Monday, April 30, 2018

Good Works

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV)

Admit it; there are times where you look at other people and think you are better than them. It may be because you look better, get better grades, have a more blessed life, or don’t do the wrong things you see others doing. Let’s face it: we all are bent toward thinking like this, perhaps some more than others, but we all do it.

This is admittedly bad enough, but worse is when we compare ourselves favorably over others and believe it somehow helps our status before God. Again, we all tend to do this at one time or another. It happens when we fail to understand the utter depth of our sin and the Lord’s abhorrence of it.

The fact that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23) completely disqualifies us from any position to boast about our “goodness.” As Jesus reminds us, “No one is good—except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) Thus, as ones who consider themselves to be saved, there is nothing about which to boast, except the Lord’s grace to us, undeserving as we are.

Sadly, this is not what people, even many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus, believe. Rather, they believe the lie that good works play the key role to getting in good with God. They think He will be impressed with their attempts to live a good life. This is why many do religious things—to make up for their sins, similarly to Muslims who seek to “tilt the scales” of their lives with more good deeds than bad ones in order to gain entry into the eternal realm. 

If, indeed, you think you are somehow better than someone else because you go to church regularly, or read your Bible or pray daily, or don’t do some of the many things others do, like getting drunk, sleeping around, cheating, etc., then recognize this truth: you still are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. No amass of good works can overcome the deadly effect of even one sin, let alone of a lifetime of them. It is God’s grace alone that can save us from eternal death. And when we understand this, we can then give up the folly that somehow we are better than others.

Today, if you haven’t already, recognize the truth that you can never be good enough in your behavior or thinking to overcome your own sinfulness. Only the Lord can do that through His grace. And once you realize and accept this, then your good works will not be to impress Him, but rather expressions of your love and appreciation for Him.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

Applying the Word to Life

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25 NIV)

It is that time of year where students are stressed and anxious about all they have to do before the school year ends. Projects are coming due and final exams are looming. I have been known to quote I Peter 5:7 to those who say they are overwhelmed by all they have to do. I know a lot of them do not appreciate it, but I have a point in doing so.

If we grew up going to church or have been involved with a community of believers for awhile, the challenge always is to not only read or hear the Word, but to act on what it commands.  We are told repeatedly of the importance of “getting into the Word” and the expectation is for us, as believers, to be in church every Sunday to listen to the Word being proclaimed.  But according to James, that is of little real value unless we take what we read/hear and put it into practice.  

The danger for us is to grow content with just reading and listening to the Word.  It can feel good and we can get plenty of kudos for our commitment and discipline.  But James pointedly says we are deceived if we think this is enough.  It means nothing if we do not take what we’ve heard and apply it to our lives.  

So when students are all stressed out, I remind them of what the Scriptures say, because it gives them clear instructions on what to do when they find themselves full with stress and anxiety. And if they will only do what it says, they will find they can be at peace even when life seems so overwhelming.

Today, remember the Word of God is not a book merely to be read or listened to.  It is to be applied to your life.  And in doing so, you will be greatly blessed.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

What's Your Story

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Peter 3:15-16 NIV)

Jesus was a storyteller—an amazing one, in fact. Even those who have little knowledge of Him know at least one of His stories. Think “The Good Samaritan,” “The Prodigal Son,” or “The Parable of the Sower.” He knew what we all know, that stories draw us in like no other form of communication. This is why people binge on Netflix, go to the movies, or curl up with a good book. A good story just naturally pulls us in and holds us there until it ends. And, normally, when we reach the end of a story, it does not really end; it continues to occupy space in our brains which we access frequently to re-tell it to friends or to contemplate its meaning.

In his letter to fellow believers suffering persecution because of their faith, Peter recognizes the value of storytelling and encourages his readers to tell theirs—to give the reasons for their steadfast faith when it would be much easier to forsake it given what they are enduring. The assumed question people are asking them is this: Why do you have such hope and joy when things are going so badly, when the world is such an unjust and unfair place? What’s your story?

To tell your story, you have to get a hearing. People have to be interested in it. For published authors, that comes when they have gained a reputation as a good writer, or when there is a “buzz” about their book that grabs people’s attention. For us as believers, this comes when our lives draw attention for being different than the norm. Why are you always so kind? Why do you care so much? You mean you’ve never had sex? Our behavior is the draw to hear our story.

