Thursday, April 19, 2018

Living Life in the Shadowlands

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19 NIV)

This is the time of year when most students are stressed, with the semester nearing its end and papers, exams, and projects looming. For those about to complete their degrees, it is also a time of hope. After nearly a decade and a half of school, they are on the cusp of moving fully into adult life, which will include, they hope, a significant income and a certain amount of prestige and fulfillment in their careers of choice.

In a recent discussion with a student with whom I am studying I Timothy, we talked about this passage and how easy it is for people to frame life solely in terms of a career and making money. I have known many students over the years who have gone on to successful careers and made lots of money, but have done little in terms of laying up treasures for themselves for what Paul refers as “the coming age,” aside from going to church. Their focus, instead, is to make the most of their newfound careers and earning capabilities—for themselves. 

Of course, this is what they have been taught all their lives. Careers are to benefit just our families and us. We make money so we can buy things, fulfill our desires, whatever they may be, and to be financially secure. Granted, there are those who use their careers and the money they make from them to benefit others and bring glory to the Lord, but the norm is to seek to benefit in this life rather than sacrifice in order to benefit more in the next.

Paul makes an interesting statement: “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”  Notice the last phrase. We tend to think of this life as the one that is real, but the truth is it is the one that follows that is true life. C.S. Lewis referred to this life as “the shadowlands.” A shadow has a certain reality to it, but it is not the real thing, and that was his point, and I believe it is Paul’s as well.  We will find real life in the coming age—in heaven—rather than here. 

But since this life is the only one we know, we tend to think it is the real one and we invest all of our time, energy, and resources in it. But as Paul warns, it is a colossal mistake and to be avoided, for the coming age is infinite, while this one is so very short by comparison. Like the college student who wastes a large portion of time on partying and comes to regret it later on, so will those who waste this life living for themselves.

Today, consider the priorities of your life. Are you living in such a way as to store up treasures that have lasting value? Are you grasping to hold onto shadows rather than pursuing what is real? Now is the time to figure that out because the shadows will fade sooner than you think.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Recognizing Who's Special

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5 NIV)

A survey of freshmen several years ago revealed what continues to be a long-term trend with recent high school graduates—they tend to think very highly of themselves in terms of their abilities and potential.

In the world of social media, this has only increased the narcissistic tendencies, not only of this latest generation, but in all of us.  Every Facebook post, every tweet, and every Instagram photo we post gains us the immediate attention of dozens to hundreds of people.  The focus continually is on us and it is increasingly more difficult to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  

Yet, in this social media saturated world in which we find ourselves, Paul’s warning is a much-needed one.  Thinking about ourselves in terms of who we are compared to the Lord, and who we are to be in the Body of Christ is a necessary exercise to induce humility.  Compared to the Almighty God, we are nothing.  And given that we are His creatures means we are no more special than the next person.  He has created us for a purpose, but that purpose is one which fits into His overall will, which is achieved by all who are called by His Name.  In other words, it is God who is special, not us.  

This goes directly against the cultural current in which we live and it will not be easy to extricate ourselves from its grip, but it is something we must seek to do.  For God gives His glory to no one.  All eyes are to be focused on Him.  When our glory becomes more important than His, we are indeed wading in dangerous waters.  

Today, think of yourself with sober judgment.  Recognize the only one special in this world, or the universe, is the Lord.  You indeed have your place in it, but only by His will.  But if you think about it, that’s pretty special.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Kind Rather than Right

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35 NIV)

A number of years ago, I saw on Facebook a former student treat another former student’s post with extreme harshness. Privately, I challenged his tone. He apologized to her, but he, from then on, was hostile to me in a couple of his posts, and eventually “unfriended” me. 

There is a coarseness and harshness to so much of what is posted on social media, and I am disturbed, particularly when people claiming to be Christians do it. There is legitimate criticism to be made about many things, but followers of Jesus, of all people, need to avoid the vitriol in which comments are so often wrapped. It’s as if we somehow feel a certain freedom behind the screen of a phone or computer to write things we would never say to a person’s face. 

Although Jesus was not on earth during the advent of social media, it appears His words are appropriate for the age in which we live. While we may not consciously view people who disagree with our views as enemies, often our responses reflect otherwise. I suppose the man to whom I referred above doesn’t really consider me an enemy, but he did, in a way, treat me like one. 

If we are to be kind to “the ungrateful and wicked,” then shouldn’t we be kind to everyone? Our pastor has often said there is no command to be right, but there is one telling us to be kind. 

It is a challenge, though. Our flesh is prone to pride and, thus, we like to be right and for people to know that we are. Through subtle digs or sarcasm, or more blatant harshness, we often seek to protect our pride or enhance it. If we are to overcome our pride, we have to depend on the Lord for strength and discernment to respond to people with kindness.

Today, where do your struggles with a lack of kindness lie? Is it on social media? Or in the way you talk about others with friends? Or is it face to face with family members where the old cliché—familiarity breeds contempt—often applies? Wherever they are, know the Lord calls you to be kind rather than right. 

