Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Living in the Desert

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.  He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’" (Jeremiah 17:5-8 NIV)

The difference could not be more striking.  Parched and desolate, or lush and thriving.  Jeremiah and his readers could easily understand the picture the Lord was painting for them. And they knew what made the difference—water. 

Water in a desert is a precious commodity and is what makes life there livable.  Go to any desert community here in the U.S. or anywhere around the world and you will find the availability of water the only reason people live there.  Without it, these lands would be desolate.

Throughout the Scriptures, water represents life.  Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about “living water” that satisfies any thirst (John 4).   The Lord promises in Isaiah to “pour out water on a thirsty land” (Ch. 44) and invites “all you who are thirsty to come to the waters.” (Ch. 55)   The Psalmist speaks of the Lord as “satisfying the thirsty.” (107) All imply the Lord is the source of water that gives life.

Spiritually, the world in which we live is a desert.  It is dry and desolate. Those who choose to live in it apart from the Source of living water, trusting in themselves and others, will not survive.  Sadly, many try, even among those who claim an allegiance to the Lord, as did the Israelites of Jeremiah’s day.  These were people identified with the Lord; yet they refused to depend on Him.  And, thus, they withered away.

Today, recognize that your spiritual life is totally dependent on the Source of living water.  Neither you nor others can provide what you ultimately need to survive and thrive in the desert in which we live.  Only the Lord can do that.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The God of Romance

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ 
  ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. 
   Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ 
   ’I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, 
   says the Lord Almighty.’

“Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (I Corinthians 6:14-7:1 NIV)

While I was in college, I knew a woman who was a faithful believer and very committed to the Lord.  Having not seen her for a few months, we got together to talk about our lives.  She told me she was dating a guy and, assuming he, too, was a believer, I ask her about his faith. “Well,” she said, “he really doesn’t like going to church, so I made a deal with him.  I will bake him cookies if he will go to church with me.”  She was completely serious.

Believers can very easily be led astray by romantic relationships, and can go to great extremes to justify them.  Particularly during the college years, it seems the god of romance can easily replace the Lord on the throne of our lives.  Reasons run from, “She’s a really nice girl,” to “He is really open to what I believe and goes to church with me,” and everything in between.  The reality is when this happens, the two are on very different paths and there is no guarantee they will ever intersect.  

Though Paul here is talking about idol worship and not dating (dating is not a biblical concept), what he says here applies.  As believers, we have been called to a different life with different values and priorities.   What, he asks, do the followers of Jesus have in common with unbelievers?  

Most people who involve themselves romantically with unbelievers would never deny their faith, would never, if it were someone else, condone the beliefs their “sweetie” holds.  Yet, in the midst of the opportunity to be loved by someone, they sacrifice one very precious relationship for one of much lesser value.  They just don’t realize it.  

Romance is one of the great gods of this age.  And many gladly bow down to it and sacrifice their lives upon its altar.  But it is a tragedy because in doing so, they sacrifice a more precious relationship—the one with their Lord.  He has called us out from unbelievers into life.  No matter how great the romance, leaving that is just too costly a sacrifice.  

Today, consider whether or not you have bowed down at the altar of romance.  The Lord most likely wants you to have a romantic relationship, but not at the cost of your relationship with Him.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Freedom to Explore

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7 NIV)

My wife and I went exploring yesterday afternoon.  We drove out of town, turned on a mountain road and began following it to see where it would lead.  It led us up a mountain, along a ridge, and down again.  We went from a paved road to gravel, back to paved, then again to gravel, and then, finally, back to paved.  We passed by extravagant homes and singlewide trailers.  We saw areas of our county we never knew existed and we even found what looked like a really good fishing spot.  All the while, we really had no clue where we were.  

But we really weren’t lost.  We had “Gloria” and we knew she could lead us home whenever we turned her on.  The GPS is an amazing device, allowing one to pinpoint his location anywhere on Earth and find the right way to his destination.  It also allows the freedom to explore without fear of getting lost.

