God just wants us to be happy,” Jude says we need to fight for the Faith that calls us to deny ourselves and take up the Cross.  When a brother says, “Though I am a Christian, I believe there are many paths to God,” Jude says we need to stand up for the Faith that follows the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

It is much easier to keep quiet than to stand up and contend for the Faith. In fact, we would all rather focus on more positive things, just as Jude confessed he would.  But he felt the distortion of the Gospel compelled immediate action.  So he urged his friends to have the courage to speak up and take a stand for Truth.  

You may, like the friends of Jude, be reluctant to create a stir by speaking up for Truth.  But clearly when the message of the Gospel is threatened within our own Christian community, it is important that we stand up and defend it.  

Today, have the courage to speak up if that is what is needed.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A True Story to Tell

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” (Proverbs 27:19 NIV)

Over my life as a follower of Jesus, I have met many who claim to know Him, but their lives reflect otherwise. My mother was one of them.  She grew up going to church, and after having us kids, faithfully took us to church.  But I never saw or heard her pray.  I never once saw her read the Bible.  She never talked about God.  She blamed my dad for most of her troubles. And after I decided to follow Jesus, she accused me of being in a cult.  

As I reflect on most of her life, there was nothing about it that revealed a love for the Lord.  I say “most” because after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and after witnessing how profoundly my life had changed, she, too, decided to follow Jesus.  And I had the honor and privilege of baptizing her. 

I have spent my entire adult life working with students and many I have met claim to be Christians, but, sadly, their lives reflect something different.  As with my mother, they have little or no interest in praying or reading the Scriptures, they rarely talk about the Lord, and the choices they make are not for the Lord, but for themselves.  

This proverb speaks a truth that we so often forget: Our testimony is not what we say, but rather how we live our daily lives.  We can say what we want.  We can say it in a way that sounds really good.  But the truth is found in how we actually live.  One’s life is like a book.  As a book is made up of an author’s words and sentences, so one’s life is made up of one’s daily choices and actions.  The words and sentences tell the story, and so does the way we live our lives tell our story.  

Most of her life, my mom was not a Christian, though she claimed to be. And her life reflected this truth.  But it was rewritten when she confessed her sins and acknowledged her need for Jesus’ forgiveness, repented, and was baptized.  And that is the beauty of coming to know Jesus in a real way.  The story we’ve been writing with our lives can be rewritten if it has been a fake story.  It can become true. But for that to happen, we have to realize we don’t become a follower of Jesus merely by claiming to be one.  The real truth is reflected in how we are living our lives.  

Today, consider what your life reflects about your heart?  Is it the same as you claim, or is the truth actually much different?  If, like my mother, your claims fall far short of the reality, then know your story can be rewritten, as was hers.  Just go before the Lord and confess.  Repent of your sins and begin to truly walk with Jesus.  Then you will have a true story to tell.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Finding Strength and Courage

"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:6-9 NIV)

You see it around campus these days.  Students are tired, and with fatigue often comes discouragement.  When we are extremely tired, we are much more vulnerable to becoming discouraged.  

Imagine that you came to college with the goal of graduating in four years, but 40 years later you still had not received your degree.  Think you would be tired and discouraged?  This is basically what Joshua experienced.  He and the Israelites, led by Moses, left Egypt with the promise of God they would enter a new land “flowing with milk and honey.”  Yet, 40 years later, they were still on the Egyptian side of the Jordan and Moses was dead.  

The Lord then speaks to Joshua and tells him he will be the one to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land.  He tells him to be strong and courageous and reminds him that He will be with him wherever he goes.  

Sometimes life just keeps pressing in on us.  We would love to have a break, but there is not one to be found.  Project deadlines.  Chronic illness.  Children.  We can’t just wish them away.  They are there staring us in the face demanding our time and energy.  

It is at these times the words of the Lord to Joshua are especially meaningful.  To carry on when we are tired and discouraged requires strength and courage.  It is easy to give up or to do the bare minimum; it takes strength and courage to keep going full speed with our hearts and minds fully engaged.  And this will come from the Lord.  Through His Word and His presence, He will see us through when we are tired and discouraged.