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

Being First

“Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’

‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’” (Mark 10:28-31 NIV)

Last week, I flew to Denver to visit with some alumni from my campus ministries-the University of Kansas, where I served for many years, and Appalachian State, where I currently serve. It was a good trip where I was able to reconnect with people I once watched grow into adults and who continue to walk the narrow road that leads to life. But this really has nothing to do with this morning’s thoughts, except that I traveled on planes.

Have you ever noticed at airline gates how there are some people who begin standing in line almost as soon as the gate personnel arrive? For many, there is something about getting on first that is appealing. In fact, airlines often make offers that allow certain passengers the ability to have “priority boarding.” It may be based on the number of “sky miles” you have, that you possess a certain credit card, or that you are flying First or Business Class. There is just something about being first that is attractive to us.

For this trip, it just so happened that I had a credit card that allows me to have priority boarding. I have to admit that it felt quite good to stand in the line on the left and to answer the call, “Sky Priority passengers may now begin boarding.” And as the rest of the passengers stood by, my fellow priority passengers and I walked into a nearly empty plane to find our seats and get settled. We were special.

The pull to be first is a strong one, whether it is in a line for food, a concert, a class exam, or even possessing news which we can be the first to tell someone. Even if we rarely, if ever, are first, most of us still have that longing. The truth is, being first feels good. It makes us feel special in some way.

This is the reason Jesus speaks in a rather upside down manner—many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. The disciples had just reminded Him they had left everything to follow Him. They, in essence, had chosen to be last. While their families and friends retained possessions and status, they had intentionally forsaken those in order to follow Jesus. So He comforted them by saying because they had chosen to be last, they would be eventually rewarded by being first when it counted the most.

The challenge for all of us who seek to follow Jesus is to resist the temptation of being first. If we follow Him, then we are to value others above ourselves, and to serve them.  As we all know, this does not come naturally to us. This is why we will be rewarded if we do. By sacrificing now, we will be rewarded later, just as Jesus promised to His disciples.

Today, consider how you can be last rather than seeking to be first. By doing so, your sacrifice now will be rewarded later when it really counts to be first.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

Talking About Jesus

“‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.  So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together.  ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?  You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:12-20 NIV)

For my Bachelor of Social Work degree, I was required to do a practicum, or internship, during my final semester.  When I met with my supervising professor, she asked a very direct question: Can you promise you will not share your faith during the practicum?  I told her I could not, and she replied that she might refuse to allow me to finish my degree.  

What she was afraid of was I would be proselytizing—attempting to convert people to the Christian faith.  It is a loaded word that in our culture conjures up images of telling people they are going to hell, cornering someone and reciting Scripture to them, or brainwashing them.  Proselytizing is illegal in many countries and often cited as unacceptable in the codes of conduct of businesses and educational institutions, as well as the U.S. military.  

It is what the religious authorities were accusing Peter and John of doing.  And what they commanded of them is increasingly what our culture is telling those of us who believe: Don’t speak any longer to anyone in this name.  We don’t want to hear it!  

While there are examples of those following Christ being rude, judgmental, and coercive to unbelievers, this isn’t the norm nor is it what most are against.  They just don’t want to hear about Jesus, their need for Him as Savior, and the fact that He is Lord of their lives whether they acknowledge Him or not.  That was my professor.  She disliked Christians and what they represented (though pressure from the department chairman forced her to allow me to do my practicum). Those with similar views are increasing and are gaining influential positions in our society.  

As the hostility towards followers of Jesus increases, Peter and John offer the perfect example of responding to it.  They were not angry or rude, just matter of fact: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?  You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”   They were not cowered by the hostility they encountered.  They knew what they had seen, heard, and experienced with Jesus.  No amount of pressure, harassment, or suffering was going to deter or silence them.  They were going to tell others about their Lord.

Today, recognize the increasingly hostile environment growing around you as a follower of Jesus.  More and more, you are going to hear voices that tell you not speak to anyone about Jesus.  But take courage from the example of Peter and John.  They could not help but tell others about Jesus because of the transformative impact He had on their lives. It should be the same with you.  

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Loving the Lost

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24 NIV)

It happened very early on a Saturday morning. I received a call from one of my students.  I immediately knew there was a problem because students don’t call me that early.  He and some other guys had gone camping.  Two had gone out to look for firewood the previous night and hadn’t returned.  Feelings of dread rose inside of me.  They were experienced hikers and the only explanation in my mind was something bad had happened.  

While the student called 911, I sent a text to one of the missing student’s phone, hoping he would respond.  A few minutes later, a text came through—they were safe.  They had gotten lost and, because night was falling, they had had to build a shelter and hunker down for the night.  They were unable to get a cell phone signal, so they were not able to let their fellow hikers know they were safe.  It wasn’t until daylight the next morning that they were able to hike to a point where they had cell service.

When that text came through, my heart leapt in my chest.  They had been lost, and I had feared the worst, but now they were found.  What a great feeling that was!

