Friday, May 12, 2017

A Heart Problem

(Author's Note: As the semester has ended, so, too, my devotional thoughts until the beginning of the next school year on August 22nd.  As you will read below, heart surgery is in my immediate future, so I would appreciate your prayers for that (May 19th) and for my full recovery.  My wife and I know the Lord is with us and so there is no need for worry. Our trust is fully in Him.  If it is His will, I'll see you back here in August. Jim) 

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ 

Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22 NIV) 

I have a heart problem. I have had it since I was born, but I didn’t learn about it until 16 years ago.  It seems my aortic valve was mis-formed and, over my lifetime, slowly became calcified. Although I have never had any symptoms, the cardiovascular surgeon my wife and I saw yesterday indicated my heart was much worse than it appears. An opening that should be approximately the size of a garden hose is closer to the circumference of a pencil.  The danger, he advised, lies in the fact I am asymptomatic and less likely to be cautious in my physical activity.  And he is right.

Since having my knee replaced three years ago, I have been working out three times a week, hiking mountains, and pushing myself because my bad knee had hampered my activities for so long.  I have heard students say they think I am in as good or better shape than they are! But the reality is appearances have been deceiving. In fact, at this moment my health is in a precarious state, but by looking at me and observing me, you would never draw that conclusion.  Only an internal examination revealed the truth.

And so it is with all of us spiritually.  Our tendency is to believe we are fine as we are, but the reality is all of us have a heart problem. This is perfectly exemplified by the rich man who came to Jesus confident of his own righteousness. He was clearly unaware of his true condition. But just as my wife and I consider it God’s grace toward us that my true condition was revealed to us by the surgeon, so it is a loving act for the Lord to reveal our true spiritual condition, if we will only accept it.

Notice the rich man refused and we can only speculate as to his fate, but I don’t think he was the only one who felt sadness.  I think, too, the Lord was sad.  The Great Physician had the skills to heal his heart, but the man refused His help.  I am sure my surgeon would have felt the same way if we had heard his advice and walked away unwilling to follow it.

I think this story reflects each of our stories, whether or not we consider ourselves rich.  Like that man, we have a tendency to ignore our heart problem—our pride, our bent toward evil thoughts and deeds, and our rebellious nature.  We think we are fine.  The truth is, if we are willing and humble enough to listen, our spiritual condition is much more precarious than we think. Only when we are open to our Lord’s deep love for us can we truly be healed.

Today, seek out the Lord and ask Him to tell you the truth about your spiritual health. Is it as good as you think it is, or is there danger lurking beyond what you can now see?  If it is the latter, it is better to know sooner than later and to allow Him to fix the problem.  As with my pending surgery, it may be hard and painful, but it will be far better than the alternative of doing nothing and suffering the consequences.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Unfamiliar Journeys

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.  I have set the LORD always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:5-11 NIV)

When I was a kid, I remember going over to my friend Billy’s house every summer to hear him and his dad tell stories about their vacations. I, however, had a dad who never enjoyed traveling and rarely ever did. Thus, I was always enthralled with their stories, and longed more and more to travel when I grew up.  

Entering adulthood, I did see my dream to travel become reality and I have traveled throughout most of the country and to a number of countries around the world.  But I have been on other journeys just as exciting and fulfilling, perhaps even more so.  These are the journeys I have taken in life—a career, marriage, divorce, re-marriage, the deaths of my parents, and many others.  Life is full of journeys, not all pleasant, but with the Lord they can all be meaningful.  

The academic year is ending and many students are preparing for life after school.  It is a journey that can be viewed as daunting, even frightening.  School has been their life for nearly 20 years.  But like all unfamiliar journeys, the Lord is at our right hand, walking with us every step of the way.  He will guide us and protect us.  Indeed, I can affirm this is true because I have experienced His faithfulness on my many journeys.

Today, whether you are graduating soon or beginning some other unfamiliar journey, know that the Lord has made you secure in Him.  He will guide you and protect you.  He will not abandon you along the way. Your journey, if you trust the Lord, will lead you closer to Him.  

Have a great trip!

