Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Peace and Joy

(Author's Note: I will be on an extended holiday beginning today. WftW will return next year on January 16th.  Until then, may you have a blessed Christmas season and a wonderful beginning to the New Year! Jim)

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:8-14 NIV)

I was walking out of Wal-Mart yesterday and a car was waiting for me to cross. Suddenly, a woman swerved around the car and turned right in front of me and sped to the next aisle where she saw an open parking space. If I had not been paying attention, she would have hit me.

Often, the holiday season brings out the worst in people. I talked with a friend the other day and he noted that few people seemed very happy in the store where he was shopping. They feel the stress of so many things needing to be accomplished—getting that perfect gift, having the right decorations and putting them up, planning parties and dinners, and the list of things to do goes on and on. Students are soon to be heading home for the holidays and many of them are stressed because of the situations they will encounter when they arrive. 

At a time when we are supposed to commemorate the arrival of good news—the birth of the Prince of Peace—and be filled with great joy, most of the time, despite portrayals of cheesy Christmas movies and commercials this time of year, there often seems to be little of either peace or joy.

Perhaps we have allowed our culture to shape and skew our view of what the Christmas celebration is supposed to be. Instead of the sentimentality in which it has increasingly been wrapped—of being with a loving family, the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning, a wonderful meal, and snow falling throughout—suppose we were to focus instead on why the Church has celebrated the birth of Jesus for centuries? Would it make a difference to focus on the fact that we each are sinners in need of a Savior and we could have no hope without His coming? Would we experience Christmas differently if we recognized that, while the Magi brought gifts, it was in the context of worshiping the King of Kings? The focus was solely on Him. Would it make a difference if we understood “peace” and “joy” not as feelings we have when everything goes right, but as the feelings we can have even at times when life is very difficult and far from what we would prefer it to be?

The coming of peace and joy, which the heavenly host announced, was not about our life circumstances suddenly improving, but in giving us hope in the midst of unfavorable, and sometimes dire, circumstances. The 1st Century was not a time of wonderful situations and happy times. Nor has any century since been such. Life in a fallen world has always been hard and will continue to be until the newborn King returns to make it right again.

Today, and throughout this Christmas season, remember the joy and peace promised on that first Christmas was not based on the shepherds’ circumstances changing for the better. Rather, it meant they now could have peace and joy in the midst of their hard and challenging lives.  That has not changed in more than 2000 years. So this Christmas season, let the knowledge of the Lord’s deep love for you, His mercy, and saving grace be your focus. Then all the stresses that seem to come with this time of year can be put into their proper perspective and, in turn, lessen their effects.  

May we all experience peace and joy this Christmas season as we celebrate the truly Good News of Jesus’ birth and focus on what it means for us. Peace and joy to you.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Reason He was Born

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.  He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.  He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:14-21 NIV)

Sometimes at this time of year, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is easy to get caught up in the baby Jesus and to forget the purpose for which He was born.  Porcelain nativities and live ones focus on the baby, and as any new parents realize, a newborn attracts all the attention in the room.  Yet Jesus was born for much greater things than just the oohs and ahhs of His birth.  In fact, early followers of Jesus didn’t even celebrate His birth.  It wasn’t until much later in church history that a tradition began to evolve into what we now know as Christmas.  They focused rather on the reason He was born.  

Jesus states that reason by quoting from Isaiah 61.  He came to proclaim good news to people who experience very little of it in their lives. He came to set free people who are in bondage or under oppression. He came to restore sight to those who cannot see clearly. He came to proclaim that the world is entering a time of much grace and mercy from God.  And as He left this planet, He entrusted this message to us. (Matthew 28:18-20)

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Jesus, but it misses the point if we get caught up in that celebration and forget to proclaim the message He came to deliver.  Today, do you know anyone who needs to hear some good news?  Are there people in your life that are held captive or blinded by worldly desires?  Do you know someone who is under oppression either internally or externally?  If so, they need to know God’s grace and mercy are available to them, that He is for them and not against them.  Indeed, He has come to set them free.  This is the message you have and what better time to share it than during the time we celebrate the birth of the One who first brought it?  

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wonderfully Made and Deeply Loved

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you
 when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; 
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16 NIV)

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

We tend to view people’s handiwork as a whole.  We may admire it, but we don’t give much thought to the detailed work that went into it.  Most of us look at a painting, but don’t pay close attention to the particular brush strokes.  Or in touring a new house, we respond to the overall feel of it rather than, say, what went into laying those hardwood floors.  

But what you create yourself is a whole different matter.  You know every detail that went into it.  My wife and I are proud of the way our house has been transformed over the past three years we have lived in it.  And when people come over, they usually express appreciation for how it looks. But they have no idea of the work that was involved to make look like it does. That is the difference between being the creator and being an admirer.  The creator is fully invested in every aspect of the creation.  He is always going to have a greater appreciation for his work than someone who is merely admiring it.  

David beautifully describes God’s creation of a baby inside a mother’s womb.  And it reveals clearly His investment in His creation.  He knows every detail.  And from David’s description, we can almost hear God say, “It is good.”  The Creator appreciates His own work.  

This Christmas season we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. He came to make His home among us—evidence of His appreciation for that which He created. We were in trouble and He came to save us. We were in darkness and He came to lead us back to the Light.  He came because each of us is His handiwork and His appreciation of us is great.

Today, and every day, remember He came and made His home among us because we are each His creation, wonderfully made and deeply loved.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017


“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.” (James 4:7-8 NIV)

Getting down on one knee to propose marriage is a long practiced tradition for men in our culture, perhaps because the symbolism is so powerful.  Taking to one knee is an act of humility and submission.  In ancient times, a vanquished foe took to a knee to indicate his willingness to accept defeat, and subjects often went onto one knee before their kings, acknowledging their submission to their authority.  

To go onto one knee to propose is an act of humility, an acknowledgement of surrender of one’s self, of one’s bachelor life and all its freedom, for the privilege of joining in a partnership of love and the sacrifices that will come with it.  It is saying I value you so much that I want to relinquish my old life for the sake of a new one with you.

Submitting our lives to the Lord is very similar to a marriage proposal. We come before Him in humility, acknowledging our willingness to surrender the life we have known and lived by our own terms in exchange for the privilege of a relationship with the Heavenly Father. Our love and honor of Him is so great that we are willing to relinquish our old life for a new and very different one.

And this is not done without thought and deliberation of the costs.  Most men don’t just on a whim ask their girlfriends to marry them; they contemplate it first to decide if it is worth it to sacrifice their current way of life for a totally different one.  And love for the woman wins out over love for themselves.  

The same is true when we decide to follow Jesus.  We have to love God more than ourselves.  And when we do, we will find ourselves on one knee asking for that relationship that transcends all others.

Today, know the Lord is more than ready to accept your proposal of a permanent relationship with Him or a renewal of that relationship.  He long ago made His wishes known.  All He is waiting for is you to bend your knee and ask.

© Jim Musser 2017