Friday, August 30, 2013

The Greatest Creation

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’"(Genesis 1:26-28 NIV) 

For those of us who live in the High Country of North Carolina, we can rightly say we live in a most beautiful place.  I am awed every time I step out onto my front porch and view the mountains in front of me.  Every day, as I drive through town, I see cars with license plates from Florida, Texas, Iowa, Connecticut, New York, and even California.  Literally, people come from all over to experience the beauty of this area.

I have also had the privilege to visit many beautiful places in this country and around the world.  I have often found myself wide-eyed in awe of the beauty of what God has created—the mountains, the streams, and the vast array of wildlife.  It is all amazing and beautiful.  Yet, there is still something greater, more beautiful, more awesome, than all we see in nature.  You.  Us.  

The climax to God’s great creative work was not the picturesque mountains.  Nor was it the awe-inspiring varieties of wildlife, as great and wonderful as they are.  No, it was you.  And me.  And all those you see and talk with every day.   We, they stand as His ultimate creation. 

We live in a day where nature and wildlife are often exalted and viewed with great awe.  And rightly so.  They are evidence of the power and creativity of our God.  Yet, we need to realize His greatest and most awesome creation is us.  He has imprinted upon us His image and He holds us in the highest value, far above the beauty that surrounds us.  

Today, remember whenever you look in the mirror, when you sit down to eat with someone, or when you are standing in line at the grocery store, the one in front of you is greater than anything else in all of creation.  The only One greater is the Creator Himself.

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Giving Credit to Whom It Is Due

“You may say to yourself,  ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.  If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-20 NIV)

It doesn’t take much looking to find arrogance among people who are successful in life.  There are those among athletes who pride themselves on their extraordinary abilities on the court and the field, and do not hesitate to promote their greatness.  There are those in the Academy who always consider themselves the smartest people in the room and who have little patience for those with less intellectual abilities.  And there are those who have made millions who have little sympathy for the less fortunate because they worked hard for their money.

The common thread here is the belief that people are responsible for their own success.  If you are successful, you can take the credit.  If you are less successful, you are to blame.  While it is true that effort is important to being successful in life, it is not the only criterion.  For the athlete, the question is, who gave you the physical abilities to perform at such a high level?  For the academics, who gave you the mental abilities to think well above the average person?  And for the millionaires, who gave you the savvy to find ways to earn big money?  Are we truly self-made?  Hardly.

Not one of us created ourselves.  We were born without our say or doing. Our DNA, which determines the basic stuff with which we have to work with in life—our height, our bone and muscular structure, our IQ, etc.—was given to us.  So even if one works hard and takes advantage of all he’s been given, this truth remains: the basics on which he has built his success he had no role in creating.  They were a gift.

The question then follows: from whom or where did this gift come?  The answer is, of course, from the Lord, the Creator of all things.  This is why God warns the Israelites not to become arrogant because of all the blessings He has bestowed on them.  He knew how easy it is for human beings to take credit where it is not due.  We may be able to produce success by working hard, but that doesn’t mean we can take full credit for it.  Without the abilities God has given us, we would be unable to accomplish anything.  

Today, don’t make the mistake of many who credit themselves for their success in life.  Know that whatever you are able to accomplish is totally dependent upon what the Lord has given you.  Give the credit to Whom it is due.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Looking for Love

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35 NIV)

This is the time of year that new Christian students are looking for a ministry and a church in which to get involved.  What are they looking for? All of them would say they are looking for friends, but I think at a deeper level they are looking to be loved.  Love is at the core of the Christian faith, and not as something we talk about, but something we actually live out among fellow believers.  

Every year I talk with students coming to our ministry who have been involved or attended other ministries. And I have heard from others who didn’t like our ministry and became involved elsewhere. They sometimes volunteer the reasons why they didn’t like our ministry or another. It almost always revolves around not feeling accepted.  In other words, they don’t feel anyone really cares about them.  Friendships are already established and they feel they are on the outside looking in, with no invitation to join soon to be forthcoming.  So they leave and go looking elsewhere.

This is less an indictment on a particular church or ministry than an emphasis of an undeniable fact: feeling loved is crucial to each of us.  And if someone doesn’t feel it, they will move on.  This is how important it is for us as followers of Jesus to truly love each other.  And as He pointed out, those on the outside of our faith are observing.  What they see will help determine whether or not they feel this whole “Christian thing” is worth another look.

Today, ask the Lord to help you love other people, not just those with whom you are already close, but those who come along your path who are looking for the same thing you are—to be loved and accepted. By doing so, they will know you are a follower of Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Miley Really Needs

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18 NIV)

Social media lit up Sunday night and continued into Monday after Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.  Most were shocked and appalled at what many described as akin to a strip club performance.  The wannabe psychologists say Miley is trying to remove any vestige of her “Hanna Montana” persona.  

We’ve been here many times before since the 1970’s.  Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osborne, Madonna, Britney, Lady Gaga.  All have sought attention by seeking to shock us with lewd stage behavior and lyrics.  Some do it merely to propel their careers and fill their bank accounts.  Others, perhaps, are more authentic and truly projecting who they are and how they view life.  Regardless, it is easy for many of us to condemn them for their public behavior and lifestyle because of their influence on our society, particularly young people.  