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Separations

“When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (Acts 20:36-38 NIV)

Last night was our final campus event of the school year.  I know it will be the last time I see a few of our students. They may stay in touch, but years of experience tell me that life has a way of separating us from others we have known.  I had a lot of friends in college, but I can literally count on one hand the number of them I have seen in the last ten years.  Life moves on and so do we.

Nevertheless, good-byes are hard and that is okay. As believers we know we will eventually be reunited on the other side, but that hope doesn’t soothe every tear. Because we invest in current relationships, it is very natural and understandable that parting ways is sad and difficult. It was for the Ephesian elders who realized they would never see their beloved Paul again this side of heaven, and so it will be for us.  The more we’ve invested, the more it will sting.

Sometimes we are eager to cover up our sadness with spiritual platitudes to ease our suffering or to cover for what we see as weakness, but that inner repulsion in the face of separation is the catalyst for us to long for the Kingdom where there are no more tears or sorrow (Revelation 21:4) It is not the Lord’s desire for us to be comfortable and content with this fallen world, but rather to long for a much better one where sin no longer reigns. Our worldly separations can do that.  

In my life, I have lost my mom and dad and several friends to death. I eagerly anticipate seeing them again.  Why would I want to be content to remain in this life forever?  That is the point.  Heaven holds the promise of a reunion with those we love. It is the separation that creates the longing.

Today, recognize that if you are saying good-bye to friends this week, or have lost someone you love to death, that sadness, and even tears, is understandable.  It is normal and intended.  Let it serve to feed your longing for the day when all separations will end, where sorrow and tears will be no more.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Idols in Our Lives

“With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.

A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple. Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? 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 40:18-31 NIV)

The word “idolatry” has a primitive connotation to our modern minds. Gaudy statues of gold come to mind or wooden figures propped up in some dense jungle village.  It is hard for us to see idolatry in our midst, but it does exist if only our minds can grasp it.

Take a look around today on your way to work or on campus.  Notice how many people have their heads bowed toward a screen, their eyes fixated on the glow that emanates from it, mostly unaware of the people around them.  Think about the stadiums and arenas filled with people cheering, screaming, and jumping up and down, who have made their sacrifices of time and money to be there.  Think about how romantic relationships, of all kinds, are depicted in our culture as the pinnacle of love and the sacrifices people make to pursue and acquire them.

There is plenty of idolatry in our world if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear what people truly value. So the words of the prophet Isaiah are just as relevant to us today as they were to his audience nearly three millennia ago.  The stark choice he offered them was between those things created by man and the Creator.  But he didn’t merely leave them with an either or choice; he explained the futility of pursuing created things over the Creator.  All the idols fashioned by humans cannot replace God and will not provide the ultimate fulfillment its worshippers are seeking.  Can an iPhone truly compare to the Almighty God?  Does a sports team or a performer deserve more adulation than the One who provided them with their abilities?  Can a mere human be an adequate substitute for the One who is the source of all life?

The people in Isaiah’s day had the same problem as we do: our bent is to seek to fulfill our needs with something (or someone) other than God, who created us for Himself.  Everything He has created was given to us for our enjoyment, but not for our worship.  He, and He alone, has the sole claim on our hearts.

And the evidence of the futility of idolatry is all around us.  People are lonely, depressed, anxious, unhappy, discontent, bitter, and unfulfilled. The creators of today’s idols promote them as necessary for our happiness and fulfillment, but look around and listen carefully, and you will recognize the lie beneath the sales pitch.  “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? says the Holy One.”  Indeed.

Today, if you find yourself struggling and unfulfilled, examine your life closely.  Are there idols present in your life, things to which your heart is devoted to more than God?  If so, that is the source of your difficulty and it is time to get rid of them.  They will not give you what you seek from them.  Only the Lord can do that.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Being Tested

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 NIV)

For college students across the nation, exam time is starting or will soon begin.  The only excitement this brings is it portends the end of the semester.  Otherwise, it is something they endure.  It is just a necessary part of the college experience.  

Exams are ideally a way to judge a student’s grasp of the subject.  It’s one thing to show up for class, but has the student learned the material?  A professor can only know that through a test.  