I am sure the father in Jesus’ parable had similar feelings at the sight of his son.  I suspect the father assumed the worst, so his joy was immense when he saw his son coming down the road towards home.  

Jesus told this parable to highlight the Heavenly Father’s concern for the spiritually lost in face of criticism that He hung out with “sinners.” The spiritual leaders of the day refused to associate with those they deemed living sinful lives.  So when Jesus came on the scene and spent time with them, they were appalled.  

His parable points out the fact, the greater the love for a person, the greater the joy will be when the person is lost and then is found.  So what He is saying in this parable and the others in Luke 15 is that God cares deeply for the lost; thus, so should we.  

The question is, do we care?  Do we care about those in our neighborhood, those we work with, those we know in our classes that are lost?  Or do we succumb to the cultural belief of ‘to each his own’ and just mind our own business?  

Today, recognize the Father’s deep love for those who are lost.  If you haven’t already, begin to pray for the lost in your midst and look for opportunities to share with them the Good News that they are loved by their Father who longs for them to return home.  

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Repentance: Jesus' Loving Command

“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

’No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:2-11 NIV)

This has always been one of my favorite stories in the Scriptures.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees, full of self-righteousness, drag a woman before Jesus who they claim was caught in adultery.  One question I have always had is, where is the man with whom she was caught in the act?  Was he not, too, deserving of punishment?

They are seeking to test Jesus, to see if He will be faithful to the Law of Moses.  But Jesus knows their hearts and rebukes them in a fascinating way.  After the men drop their stones and leave, the woman is left standing alone.  Given what she had just been through, most of us I think would expect Jesus (in our 21st Century western mindset) to wrap His arms around her and tell her how much she is loved.  Yet, He did something entirely different.  He assured her He did not condemn her for her adultery.  But then He commanded her to change her lifestyle. In other words, He told her to repent.

In much of today’s church, repentance is a forsaken concept.  It has been moved aside in favor of love and acceptance.  Yet, repentance is what Jesus commands of all sinners (Luke 13:1-5).  It is what Peter told those gathered at Pentecost to do if they wanted to be saved (Acts 2:37-38).

Did Jesus love and accept the adulterous woman?  Of course, but if we delve deeper we will see His command for her to repent flows from His love for her.  By definition, sin is going against what the Lord commands.  But He gives such commands because He loves us and wants what is best for us.  So Jesus, out of His love for her, tells the woman to leave her life of sin.  

Today we have been deceived into thinking that to love someone is to accept them as they are, period.  It does sound very appealing, but we must realize Jesus went further.  He called on people to repent of their sins.  And doing so is not condemnation; it is love.

Today, know we are to love people regardless of their lifestyles.  But where sin is involved, we are also to encourage them toward repentance.  This is true love and exactly what Jesus did.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Purpose of Grace

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)

When I arrived to take my current ministry position, the atmosphere among many Christian students was one of grace and freedom, particularly when it came to drinking and sexual activity.  There was the belief that since you were forgiven, or could receive forgiveness, you could do pretty much anything you wanted.  One ministry had a “kegerator” in their building’s kitchen and students would have weekly parties.  Two other ministries were well known to have leaders who loved to party.  And we had students in our ministry who would come to our large group meetings and, before leaving, would be planning parties for the weekend.  To Paul’s question, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1), they answered a resounding, “Yes!”

The fact Paul posed that rhetorical question to the Roman believers indicates the problem of followers of Jesus taking advantage of the Lord’s grace for their own selfish desires has been around since the beginning of the Church.  The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, “cheap grace.” 

It is easy to see the struggle.  The truth is, when we sin, we can be forgiven (I John 1:9) No sin, be it drunkenness, sexual immorality, or any other you can think of, is beyond the reach of God’s grace.  But, as Paul clearly states to the Romans and to Titus, the ultimate purpose of grace is to lead us away from sin instead of further into it.  Typically, the church falls into one of two traps, emphasizing obedience over grace or emphasizing grace over obedience.  The former is legalism; the latter is Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace.  And it is difficult to keep the balance, as two millennia of church history will attest.  Yet, we must attempt to do so.  

As I began to understand that our students had veered into “cheap grace” territory, I confronted them with these words from Paul (as did other campus ministers).   The purpose of grace is not to condone sin or to allow us to maintain living as we please, but rather to instruct us on how to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live lives that are self-controlled and honoring to God.

Today, know that God’s grace covers your sin.  But don’t use this wonderful gift as an excuse to do what you please.  That just cheapens the gift and misses the point of it all together.  

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Desperation

“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’

‘No,’ they answered.

He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ 

As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.” (John 21:1-9 NIV)

Not long after my first wife announced her intention to leave our marriage, I made appointments with the couples that we had led in a Bible study. I carried with me a written statement because I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell them of our pending divorce without something written. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life, along with informing the entire group of more than 100 students of the situation and my impending sabbatical in order to deal with the emotional aftermath. I was broken and desperate.