Now while a GPS is not always 100% accurate, our reliance on it has some parallels to walking the life of faith.  Like the GPS, the Lord and His Word show us how to get to our eternal destination.  They also help us find our way when we are lost.  And they can give us confidence to explore the will of God in our lives.  

Exploring, by definition, involves a journey into the unknown.  Many of us would rather know what we are getting into before we set out on a journey.  If we can’t know beforehand, we are inclined to sit tight until we have more of a sense of what is ahead.  Paul calls this walking by sight and he is not too fond of it.  

Like my wife and I did yesterday by setting out on a road unknown with the confidence we would not get lost because we had “Gloria,” we are to trust the Lord and His Word as we set out on the road of life and the myriad of side trips He leads us to take.  We may not know exactly where He is leading us, but we can be assured we will not get lost.  And by our willingness to trust Him, we will see and experience so much more, far beyond our ability to even imagine

Today, know the Lord and His Word are trustworthy.  Set out today in faith and explore where the Lord wants to take you.  And don’t fear—He knows how to get you to where He wants you to go.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Abandoning the Name

“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:25-26 NIV)

The name really doesn’t mean much anymore.  It originally was a demeaning label given to those in Antioch claiming to follow Jesus.  It literally meant “follower of the Christ.”  Those who followed Jesus proudly embraced it. However, since Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, the name has become increasingly tainted.  As a 2007 study noted, those who refer to themselves as “Christians” fall into five broad categories, with only one (19%) group truly following Jesus and two groups (45%) only acknowledging a belief in God but not in Jesus.  

The name was once a simple description—one who follows the Christ, but no more.  Now, the vast majority of Americans identify themselves with the name, but not with its essence.  There is nothing about them or their lives that indicates they are followers of Jesus.  It is just a meaningless label.  Politicians calling themselves Christians are often corrupt and involved in sexual affairs.  Business owners calling themselves Christians can be greedy and treat their employees with contempt.  Students calling themselves Christians can join the crowds on the weekends for nights of heavy drinking.  Dating couples calling themselves Christians can be sleeping together on a regular basis.  In general, people calling themselves Christians can be leading wholly self-absorbed lives without any real desire to follow the Christ.

While the name, “Christian,” used to have a powerful meaning, it is literally meaningless now, given that people on such a broad scale attach to it such different meanings.  For those of us who take the name for its very essence, it probably is time to abandon it.  Telling people you are a Christian no longer conveys what you really want them to know—that you are a follower of Jesus and live for Him.

Today, if you truly are a follower of Jesus, then say so directly.  “I’m a follower of Jesus.” Or, “I’m a Jesus-follower.”  I believe that will get peoples’ attention and convey what you really mean.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Finding Buried Treasure

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46 NIV)

I grew up going to church.  I went through Confirmation as a 12-year-old. I took Communion once a quarter.  By the measure of my culture, I was a Christian.  And I considered myself one as well.  Yet, I was searching for something more, something at the time that seemed so elusive—joy, peace, and meaning.  I sensed it was out there; I just couldn’t find it.  

As I look back, I now realize why it was so difficult.  It required digging and searching beyond the religious trappings and rituals with which I had grown up and which had covered over the Truth that could set me free. Buried treasure by definition is difficult to find.

I don’t know if God intended it to be that way, but it is clear that many get deceived by the landscape of religion and conclude there is nothing of value to be found, or they conclude what they find on the surface is good enough.  As a result, they miss finding the Treasure.  

The challenge for us as ones who have discovered the Treasure is to expose it enough in our own lives to make it easier for others to find.  It is not uncommon to cover it over again with religious rituals and platitudes.  

Today, recognize there are people around you unaware the Treasure of treasures is within their grasp or that it even exists.  You have the opportunity to give them a glimpse of it and show them how they can find it themselves.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This Is Love

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11 NIV)

Love is in the air and on our minds this day, as it is every Valentine’s Day. There will be cards and flowers given, and candlelight dinners shared, in the manner we are told expresses love.  What I find interesting about this passage is how brazen it is in its assumption that we don’t know what love is.  