Today, heed the words of the Lord to Joshua.  He is with you and He will provide you with the strength and courage you need to make it through.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Way Out of Loneliness

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (I Thessalonians 2:8 NIV)

A study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona released in the last decade revealed that one quarter of Americans had no one in whom to confide about personal problems.  And the rest, on average, had no more than two people with whom they can talk about their personal issues.  

The most striking thing about this study is what it did not say.  The sociologists did not find that Americans lacked social contacts, and that has only increased exponentially in recent years.  We are one of the most socially “connected” societies on earth with smart phones and the array of social media available to us, as well as being in contact with people daily at work, at school, and at church.  

One would think that a society having so much connectedness would not be so lonely, but the reality is much different.  It is possible to be in a room full of people and be lonely.  It is possible to have a multitude of conversations and still feel unknown and disconnected.  It is possible to have friends but feel friendless.

What is missing in much of American culture is what Paul gave to the Galatians.  He shared with them his life.  He opened himself up, made himself vulnerable.  He did not put up a fa├žade.  How many of us feel we can do that?  Fellowship, in the Greek, means “shared life.”  How often, when we are having times of “fellowship,” do we really share our lives with one another, not just the things we want people to know, but what is really going on?  

What a tremendous opportunity we have as followers of Jesus to show our culture the way out of loneliness, if we will just practice what is to be normative for Christians—to have fellowship with one another, sharing our lives in deep and intimate ways, to be known for who we really are and loved all the same.  Our culture hungers for this because that is how God created all people—for deep fellowship with Him and one another.  

Today, seek out someone with whom to share your life, not just for your sake, but theirs as well because it is a lonely world out there.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fellow Strugglers

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.  When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Galatians 2:11-14 NIV)

Sometimes we have too pure of a picture of the apostles.  We see them after Pentecost as perfect men and, after all, they have been referred to as “saints” down through the centuries.  Yet, we see in this passage that Saint Peter was indeed no saint as we typically think of the term.  He still struggled with cowardice and when faced with much peer pressure, he buckled.  

Now there is no question that Peter’s life was transformed after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).  He went from denying Christ in front of a few (John 18) to boldly proclaiming Him in front of thousands.  He went from fearing Jewish officials to proclaiming he would not follow their command to stop preaching about Jesus (Acts 4). He was indeed transformed, but he was far from perfect.  

I think it is sometimes easy for us to dismiss the applicability of the Word to our lives because we look at the people of the Bible through distorted lenses.  We see them as perfect, or at least far different from us, so what they have to teach us, though nice, we consider disjointed from our reality.  If we were them, sure, the teachings would fit, but we are not them.  We are not giants of the faith.  We’re just little folk struggling along the path of life, putting one foot in front of the other.  

Well, I don’t think that is much different from their experience.  Peter struggled.  Paul struggled. Following a perfect God is a struggle no matter who we are.  Yet, what we learn from these “giants” or “saints” is that we continue to seek God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And as we seek, the Lord will transform us.  The Christian life is a journey of growth, not a one time, all is fixed experience.  

Today, if you think you are just not up to the task of living the Christian life, you are absolutely right.  And what’s more, you are like every other human being that has ever lived, including the likes of Peter and Paul.  Following a perfect God is no easy task, but what we learn from these saints is perfection is not a requirement; only a wholehearted desire to seek God and the willingness to be transformed is needed.  Our Lord will do the rest. In the meantime, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

Freedom from the Past


“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a “sinner.”’

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.’” (Luke 19:1-10 NIV) 

We called it the “gourmet shift.”  I worked at a grocery store while in high school and on weekends often worked the third shift.  There were few customers and little supervision.  So when we took our breaks, we would just pull things off the shelves to eat.  We were stealing from the store, but thought little of it.  

When I went off to college, I was introduced to Jesus and began following Him.  On a visit home one weekend several years later, I drove past the store at which I had worked years earlier and immediately thought of my habit of taking items off the shelves without paying for them.  Honestly, I tried to put it out of my mind.  “Ah, that was a long time ago, and I have been forgiven of all my past sins,” I rationalized.  Months went by and I still couldn’t shake the conviction that I needed to confess to the manager of the store and repay the company.  So one day I sat down and wrote a letter telling what I had done and, because I was now a follower of Jesus, that I wanted to make things right.  I enclosed a check for what I guessed was the value of the items I had taken and mailed it off.  I never heard back from the manager (he probably was shocked and didn’t know how to reply), but I immediately felt a great freedom in my spirit.  