As I have looked back on that time more than 15 years ago, I consider it to be one of the more spiritually significant events in my life. I was at the absolute bottom emotionally, which led me to a reliance on the Lord. At that moment, it seemed I had no where else to turn, so I turned my attention fully to the Lord.

Peter found himself in a similar emotional state. He had denied knowing the Lord three times in a matter of hours (John 18:16-27). Jesus was crucified, but had risen and was now alive. He had appeared to Peter and all the disciples, but then hadn’t been seen again. Peter didn’t know what to make of the events over the past several weeks, so he did what many of us would do—go back to doing what he had been doing, get back into a familiar routine. So, he went fishing.

Yet, what he and the other disciples who joined him found was yet more misery, not less. After a full night of fishing, they had caught absolutely nothing. Not one fish had found their nets. As dawn appeared on the horizon in the East, they were exhausted and discouraged. I am guessing at that moment they had reached the bottom. They were at a point of desperation. 

Then the voice of a stranger pierced the early morning light and offered some advice: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” The thought must have seemed ludicrous to them since they had been fishing all night. Yet, they were desperate and hungry, so they did what He suggested.

In the days following Jesus’ last appearance to them, we can assume they were just trying to figure out what was next for them, and their return to their old job of fishing indicates they had failed to figure it out on their own. But once their last attempt to do something, anything failed, there were no answers. They had come up empty and had reached the end of themselves.

This is why I believe they were open to the Lord’s crazy suggestion to throw their nets out one more time. When we’re desperate enough, we’re open to almost any idea that might possibly help us.

As with all of us, it took the disciples awhile trying to figure things out on their own before they turned to the Lord. That is our nature, isn’t it? While we are comfortable enough, we try to do things on our own. It is only when we run out of options that our hearts open up to the Lord’s help and guidance.

Today, recognize the Lord often allows us to try to figure out a particular dilemma on our own in order for us to fail and reach the end of ourselves. Then when the time is right and we are open to His leading, He will make His presence known and lead us out of the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s not that desperation is required. He is always present to assist us, but typically we have to reach the end of ourselves before we are open to His help.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, April 6, 2018

Do Not Be Ashamed

“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 1:7-12 NIV)

At the time Paul wrote his second and final letter to Timothy, he was imprisoned in Rome and was facing certain death.  He wanted to make clear to his spiritual son certain things before he was executed.  One was not to cower from or be ashamed of his identity as a follower of Jesus.  It was a dangerous time for Christians.  Rome was stepping up its persecution of believers, the Jews were not at all fond of this burgeoning spiritual movement, and the culture of the day viewed followers of Jesus in two extremes—either as hapless fools or dangerous interlopers.  It was a time when many believers were losing their courage, as Paul personally experienced (1:15)

So Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed of the Gospel or those associated with its message.  Instead of avoiding the suffering that comes with proclaiming the Gospel, he encourages him to embrace it. While the world may be coming against believers, Paul tells Timothy there is no reason to be ashamed because he has confidence in the Lord.  He had given his life over to the Lord and trusted Him to protect his soul and spirit.  It had to be his soul and spirit to which he was referring, rather than his life, because he knew he was about to die.  

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)  I think Paul had this promise in mind as he wrote to Timothy.  

Our world is not much different than that of the 1st Century in terms of persecution of Christians.  And even in our country, while we are not yet facing the prospect of death for our faith, there is an increasing hostility to those of us who truly believe.  There is pressure from without and within to cower in fear and be ashamed of the Gospel.  It may come in the form of a hesitancy to proclaim Jesus as the only way to God, acquiescence to the cultural narrative that any behavior is acceptable as long as it is not hurtful to someone else, or a reluctance to acknowledge that you are a follower of Jesus for fear of being rejected by friends or family.  In the midst of those fears, Paul tells us not to be ashamed because the God in whom we believe is faithful to protect us.

Today, do not be ashamed of Jesus or of the Gospel.  Rather, rely on the power of the Spirit to make you bold and unafraid of the suffering you might experience because you follow Jesus.  He has promised to protect your soul and spirit and He is faithful.  He will do it.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Transformation


“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (II Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

I have always enjoyed doing home projects, such putting in new toilets and faucets, painting rooms, anything that transforms my home to look better than it did before. But as my wife will attest, I can easily get frustrated in the midst of a project when things don’t go exactly as planned. Unlike some of the fixer-upper shows on television, my transformations are not accomplished in an hour. They take longer and the problems faced are not so easily solved.

After I surrendered my life to Jesus, these words of Paul were some of the first I committed to memory.  And like most new believers, I often took Scriptures too literally and out of context.  According to Paul, I was a transformed man, a new creation, and the old guy was gone.  But my experience was, in fact, he had yet to leave the building.  This was very frustrating and brought on a lot of guilt.  Was I truly a follower of Christ if I was not completely changed?  

As I matured, however, I began to realize there are two types of transformation.  One is what theologians call justification.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the penalty for my sins has been paid. In choosing to submit my life to the Lord, I have been justified. In other words, it’s as if I am sinless in terms of eternal punishment.  Thus, I am a new creation with a new future.  Yet, I still live in the present and deal with that ever-present problem of sin.  

