Thursday, February 22, 2018

Your Calling

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 3:14-4:4 NIV)

Evangelist Billy Graham died yesterday at the age of 99. His last appearance on the national stage was shortly after 9/11 when he spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. at a memorial service for the victims of that dreadful terrorist attack. Among the students I work with, and even the many who have graduated in recent years, they have no memory of Dr. Graham. If they recognized his name, they knew little about him other than he was famous and very old. But like so many elderly people we know, Billy Graham had an extraordinary life, and the Lord used him to impact literally millions of people over his lifetime. 

He became a Christian in his teens and felt the call of the Lord on his life to be an evangelist by the time he was 20. Imagine that. And what can be said about him as we remember his life is that he was faithful to the calling he received and lived a life worthy of it. Was he perfect? Did he do everything right along the way? Of course not, and he freely admitted that. But what he did do was live out faithfully the call the Lord had given him and to trust Him. Growing up on a farm just outside Charlotte, NC, Graham could have never comprehended what his life would become. He just followed Jesus and proclaimed what he deeply believed and felt—that the Lord’s love for us is much greater and grander than we can fathom.

My life intersected with Dr. Graham’s life on a wintery night when I was 20 years old, at a missions conference attended by 18,000 college students. As he spoke about God’s call on our lives to surrender to Him and follow Him wherever He leads us, I listened with much unease. I had given my life to Jesus just a little over a year before that and I was terrified that God would send me overseas somewhere to live as a missionary. I was more than content staying in the good ol’ US of A. In fact, I had an iron-fisted grip on that idea. Until Graham challenged us to surrender our lives to the Lord’s will, whatever that might be, to trust Him not just with a portion of our lives, but all of it. That night, I surrendered my will with much fear and trembling for what might be looming ahead for me.

Some 40+ years later, as I reflect on both Mr. Graham’s life and my own, I see the hand of God; I see His love; and I see His incredible power to use people in ways that are truly unimaginable. Life trusting the Lord always turns out much different and better than if we shrink back in distrust and choose to live life on our terms. 

The sad thing is we will never know what we have missed by going our own way until our life is over. This is why I think Paul urges (pleads) that we live a life worthy of the calling we have received so we can know just how great the Lord is in loving us and transforming us. That terrified young man of the mid-70’s became one who has eagerly traveled to much of the world to help college students grasp the Lord’s love for all who live on this planet and how they can play a role in His mission to tell them, just as Billy Graham went from a farm boy to a global evangelist.

Today, what do you sense God’s calling is on your life? Are you shrinking back from it out of fear? Are you instead planning your life the way you want it to be? Then just as Dr. Graham challenged me and thousands of others decades ago, let me challenge you, plead with you, to trust the Lord and embrace His call to follow Him no matter where He leads. It may be terrifying, but you cannot even imagine the great things He has in store if you surrender all of your life to Him. This is the legacy of Billy Graham’s life. I hope it is the legacy I leave. And I hope it will be your legacy as well.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Great Deal

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
 their righteousness endures forever.’  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (II Corinthians 9:6-11 NIV)

Suppose I offered you $100 cash and asked only that in the next week you return to me ten dollars.  You keep 90% and give me back 10%.  I assume you would think that to be a great deal.  That is basically the deal God has offered us.  He gives us everything we have (Click here) and He asks us to give back at least 10% of that.  It is called a tithe, and while Paul says it is not obligatory, it was the baseline for giving in the New Testament Church.

Yet, most of American Christians don’t see it as a good deal for them. Only five percent tithe, and the average is two percent of their income. A lot of people are going reap very little!

There are a number of reasons for these dismal statistics—selfishness, greed, and debt among them—but they all have their root in a lack of trust in God.  We hoard what He has given us because we fear He will fall short in His promises.  If we give our money away, will we have enough?  Will our needs be satisfied?  Will what He provides be better than what we can buy for ourselves?  So we are inclined to tighten our grip on what He has so graciously provided.  And when people like me say what I am saying, we often get defensive and rail at how the church is “always talking about money!”

Yet, think about it.  Is God really asking so much?  He gives us everything and wants only a small portion of it back, and then says if we give Him that, He will give us even more! How is that not a wonderful deal?

Today, recognize how generous the Lord is with you.  Everything you have has come from His hand.  He has every right to demand all of it back, but instead He asks for only a very small portion.  Now that, my friend, is a great deal!

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Sacrifice of Regret

“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’

Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (Hebrews 10:15-18 NIV)

For years I internally berated myself for many of the sinful choices I made in my youth after I had decided to follow Jesus. I had no problem putting the sins of my pre-Christian days behind me, but found it very difficult to do so with those after I acknowledged Him as my Savior and Lord. I had not blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31), nor intentionally went on sinning (Hebrews 6:4-6). No, I just kept on sinning in ways that were appalling to me.

Have you ever felt that way, guilt-ridden, ashamed, and stuck in a vicious cycle of sin and self-condemnation? It is a miserable place to be and, during my early life, I spent much time there. And it is where our enemy desires us to remain. He wants us to be so overwhelmed by our sin that we feel ashamed, guilty, and hopeless. He takes advantage of the sorrow that naturally follows for anyone who has a good conscience. We feel bad, but then what?

Paul identifies two types of sorrow—godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. He says the former brings repentance, salvation, and leaves no regret, while the latter brings about death. (II Corinthians 7:10It is easy to conclude that he is referring to the experience we have when we come to Christ and give our lives over to Him. That’s how I once interpreted it. However, repentance is not a one-off thing; just as we sin repeatedly as believers, so also we are called to repent of these various sins, and then move on without regret. This is only possible if we truly believe and understand what we read in this passage in Hebrews. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice through His death on the cross, nothing more is needed on our part but to humbly accept the grace that is freely offered to us.

Yet, what we often do, just like I once did, is to offer up repeatedly to Him our sacrifice of regret. We are so, so sorry and we tell Him as well as ourselves long after the sin has been confessed, and forgiven. We act in a way that suggests His sacrifice was not enough; that more is needed. So we offer up over and over the sacrifice of regret. It feels right because we feel so bad. This is the worldly sorrow Paul speaks of, and if we remain there, it only leads to a deep emotional and spiritual dark hole that will eventually destroy us. 