But here’s the truth: they are already condemned.  One person posted this question on Facebook: “What’s happened to Miley Cyrus?”  I commented: “She doesn’t know Jesus.”  Those who don’t know Jesus are already condemned; that is, they are already standing under God’s judgment.  Thus, they don’t need us piling on.  We, too, stand condemned if we don’t know Jesus.  He is the only difference.  And He came into the world not to bring judgment, but to be the way by which to get out from under it.  Without Jesus, we are all toast!

Jesus came into a world that was literally already condemned.  And His purpose was not to execute judgment, but to give the opportunity for people to be saved from it by demonstrating His love for them.  As His followers, our mission is the same.  Miley and anyone else who does not know Jesus have already been judged.  What they need is to be saved, and that will only come when they experience how much they are truly loved.

Today, you are likely to meet many people who don’t know Jesus and live like it.  What they need is not more condemnation.  They already have plenty stored up.  Instead, what they need is Jesus in their lives, and your love for them may be what helps to put Him there.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013


“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15 NIV)

Most mornings I drink coffee from a mug I bought over 10 years ago in a Taos, New Mexico pottery shop.  I was there while on a sabbatical, recovering from one of the worst personal crises I have ever faced—the dissolution of my first marriage.  The parents of two of my students had kindly given me use of their vacation home and I spent a week there hiking, reading, praying, and taking in the sights.  That time spent in the mountains was very healing and refreshing for me.  For the first time since entering my “desert experience,” God revealed to me His presence and spoke comforting words, words I still remember to this day. That is why the coffee mug means so much to me.  It serves as a symbol of God’s love for me and His power given to me to overcome what the Enemy had hoped would destroy my faith.  

In 1st Century Rome, the cross was a symbol of government power and was used often to intimidate the populace into submission to its will.  That is why the Jewish leaders were so bent on having Jesus crucified.  They were certain His death on the cross and the memory of it would crush the will of His followers and thus the threat to their own power and authority. Much to their surprise, the opposite happened.  

At the last breath of Jesus, the earth shook, the curtain in the Temple was ripped in two, and a Roman soldier declared Jesus to be the Son of God (Matthew 27:51-54). Within days, there was talk of Jesus being alive. And as the months and years passed, the cross, once an instrument of execution and a symbol of intimidation and cruelty, became instead a symbol of triumph and hope.  It still is.

Just as with every sip from my coffee mug I am reminded of God’s love and grace for me, so, too, does the Cross serve as a reminder of God’s ultimate triumph over the forces of darkness.  We don’t worship the Cross, but the One who was hung on it.  However, it is a symbol of God’s power and one from which we should draw encouragement every day.

Today, in the words of the Hebrew writer, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1b-3 NIV)

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Facebook World

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)

Most of us these days are connected with Facebook.  It is a great way to keep up with friends, reconnect with old ones, and let others know what is happening in our lives.  But here’s the big problem with Facebook: It gives us great expectations of what life is to be like.  Apart from the negative and often sarcastic posts during election season or in the midst of a national discussion of some political issue, Facebook posts are by and large positive.  They paint a picture of people’s lives, their marriages, as wonderful.  Everyone is always having fun, having a great vacation, or a great night out.  There are no relationship or marital issues.  Everyone has a wonderful spouse or significant other who is always doing wonderful things.  Churches are wonderful, loving, and there are no divisions or struggles.  From the perspective of Facebook, life is always great.  I call it the Facebook World and a lot of our perspectives on life are influenced by it.

One cannot fault the medium of Facebook for this.  Who in their right mind is going to reveal all the negatives of their relationships and of their lives with the world at large?  Of course, we are only going to post about the positive, unless it involves something like a serious illness or job loss and we are asking for prayer.  We are not going to share about the arguments, the disappointments we have in the people we love, or the struggles we are wrestling with.  If we do, it will be in private.  

But I think it is easy to forget this when we are on Facebook.  Life and relationships always seem to be great, and so thus our expectations for what we should experience.  Yet, as the Apostle Paul points out in this well-known passage about love, daily life is full of challenges.  It requires patience and an even temperament because life doesn’t always go the way we want it and people don’t always act the way we think they should. It requires forgiveness because people are going to disappoint us and, sometimes, hurt us deeply.  It requires an attitude of acceptance of our lives as they are because others are always going to possess some things we do not have.  And it requires perseverance because life in a fallen world can often be very difficult.  That’s just the way it is.  

Today, if you are living in the Facebook World, know that it is a skewed world where everyone is happy, lives are great, and little ever goes wrong.  The real world in which you live is a little messier.  But that’s okay, because God’s love never fails and can get you through no matter what life brings. 