And this is where the second type of transformation comes in.  It is what theologians refer to as sanctification—the process of becoming more and more like what the Lord originally created us to be.  Paul refers to this earlier in his second letter to the Corinthians: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (3:18)  This is the slow, watching the grass grow, type.  

Sometimes, like house transformations, we can confuse the two types of spiritual transformation.  While justification is instantaneous, sanctification is a life-long process.  It can be frustratingly slow, but that is where we daily rely on the grace of the Lord to carry us.  

Today, though you may have once thought following Jesus meant instant transformation, recognize it is in reality a much slower process. Yes, you are a new creation, but the old guy is still in the building.  But don’t worry.  While he still may be hanging around, he’s no longer in charge and change is happening.  Slowly, yes, but it is happening nonetheless.    

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Carrying Around Our Sins

“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)

I was at the bank last Friday, Good Friday, making a deposit, when a man carrying a small gift box walked up to the teller next to me. “Guess what I have here,” he said to the teller. “A gift for me, I hope,” she responded. “No. I have my sins. And I don’t know what to do with them,” he said.

Hearing this, I casually said, “Take them to the Cross. You don’t have to carry them around with you.” The teller helping me nodded her head and said, “That’s right!” 

I think the man was a bit taken back by my comment and didn’t say anything, nor did the other teller, but I know they both heard it, and I hope the thought became planted in their minds for further thought later. 

This simple, and may I add divinely arranged, interaction sums up the Gospel message: Jesus died so that our sins would no longer condemn us and enable us to be unburdened by them. The Resurrection proved this was not some ridiculous dream.

Although the man in the bank attended a Good Friday service, he seems to not have grasped the true meaning of what took place on Golgotha two millennia ago. Before that weekend, the Jews had to make sacrifices that would temporarily cleanse them of their particular sins, but which could never completely eliminate them (Hebrews 10:4). In essence, they still had to carry their sins around with them. 

The Cross, however, forever eliminated the burden of doing that. No need to hold onto them. No need to continue carrying the guilt they naturally produce. We can give them up by laying them down at the foot of the Cross. John succinctly explains how we do that.

The truth, however, is, like the man in the bank, we often continue to carry them around with us, still burdened by the weight of their shame. We might claim we are forgiven, but the belief fails to penetrate our hearts. 

Are there sins you have committed over the course of your life that you are still carrying with you, of which you are still bearing the weight of their shame? Then today lay them down at the foot of the Cross. Confess them to the One who longs to forgive, and leave them there, believing in the promise that you indeed have been forgiven with no need to continue carrying them with you or ever needing to look back. You are at last free!

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, March 30, 2018

Our Rescuer

(Author's Note: The University begins Easter Break this weekend, so I will be taking a break as well. WftW will return April 4th. Have a wonderful and blessed Resurrection Weekend! Jim)

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)

Substitutionary atonement is probably the most misunderstood doctrine in Christianity.  It is the theological term describing the necessity of Jesus’ death for our salvation.  It is also the cause for much of the historical derision of the Christian faith.  Gods don’t die.  For those tied to the Abrahamic roots of faith, Judaism and Islam, it is just proof that Jesus was merely human; He was no god at all.  For others, a religion based on a god who died is weak and powerless.  Gods are not mortal; they are not like us.  They are beyond us.

As Paul accurately describes (I Corinthians 1:23), the idea of God dying for our sins is blasphemy to some and foolishness to most.  But with the eyes of faith, it makes perfect sense.

It is not uncommon for people to risk or give up their lives in order to save others.  The Marine who falls upon a grenade to save his buddies around him.  The fireman rushing into a burning house to rescue a crying toddler.  Or the bystander jumping into a frozen lake to save a drowning child.  Why, then, isn’t it conceivable that God would seek to rescue us from eternal death?

There was no one else who could rescue us and we were powerless to save ourselves. The willingness of God to send Jesus on a “suicidal” mission to earth and Jesus’ willingness to accept it are proofs of just how much we are loved. 

This is why today, Friday, is commemorated as “Good Friday.”  The death of Jesus was good for us, essential, in fact.  Without it, we would be lost forever.  And it tells us just how much the God of the Universe loves us.  

Today, know how much God loves you.  In order to rescue you, Jesus gave up His life.  That may seem foolish to most, but it sounds like good news to me.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Responding to Betrayal

“When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.  And while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?’ Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?’ Jesus answered, ‘You have said so.’

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:20-30 NIV)

Imagine the scene: Jesus gathered at night around a wooden table with men He had specifically chosen to follow Him and with whom He had spent the last three years. He knew something all but one didn’t know—they would soon all desert Him after He was betrayed and handed over to the Jewish authorities.

Have you ever been betrayed and deserted by a friend or family member? If so, then you know how amazing this scene truly is. It wasn’t that Jesus was in denial that allowed Him to dine with these people. He calls out Judas’ intentions and soon after predicts the abandonment by all of the men gathered at the table (Matthew 26:31). He knew exactly what they all were about to do.