Coming to Jesus requires repentance, and that can sometimes mean going back and asking forgiveness and even making restitution to those we have treated badly.  In my case and Zacchaeus’, it was stealing, but it could be a lot of other things including, cheating in school, treating a teacher with gross disrespect, bullying a classmate, or using someone for sexual pleasure.  The willingness to humble ourselves before others and to admit our sins against them is a sign of true heart transformation and a powerful witness.

Today, go before the Lord and ask Him if there is anyone from whom you need to seek forgiveness and perhaps to whom to make restitution for your sins against them.  It is a very difficult thing to do, but with salvation comes the need for repentance.  And with repentance comes freedom from the past.   

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Blame Game

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’

He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’

And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’

The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’

Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’

The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Genesis 3:8-13 NIV)

Whenever I can’t find something around our house—my car keys, my phone, a particular shirt—my instinct is to blame my wife.  It just comes naturally to me.  She must have put it in a different place.  On rare occasions that is the case, but most often it is I who am responsible.  I just couldn’t remember it was me who put a particular something in a certain place.  

This instinct can be easily traced.  We see in this passage that it had its beginning in Eden with the first man and first woman to exist.  Adam blamed God and Eve.  And Eve blamed the serpent.  Neither of them was willing to admit responsibility and take the blame.  

This trait is embedded in the human DNA and we see evidence of it every day, in the news and in our own lives.  Students blame professors for their poor grades in classes. Employees blame employers for their poor wages.  Spouses blame each other for their marriage woes. Politicians blame the media. The list could go on and on.  Of course, as I mentioned earlier, on occasion the blame is accurately placed, but only on occasion.  Most of the time, the one blaming is the one most likely responsible for the situation, or at least is an equal participant.

So why is it so easy to shift blame and seek to avoid responsibility in the many situations we face in life? The answer is simple: We were born that way. It is our pride. And as is often recognized by professional therapists, the first step to solving a problem is to recognize you have one.  We can either live life continually in the mindset we are never to blame, or we can humble ourselves and carefully begin to reflect on our individual responsibility in any given situation we face.  

Today, ask yourself this question: How often to do I seek to shift blame away from myself and onto others?  With that in mind, begin to observe when you are tempted to do this in everyday situations.  I am guessing you are going to be a bit surprised at how much of a problem it is for you, which of course is the first step to take in beginning to solve it.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Essence of Righteousness


“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25 NIV)

I remember during one of our church’s worship services, a woman announced she was collecting signatures for a petition to keep the Ten Commandments displayed in the county courthouse.  Our pastor added he would like to start a petition to keep the Ten Commandments displayed in people’s hearts.  

I am sure he has no objection with God’s Word being on public display, but realizes the power of it’s public witness is not in plaques or monuments but in the lives of those who claim to follow Him.  The temptation for us is to settle for the semblance of righteousness instead of its essence.  We place the emphasis on being in church rather than being the Church, or on having a clean reputation rather than a clean heart, or on spending time reading the Word rather than obeying it.   

The result is we develop a false sense of confidence that we are right with the Lord, and, as James warns, are deceived.  For true righteousness is that which flows out of a humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2).  

Today, examine yourself to see whether you are merely settling for the semblance of righteousness, the outward appearances, or the essence of it, which is a heart submitted fully to the Lord.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Grip of Envy

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30 NIV)

I grew up a fairly insecure person.  That happens when your home life is not filled with love and affection.  I had a few friends growing up, but I never ran with the popular crowd. I was a little backward socially, physically, and academically. For much of my young life, I was envious.

I was envious of those I knew who were picked first for teams, while I was picked near to last.  I wished math and science came easier to me as it seemed it did for others. In high school, I craved to be a part of the “in” crowd.  

Going into college, envy was a part of my make up.  And then I met Jesus as a 19-year-old and that began to change, very slowly.  As my confidence in His love for me grew, the more secure I became and the less I struggled with envy. However, it was a long road and there were areas of my life where envy stubbornly retained its grip—mainly in my desire for a romantic relationship and success in ministry.  Those held me for a long time, but now I am at peace because with maturity has come a proper perspective.  I no longer crave to have what others have; I am content with what the Lord has given me.