Today, if you find yourself feeling ashamed of your sin and in the habit of offering the sacrifices of regret, know they are not necessary or wanted by your Savior and Lord. The sacrifice He made on the cross was sufficient. No other is needed. As John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9 NIV) That is all that is required of you, and if you can do that, then you can move on in freedom and grace without regret.

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dealing with Anxiety

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV)

“Anxiety: 100 %.”  This is what a student posted about a personality test she had recently taken on Facebook. The test divides an individual’s personality into 16 traits, one being anxiety.  I am not surprised, because university counseling centers across our nation are overflowing with students whose presenting problem is anxiety. But with a masters degree in counseling psychology and personal experience, I know these traits are not fixed and can move to a more balanced position, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I also know present-day realities can influence one’s answers on such personality tests. 

For most students, and many adults, life is perpetually overwhelming. They view anxiety as normative for them and unavoidable. I interact with a lot of them on a regular basis. The interesting thing is most of those with whom I associate are believers, or at least claim to be. So the question is, in the face of their persistent anxiety, how do they respond to the commands of Scripture, such as those the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Church? Do they take into consideration, from a human perspective, that Paul is writing as one who five times received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one; three times was beaten with rods; once was pelted with stones; three times was shipwrecked; spent a night and a day in the open sea and was constantly on the move; was in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from his fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers; labored and toiled and  often went without sleep; knew hunger and thirst and went often without food; had been cold and naked; and faced daily the pressure of his concern for all the churches? (II Corinthians 11:24-28)

If in the midst of his life circumstances, Paul can say, “do not be anxious about anything,” then shouldn’t that give each of us pause when we want to excuse our anxiety because of what life is currently throwing at us? Should any of us accept that anxiety for the follower of Jesus is normal, or worse, an integral part of our personality?

There is no doubt that all of us are prone to anxiety; thus, the reason for Paul’s command. It is a trait of fallen humanity, but it is far from unchangeable. Following Jesus is a walk of obedience, and the more we are obedient, the easier it becomes. As Paul says elsewhere, we walk by faith, not by sight. In other words, regardless of what we think or feel, we obey. Thus, when we feel anxious, which we will, then we recognize the command of Scripture and obey. We put our anxiousness aside and go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him, pleading with Him to give us strength to cope and thanking Him for how He has blessed us in our lives. And we do it daily or even more often. We do it alone and we do it together with our fellow brothers and sisters. This was Paul’s way of dealing with the overwhelming circumstances in his life. It should be ours as well.

Today, if you are overwhelmed and anxious, instead of accepting it as normative, remember Paul’s life and heed his words. Take your anxiety to the Lord. Then you can have peace in whatever overwhelming circumstances in which you find yourself.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

Unity and the World

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)

Earlier this week, I spent time in Nashville, TN with a small group of campus ministers from two branches of a unity movement that began in the mid-18th Century and, as typically happens with these things, split up over several doctrinal issues. I won’t bore you with the history, only to say that this gathering was an attempt to begin dismantling a wall that was created by our ancestors over issues that no longer seem relevant or important to people many generations removed.

It was a great time to meet people passionate about Jesus and helping college students find their joy and purpose in Him. What the others and I discovered is we similarly believe and are committed to the fact Christians belong to the same body and Spirit. While there may be differences in practices and even some doctrine, our hearts and minds are together on the main thing—Jesus is Lord and the Bible is His Word for all generations. Thus, brothers and sisters, even if they are from other branches of the faith, have the same Lord and are family.

As we memorized and studied this passage together, I was convicted by Paul’s command to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” I confess I have not done this. On my campus, I have no animosity toward any of my fellow believers, but I have made little effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. I have not sought them out to pray with them or find ways to have the students in our ministry work with theirs to create more of a sense of unity.

What I realized is I have given way to life’s general busyness. I have thought about it many times, and years earlier had participated in some “unity events” that left me discouraged because, while we may have been occupying the same geographical space, students sat and talked with their own groups. I suppose I have made efforts, but the “every” has been lacking.

So you’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with me?” Well, prepare yourself because I’m about to tell you. This passage, I believe, applies not only to various groups of Christians, but to individual relationships as well. Think for a minute, are there any relationships in your life that are broken? Can you honestly say that you have made every effort to repair them?

Relationships between believers are very important because Jesus says this is how the world will know what to believe about Him (John 17:23). In our current political environment, it should be obvious that strong impressions are being formed by how believers across the political spectrum relate to one another. Acrimony, expressions of disgust, and hateful social media posts leave the world shaking its collective head at people whose Lord says people will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).

It is impossible to change everyone’s perceptions of Christians or Jesus, but if we dedicate ourselves to making every effort to be united with those believers within our circles of interaction, we will be doing our part to making the Lord’s love known because we are living it out. However, it will not be easy because it may require us to humble ourselves, which we are often loathe to do. Yet, we must push through any hindrance to fulfilling the Lord’s command.

Today, consider the steps you can take to be reunited in the Spirit with a brother or sister in Christ. Then make every effort to do so. It may not be easy, but following the Lord usually never is.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Training Wheels

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  By no means! (Romans 6:11-15 NIV)

I remember as a kid learning how to ride a bicycle.  My dad bought me a bike and put training wheels on it.  It gave me the freedom to learn how to pedal and balance at the same time, while not having to fear I would fall.  But even though, like every kid, I was more comfortable with them, I was under no illusion that the training wheels were there forever. They were there to train me to become a competent rider.  I knew one day they would be coming off.

The grace of God is a little like the training wheels we have on our first bikes as kids.  While God’s grace will never be removed (we will always need it in this fallen world), it is there to train us how to live righteous lives, to learn without the fear of condemnation hanging over us. However, it is not an excuse to continue to live as we once did before we came to know Jesus and decided to follow Him.  

Too often we get comfortable with the grace of God, with its protection. Like a kid on a bike with training wheels, we can grow so comfortable with being protected that we fail to learn how to live righteously.  We can continue to think and act much the same as we did before we became Jesus-followers.  

Paul tells us that grace is meant to teach us how to live righteously.  It is not meant to be a means by which we continue to ingratiate ourselves in sin.  Grace is given to those who desire to please God but have yet to master righteousness.  It allows us to learn and to grow.  Yet, we cheapen it if we view it only as a means to be saved but to live however we want.  