Yet, there He was, celebrating with them one of the most sacred meals in Judaism—the Passover meal. We often note Jesus’ love for us as exemplified by His death on the cross, but this is an earlier glimpse of it—sharing the Passover with those who would soon abandon Him to the will of His enemies.

In this scene, we see Jesus live out what He had earlier commanded: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

The temptation we face when we are betrayed or abandoned by those whom we thought loved us and were our friends is to do in kind to them. Yet, Jesus shows us a different way, a harder, but more godly way. 

Today, is there someone in your life who has betrayed or abandoned you? To date, how have you responded? Does it look anything like how Jesus responded to the Twelve? As we celebrate this week the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, consider how the Lord might want you to treat this person. He demonstrated love toward His disciples. Are you willing to do the same?

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Living in a Troubled World

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

Jesus had just warned his disciples of the terrible things to come. “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” (John 16:2-3)  His words would have special meaning to them because they all faced persecution after Jesus ascended, and all but John were put to death because of their faith.  (John lived the latter years of his life exiled on the island of Patmos.)  

Terrible things are still happening, as we all witnessed recently in Parkland, Florida, and, if we have kept our ears open, have heard on the news almost on a daily basis since we were old enough to understand such things.  While there is much good in the world, it has always been full of trouble—wars, murders, torture, abuse, kidnappings, horrendous auto accidents, plane crashes, deadly fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, avalanches, terminal diseases, divorce, infertility, and injustice.  

While we all hope and long for untroubled lives, there is no doubt trouble will visit us. Jesus said so.  Yet, He also gives us hope, something onto which to cling: “Take heart!  I have overcome the world.” No matter what we encounter in our lives, Jesus is stronger.  Since He has overcome the world, He can help us overcome whatever troubles we face.

Today, what trouble are you facing?  Whatever it is, take heart!  Jesus can help you overcome it.  

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Handling Your Day to Day Sin

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9 NIV)

Many years ago, at a Fall Retreat, I had a student come up to me after one of the sessions and tell me she wanted to be re-baptized. As was my practice then, and now, I asked her to explain her reasons for such a decision. She explained she had committed a sin about which she felt very guilty. I empathized with her, but led her to this passage to explain what she needed was not another baptism, but rather confession of her sin to the Lord.

I think it is normal to become emotional in the midst of our guilt. We feel bad and want it to go away. This is why, often, a person who sins will often fall prey to the same temptation over and over because, in an irrational way, he will seek relief from his guilt through sinning again. Much like a drug, sin often offers temporary relief from guilt.

So baptism can easily become a means to assuage guilt. It is an attractive alternative to mere confession and repentance because it naturally provides an emotional “rush.” Like going forward at an altar call, baptism can call attention to us; people watch and pray for us, which feels very good. However, like the altar call, baptism is a “one-off” event. It happens and then it is over. Then what? 

Similarly to one’s decision to follow Jesus, baptism is designed to mark a beginning—a life once walking away from God to one whose sole purpose is to seek after Him until its earthly end. Confession and repentance are how we are to deal with the sin of our lives in between. 

By nature, we are impatient people. We can grow weary of sin’s hold on us and may seek to deal with it in one fell swoop. But what we must understand is that is one of the devil’s many strategies to derail us spiritually—tolerate sin in our lives until we become overwhelmed or desperate, and then seek out some magical moment where we can have it all go away. Of course, it might for a while. But it won’t last because, at the heart of the matter, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) and we naturally sin. There is no escape from this reality.

So, we have a choice. Either we deal with sin each and every time we are overcome by it, or we tolerate it in our lives until we grow desperate enough to want to rid ourselves of the guilt it continues to bring. Which of these do you think is the more wise and helpful approach?

Today, recognize dealing with sin in your life is best done by repeated confession and repentance. You have the choice to hold onto it, but why would you want to do that when the Lord offers forgiveness each and every time you come to Him and confess?

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, March 26, 2018

Despised and Rejected

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot,  and like a root out of dry ground.
 He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
 nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind,
 a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
 Like one from whom people hide their faces
 he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
 yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions,  he was crushed for our iniquities;
 the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
 and  by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
 and the Lord has laid on him
 the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:1-6 NIV)

Over the years, I have had my share of encounters with people who despised Jesus. There was the time as a college freshman in a Psychology 101 class that my professor mocked Jesus and told us that anyone believing in the resurrection was a fool. There was also the time in my senior year when a professor overseeing placement of social work interns threatened to not place me because of her concerns regarding how my Christian faith would influence my interaction with clients. Under no circumstances, she said, was I to talk about my faith in Jesus. And not many years ago, I reported a student to the Dean’s office who wrote me a vitriolic email mocking the Christian faith and me as a believer, after he had received information about our campus ministry, which he had requested.