The question for us is: Do we know how to tell it when there is interest in hearing it? From my experience with college students and adults, most do not. We know the parts, perhaps, but few of us have ever considered a way to form them into a compelling story that communicates the love of the Lord and the ways of His Kingdom. 

Today, think about your story of why you are a follower of Jesus and the reason you live this life differently than what is considered normal. If indeed you do live differently, know that people are taking notice and the time may come when they ask you why you do. What will you tell them?

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Taking Time to See God at Work

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)

I sometimes wonder if the majority in Jesus’ day ever realized the significance of the time in which they were living.  Did they take note of the extraordinary things He was doing and saying, or were they so busy with the details of their daily lives that they barely noticed?  Were they more like Mary, who knew she was in the presence of the Divine, or Martha, who was so focused on the tasks at hand that it barely registered who was visiting her home that day? 

I suspect it was the latter.  The daily grind of life consumes us and our vision is narrow.  We see only what is in front of us.  Martha saw only the task of preparing a meal and completely missed the significance of the moment she was in.  I think this is a common occurrence today, as well.  I experience it frequently with students, who are so consumed with their studies and social lives, they fail to see what the Lord is doing around them or wants to do in their lives—the healing and transformation in people’s lives, the encounters with people in need, or the opportunities to use their lives for the furtherance of the Kingdom.   

One of the things I often encourage them to do is to look for “God sightings.”  As they go about their daily lives, I tell them to look for God at work.  It is amazing what we can see the Lord doing if only we are taking the time to look.  

We live in a world where God is very active, but our lives are so easily filled up and distracted that we are blinded to what He is doing.  This is what Martha allowed to happen, but Mary chose differently and Jesus commended her for it.  

Today, take the time to see God at work in nature, in circumstances, and in people’s lives, including your own.  You will be amazed at what you see.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)

In a number of circles in Christendom, this verse is viewed as trite, or at least in the way it is often used. People often use it when faced with the tragedies of others, whether a death of someone, a serious illness, or inexplicable difficulties. The view is that many are uncomfortable with the suffering of others, and so find it easier just to share this verse to avoid dealing with the pain of those they know.

While I agree that many Christians do this, in my view this does not need to detract from the power and comfort of this verse. If we truly are of the opinion that we should not give this type of encouragement to those who suffer, as Paul did to his Roman brothers and sisters, then where is the hope? Are we thus to act as deists, who believe God started up life on this earth and then stepped back to watch what would happen? Everything that follows, then, is it just mere randomness?

As I told a friend recently, as we discussed this very topic, I have witnessed the hope of this verse in my life. I have seen what the Lord can bring out of the worst of circumstances. Both of my parents died in their 60’s from illnesses while I was a young adult. It was a tragedy for both my brothers and I, but the Lord indeed did bring good from it. Both my parents became believers months before they died, something I am convinced would not have happened without them facing their own mortality. I also learned about handling grief in a proper way, which provided me many opportunities to help others.

This is just one of several examples where tragedies in my life led to greater things for me. And when I read the Scriptures, I see the same thing. Right now, I am reading the life story of Joseph (Genesis 37, Genesis 39-50). His brothers were insanely jealous of him and sold him into slavery. He suffered greatly, but God used their terrible actions to eventually use Joseph to preserve the genealogical line that eventually led to Jesus, and blessed him richly in the process. We no longer view Jesus’ death as a tragedy, but it was to His disciples immediately after He was executed. (Luke 24:13-24) James says to “count it pure joy” when we encounter trials in our lives. Why? Because the Lord will use them for our good.

Of course, we should be sensitive to other people’s suffering and empathize with their grief and pain. But this does not mean we cannot also give them hope at the right time. For God does bring good out of tragedy, regardless if it is not immediately obvious to us how He will accomplish that. It is the truth because His Word proclaims it. So in times of distress and deep pain, we can hang on to this hope.

Today, if you are facing great difficulties or tragedy, or know someone else who is, know there is the promise the Lord will use it for good. Rather than becoming a meaningless tragedy in our minds, we can know God is at work and we can trust Him in the midst of our own suffering or that of someone else. To me, this view is not insensitive or trite. Rather, it is what can keep us and others hopeful in the midst of horrible circumstances.