Today, meditate on how you are using the grace of God.  Is it training you in how to live righteously or is it merely keeping you comfortable in your sin?  

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Unconditional Call of Jesus

“And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’  Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’” (Luke 9:22-24 NIV)

I hear it quite often from students who desire to go overseas on mission trips to countries where circumstances appear to be dangerous.  Their parents and other family members don’t want them to go.  I remember years ago a father sitting down with me to talk about an upcoming trip to Haiti in which his daughter wanted to participate.  I explained to him that I had taken students many times, and while I couldn’t guarantee his daughter’s safety, that the organization with which we worked took great care to avoid danger.  He still said no because a friend of his who worked for the State Department advised he shouldn’t let her go.

A few years ago, as we were putting together a team to go to South Africa, a dad called me about his daughter’s desire to go with us.  She was his “little girl” and he did not want her to be in any danger.  He was looking for assurances that I would ensure her safety.  

And recently I spoke with a student who is planning to go to a region of the world where human trafficking is rampant to help lay the groundwork for a ministry there.  The parents are resisting because they fear for her safety.

Many Christian parents want their children to follow Jesus, but they want conditions attached.  They want them safe, close to home, and earning a secure income.  In other words, they don’t want them to become missionaries.  But following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow on His terms, not our own.  And one of those terms is the willingness to lay down our lives.  Let us remember the cross was an instrument of execution in the days of the Roman Empire.  And the history of the Church is one of persecution and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel.   

We in America have grown so accustom to our freedom of religious expression that we think it abnormal to be at risk for our faith.  But throughout history and still in many parts of the world today, that is the norm.  And from what Jesus says, we should embrace it rather than doing all we can to avoid it.

Today, consider what conditions you place on following Jesus or those upon your children who follow Him.  Remember, following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow where He leads, even if it leads us into danger or the possibility of death.  For to gain eternal life, we must be willing to lose the one we enjoy here on earth.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Impossibility of Controlling Our Tongue

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:1-12 NIV)

I have experienced the truth of this passage before when I’ve said something to someone that I shouldn’t have said.  I know it as soon as the words come out of my mouth, but by then it’s too late.  The words have already landed and I’m full of regret. 

James says it is impossible to control the tongue—for anyone.  Now reading that in the Bible is a little odd because it seems so hopeless. Nobody can control his tongue?  Really?  Gee, James, thanks for letting me know!  I guess that means we should just stop trying.  Well, not really.

I think James is setting us up for his point in the next chapter about the need to humble ourselves before God.  We humans are bent toward thinking we can do things on our own and that is why we fail so often. By emphasizing our inability to control our tongues, James is taking us out of the equation.  Our only hope is to rely on God and that takes humility, often via the path of desperation.  We come to the end of ourselves and realize how much we need God.  With regard to controlling our tongues, James leaves no doubt our own strivings are useless.  We cannot do it.  That has been made very evident to me many times over my life.  

With that understanding, our only hope then is the Lord, and when we turn to Him, acknowledging our need for His help, He will lift us up. (James 4:10)  That is true with all of our struggles in life, but especially so with controlling our tongues.  We just can’t do it without the help of the Lord.

Today, realize it is impossible to control everything you say.  This is not meant to discourage you so much as to help you see the truth.  You need the Lord’s help, and if you don’t realize that, you soon will, just like I have.  

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Great Power of the Lion

“Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:19-20 NIV)

The lion and hyena have waged a battle on the plains of the African continent for millennia.  Both are super predators who share the same battlefield.  As I and students learned a few years ago at our ministry’s Fall Retreat from a former safari ranger, this battle has many spiritual applications.  

Lions are superior to the hyenas in every way, but they get into trouble when they are isolated from their pride.  Hyenas are relentless in their pursuit of prey and they often use overwhelming numbers to gain the advantage.  However, they will never take on a fully mature male lion regardless of their advantage in numbers.  He is just too strong and they are too fearful to engage him.  

As followers of Jesus, we can learn valuable lessons from this ancient battle.  One is never isolate yourself from other believers.  Instead, surround yourself with people of faith who will encourage you and hold you accountable to living a life pleasing to the Lord.  Second, when you are in trouble, call out to the Lord, the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5) for help and He will come to your rescue (II Timothy 4:18).  For, like the hyenas against the male lion, the devil is no match for our great God. For a great visual of this, go to the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pda4zULB3EA

It can often seem overwhelming, this battle we face to stay on the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).  We face a relentless enemy and are constantly bombarded with temptations to take the wider, easier path. It may seem we are powerless to overcome him. But in those moments of weakness, we need to realize we serve a Lord that is so much more powerful than our enemy.  He can rescue us and keep us safe.  And one day, He will crush Satan and put an end to his attacks and all the misery he inflicts.

Today, know the Lion of Judah is there to protect you.  You may feel you are surrounded and harassed, but your tormentors are no match for Him.  Call out and He will come to your rescue.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

Triviality

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 NIV)

Watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night, particularly with several of the players and coaches of the winning team mentioning the Lord in their post-victory comments, reminded me of former Baltimore Ravens’ star, Ray Lewis, who quoted a part of Romans 8:31 (“If God is for us, who can be against us?”) when asked how his team won the Super Bowl back in 2013.  Soon after, people were asking, legitimately, if that meant God was against the 49’ers. Athletes are notorious for giving God credit for victories, but usually are silent about Him in the midst of defeat.  This just adds to the belief that God is easily trivialized by our culture.  

We often become rather cynical when others talk of God providing them a parking space or a great deal at the mall.  The thinking goes that God is too big to become involved in such trivial matters.  Too be honest, I used to be one of them, but reading this passage and just looking closely at creation led me to conclude the Lord is more interested in what we might consider trivial than I once believed.  Literally billions of birds and not one forgotten?  The hairs on my head numbered?  (I wonder if that includes all the ones I have lost over the years!) What could be more trivial than a bird or a hair in the grand scheme of things? Yet, Jesus said they are important to God.  