Much to the chagrin of students, I am sure, tests don’t end with their college careers.  While formal tests aren’t necessarily given, when a graduate takes a job, her ability to do the job well is the test.  Rather than getting grades, you get paid for doing the job—for passing the test.  
All through the Scriptures there are references to God’s people being tested.  The Israelites were tested in the desert, as was Jesus.  Job was tested.  Peter was tested. Paul writes of being tested and testing those with whom he was working.  The goal of these tests was the same: to discover the veracity of people’s faith.  Were they truly followers of God?  Was their any depth to their convictions or were they just “fair weather” believers?  

Just as professors give exams to reveal the depth of knowledge of their students, God tests us to reveal the depth of our faith.  Is it real?  If it is real, how deep and resilient is it?  

Tests can be humbling and they can also be exhilarating, depending on what they reveal.  Jesus, Job, and Paul passed their tests and were strengthened by them.  Peter was humbled by his failure.  Yet, his humiliation later led to his redemption.

Throughout your life, know that God will test you.  He wants to see, and for you to see, the genuineness and depth of your faith.  You may not enjoy them, but they are a necessary part of your spiritual development and an opportunity to see you much you have grown.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Huge, Sturdy Rock

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.  I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:1-4 NIV).

For a person swept away by the current of raging river, a large rock sticking out above the water can be a lifesaving refuge.  Sometimes life feels like a raging river and we are caught in its fury.  In desperation, we grab for anything we think might save us.  But like the person in the river will find, not everything we grab hold of is strong enough, solid enough, or high enough to provide us refuge.  

In the river we call life, there are many calm places where things seem just about perfect.  There are others that are a bit rough, but manageable.  Then there are the places that seem impossible to pass. They are scary and if we had a choice, we would avoid them. We would head back upstream to calmer waters. But the current carries us into them and it becomes a quest of survival.   

In the midst of the roaring, churning waters, there is a huge, sturdy Rock sticking up out of the water.  And the current carries us right past it.  All we have to do is grab hold of it. Once we do, it is an easy climb to dry ground. 

It sounds easy, but it is not.  Many people drown in rivers because they panic.  They are so scared they miss the opportunity to be saved.   In life we can be so overwhelmed by our circumstances, so panicked, that we miss the help God can provide.  We fail to grab hold of the Rock that is higher than us.

Today know that whatever circumstances you encounter in life, God is there like a huge rock in the midst of the churning waters.  Don’t panic. Grab hold of Him and you will be safe.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, May 4, 2017

When Life Gets Difficult

“But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” (Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV)

The procedure about which I wrote two days ago gave us the news we really didn’t want to hear, but knew, without Divine intervention, we would have to face.  Thus, my wife and I now are embarking on an unfamiliar, and somewhat risky, journey.  The temptation, and we both have felt it already, is to be overwhelmed with fear of the unknown. So this passage has come in handy when the temptation rears its ugly head.

The prophet Isaiah had been proclaiming God’s judgment on His people. The outlook was grim—exile, death, and destruction.  It was the darkest of visions to take in and the people were greatly afraid. But with the forbidding prophecies came also hope for those who would yet place their full trust in the Lord.  His judgment was due to Israel’s and Judah’s (the Northern and Southern kingdoms) rejection of Him and their turning to idols and to other nations for worship and help.  But to those who would still repent and turn back to the Lord, He gave this promise and hope.  

As with most of the Scriptures, while written specifically for one audience, its application extends to all. So, too, this promise of the Lord is just as applicable to us today as it was so many millennia ago.  

He has created each of us.  He has given us the opportunity for redemption through Jesus. He has called us each by our names and we belong to Him.  And when we walk through troubled waters or the fire of persecution or suffering, He will be there to protect us and to guide us. For He is God, our Lord and Savior!

As my wife and I begin this journey that seems fraught with challenges, it is this hope to which we cling.  It won’t be easy, but we will not be alone or on our own.  

Today, what struggles are on the horizon for you? What is causing you to be anxious and afraid?  Whatever it may be, know the Lord your God is with you and will protect you.  Nothing will be able to overwhelm you if you trust in Him, no matter how difficult the journey ahead.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wasting Time in the Weeds

“I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.  I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:30-34 NIV)

“It’s so easy to waste time in the weeds,” a former member of my ministry board used to say.  It would drive him crazy when meetings would go off the topic at hand into peripheral matters that had little or no connection to what we were discussing.  He was a great manager of his time and didn’t want to waste it.  