I work daily with young people who are on the same journey I have taken.  I see the insecurity and the longings they have for things that, at the moment, appear beyond their grasp—to fit in more, to have a special relationship, to have a defined career path, to live more righteously.  And I see and hear of the envy that comes with that insecurity. 

But envy is not merely a problem for the young.  Unless we recognize its grip on us, it will continue to be a problem when we’re much older. Peace will elude us because we will continue to long for what others have rather than being content with what has been given to us.  God is the giver of good gifts and our confidence in that can help us avoid living an envious life.  The Lord in His wisdom has created each of us unique and different.  Because we are created differently, we are not meant to all have the same things, whether it be the way we look, our personalities, our abilities, our station in life, etc.  God has created us to be unique and desires us to be content with that.  When we are, we will find peace.  When we are not, using the language of the proverbial writer, rot will set in and slowly eat away at our very being.

What is your thinking today?  Are you content with your life, what you have been given?  Or are you looking around at others and focusing on what they have that you do not? Know that you will only find peace when you eliminate envy from your life.  When you reach the point where you are content with your life as it is, then you will find what you have truly been longing for. 

© Jim Musser 2017 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Because

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:2-11 NIV)

When I was a young child, like most children, I asked “Why?” a lot. Why do I have to go to bed now?  Mommy, why do you have a big bump on your nose?  Why do I have to get a shot?  And like most parents, often I would get a one-word answer: “Because.”  Of course, that response is rarely satisfying to a child, so the follow-up question usually is, “Because why?”  Sometimes a more detailed explanation follows, but often parents respond definitively to cut off any further discussion: “Because I said so.” Or, “Because that’s just the way it is.”

As a kid, I hated that response. I wanted an explanation and, when it involved my behavior, I wanted a reason that was satisfying to me. But what I realize as an adult is that my parents knew much more than I did and there are many things where kids just have to accept the authority of their parents, whether they agree or not, or whether they understand or not. But that runs against our human bent.  From childhood onward, we want everything justified and explained.  The weight is on the authority to defend the demand. “Because I said so” never will do. The echoes of this have reverberated from Eden down through the millennia.

Today you see this in the rapidly changing culture in which we live. “Why shouldn’t we be able to do what we want to do?”  “If people feel that is what is best for them, why shouldn’t they be able to live as they please?”  These questions have been applied to a myriad of behaviors and belief systems and, less and less, is “because God says so” acceptable as an answer.  As many parents are challenged by their children, so too God’s authority is brought into question.  Who is He to demand such things and why is there need for such demands?

There may be reasonable explanations that God gives if people are willing to take the time to hear Him though His Word, but often, because His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours, we will not be able to fully understand why He commands certain things or works in certain ways. Like children, we will just not know enough to be able to comprehend His motives. We will just have to accept His authority and trust He has our best interests in mind.

Today, in a culture that increasingly dismisses the authority of God in our lives, realize that road is wide and leads to destruction. You instead must take the narrow road that trusts that God knows what He is doing whether or you fully understand or not. That is the road that leads to life

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Handling Difficult Times

“How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? 
How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6 NIV)

David often felt overwhelmed by his circumstances.  He had many enemies and his life was frequently in danger.  That kind of stress can wear on a person.  Light can quickly turn to darkness, hope into despair.  
We all long for a life that is easy and free of stress and hardship, and sometimes we tie our faith to the ease of our circumstances.  When things are going well, we are excited about God, but when things are going badly, we struggle.

David provides the perfect example of how to hold onto our faith when life is dishing out a major helping of stress or hardship.  When he felt overwhelmed, he expressed his feelings to God.  He poured out his frustration, his fear, and his anger.  He did not hold back.  He knew God was big enough to handle his emotions.  Having done that, then we see his heart and mind shift intentionally back to giving his situation over to the Lord.  

Sometimes, we need a safe place to vent.  Things build up and we need to express them.  David demonstrates for us that we can do this with God.  He's not going to cut us off by saying, "How dare you talk to me that way!"  But David doesn’t just vent and then walk away.  He says, in essence, “Okay God.  I have expressed how I feel, but I still love you and trust you in whatever happens, and I rejoice that you have given me new life and have been so good to me.”  