Jesus states elsewhere that if a human father, though a sinner, knows how to give good gifts, such as bread and fish, to his children, how much more will our Father in heaven give us good gifts to those who ask! (Matthew 7:11)  I remember as a child wanting a lot of things, things I am sure appeared trivial to my parents but were important to me.  Yet they gave many of them to me merely because I asked.  So then, it seems legitimate to think our Father in heaven might give us things that are trivial just because we want them and because He loves us so much. 

In the case of an athletic competition, no doubt both sides want to win badly and, likely, there are players on both teams asking God for victory.  So it gets tricky to say God gave the victory to one team or the other.  But I think even if we think such talk is silly, we need to be cautious in concluding God is too big for such trivial things.  To do so ignores the truth that God indeed takes notice of things we consider very small and insignificant, and is extravagant in the giving of good gifts to His children. In fact, just this week a student shared that when she ran out of toothpaste and had no money to buy more, her mother “just happened” to bring her a tube of her favorite toothpaste when she came to visit!

Today, remember we serve a God who takes delight in not just the grand things, but the small, seemingly insignificant things as well.  So don’t be afraid to ask, even if it seems trivial.  You might not always get what you want, but it won’t be because the Lord refuses to be bothered with such small things.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Why Do You Do What You Do?

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 3:1-6 NIV)

There is a desire for college students to build their résumés with the goal of impressing prospective employers as they near graduation. So they seek internships, research assistant positions, job-related opportunities in their field of study, etc.  In other words, their pursuit is all about themselves and how they will look in the eyes of others.

The problem for Christian students (and, in reality all of us), however, is the temptation to do the same in terms of their relationship with God. Rather than serving the Lord out of love for Him, they are tempted to do things that will draw attention to themselves or for their own gratification. For example, one can be a faithful attender of church with the purpose of impressing God and others of how good and faithful one is. Or being a Bible study leader in order to have a position of influence and will draw admiration.

When living out the Christian life, it is all about why we are doing it. Is it to draw attention to ourselves or is it to draw attention to the Lord and bring Him glory and honor? Only each individual and God can truly answer that question, but it is clear from the Hebrew writer that our sole focus should be on Jesus and honoring Him above ourselves. He is our Creator and Sustainer, and without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). So in whatever we do, He ultimately deserves the credit and this is something we must always keep in the front of our minds, lest our pride overtakes us and we begin to think of ourselves more highly than we should (Romans 12:3).

Today, recognize the life you are building and living is meant to bring glory and honor to the Lord. No matter what your accomplishments are or will be, He is the one ultimately responsible for them and He should receive the credit.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Traction

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:14-17 NIV)

Several years ago, as we awaited for people to arrive for our Super Bowl party on a snowy afternoon, we looked out the window to see our friends’ truck sliding backwards, spinning, and ending up in the ditch. Rushing out to see if they were okay, I slipped and fell on the icy road. Several others coming out to help did the same.  After help was called, I went back to our house and put on my YakTrax.  These wire coils that slip over boots will keep you upright on icy surfaces.  I went back out, walking the same path and did not slip once.  

The Psalmist describes the path leading to Hell as slippery ground. From what Paul says to Timothy, the Scriptures are what will keep us from falling.  Like going out onto an icy road or sidewalk without YakTrax or some other gripping device, we are in danger of falling spiritually without the Word of God in our hearts.  

The road to hell is full of slippery spots—false teaching and temptations—and it is easy to slip and fall.  The Scriptures are what keep our feet gripped to the path.  Paul’s admonition to Timothy is something we should take to heart.  

Today, recognize there are a lot of slippery spots out there.  Hang on to the Word and it will give you the traction you need to keep from falling.  

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Missional Thinking

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (II Corinthians 5:20 NIV)

“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.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

Last week, I met with a graduate student who recently accepted a full-time position with the university. She had been working as a grad assistant when the position came open and her supervisor suggested she formally apply for it. It is rather a remarkable thing for any university department to hire a current grad student to a full-time position while they are still a student. After graduation, yes, but before? Hardly ever. In talking with her, it was clear why this opportunity came to her.

This young woman, from early on in her college career, has been thinking missionally about her life. She has always been an excellent student and worker. And the reason is she sees herself as an ambassador for Jesus. She sees herself representing Him in whatever she does. It is her mission in life. 

Missional thinking is rare among Christians. Yes, they try to live good lives, go to church, and maybe get involved in a small group Bible study or prayer group, but, for most, those are just pieces of their lives among others, such as work, school, and social interaction. For missional Christians, their lives are centered on the mission of being an ambassador, a messenger, representing their King. They look for opportunities wherever they are to either overtly or subtly communicate the message of God’s love and His desire that all people find salvation through Jesus (I Timothy 2:4-6).

I say it is rare because most Christians think this is the pastor’s or missionary’s job, something that is best left to the professionals. Yet, Paul is very clear to the Ephesian church that the responsibility does not lie with them alone; rather, it lies with all of us who choose to follow Jesus. And it makes sense. How many people can a pastor or missionary reach alone? Now consider what the difference would be if a pastor’s congregation of 200 or 15,000, or a missionary’s few converts, were trained to think of themselves as ambassadors of Christ and went out looking for opportunities, large and small, to spread the message of King Jesus. 

I am not talking of thousands of believers heading out to the nearest street corners and preaching the gospel to strangers. I am talking about people, like the grad student I mentioned above, going to their places employment, the grocery store, or the gym with the intent of making the message of Jesus known, whether by asking someone how their day is going, offering a word of encouragement, or actually taking the opportunity when asked of explaining why they are so different in how they live life. And trust me, people will take notice of those who are living out their faith in every day life.

What about you? Are you thinking missionally about your life? Are you looking for opportunities daily to make Jesus known through what you say and how you live? If not, you are missing the point of being a follower of Jesus. He came that all people might be saved. He loved us to the point of death. And He has explicitly given us a mission to take that message to the world in which we live out our daily lives. Today, what can you do to begin fulfilling your mission?

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 5, 2018

Just Like Everyone Else

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26 NIV)

Judging has long been a problem in the church.  Outsiders, those who do not humble themselves before the Lord and acknowledge His authority over their lives, have often been ridiculed and disdained within the walls of church buildings and in the living rooms of believers as they study God’s Word.  The adulterer, the sexually perverted or promiscuous, the liar, the cheat, the drunkard have all been looked down upon from the lofty perch of arrogance and self-righteousness.