As it was in the 1st Century, so it is today that our understanding of love is shaped by our culture.  We, like our ancestors, take our cues on love from what we see from the society in which we live.  And what we see is too often a love that is self-centered and based on how we feel.  It is a love that puts the self first (“what am I getting out of it?”) and whose motivation is driven mainly by feelings.  In other words, we will love if we are assured we will receive something in return and will feel good in the process.  

This is not true love because its definition is grounded in our own understanding.  John reminds us, however, that love is from God and He defines it.  So if we are looking to understand love, then we must look to Him.  And what we see will be very different than what we are told by marketers and songwriters.

God’s love is selfless—He loved us while we were still rebelling against Him and telling Him to stay out of our lives.  Even when His Son was rejected, He allowed Him to die in order that we might be saved.  Thus, God’s love is not intimidated or thwarted by rejection.  He keeps on loving regardless if He receives nothing in return.  

This is love and the world will take notice if it sees it in us.  Today, remember to look to God to see what love truly is.  Otherwise, you will never know. 

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send their greetings.” (II Corinthians 13:12-13 NIV)

I was coming out of the Student Union yesterday on my way to my car when I passed a student heading toward the building.  Making eye contact with me, he flashed a wide smile and asked me how I was doing.  I had never met this man and, to my knowledge, had never seen him before. Yet, there he was greeting me with a big smile.  It was so refreshing. Why?  Because it happens so rarely in our culture.  I meet people daily in hallways and on sidewalks who will walk past me with eyes turned down or away, never acknowledging me.  

I always try to make eye contact with people when I encounter them one-on-one in a public place, whether it is on a sidewalk or hallway, as I pass by them, offering a greeting, a smile, or a nod as a way of acknowledging them as human beings, creatures of God.  More often than not, there is no eye contact in return and we pass as if we are unaware of each other.

Greeting one another is a means by which we acknowledge and validate the existence of others, but we live in a culture that discourages this.  And this cultural bent has permeated the Church.  Every Sunday morning Christians, brothers and sisters, will walk by each other without ever greeting one another.  Many will come in, sit down, and never attempt to greet or talk with people sitting around them.  My wife and I have made our way from church parking lots into buildings, walking near others going in and passing others on their way out, and often are never greeted. Eyes are down or focused straight ahead.  

It is interesting that Paul and Peter stressed in their letters for Christians to greet one another.  The “holy kiss” was merely a way, like many Europeans do, to acknowledge one another and express appreciation. We don’t need necessarily to “kiss” one another, but it does seem greeting one another should have more emphasis in our daily lives.  

As followers of Jesus we are not to mimic the world, but rather be salt and light in it.  A simple step in that direction is in validating the existence of each other.  

Today, look for people to acknowledge with a greeting, a smile, or just a nod.  And this Sunday, or when next you gather with a group of Christians, greet those around you and those you pass in the hallway or parking lot.  They deserve acknowledgement because they are of great value to God.   

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Your Record

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Hebrews 4:13-14 NIV)

A story appeared in the Charlotte Observer about a “high end” prostitution ring in the city being exposed.  The story reported that many are concerned because the “Madame” kept meticulous records on her clients. Imagine if you were a well-known leader in the city whose name was on that list, or a married man with teenage children.  Imagine the anxiety and fear.

It seems written on our DNA that somehow we think we can hide our sin; that it will never find us out.  But it always does.  Adam and Eve were hopeful that the Lord would not learn of their sin.  Cain hoped that he could hide his murderous deed.  Ananius and Sapphira thought they could fool the Apostles and the Lord into believing they were so generous.  Even if we manage to hide our sin from friends, family, and co-workers, there is always One who is keeping meticulous notes.  

The Hebrew writer gives us a sober warning: Nothing is hidden from God before Whom we will give account.  Not the gossip.  Not the cheating. Not the illicit affair.  Not the thoughts of lust or hatred.  Everything is entered into our record, to be opened later for examination.