Life will often be difficult and frustrating, and we can learn a great deal from David on how to handle it.  Today, know that if you are unhappy with the way life is going, you can express that to the Lord.  He is big enough to handle it!  But then, as David did, you can continue to love and trust Him because of who He is and what He has done in your life.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Defined, Not by Our Sin, But by Jesus


“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

I was talking with some colleagues the other day and we were discussing church leadership and how some churches want perfect leaders, ones without any flaws.  One spoke up and said, “Yeah, if they could, they wouldn’t let David write the Psalms.”

David, you might recall, committed adultery, tried to cover it up, and then had the husband of his mistress killed.  Yet, David is described as a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22).  He faithfully led the Israelites, and he wrote beautiful poetry that has given encouragement and comfort to people for many centuries.  He was a man of Godly conviction and passion.  Yet, he committed adultery and murder.

Most, if not all, of us having read the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah (II Samuel 11) would find ourselves condemning David if we knew nothing else about him.  It is quite easy to be defined by one sin in our lives.  An abortion.  An affair.  A forged check.  It is very easy for us to define a person or be defined by one failure.

Fortunately, God does not do that.  He does not define our lives by our sin, but by whom we are in Jesus.  Thus, an adulterer or a murderer or a thief or any other type of sinner can still make a wonderful contribution to the Kingdom.  

The message of this passage is that your life need not be defined by the sin you have committed.  Your life need not be invalidated because of the mistakes you have made.  In Christ there is no condemnation.  

Today, take comfort in knowing God has forgiven your sin.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not condemned.  He still loves you and desires to use your life in the work of His Kingdom.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Testing God


"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' 
In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:8-10 NIV)

Call it a quirk, but I just love having things filled up.  I get a great feeling when the pantry and fridge are stocked full with food, and the bank account is replenished at the beginning of the month.  I suppose it is the sense of security it provides, knowing that I need not worry about running out.  Yet, there is also a danger that lurks in that desire for security.  It can become more important than God.

When Malachi spoke the words of God, the Israelites were holding onto all they had, fearing they could not spare anything.  Although they were back in their own land after years of exile, their memories were still fresh, like my parents who grew up during the Depression and were reluctant to part with anything.  They remembered when things were hard and scarce.  

Yet, God’s promise to Israel and to us is that He will provide abundantly for our needs.  We do not need to cling to everything as if we will never be re-supplied.  God’s storehouse is full and He wants to pour out His blessings upon us, and He calls us to test Him on this.  How?  By being generous with what we already have, not hoarding it for ourselves.  

Most of us would not consider ourselves rich, but the Lord wants us to be generous with what we have been given.  The tithe was a place for the Israelites to start, 10% of their income was to be given to the Lord. They were holding back and God said bring the whole tithe and I will richly bless you.  

Are you holding back on giving what the Lord has asked?  Know that your security is not found in material things, but in the Lord.  He wants you to trust in Him for your security. Test Him and you will not be disappointed.  

©  Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gravity

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-25 NIV)

Gravity is a frustrating thing sometimes.  Even though it keeps my feet firmly on the ground, it can be annoying, like when my phone slides off the car seat onto the floorboard while I’m driving around a sharp curve. Or when my towel falls off the elliptical machine during a workout. Or when, as I mentioned yesterday, I tip my salad bowl and the oily contents fall into my lap. On this planet, gravity is an unbending law and I experience it every day.

In many ways, sin is like gravity.  It’s often annoying.  You get that sense of frustration from Paul.  “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”  No matter how hard he tries, he can’t avoid the impact of sin in his life.  It’s always there ready to pull him down.  Like gravity.

While we are in this world, there is no getting around sin.  It is as much of a law as is gravity.  We live with its effects every day of our lives. Daily it seeks to drag us down and our natural bent is to let it.  This is why for the vast majority sin goes unnoticed.  It is the natural way of things.  Like gravity, you don’t really think about it until it annoys you.

But once you decide to follow Jesus, you realize, like an astronaut blasting into space, what a powerful force you are seeking to evade. Suddenly, you feel the resistance, the pull back to where you came from.  It may take a few days or weeks after your decision, during which you may have that feeling of “weightlessness,” where the burdens of sin seemingly have been lifted off of you, but that won’t last long.  Sooner than later the pull of sin will seek to bring you down.