You don’t have to look far in our culture to find people spending a lot of time in the weeds.  I admit I find myself there more than I would like. Playing games online or on the phone, Facebook, television and movies, frivolous conversations with friends.  Vast amounts of time invested with little gain in return.  

I often challenge students to make the most of their college years. Instead of focusing solely on their academics or just hanging out with friends and having a good time, I encourage them to invest their time in growing spiritually and pouring what they are learning into the lives of other students.  I don’t want them to look back years later and realize they spent much of their college career wasting time in the weeds.  

The writer in Proverbs is talking about people applying their energies, their time, to things that are important rather than wasting it selfishly.  In the case of the sluggard, it was through laziness, but one who wastes time isn’t necessarily lazy.  I have seen people put a lot of time and energy into frivolous activity.  It is the focus of their energies that is the problem.  

We have one life to live and our time is limited.  Today, consider how much of it you are spending in the weeds.  It may seem enjoyable there, but what better, more meaningful things could you be doing with your time?

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When Obedience Is Hard

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 

Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:18-23 NIV)

I really don’t care much for hospitals. I visit them on occasion when I have to to see people.  Most often, it’s to the Emergency Room when a student breaks a bone or has concussion symptoms after colliding with someone while playing Ultimate Frisbee. But I’m not a very good patient and so I would rather avoid them if I can.  It’s ironic actually.  I once wanted to be a hospital social worker and served in a hospital for my college internship.  But my interest lay in the fact that my father had such a bad hospital experience, and I thought I could help patients and families facing similar situations.  But I soon learned this was a reaction, not a passion, and I pursued campus ministry instead.

Over the years my lack of affinity for hospitals has not lessened. In fact, I think it has grown.  I would just rather avoid them if I can.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because tomorrow I am having an outpatient procedure that will determine if I need to have further surgery.  To say I am unexcited about the prospect is a gross understatement. But it is what needs to happen, so I am going along with it, without enthusiasm or passion.  

There is a lot of emphasis in our culture on finding your passion, and doing things you’re passionate about.  That is fine to a point, but what about the things one needs to do for which there is little excitement? What about cleaning the house, doing laundry, caring for a colicky baby?  What about doing homework instead of watching a movie, or saying “no” to something that might be enjoyable but is wrong?  What about taking up our cross and following Jesus wherever He leads?

Peter’s first thought is not unlike mine: Why me and not someone else? Why are you calling me to do the hard things when others get off easier?  If we are human, there is no excitement or passion for suffering.  If given the choice, we will avoid it every time.  But obedience is not based on passion or excitement, but rather on submission of our wills to the Lord.  And, as Peter discovered and as will we, there are going to be times when following Jesus is going to be very hard and the only thing that will keep us following upon His heels is our submission and sheer will to be obey Him.  There will be no passion to drive us other than our love for Him.  There will be no excitement to entice us.  

It is a dangerous and false notion that everything we do in life should flow from our passions.  Like my visit to the hospital tomorrow, some things are just necessary regardless if we are excited or not to do them.  
Today, recognize the path upon which Jesus leads you will not always be an easy or enjoyable one.  There will be many difficult times and, like Peter, you will find yourself wondering why you must go where He is leading.  In those times, remember He knows what He is doing and where He is taking you.  It may not be what you want, but it will be exactly what you need, if only you will submit and obey.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Stopping To Ask for Help

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10 NIV)

One time I was sitting at a stoplight along a road construction site when a car came from the other direction, slowing down as if the driver was going to ask me a question.  Looking directly at me, I heard him say to his passenger, “I don’t think he can help us.”  Then he drove on.  I don’t know what question he had but, obviously, he decided I wouldn’t know the answer.  On what basis he drew that conclusion I have no idea.  

Isn’t that how we sometimes think of God?  Not that He is unable to help us, but for whatever reason, we are convinced He won’t.  So we don’t ask.  Perhaps we think God only deals with the BIG questions of life, so when we have a small one, we think, “He won’t help me,” so we don’t stop to ask. Or maybe we think He is too busy for “little ol’ me,” so we avoid bothering Him.  