All who judge in a way that is condemning (see Luke 18:9-14) forget or fail to recognize their own sinful condition.  Paul says ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Thus, the playing field is level.  There are just as many sinners inside the church as outside.  The only difference is those inside have accepted the grace of God which is given freely to all who have faith in Jesus.  

So the belief that somehow we who are inside the church are better than those on the outside is faulty because our relationship with Jesus is based not on what we do or don’t do, but on the grace of God.  Until we recognize that, we will be prone to the trap of judging.

The reality is we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.  The only true difference between followers of Jesus and everyone else is we have embraced His grace and walk in faith.  They are still left to account for their own sin; we are justified by the righteousness of Jesus.  
Today, recognize you are just like everyone else in the world—a sinner in need of God’s grace.  And understand accepting His grace doesn’t make you better, just forgiven.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 2, 2018

The X Type

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3 NIV)

I remember the first time I took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a well-known and respected personality test, the results indicated I was an extreme introvert. At the time, I had been in campus ministry for a few years. It clarified things on some of the challenges I had faced in my vocation. It also revealed changes that needed to happen for me to be a healthy and balanced person.

Sometimes we are under the illusion our personalities are fixed and unchangeable. We think we can never be a more extroverted person, or more organized, or more reliant on facts rather than feelings when making decisions, or vice-versa. We tend to believe we will always be who we are now. 

The person who introduced me to the MBTI was, at the time, working on her Ph.D. in Psychology and her doctoral thesis was on the personality of Jesus as viewed through the categories of the MBTI. The hypothesis of her work was that Jesus was the perfect combination of personality traits. She dubbed Him the “X Type.”

This makes sense given that the Hebrew writer says Jesus is the “exact representation” of God, who is perfect (Matthew 5:48). If God is perfect and Jesus is an exact representation of Him, then one aspect of His perfection is His personality. And if we are to pursue perfection in our lives, then it is logical that includes our personalities.

What I realized a number of years later as I reflected on those first MBTI results is that my personality was too extreme in a several areas. I was unhealthily introverted, too much in my head, and too rigid in my thinking. And now as I look at who I am, I realize as I have grown in my relationship with the Lord, I am no longer that man. I have taken the MBTI twice more over the years and the results reflect that change. I am still a strong introvert, but not nearly as much as I used to be. I am still more of a thinker than a feeler, but much less so than I was in my 20’s, and my thinking is more flexible. In other words, I have a more balanced personality than I did when I was younger and have moved closer to being perfect. I am obviously still far from it (just ask my wife!), but I have moved closer to being more like Jesus—a perfectly balanced human being.

Today, think about your personality. Are you like so many who think they can never change? If so, know the Lord is in the changing business. Your core personality likely will remain the same, but where you are out of balance, He can help you move toward the middle.  For the closer you get to Jesus, the more you will become like Him.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Notifications

“But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.

If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Psalm 81:11-16 NIV)

It has been known for some time that developers of smartphones and their apps intentionally sought (and continue to seek) ways to make them irresistible to users. One of the early developers said notifications were a key component in their strategy. These, of course, are the things that notify users of a recently received message, a new tweet, comment on a post, etc. So they designed them to immediately attract our attention through a number of ways—sounds like the “ding” or bird chirp, vibration of the phone, a text box appearing on the home screen, or a red circle appearing on the app icon with a number. All intentionally designed to grab our attention. And do they ever!

Most of us have our phones face up and close by. How many of us immediately turn our attention to the screen when some notification comes through? I have been in many one-to-one conversations where people, even as they talk, look away to check a notification. I have done it as well, particularly when I get a text message. There is almost an instinctive pull from our phone notifications, regardless of what is happening right in front of us or around us.

I have been thinking about this for awhile and had to laugh when I came across this Psalm and this sentence: “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” Obviously, the Psalmist had no idea of any tech devices as we experience them today, but I wonder if the Lord, given His Word is timeless, is not saying something here about our own context.

Notice that the people were not listening or willing to hear. They were too into their own lives and what was important to them. Is it really any different today? This brings me back to the notifications. Are we as in tune with the notifications to us from the Spirit of the Lord as we are to those from our phone? When we have a sense of the Lord saying something, do we immediately turn our attention to it?

If you are unfamiliar with what I mean, here are some examples: Recently, a student told me she felt the Lord wanted her to pray for a newly-arrived international student. As I was praying last week in a small group, the Lord impressed on me to get together with a certain student. And years ago, at a student retreat, I felt the Lord saying to give my Bible to a student. Just as the Lord continued to give notifications to the Israelites, hoping they would listen, I am convinced He continues to give us notifications as well. The question is, are we willing to give them the same attention as to the ones coming through our devices?

Today, consider how attuned you are to the notifications from the Lord regarding your life. Does it match the attention to those from your phone? If not, then realize, just like the Israelites, you are missing out on the blessings the Lord desires to give you.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lowering the Temperature

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV)

In reading this morning’s news, it’s clear that the President continues to be a lightning rod for political debate, which Christians have often gotten caught up in for many years, and the result has often been division among brothers and sisters. What deepens the divide, seemingly, is the fear of what happens if the “other side” gets its way. Some believe that if “liberals” get their way on issues, the nation, as my mom used to say, will go to hell in a hand basket.  While, on the other hand, there is fear “conservatives” will take us back to the Dark Ages. So stark is the future in people’s minds, they lash out and demonize their opposition.  

In the midst of such rancor, this proverb I hope can be a healing balm. It is easy to get carried along by the issues of the day, to get lost in the heated battle for right and wrong, to think it is dependent solely on us to shape the future.  And, thus, easy to lose perspective (and temper!).  

Yet, everything is not dependent on our efforts towards change.  There are many agendas, but only one ultimate plan.  Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you can rest in knowing God’s purpose will prevail.  While we can be passionate on issues of the day (gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, limited government, etc.), there should be comfort in knowing that God is ultimately in control and His will cannot be thwarted, thereby lowering the “temperature” of our arguments.  