It can be a very discouraging experience and realization—that sin is not so easily left behind.  As a NASA rocket must be powerful to break the force of gravity to reach orbit, so do we need a powerful force to break away from the grip of sin.  As Paul gratefully acknowledges, that force is God and the means He uses to set us free is Jesus.  Sheer willpower will never do.  Only divine power is strong enough.

Like gravity, sin is a part of this world.  It’s presence is all around us and unavoidable.  While we are not strong enough to resist its pull, there is One who is.  He is our only hope to escape its grip.  Today and every day, when you feel the pull of sin, cry out to Jesus for help.  He will rescue you and keep you from being pulled back down.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Right Treatment

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (II Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV)

We were at a restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida a week ago during our Spring Break.  I was sitting among our students when my grilled shrimp salad arrived.  As the waitress placed it in front of me, I inquired about a student’s salad order that had not been served.  As a motioned in his direction, my hand caught the edge of my salad bowl and launched that beautiful salad right into my lap!  Lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, shrimp, and ranch dressing literally covered me from my chest to my thighs.  I managed to pick off everything and wipe off as much of the dressing as I could, but two huge stains remained—one on my shirt, the other on my shorts. As we left the restaurant, there was no hiding these stains. They were exposed for everyone to see. There was nothing I could do until we returned to the camp where we were staying later in the day.  

That evening I spot-treated the stains and put the shirt and shorts in the washer.  Then, after they were washed and I couldn’t see the stains any longer, I placed them in the dryer.  However, after I removed them, with the clothes dry it was obvious the stains were still there.  The spot treatment had failed and I was certain that the stains now were permanently set.  I told my wife and she assured me she had a way to remove the stains.  So after I returned home Saturday night, she treated the stains with Dawn dishwashing soap and left them overnight. Yesterday morning, I washed them and then left them to dry in the sun. A few hours later I examined them and the stains were completely gone!

Like so many things in life, there is a spiritual lesson in this.  Sometimes we think we can rid ourselves of sin on the cheap.  We’ll say a prayer, try a little harder next time, and think we are good to go.  Or we’ll become so exasperated with our struggles with sin that we lose hope that we can ever overcome it.  Both views misconstrue the power of sin. Like oily stains, sin is stubborn and not easily removed, BUT removal is not impossible.  It just takes the right treatment.  

I thought my oily stains could be removed merely by a spot treatment and a wash.  I underestimated the power of the stains.  But then when I saw the treatment failed, I was ready to give up and declare the clothes ruined.  Our approach to sin is often similar.  

Paul’s words here offer both hope and a warning.  Sin is removable, but it needs the right treatment.  If we try to do it with anything less than the blood of Jesus, we will fail.  And this is what many of us attempt to do. We know we should be living differently, but we try our own treatments—willpower, rationalization, denial, etc.—and fail. Yet, failure to remove our sin doesn’t mean it is permanent and unremovable.  Rather, as Paul indicates, it just needs the right treatment.  Sin can only be removed by Jesus.  Our only effective response to it is to go humbly to Jesus and ask Him to take care of the problem.  

Today, consider your approach to treating sin in your own life.  Are you trying to remove it on your own?  Have you given up trying after so many failures?  There is only one treatment that is truly effective and that is Jesus.  Sin is indeed powerful, but there is One (and only One) who can overcome it.  He is the treatment that will solve your problem.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Is the Lord in It?

(Author's Note: Spring Break is upon us and I will be away next week, so WftW will be as well.  I'll see you back here on March 20th.  Jim)

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2 NIV)

Tomorrow morning I will be leading a group of students and staff to Florida for Spring Break.  I figured out recently that I am nearing 30 such trips in my ministry career.  This psalm that I read yesterday brought one in particular to mind.  It was 1993 and we were in Lydia, Louisiana, a tiny community that had been devastated by Hurricane Andrew the past summer.  Our theme for the trip was the first sentence of the psalm: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”

I remember we spent a lot of our time roofing, doing electrical work, painting, cleaning, and eating some of the best Cajun food I've ever had. And I remember a young seeker being baptized and others growing in their understanding that the Lord has to be central to everything thing we do. 