Yet, this is not the God portrayed in the Scriptures.  Little children, who we know always are full of questions, were welcomed to gather around Him (Matthew 19:14).  We are encouraged to approach God’s throne of grace in our time of need and no mention is made of the type or size of the need (Hebrews 4:16).  And we are told to ask Him for help.  

The Lord, by all Scriptural accounts, seems very open to questions and requests for help. We just have to believe He will help us regardless of the size of our need.

Today, if you need help, don’t pass by the Lord thinking He won’t help you. He has told you to ask, and He has promised to help you.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

Smelling the Barn

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:12-15 NIV)

Years ago I was on a ranch riding a trail horse.  The lead rider left the group to retrieve a hat that was dropped, leaving my horse and me second in the line of riders.  Suddenly, the lead horse went from a trot to a gallop and I hung on for dear life.  The rider in front was thrown from her horse, cracking a rib, and I was left unsure if I ever wanted to ride a horse again. We later concluded the horse had smelled the barn and, without a leader, just took off.   

As we are winding down the year and getting close to the end of the semester, students are starting to “smell the barn.”  Like a horse on the trail toward home, it is easy to become obsessed with the end of the school year.  

This is the time of the year, after Spring Break, when students start looking ahead to the end of the semester and the beginning of summer. They can smell it and often their focus on the present is distracted.  

As a campus minister, I can see that happening spiritually as well.  It is tempting as a leader to let responsibilities slide and look ahead to different things in the summer.  That is the temptation of life—letting our longing for the future take our focus away from the present.  But the present is where we live and we honor the Lord by our lives in the present.  The future can be a motivation for living in the present, but should never be an excuse for us to abdicate our responsibilities in the here and now.  Paul was looking forward to Eternity, but he continued to strain to get there.

You may be “smelling the barn” right now and are tempted to just coast to the end, but the Lord is reminding you through Paul that between now and then there is much straining yet to be done.  Pressing on to the end is the best way to honor your Lord.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Living Good Lives

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (I Peter 2:12 NIV)

I am often surprised by the reaction of people to what I still intrinsically believe to be normal behavior.  Recently, I stopped at a coffee shop to buy a cup of java and realized, after I was served, that I had no money in my wallet.  The owner was really nice.  Told me not to worry about it, that I could pay him later.  The next day I stopped in to pay him the money and the guy was completely shocked.  He told me I needn’t have done that, but I could tell by his face how much he appreciated, well, honesty.

This is a trait that is normal for me because I follow Jesus, but I realize people, like those in business, don’t always see nor necessarily expect honesty from people, particularly in the case of a couple bucks owed.  

I don’t know the coffee shop owner’s spiritual leanings, but my guess would be he is not a believer.  And, if that is the case, he likely has a rather skewed view of Christians.  One can argue that Christians are “nutcases,” “idiots,” and the like, but when individual Christians live good, upright lives, it gives the person pause.  

In a world full of rudeness, apathy, dishonesty, and the like, normal Christian behavior stands out like a light in the darkness.  It grabs people’s attention.

Today, recognize that how you treat people and handle situations can be a powerful testimony for Jesus.  The world may scoff at Christians in general, but the best way to silence our critics and draw them into a relationship with Jesus is by living good lives.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bubbles

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12 NIV)

In the last several years, we’ve heard a lot about people living in bubbles. It may be a political bubble where one only gets the news from one source, say MSNBC or Fox. It may be a social bubble where the only people you associate with are people just like you, in the same position in life and holding the same values and interests. 

The problem with being in a bubble is we are not aware of much outside of it. Being on campus and attuned to happenings in the Church, there is another bubble in which I see many Christians residing. This is one that isolates them from the reality of spiritual warfare. Although they have many struggles, they ignore or are unaware of the spiritual realities around them.  They are unaware of the presence of the Enemy who, in Peter’s words, is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. They are oblivious to the danger that lurks and so are defenseless, which is obvious at every turn. Struggles with destructive habits, insecurity, anxiousness, worry, fear, and spiritual apathy are all signs of demonic influence.  

When you are in a bubble, the lack of awareness is the problem and the reason for vulnerability to be unduly influenced and led astray.  Paul’s command here starts with dual awareness—the mighty power of God and the scheming of the devil.  But the spiritual bubble so many are in isolates them from the awareness of either and dooms them to a life of spiritually spinning their wheels.  