Today, regardless of how strongly you feel about certain issues, remember God is in control and His purpose will prevail.  You can take a breath and calmly face the future.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Beauty of Creation at Every Level

“ 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 1:20 NIV)

I love looking at and experiencing God’s creation. I have the privilege of living amidst the Appalachian Mountain Range in North Carolina. I have often walked the beaches gazing at the Atlantic Ocean on the other side of the state. I have backpacked in the Rocky Mountains and hiked in the Swiss Alps. And, recently, I spent several days spotting the exotic animals that are synonymous in our minds with Africa 

It is mind-boggling to me how creative and awesome His creation is. And that is on the macro level. This morning, I awoke to several inches of light, fluffy snow on the ground and it brought to mind something I recently saw posted on Facebook—a microscopic look at snowflakes. See here for yourself. It is absolutely amazing!

Gazing upon the vast ocean, standing atop a mountain, or looking up at the nighttime sky is to be awestruck at the creative power and beauty of our Lord. But His creative power is not only demonstrated on the macro level, but on the micro one as well. The pictures of individual snowflakes reveal an unmatched creative Mind that effuses with power and beauty.  Putting most anything under a microscope will reveal the immense attention to detail our Creator has for His work at the tiniest levels. Again, as I have often written, the words of Paul resonate as we observe and study creation close up and from afar.

I cannot understand how there are those in our world who are convinced this is all happenstance, the result of geological and biological processes over billions of years. It is similar to thinking that Michelangelo’s David is the result of eons of wind and erosion! It is, as Paul notes, clear that creation speaks of the Creator through its intricacy of design and overall beauty.

Today, if you have any doubts about the existence of God, then let creation, in all of its intricacy and beauty, allay those doubts. Whether through a telescope, microscope, or through your own eyes, the evidence is there and it is overwhelming. And if you already firmly believe, then take the time to enjoy what He has created for your enjoyment (I Timothy 6:17). 

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Spirit of Fear

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (II Timothy 1:6-12 NIV)

I was on campus the other day talking with some students and the subject turned to going overseas.  One student said he would like to study abroad, but his mom nixed the idea because she was afraid, as an American, he would be in danger.  Another student said the mere mention of a friend going to Mexico caused her grandfather to say, “you won’t be going there.”

Within our culture there is a growing spirit of fear.  Children are often not allowed to play outside because of fear they will be kidnapped.  Going anywhere overseas is deemed dangerous because of the threat of terrorism.  And I heard recently of one college student who was required by her mother to call every night before she went to bed, just so she would know her daughter was safe.  

In my position ministering to college students, I have had to deal with parental fears quite often.  Many times I have talked with parents who are afraid to let their children go on a mission trip.  They want assurance their children will be safe.  I tell them I will do my best, but that I cannot guarantee their safety.  

This kind of hyper-protectiveness emanates from the spirit of fear, but fear is not from the Lord.  Paul tells Timothy the spirit we are given through the Lord is one, not of fear or timidity, but of power.  When called by the Lord, we don’t shrink; instead we grow bold!  And we can do so because of great confidence that the Lord will guard our lives until the day He calls us home.  As Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Today, ask the Lord to give you His Spirit to replace that spirit of fear. For He has promised to guard your life and wants you to live it in a way that is bold and courageous.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

Money, Money, Money

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (I Timothy 6:6-12 NIV)

I had breakfast with a friend this week and part of our conversation revolved around the corruption of governments around the world. It started with my observation of the greed evident in my wife’s home country of South Africa, where we recently visited, where government officials regularly pocket taxpayer money for their own benefit. It moved on to professional sports where athletes typically make more money in one year than most of us make in a lifetime. Of course, the conversation could have gone on for hours discussing our own legislators becoming millionaires after they gain office, company executives making tens of millions each year while those working for them face potential layoffs because their companies are struggling financially, and pastors of mega churches living in mansions.

One does not have to look far to see the wisdom of Paul’s counsel to Timothy regarding money. The world is awash in it and for most, it is a temptation to idolize it, pursue it, worry about it, and covet it. Whether we are rich or poor, or middle class, the focus on money/wealth is inherent to most of us and has always been. We typically worry about not having enough or focus on how we can acquire more. It’s just the way the world is.

This is why Paul’s language is so strong—“flee,” “pursue,” “fight,” and “take hold.” The desire for money is powerful and can have a catastrophic effect on our spiritual lives. We should never underestimate it. Why is it so dangerous, you may ask? The answer, upon which Paul is basing his counsel, can be found in the words of Jesus: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24 NIV)

Like the fictional mad scientist who thinks he can control some source of great power but ends up being controlled by it, so it is with money. Like I saw recently in a social media post, it is easy to think the more money we make, the more good we can do with it. But that pursuit is fraught with danger and we would all be wise to heed the words of Paul and our Lord. 

Today, consider your thinking about money. Do you think about it a lot? Do you want much more of it? Do you think the more you have, the more content and happy you will be? If any of these are true for you, be aware of the potential danger you are in, and take the same action Paul commands Timothy to take: Flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” You can’t start soon enough.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fingers Crossed

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” (I Timothy 4:7 NIV)

Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence, or maybe there is actually a new trend developing. In just over a week, in conversations with several students talking about their future plans, I heard them say, “fingers crossed” to explain their hope for what they wanted would work out. Each time I responded, “That won’t do any good,” to which I received quizzical looks. 

I am sure they thought me picky, and perhaps even judgmental, to make an issue of it. As one said, it’s a common cultural expression, similar to “good luck.” But I try to be mindful of not using that expression, either.  But I admit I have sometimes used it because its use is so pervasive.  You hear it so often that it becomes a part of your own lexicon. 

So I didn’t judge these students, but did want them to think about their choice of expressions. Although crossing fingers seems to have its roots in Christian history, in modern times, it is a superstition that implies this action can help us obtain what we want, and obviously excludes the Lord as the ultimate resource to whom we can go for help.

Again, this may seem picky, but Paul’s instructions to Timothy are clear that we are to avoid any connection with “godless myths and old wives’ tails.” And there is a reason: The prevailing culture, then and now, tends to accept these things as realities, or at the very least, equal in validity to trusting in God. I just recently read there is an uptick in young people who are turning to astrology. Shall we then, in order to be relatable, refer to ourselves as a Taurus or a Libra?