Most of the many trips I have led have focused on doing some type of work projects, but I have always understood that these efforts have little value unless the Lord is in them, that the students allow Him to work in their lives during these trips.  Why this psalm is so instructive is we often get caught up in the work we are doing and the Lord is pushed to the side.  

The danger of many mission trips is the focus solely becomes on the work we are going off to do. It’s OUR mission; it’s OUR work.  WE are the ones doing everything.  But, as the Psalmist writes, if God is not in it, the work is in vain.  We may have built a house, dug a well, etc., but the question must always be asked: Was the Lord in it or was it just us doing a good work?  

The difference lies in the outcome.  I have seen students participate in Spring Break trips and mission trips overseas who have return unchanged.  They had a great time and perhaps even performed some good work, but they were unchanged by it.  Why?  Because, for them, the Lord was not the focus.  Rather it was the adventure of the trip or the opportunity to do something good.  It was about them.  And when we are the focus, then the work of the Lord is naturally inhibited.  

So as I depart on another Spring Break trip, I leave you with this question: Is the work you say you are doing for the Lord actually for Him?  Is He in it or is it really just for you?  If it is the latter, then realize it is in vain.  If there is to be any eternal value in what we do, the Lord must be in it.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dealing with the Stresses of Life

“Do you not know? 
Have you not heard? 
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)

Life can be overwhelming at times and the constant stress of world events and just day-to-day life can drain us.  A common theme among students most weeks during a semester is how tired and stressed they are.  

Yet, Isaiah 40 offers hope and a way out of this weariness.  We are told of God’s overwhelming power and control.  He created the heavens and the earth.  He is in control of the nations.  He is not oblivious to what is going on in the world, nor too busy to notice what is happening in our own.  

When we are stressed or overwhelmed by life events, there is a sense of loneliness that accompanies it.  It feels as if we are alone to deal with it.  But the message of Isaiah 40 is that we are not.  The Maker of the heavens is right there with us.  And our trust and hope in Him will carry us through whatever we face in life.

Today, if you are weary of life’s stresses, put your hope in the Lord, for He has the power to renew your strength.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Hardest Forgiveness

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’” (Luke 23:32-35 NIV)

Forgiveness is hard, even when the person is repentant.  But what of situations where the person is not repentant, does not acknowledge his wrongdoing?   These are the hardest circumstances in which to forgive, but Jesus left us a model.  Faced with a mob bent on seeing Him die, Jesus appeals to His Father, asking Him to forgive them.  

To receive a gift, one must be willing to accept it, but it can be offered regardless.  Offering the gift reflects the attitude of the heart.  In the case of forgiveness, we offer it because we love (want what’s best for) the person, just as God loves us.  It is up to the person to decide whether or not to receive it.   And by doing so, we are set free from the grip of bitterness and hatred.  

We aren’t told how many standing at the foot of the Cross received God’s gift, but we know it was offered.  That is all we can do, but we must do it if we are walking behind Jesus.  And the offer is not limited by the severity of the offense.  Jesus was being killed when He uttered His plea to the Father.  

Are there individuals in your life who have wronged you in some way and have never acknowledged it?  Offer them the gift of forgiveness, just as the Lord offered it to you long before you acknowledged having wronged Him.  They may choose not to accept it, but there is freedom in making the offer.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Everything You Need

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (II Peter 1:3-4 NIV)

What is it that you think you need?  A romantic relationship?  A great career that earns you a lot of money?  To be popular, or even famous? Or maybe it’s just a new computer or a new car.  We tend to think we need a lot of things.  And through these things we seek satisfaction and contentment.  Yet, Peter tells us that only one thing is ultimately needed—Jesus.  

It is through Him that we will have all that we need, including food, clothing, shelter, relationships, etc.  As He stated in Matthew 6 , He knows our needs and will not neglect them, but the temptation always is to pursue our needs instead of Him.  This is not to say we fail to acknowledge Him.  We may indeed do that, but do we also trust Him to provide for our needs, or do we take control and pursue them instead of Him?

Often the difference between those who call themselves Christians and those who are truly followers of Jesus is the amount of trust they have in the Lord to provide for them.  The former lack trust and so focus on providing for their own needs, while the latter so trust in the Lord that their attention is given fully to Him.