While Jesus is often hailed as a great teacher, many, particularly among university professors, administrators, and students, have long despised him. There is no doubt that some of this hatred is the result of the ways of the institutional church, which, to them, represents Jesus.  They see hypocrisy, bigotry, and greed, and vent their anger toward the one they see as a symbol for it.  

Yet, this isn’t the main reason Jesus is so despised.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  His rule is supreme and He claims absolute authority.  It is this that rubs people the wrong way.  In the West, people naturally resist authority.  We don’t like people in our business.  In the East, there are other gods or prophets, whose followers resent the claims of Jesus.  There are also those who believe there is no God, and so heap ridicule on anyone claiming to be God or knowing God.  

The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled 2000 years ago, but it still rings true for today.  Jesus is still despised and rejected by men and women. Many of those who faithfully follow Him are subjected to the same treatment as their Lord.  They are ridiculed, mistreated, jailed, and even put to death because they make the great confession: Jesus is Lord.

Today, understand that claiming Jesus is Lord opens you up to ridicule and rejection.  But that is the path of a Jesus-follower, the same path the Lord took long ago.  But know that path leads to an eternity in His wonderful presence, enjoying the rewards of a life lived faithfully for Him.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, March 23, 2018

Seeking Validation

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

‘These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.’” (Revelation 3:7-10 NIV)

For so many, social media serves as a source for validation of worthiness to be admired. “Look at me!” seems to be the mantra of so many Facebook and Instagram posts. “Look at how great and fun my life is!” Or, how lousy it is. Either way, the attempt is being made to draw attention to one’s value as a human being—either to be admired or to garner empathy.

As I have been reading Revelation the past few days, a sentence in this passage stood out: “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.“ The glorified Jesus is acknowledging the hardships of His followers in the church at Philadelphia. In spite of great persecution, they had not denied His Name. He comforts them by promising they will soon be acknowledged as worthy by their persecutors who were currently doing terrible things to them. And His reason? Because He loved them.

What struck me as quite pertinent to our culture today is the Philadelphians’ value came from the reality they were loved by the King of kings and Lord of lords. No matter what other people said about them or did to them, nothing would or could change this fact. The Lord loved them and soon that would be evident to all who thought them unworthy.

What wonderful news to all of us! Instead of chasing after the attention and validation of others through “likes,” “views,” “comments,” and “shares,” we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved by the King and soon enough everyone will know of our value to Him. There is no need to continually seek assurance from others that each of us is a worthy and valuable human being. Our assurance comes from His very lips! “I love you!”

Today, are you in constant pursuit of validation? Are you weary of it? Then find rest and solace in the fact you are valued and deeply loved by the One whose opinion, in reality, is the only one that matters. Even if, like the Philadelphians, you feel unloved, take heart in the fact that one day everyone will know how loved you truly are!

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thinking We Know What's Best

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’

‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:1-7 NIV)

When I was with students on our Spring Break trip in Florida two weeks ago, we had just returned from an outing and were pulling into the place we were staying when we noticed the orange cones blocking the entrance. The parking lot was nearly full and it became obvious that men there to attend a weekend retreat had mistakenly parked in front of the place we were staying. Realizing that, I assume the camp set the cones out to prevent others from doing the same. 

I set several of the cones aside so we could pull our van in and after I did, suddenly a car pulled through ahead of us. I approached the car to explain the situation, but the man rolled down his window and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.” He then proceeded to look for a spot to park. He mistakenly thought this was the place he was to check in for the weekend. He didn’t know that and I was seeking to explain it to him. He waved me off because he thought he knew better. So I watched him pull further in, but without a place to park. Again, I approached his vehicle. This time he asked, “Isn’t this the place we check in?” I explained to him it was not and that he would have to proceed on further to another building where people were registering. His only response was a weak, “Oh, okay.”

It is the oldest and greatest weakness of the human race. We just tend to think we know best and can do things better on our own. This is what happened to Eve and Adam in the Garden. The Lord was explicit in His instructions about the tree of knowledge of good and evil—don’t eat of its fruit. Yet, both thought they knew better when the serpent gave his perspective of God’s command. They reasoned it was fine to go ahead and disobey the Lord. They really wanted a taste and, really, what harm could come from it? They quickly found out and it was worse than they could have ever imagined.

Obviously, the man in my parking lot story didn’t suffer any severe consequences by pulling into the wrong place, but the hubris of him thinking he need not listen to me because he could figure it out on his own was evident, and indicative of the same temptation our ancestors, beginning with Eve and Adam, have continually faced and given into down through history. 

I can look back at my life and see the same inclination, and I have continually seen it in the students with whom I have worked over decades. I remember one time in my early 20’s literally telling the Lord I was going to disobey Him because I desperately wanted to renew a relationship with my ex-girlfriend. As one might expect, it turned into a disaster and I immediately realized how stupid I was. I also recall my wife and I talking with a student who was making some poor lifestyle choices. We knew the spiritual danger she was in and attempted to warn her. She refused to listen and, to this day, she continues to suffer the consequences of her choices.