As followers of Jesus, we are to be set apart in the way in which we think and live. We are to be different and it should be obvious to those with whom we interact, but that becomes difficult when we adopt the customs and language of the culture around us in a way that draws attention away or obscures our faith in the Lord. How different it sounds when we replace “fingers crossed” with “I’m praying for the Lord’s will and trusting Him, or “good luck” with “I’ll pray it goes well for you” or merely to say “Blessings.” 

There has long been “cultural creep” in the Church, and this is precisely why Paul instructs Timothy in the way he does. It diminishes its impact on the society around it and to be a change agent for godliness and righteousness. If believers become increasingly similar to the unbelievers around them, what is the point? 

I admit that “fingers crossed” may seem to be a small thing, but I am reminded the Lord does not cede His Glory to anyone or anything (Isaiah 42:8) regardless of how small or large. 

Today, examine in what ways the cultural norms have affected your life. If there are norms that are godless or based in ignorance, then it’s time to rid yourself of them and exchange them with those that are godly. Your purpose is to bring attention to God’s glory, not diminish it.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Unorthodox Praying

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” (I Timothy 2:1-6 NIV)

You need to go no further than Facebook and Twitter to see how people feel about President Trump, Congress, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, the NRA, etc.  Almost all of my “friends” claim to be followers of Jesus, yet there is a great divide among many of them.  They often will post articles that back their views, sometimes denigrate those on the other side, and rarely, if ever, admit they might be wrong.  And I have yet to see anyone post anything like what Paul says to Timothy about the leaders and politicians of his day.

As a culture, we have become very divided and I fear have become like those Paul warned Timothy about who gather around them only those who will say what their itching ears want to hear. (II Timothy 4:3)  And, like them, our hearts may have become hardened towards those with whom we disagree.  Yet, Paul says we should pray for ALL people, make petitions and intercede on behalf of ALL people, and give thanks for ALL people.  And he says to do so is good and pleases the Lord, because He wants ALL people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.  

It is difficult to read this passage and not conclude something is missing from the way most of us relate to those with whom we disagree.  First of all, we need to realize the deep love God has for those on the “other side.”  It is not just limited to those who have similar views to us, nor does it mean to be saved they will have to switch to our side.  As human beings, we must humbly realize we do not have the corner on truth.  Secondly, we need to heed the command to go before the Lord on behalf of those with whom we disagree.  Jesus said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  (Matthew 5:44) Thus, it would seem appropriate to spend more time praying for them than debating with them.

This is indeed is to take an unorthodox swim up the cultural stream and anyone doing so will likely take some hits, but following Jesus is often hard and costly.  However, the question we must ask ourselves is, whom do we want to please most—our friends who think like we do or the Lord who is our Savior and the Truth?

Today, consider the Lord’s love for ALL people, regardless of their political views.  If you want to please Him, then start praying for those with whom you disagree.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stale Air

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20 NIV)

Sometimes you just long for some fresh air. Like when you flying at 37,000 feet for 10 hours on a jet. Exiting the plane to inhale the outside air can be so refreshing. Or when you are on a long drive in a car and the inside air grows stale. What a relief to roll the windows down for a few seconds to replenish the air. Or when you exit a locker room or gym full of the odor of sweaty bodies and damp towels. Walking through the door into an open space and taking a deep breath can be invigorating.  

I was thinking about this while driving several hours this past weekend, coming home from officiating a wedding. There was an acrid smoke through which we drove and I immediately hit the re-circulation button on our heating unit. Yet, that just kept the smell in the car. My wife then opened the windows for a few seconds and it immediately cleared out the old air with fresh. 

Smelly or stale air is unpleasant, but sometimes people tolerate it because they become accustomed to it. While likely appreciating fresh air, their adaptive sense of smell doesn’t give them an urgency to seek it out.  I think the same is true with faith.

Peter was speaking to very religious people who were very accustomed to their religion. Although it was stale and not life-giving, they were used to it and okay with it. Day after day, they lived in this stale atmosphere without much thought about it. Then Jesus came on the scene bringing with Him the freshest of air. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Yet, most were reluctant to step outside of their religion to drink it in. 

The same is true today. So many are enclosed in their religion, sealed tight. It is stale. Fresh air is available, but it requires opening the door and breathing it in. The door is Jesus and walking through it is repentance from sin and surrendering our lives to the Lord. Taking the deep breaths of the fresh air is, as I wrote yesterday, to be transformed by Him who gives true life, and being refreshed and invigorated by His Holy Spirit.

Today, think honestly about your faith. Is it truly alive? Are you refreshed and invigorated by it? Or is it old and stale, sapping you of energy and enthusiasm? If you conclude it is the latter, then know times of refreshing are close by. By opening your life (once again) to Jesus and repenting of your sins, whatever they may be, you can truly experience a life-filled faith that is truly invigorating. You just need to step out and breathe it in.

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Way to Transformation

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’  Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:37-47 NIV)

Have you ever wondered why the church in the modern day so seldom looks like the one we see in Acts?  Why there can be so many churches across our country, yet so little change within or without?  Why most of those in church act basically the same as everyone else except for the space they occupy on a specific day of the week?  I think there is a clue in Luke’s description of the response to Peter’s message to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost.  

He says that, after hearing Peter’s words, they were “cut to the heart.” Upon hearing his appraisal of their involvement in Jesus’ death, they were overwhelmed with the conviction of their guilt.  They had rejected the Christ, their Messiah, and now were feeling the full impact of their betrayal.  They were desperate to find relief and asked Peter for a solution.  “Repent and be baptized,” he replied.  About 3000 did and formed the nucleus of the emerging movement that became known as the New Testament Church.  

What happened next was truly extraordinary and has been the template ever since for what the community of believers should look like.  Yet, it rarely does.  Why?

When was the last time you have seen people “cut to the heart” about their rejection of the Lord in their lives?  There may be some tears and some guilt, but conviction so deep that it leads to real transformation? Rarely.  

Jesus said, referring to Himself, “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces.” (Matthew 21:44)  The 3000 on that day in AD 33 fell on the Rock and were broken.  And it was their willingness to suffer brokenness that led to their transformation.  There can be no spiritual transformation without brokenness.  Yet, today the emphasis is more on embracing the gift of eternal life, as if it came without cost.  Just say a few words and the gift is yours!  