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Source of Our Contentment

“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’

But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.’” (I Samuel 8:4-8 NIV)

The Apostle Paul told the Philippians that he had learned the secret of being content (Philippians 4:12-13).  I think most of us are still in the dark. We spend a lot of time wishing and longing for what we do not have.  We see friends in a romantic relationship and we become discontent with our singleness and want someone of our own.  We look into the mirror and don’t like what we see.  We wish we had a different body where the parts are better proportioned—more like the models on the magazine covers or the celebrities on television.  We look at others and think their lives are so much better than our own.  In our discontentment, we reject what we have been given and long for something we think is better.  

For centuries, Israel had God as their leader and King.  He led them out of slavery in Egypt and promised to lead them into their own land, a land full of “milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:17) But they had a history of being discontent with their present situation.  When they were enslaved in Egypt, they cried out for relief.  Soon after Moses led them out of Egypt, they were complaining about the poor conditions and wanting to go back there.  And they struggled with discontentment up through the time of the prophet Samuel, centuries later.  They finally reached a point of tiring of their uniqueness among the nations, one without a human king.  They wanted to be like all the others.

I think we can relate to the Israelites and, perhaps, don’t see this as much of a problem.  It is almost second nature to want what others have.  Yet, the Lord says to Samuel something very telling.  In their desire to be like other nations, Israel was rejecting God.  Have you ever thought of your discontentment with your life as rejecting the Lord?  If God is sovereign, then your life—the way you look and your current circumstances—is controlled by Him.  He has created and/or has allowed whatever you have and experience.  By becoming discontent, you are rejecting the Lord as your source of meaning and validation, just as the Israelites did.

Today, you may not have what others have, but what you do have is enough. For God is your Creator and Sustainer.  He is your source of contentment.  In Him you have all you need even if you don’t have everything you want.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Psalm 130:3-4 NIV)

My mother was a great keeper of records.  Recently, I discovered some of her calendars from my teenage years.  For every day, she recorded the high and low temperatures and most days have entries of what she did or what we kids did.  For example, “High: 82º Low: 68º  Bobby came for dinner.  Jimmy went to the lake to fish.”  Because of her meticulous recordkeeping, I can practically relive much of what went on in our home when I was a kid.

Over the weekend, I discovered that I have my mother’s penchant for recordkeeping.  I don’t record the daily weather or what I do each day on my iCal, but I realize what I do exceptionally well is keep a record of my sins.  This realization came to me at our Leaders’ Retreat this past weekend while we were singing Jesus Culture’s song, “Your Love Is Everything.”  The chorus has these lyrics: “You keep no record of my sin. You don't remember all my shame.”  As I was singing, I acknowledged the truth of these words, but also realized that I do keep a record of my sin and not only do I remember my shame, I am still ashamed when I go back over my list!  How could I have allowed myself to do such things while at the same time proclaiming that I am a follower of Jesus?  

As I have reflected on what was revealed to me, I realize that list has been like a ball and chain in my life.  For much of my life and ministry, I John 1:9 has been a pivotal verse.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  I have shared this verse countless times with students caught up in guilt over their sin and doubt that God can forgive them, and I wholeheartedly believe its truth.  Yet I realize it’s the list I have been keeping that has prevented me from truly being set free from my past.  

Freedom in this life will not come through being sinless.  That will have to wait for the next life.  But we can be freed from the shame of our falleness by recognizing the glorious fact God does not keep a record of our sins. Once we ask forgiveness, they are erased—permanently.  There is no list left lying around.  

Today if, like me, you are an excellent record keeper when it comes to your sin, take the Psalmist’s words to heart.  If God doesn’t see the need to keep a record of our past sins, then neither do we.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Beginnings

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

All across the country in the coming weeks, a new school year starts on our nation’s campuses.  It is a time for new beginnings.  Freshmen will be living away from home for the first time.  Sophomores will be returning to campus no longer newbies to college life.  And upperclassmen will begin the new school year with the recognition they will sooner than later be entering a world where they go to work instead of going to class.  

With all new beginnings come opportunities—opportunities to change. People often allow their circumstances to define them, so when circumstances change, opportunities follow.  The college freshman that could never seem to find his niche in high school has the opportunity to make new friends and discover the broader world that exists beyond the limited confines of his hometown.  The sophomore can put aside that inglorious freshman year and begin anew.  The upperclassman can decide to start living more like an adult than a kid, less dependent on Mom and Dad, and taking on more adult responsibilities.  

But new beginnings are not limited to college students or to school years. For those embracing the mercies of the Lord, new beginnings are possible every day.  As dawn commences, so do new opportunities.  If yesterday was a bad day, there is new hope for today.  If you really screwed up last night, this morning begins a new day with His mercy present and an opportunity for a fresh start.  

As imperfect beings, we fail multiple times each day, whether in thought or action.  The build-up of these failures over days, weeks, and years can be crushing.  But the Lord offers us a way through—by daily accepting His compassion and mercy for us.  They are new every day, waiting for us to take hold of them and, thus, getting a fresh start.  

Today, know regardless of what you have done, whether yesterday, last week, or last year, the Lord’s mercies are new for you this morning. Today is a new beginning for you.  All you have to do is accept His forgiveness and seize the opportunity He gives you to start anew.  

© Jim Musser 2013