If that is overwhelming, it should be.  That is why we so desperately need the Savior and to cling to Him tightly.  Without Him, we are doomed.  

Today, know all aspects of your life, past and present, are known to the Lord, but that is bad news only if you don’t know the Savior.  Stay close to Him because He is your only hope.   

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Setting Aside Your Fears

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ 

‘Ah, Sovereign LORD,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’

But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a child.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’" (Jeremiah 1:4-10 NIV)

Sometimes our fears just get in the way.  We are terrified to make the call to ask that girl whom we have had our eyes on for weeks out on a date.  We are frightened to change majors from something we have planned to do since junior high.  We are scared to death to sit down and share our faith with our neighbor.  And because of the fear, we don’t act.  

Most of us have fears and often we let them get in the way of experiencing the abundant life the Lord has planned for us.  By giving into those fears, we miss out.  We miss out when we fear what people might think.  We miss out when we conclude we couldn’t possibly do it.  We miss out when we settle for security and comfort.  

I remember a time when I was horrified at the thought of God calling me into overseas missions.  I loved my comfortable American lifestyle and had no desire to go anywhere else.  I refused to consider any possibility of living outside the U.S.  But the Lord kept nudging me and then more intently pressing me to surrender that idea.  Finally, I gave up my fear to Him.  

Within a year, I had decided to pursue a six-week internship with a mission agency and spent that time in what was then communist Eastern Europe.  Several years later, I spent a month in Kenya and Rwanda. Then I began taking students to Haiti and Honduras.  Much of my ministry has been encouraging students to lay aside their fears to consider what God might want them to experience in a foreign culture.  It all started with first laying aside my own fears.  

Jeremiah was a young man being asked by God to do something big and scary—be the mouthpiece of God to the nations of Israel and Judah.  He was terrified.  But he trusted the Lord and put aside his fears.  His life was not easy as a result, but I am convinced he was blessed because he was following the path the Lord had laid out for him.  

What about you?  Are you feeling God’s nudge in a direction you are scared to go or in a decision you are frightened to make?  Today, know you will be blessed if you set aside your fears and follow the Lord’s leading.  And He will be with you every step along the way.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Training Wheels

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Enough of the Talk

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (I John 3:18 NIV)

Sometimes we just need the truth straight up.  No easing into it.  No couching it in a more palatable form.  Sometimes the greatest way to demonstrate your love for someone is telling him the truth straight up. This is exactly what John did.

In his world, as in ours, there were lots of talkers.  They talked about love. Maybe they even sang about love.  But when the opportunities presented themselves, they did not love others.  

It is one thing to talk about things we ought to do or should do; it is quite another to actually do them.  How easily we are fooled into thinking if we talk about something, we’ve actually done something.  When I was a first-year seminary student, I remember talking a lot with my classmates about how the Church needed to help the poor.  We had all kinds of wonderful ideas, but I know, for my part, I didn’t do a thing for the poor that year. Yet, I felt pretty proud of myself for how much I cared for the poor.  It was all talk.

In my years of ministry, I have often heard students talk about the need for unity among the ministries on campus because, as Christians, we are one body.  Yet, when I have attended “unity” events, fellow brothers and sisters often have walked by me without ever acknowledging me.  It is easy to talk about our need for unity as believers, but often our actions demonstrate it is only talk.  You cannot be united with someone you don’t even acknowledge.

Churches are filled with talkers; if they were not, the world would be a very different place.  When people hear Christians speaking of love, they are watching for it to be lived out in their lives.  When they hear Christians speak of the abundant life in Christ, they are watching for them to demonstrate how different their lives are because of Jesus.  They are wanting more than mere words; they want to see those words put into action.  That is a reasonable expectation. 

This is why John spoke so directly; his readers needed to hear the truth and so do we:  The power of the Gospel is not in our words, but our actions.  It is not demonstrated in what we talk about in our Bible studies or Sunday School; it is demonstrated by how we live our lives on a daily basis.  

Today, enough of the talk. Let’s try earnestly to put it into action.

© Jim Musser 2013