A close examination of the New Testament reveals none of that. Transformation comes not with words of contrition, but with being cut to the heart, falling on the Rock and having our pride and our will broken. It will cost us everything, but will gain us so much more.

Today, know the prerequisite for transformation is brokenness.  You cannot get there from sitting in a comfortable seat on Sundays.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, January 19, 2018

Faithfulness, Not Perfection

“Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.  And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.  A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’

But he denied it. ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said.  A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’  ‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.  About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’

Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’  And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:54-62 NIV)

This was probably the lowest moment of Peter’s life.  After proclaiming his willingness to go to prison and die for Jesus just hours earlier (Luke 22:33), here he was now denying he even knew Him!  It was that moment of brokenness, combined with the forgiveness he later received from Jesus (John 21:15-19), which propelled him onto the path of leading the Church.  But he was still not perfect and that is what makes Peter a great example of what it means to follow Jesus.  

Several years after this, Peter was in Antioch where he encountered some Jewish Christians who believed it wrong to associate with non-Jews.  Although he knew better (Acts 10), Peter joined in with their discrimination.  It was Paul who called him out (Galatians 2:11-21).  We are not told how Peter reacted, but we can assume he likely reacted in a similar way as the night outside the home of the high priest. 

What Peter’s life tells us is we will not be perfect in following Jesus.  We will mess up, perhaps sometimes in very big ways.  Yet, the Lord’s grace and mercy covers us.  I think a lot of us struggle with thinking if we can’t live perfectly, then we have failed and so we give up or we just don’t try as hard.  What Peter’s life reveals is faithfulness, rather than perfection, is what the Lord desires.  David failed big time (II Samuel 11), but he is still known as a man after God’s heart. (Acts 13:22)

Today, recognize you don’t have to be perfect in your following of Jesus. Just like Peter, and David, you are going to mess up.  But like them, you are under the grace and mercy of God. Acknowledging your sin and repenting is all that is needed to get you back on the right path again. They weren’t perfect, but they were faithful. That is what the Lord truly desires in us.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Difficult Class

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (Colossians 1:21-23 NIV)

I was a freshman in college when I walked into my first day of World Literature class. The small classroom was full with about 30 students. The professor was old, probably about my current age, and, from the start, grumpy. He began almost immediately calling out students who were chewing gum, talking to each other, or had failed to yet purchase the required textbooks. He invited them to leave if they couldn’t show more respect. He was no nonsense and rude. He wouldn’t have lasted a semester in today’s environment, as certainly students and parents would have complained so much, he would have been fired.

When I walked into the classroom for the second time, it was almost emptied out. Probably a dozen brave souls and me (I was just too passive to drop the class) filled the seats. I can’t speak on how the others felt, but for me it was one of the most difficult classes I ever took in my college career. The professor lightened up a bit once he had before him a group of what he perceived to be committed students, willing to tolerate whatever he dished out or handed out. But his grading was brutal!

I considered myself a decent writer and had been told so by a number of my high school teachers. But the first several papers I turned in were covered in red ink and given less than average grades. I was shocked! But over the semester, I hung in and worked hard to improve my thinking and writing skills. And one of my most pleasant memories of college is when I received back my final paper with an A- grade and comments that it was a well-written and thought out paper. Because of how demanding this professor was, that grade and those comments meant the world to me because I knew I had earned them and he was not just being nice.

After all of these years, I still consider that class the best I ever had, not because it was all that enjoyable, but because of what I learned about good writing and my capabilities. Unlike my classmates for a day, I persevered and was rewarded in ways I never imagined at the time.

I share this story because I see a very meaningful spiritual truth from it. We live in a time where many who call themselves believers seem to think nothing should be demanded of them once they’ve (publically or privately) confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as their Savior. Many believe there are no demands and few, if any, consequences if they fail to grow and mature in their faith along the way. Like the students who quickly dropped out of the world lit class, they are missing out on what God has desired for them.

Most students want easy classes and good grades, but if they get their wish, they will graduate from college with a degree, but without a true education. Great professors know this. In the same way, the Lord knows perseverance is required if we are to become mature (James 1:4). So His classes on life are often demanding and difficult, not because He is mean and uncaring, but rather because He loves us so much and wants us to experience the great riches of being spiritually mature, just as I believe my professor wanted his students to grow in their academic abilities. He has our best interests in mind.

Today, know being a believer, a student in the Lord’s classroom, will never be easy. The costs and demands are high. They are a designed as a test of our perseverance in order to help us become who He created us to be.  And if we indeed persevere, we will realize just how valuable it all was. But, if we choose just to get by or drop out, we will miss out on all of the benefits of a quality education.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Resolutions

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:18-25 NIV)

At the start of every new year, the commercials begin appearing on television and continue heavily for the next few weeks.  “I lost 40 pounds using. . .” Fill in the blank.  Weight-Watchers, Nutri-System, Jenny Craig, and dozens of other weight-loss companies know that with a new year comes resolutions and one of the most common is to lose weight.  So they flood the airwaves and the Internet with amazing stories of people losing large amounts of weight.  Of course, there are other resolutions people commonly make, like raising the GPA, spending more time with family or friends, getting out of debt, or improving on a personality trait.  

The problem with resolutions, however, is that we most often fail in fulfilling them.  As Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38) A review of long-term diet studies at UCLA revealed that two-thirds of dieters regained more weight than they had originally lost.  We have a lot of good intentions, but as Paul laments, what we don’t want to do, we do, and what we want to do, we fail to do. No wonder so many people are discouraged when they look back on their previous resolutions.  

So, what should we do?  Well, we could just give up and acknowledge our attempts at change are hopeless.  We could just give in to gluttony, to lust, to worry, to whatever keeps dragging us down.  Or we could make the one resolution that will make all the difference—to resolve to give ourselves wholly to the Lord and rely on Him to transform those things in our lives we know need to be changed.  Our flesh is weak, but He is not!

It may seem counterintuitive to stop making resolutions.  Shouldn’t I want to change, you may ask?  Of course, but we must also recognize our inability to transform ourselves in any truly significant way. Transformation is God’s business and He does it like no one else.

Today, if you truly want to change some things in your life, resolve to rely on the Lord to make the changes.  This will be the most successful resolution you ever make.     

© Jim Musser 2018