The truth is so many are spiritually stuck and weak because they are unaware of the constant spiritual attacks upon them and the godly defenses available to counteract them, which is exactly how the Enemy wants it.  If we were truly aware, he would lose his advantage.

Today, consider your life.  Do you struggle with worry, anxiousness, fear, or some destructive habit?  Or do you find yourself spiritually stuck?  If so, then consider that this may be the result of a spiritual attack for which you need spiritual weapons to repel.  The devil is real and his attacks are certain.  It’s time to get out of the bubble, become aware of what is really happening around you, and jump into the battle for your life using the weapons the Lord has made available to you.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Journey of Growth

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-15 NIV)

I recently asked a student to tell me about her spiritual journey.  She responded, “You mean when I was saved?”  Well, not exactly.

So often people frame their spiritual journey in terms of when and how they became a believer in Jesus.  Their journeys have the same beginning and ending points.  For many, being saved is the goal and when that is accomplished, the journey basically ends.

But a journey’s end, by definition, is a long way from its beginning. There is much that happens in between.  For Paul that was a maturing process where we would increasingly move toward being more like Jesus in thought and deed.  The result would be a community of grown-up believers unified and submitted to the Lord.

I have long thought the emphasis on “getting people saved” rather than discipleship within the church is detrimental to the growth and maturity of God’s people, and every day I see its effects.  The student was sincere in her question, but the sad part for me is she had no concept of spiritual growth.  In her mind, it seems, her journey was basically complete as soon as it began.  And she is far from alone.

Churches today are full of people whose spiritual journeys can be summed up by the age at which they first came to know Jesus.  They have been coasting pretty much since and it shows.  But this is so contrary to what the Scriptures teach.  They speak of bearing fruit (John 15), going from drinking milk to solid food (Hebrews 5), and no longer being infants (Ephesians 4).  These are words implying growth.  

Today, if you are a follower of Jesus, realize your journey with Him is to be a journey of continued growth and is to end with you being far more like Him than when you first began.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

By Design

“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.” (Romans 1:18-20 NIV)

My wife and I love going to the Biltmore Estate (Asheville, NC), not because of the grandeur of the massive house, but because of the beauty of the grounds. We visited there last week and were awed by the spring beauty of the azaleas, tulips, dogwoods, among others, that were in full bloom, as well as the light green hue of the mountains as the leaves of the trees emerge from winter dormancy.  

It is at this time of year where these words of Paul particularly resonate with me.  It is as if the Lord is shouting out His glory through the budding trees and blooming flowers, the buzz of the bees and the frolicking of the birds as they build there nests.  Is all of this just the result of billions of years of evolution, the happenstance of the vast accumulation of time?

From the classroom, nature shows, and periodicals, the answer is “yes, it is Nature doing her thing.”  Scientists acknowledge the intricacies and the complexity of nature, but most conclude it evolved over eons of time and, as a result, cast doubt on any idea of a Creator who is behind it all.  

But the truth, as my mom used to say, is as plain to see as the nose on your face. In other words, it’s just common sense that what we see and experience in nature couldn’t have just happened.  Nature continually shouts out the glory of her Creator!  The intricacy, the beauty, the sheer variety of all we see screams, “I am the creation of the Creator!”  To say it just happened is at best nonsensical. Would one look at a Rembrandt or a da Vinci and conclude it just happened to come into existence over billions of years of time?  Of course not.  The evidence overwhelmingly points to a creator behind such works of art.  

How much more so our world and the universe?  Could it truly be the forces of evolution that placed the earth the exact distance necessary from the sun so as to perfectly sustain life—not too hot, not too cold? Or that the earth’s atmosphere just happens to be perfectly suited for the body of human beings?  Or that the body parts of created things just happen to function so well together and with purpose?  If you ask me, believing that we and everything in nature are just the result of billions of years of evolutionary forces requires a greater leap of faith than merely accepting what the Scriptures tell us and what can clearly be seen every day when we walk out the door.

Today, take some time to meditate on these words of Paul while observing all that is around you.  Much of the world may be committed to the evolutionary view of things, but the evidence you will see is overwhelmingly in favor of a Creator that is behind it all.  And that was by design. 

© Jim Musser 2017

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