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


“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 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