What about you? Are you in the habit of thinking you know what is best for your life, even if the Lord or those who love Him deeply are attempting to tell you that you are making, or about to make, a very poor choice? If so, be warned the temptation that has wrecked the lives of so many before you is knocking at your door. You would be very wise to refuse to let it enter further into your life.

Today, know the commands of the Lord are intended for your good and should not be taken lightly. You may think you know best, but as we all learn sooner or later, you really don’t. And the sooner you learn that, the better.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What Happened to Sin?

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

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.” (Romans 6:1-14 NIV)

Sin is out of vogue in much of the church these days, at least the personal variety.  One hears a lot about the generic version: “We all sin.”  “We all struggle.”  “None of us is perfect.”  “Who are we to judge?” “He who has not sinned cast the first stone.”  The implication of these cumulative messages has been to communicate that because we are all sinners, addressing specific sins is unnecessary, judgmental, and unloving.  They can even take us to the point where everyone is a sinner but no one truly sins.   

Many who proclaim these messages from the pulpit or the blog, I believe, are sincere in their understanding that we live under God’s grace.  But as Paul clearly tells the Roman church, grace is never to be used to justify continuing in a particular sin or sinful lifestyle.  Grace is given freely by God, but that does not mean it is without cost to us.  The price of grace is confession and repentance (I John 1:9; Revelation 2:5).  It is also the most appropriate response to the kindness of God—to obey Him.  By not recognizing our sin and repenting, we cheapen God’s grace.  Did Jesus die so that we might just go ahead and do as we please?  

If you listen and read what many are saying, the practical conclusion to this question is, “Yes.”  There is no reason for confession or repentance because God covers over everything with His grace.  Just come bask in it and never mind your sin.  It doesn’t really matter.

Those who proclaim this make the same mistake many of the Roman Christians made centuries ago: They cheapen God’s grace and misunderstand its purpose.  It was not given as a free pass for sinners, but rather as a means to set them free from their sins.  

Today, recognize we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.  Yet, God’s grace is not intended to allow us to remain in our sin.  Rather, it is to lead us into confessing our sins and repenting from them.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pushing Through

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (I Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV)

Nearly four years ago I had my knee replaced. It had been a bothersome joint for literally decades. Now I was in the early stages of my rehab. The therapist put me on a stationary bike and told me to push the pedals as far around as I felt comfortable and then do it in reverse. The goal was to do a full rotation. If you can picture the rotation counterclockwise, I could get to one o’clock, but the discomfort really kicked in then. The first day, that is as far as I could go, and into the second day it was similar. But the therapist could sense I was afraid to “push through” past one and onto to Noon, eleven, and ten. The “what if’s” were filling my mind and preventing me from challenging my body to do more.

The therapist encouraged me by saying, “Just let it come; it will be fine.” And so with that, I overcame my hesitancy and pushed the pedal past one o’clock and in less than a second was through to six and on my way around again, each rotation becoming easier and a little less uncomfortable. I had pushed through and, from then on, riding the bike became easier by the day.

In the case of artificial knees, gaining range of motion quickly is the key. People who fail to do this, who cannot push through the pain and discomfort in the early stages of rehab, will face an even worse fate-what is referred to as “manual manipulation.” This is when the patient is unwilling or unable to do the necessary rehab and the joint “freezes” and cannot be bent sufficiently to enable walking normally. In this case, the only way to get it to move properly is to force it. Yeah, it makes me cringe, too, when I think about it.

In life, things come at us—often stressful and difficult things. And we thus are faced with a choice. We can wilt under them and become paralyzed in life, or we can push through them with the help and encouragement of the Lord. In essence, we persevere through the rough patches in order to experience the glorious life to come.

When I finally received my new knee, my goal was to become active again, to do the things I had been unable to do for years—hiking, tennis, and working out. That goal was on my mind when I first entered rehab and was what enabled me to push through the pain in that early stage in order to achieve something much greater, along with the fear of the manual manipulation!

Too often in our lives, we allow the struggles to derail our spiritual goals and desires. We allow fear to get the best of us.  In my work on campus, I have seen a myriad of students whose express a desire to grow and mature in their relationship with Jesus, only to be derailed by the stresses and circumstances of their lives because they find it difficult to push through them. Sadly, many live with the regret of what could have been, and that becomes yet another obstacle they could overcome if only they could push through it and receive the grace the Lord offers to us when we fail. Others have just given up, their lives going awry and the consequences severe.

The obstacles we all encounter in life are a test. The enemy wants us to be overwhelmed and to give up in the face of them. The Lord, on the other hand, wants us to rely on Him, His encouragement and strength, in order to push through and achieve the maturity and fortitude He desires for us. And, ultimately, gaining the prize of a life well lived and the eternal rewards that come with it.

Today, are their obstacles in your path toward living your life in such a way as to gain the prize? Whatever they are, don’t let them overwhelm and defeat you. Instead, with the strength and encouragement of the Lord, push through the unpleasant, even painful, circumstances, to gain what the Lord has for you. While it may be difficult now, you will never regret it.

© Jim Musser 2018