Where are you today?  Do you trust the Lord to provide for whatever needs you have, or are you busy trying to fulfill them on your own? Know that the Lord is trustworthy.  Through Jesus, He has provided everything you need to live life fully.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Source

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” (Psalm 104:27-30 NIV)

It is so easy in our advanced, modern world to believe our existence and our destiny are in our hands.  The extremes of this thinking are seen in opposing views: we are to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, or we are totally dependent on societal forces beyond our control.  The former emphasizes taking personal responsibility; the latter focuses on government and personal charity to meet needs.  

What is often left out of the equation is the Creator and Sustainer of life. A reading of Psalm 104 puts life, and His role in it, back into its proper perspective.  (The psalm is too long to reprint, but you can read it here. The message clearly is we are totally dependent on God for our lives, generally and specifically.  He is the Source of everything. We may think we have earned our way or that our lone help lies with others, but both discount the centrality of the Lord in this life. Everything comes back to Him. 

The challenge for all of us is to find the balance between the extremes. To think we earn our way through our own efforts and abilities discounts the Source for giving us those abilities and the very strength to accomplish anything.  On the other hand, to think we are totally dependent on what society or individual people provide us (e.g., opportunities, love, etc.) again discounts the Source.  One leads to a false sense of independence, and the other to a mistaken belief our fate lies solely in the hands of others.  

Today, know, as the Psalmist declares, the Lord is the Source of everything.  If you are well positioned in this life, recognize the Lord’s hand in it. If you are struggling and life is not going the way in which you envisioned it, don’t blame others for your misfortune.  Rather, cry out to God for help and relief.  He is your Source for all that is good in your life and for the help when it isn’t.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 3, 2017

Pour Over Theology

“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.” (II Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

A pour over coffee is very trendy right now. It’s the same concept, in essence, as the automatic drip coffeemakers that became all the rage in the 1970’s.  One of the differences is the filter. Paper filters are still the most popular, but metal filters, such as the Chemex have also gained traction with baristas and the public alike.  And these are not just plain, conical filters.  There is much science behind their design and, according to their makers, truly affect the quality of the coffee in the cup.  

I was thinking about pour overs the other day when a former student asked me for help with developing some youth group lessons based on suggestions of the youth themselves.  As I was reading over the list, there were some interesting and relevant topics, like same-sex marriage, transgenderism, peace and justice issues divorce, dealing with stress, bullying, etc.  What struck me, however, was the lack of any mention of the Bible. Not that I was surprised, as this was from a church whose denomination focuses primarily on the social issues of our day and little on the authority of the Scriptures to guide one’s viewpoint on these issues.  That is when the illustration of the pour over came to my mind.

Think of the coffee grounds as the social issues of our day.  And think of the coffee in the cup as the end result of how we deal with these issues. What stands between the grounds and the coffee is the filter.  It is there to make sure the grounds don’t get into the coffee.  The grounds themselves are crucial to produce the coffee, but grounds IN the coffee are disgusting and ruin the experience.  I once received a free cup of coffee from Starbucks because my last sip of one of their drinks was full of grounds.  It was terrible and they wanted to make it right.  

Unfortunately, what happens with a lot of churches and individual Christians seeking to address social issues is they do it without a biblical filter.  Rather, the filter is of the cultural variety, which is thin and allows the “grounds” to go directly into the “coffee.” The result is a far inferior product and one, sadly, that is more like one made with no filter at all.  Rather than producing a delicious “drink,” it produces something undrinkable and often hideous.  

As I told my former student, every issue on that list was a good one to discuss, but I encouraged her to use the filter of the Scriptures to address the issues she chose rather than merely the opinions of the day.  Too often the trend is frame discussions on topics around our opinions, what we think is right.  As one student once argued with me, we should just sit around and talk about an issue until there is consensus of wisdom formed based on our own thoughts.  In other words, just let the grounds fall into the coffee!

As Paul says, the Scriptures are to serve as our filter in forming our beliefs and practices on any issue of life.  We cast it aside at our peril. Without this filter, as he points out later in the same letter, we give into the temptation of “hearing what our itching ears want to hear.”

Today, know that to end up with a “delicious” result, one that is pleasing to the palate of the Lord, when you pour over the many issues of the day, you must filter them through His Word.  Anything less will produce a very unpleasant result.

© Jim Musser 2017