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

Our Original Conviction

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14 NIV)

Yesterday, I spoke at a church, which supports the campus ministry I lead. When I talked with the pastor several weeks ago to arrange the visit, he gave me this command: “I want you to PREACH!” So I did. I PREACHED! In case the all caps don’t convey my meaning clearly, he wanted me to tell the truth plainly, not holding back in fear of offending his congregation. 

So I told them this truth: By and large, the American Church is lousy at making disciples and I see it clearly in the students coming onto campus claiming they are Christians and come from Christian homes. For the most part, they show little evidence they have been schooled in the Scriptures, have a clear understanding of what it looks like to follow Jesus, and are able to explain the Gospel in a clear, articulate way. This after having spent 18 years being raised in a Christian home and participating in what their churches offered for children and youth! If compared to the markers of a good public education, by any measure it would be a failure or seriously flawed. I brought an indictment against the American Church in general and allowed them to draw their own conclusions about their own responsibilities and shortcomings. 

At the church door, as I greeted the parishioners on their way out, the responses of many were interesting. “I really enjoyed that,” was the most common response. “Good to have you here,” was another frequent one. And a few said, “That was a good reminder,” or something similar. And this is exactly what I expected. I have preached in churches many times over the years, and where it is customary for the pastor to stand at the door and greet people as they leave, these are the normal responses. If I desired to have my ego stroked, these are the things I would want to hear, but I was hoping for expressions of true conviction rather than platitudes.

If we are followers of Jesus, at the time we first made that decision, it was made with deep conviction. If it was authentic, our sin weighed heavily upon us and we were in desperate need to get right with God. However, over time our fallen nature naturally leads us into complacency. The fire of God’s grace and mercy lessens and we begin to go through the motions of faith as the essence of it fades. We get stuck where we are or, worse, begin to recede into who we once were before meeting the Lord. We become a shell of what God intends for us. And so, when the truth is spoken, it rolls off of us like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. It has no impact on our thinking or on our lives.

This is why I believe the Hebrew writer exhorts his audience (and us) to encourage one another daily so we can avoid the spiritual complacency to which we are so prone. Once it sets in, our hearts become deceived and hardened. Daily encouragement from fellow believers is essential if our original conviction is to remain strong and fresh. 

Today, where are you compared to your original conviction to follow Jesus? Have you grown complacent? Are you merely going through the motions? Has your heart become impervious to the truth? If so, there is a simple solution: Confess and repent. Then seek out others who are living out your original conviction to help you find your way back to it. Our calling as followers of Jesus is not to step in behind Him and coast thereafter, but rather to maintain our original conviction for the remainder of our lives.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

Finding an Anchor in Stormy Weather

“When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:13-20 NIV)

The early spring weather where I live, like many places, can be crazy and unpredictable. Within the last month we’ve had mid-70’s temperatures, freezing temperatures, snow and rain and fierce winds. The poor plants and flowers have suffered greatly.

We all know the weather can be unpredictable, that we can rarely assume once it gets warm in the spring that it will stay that way. It is also that way with life. Things may be going along smoothly and then, suddenly, boom, we find ourselves in a whirlwind—a break-up, an illness, losing someone we love, an unexpected financial challenge, or a late semester project a professor decides to assign. In so many ways, life can come at us and shake us. 

This passage can be difficult to understand, but the central point is God can be trusted regardless of what is happening in our lives. The believers to whom the writer was writing felt under siege by Roman persecution. They were frightened and discouraged. What the author reminds them is they are not alone and abandoned. The Lord who was able to provide permanent access to God by removing the stain of sin from our lives continues to be present in our lives. Our hope in Him is the anchor that will hold us steady in the midst of the many and varied storms of life.

If we trust in Him, we will be safe regardless of our circumstances. If we are not anchored in Him, like a ship unmoored, we will be tossed about and carried along by the stormy waters.

Today, where does your trust lie? In yourself? In your pleasant circumstances of the moment? If it is in anything besides the Lord, know you are in for a wild ride when the inevitable storms of life come upon you. It will be much better for you to be anchored to the One who has overcome the world and can overcome whatever it is you will face.

© Jim Musser 2018

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


“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


“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