Thursday, February 28, 2013

How To Fight


“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  Do everything in love.” (I Corinthians 16:13-14 NIV)

Sometimes a particular passage in Scripture just jumps out at you.  It may be because it speaks directly to something you are experiencing, or convicts you of something of which, up to that moment, you were unaware.  Or perhaps its practical clarity just grabs you.  I think it was the latter when I was reading I Corinthians 16 yesterday morning.  

Paul is wrapping up his first letter to the Corinthian church, writing about his plans and various friends, when he writes these two sentences—five straightforward, practical commands.  I am guessing they just came to his mind and he wanted to include them, and being in a time before electronic writing, he couldn’t just go back and insert them in an earlier part of his letter.  I am glad he did, because these are important commands, not only for his readers at the time, but for us as well.

Be on your guard.  Remember, we are in a spiritual battle with an enemy who seeks to destroy us (I Peter 5:8).  Life may seem like, well, life, nothing out of the ordinary, but we live on a spiritual battlefield and we need to be constantly on guard for enemy attacks.  But we need not be afraid.  We can stand firm in our faith because if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)  We can be courageous because nothing can separate us from the Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) We can be strong because we have powerful weapons at our disposal. (Ephesians 6:10-17) And we must fight these battles in love because, without it, we fight for nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3) 

Today, consider what battles you are facing and how you will fight them. Paul has given you some very practical commands to implement that will insure success on the battlefield.  

© Jim Musser 2013

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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Producing Fruit


“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-24 NIV)

There have probably been times in your life where you have felt the need to be more loving or joyful, or patient.  Most likely you were inclined to try harder to incorporate the trait into your life, because that is what we do to improve something—we work harder.  

When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, we wish that we had them in more abundance in our lives, and our instinct is to work on that.  Yet, Paul says there is no law involved in the production of this fruit.  In other words, the law is an obligation, something to fulfill, but the fruit of the Spirit is naturally produced.  We don’t form it in our lives by trying harder.  

If you walk in an orchard grove, you won’t hear the sounds of grunting as the trees work hard to produce their fruit.  Rather, it is a natural process because fruit trees just naturally produce fruit.  There is no trying.  In the same way, the Holy Spirit naturally produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It doesn’t take more exertion on our part, but rather to cease impeding the Spirit and submit to His work in our lives.  

If you desire to have more of the fruit of the Spirit in your life, you don’t have to try harder to get it.  If you are a follower of Jesus, the Spirit lives in you (Romans 8:9), and He will naturally produce His fruit if you don’t impede Him.  Today let Him do in your life what He naturally does—produce His fruit.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Working for the Prize


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

Imagine if a track coach says to a recruit, “All you have to do is show up at the meet and run.  If you do that, I guarantee you will be a winner.”  We would think it ludicrous because we know running, or any competitive sport, requires hours and hours of practice and conditioning.  Yet, we often don’t blink an eye at pastors and churches that proclaim following after Jesus is merely a matter of praying a prayer for salvation and showing up on Sundays.  If you do that, you get the prize.

Paul compares following Jesus to that of the training of an elite athlete. From what we know of athletes at the collegiate, Olympic, and professional levels, their training is integrated into their lives.  Hours are spent each day working on strengthening, technique, and conditioning. The only successful athletes are those who are committed to the grind of training.

Now, is our salvation dependent on how hard we work?  No. It is solely dependent on the grace of God, as Paul makes clear to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:8-9), but to grow in that grace, to experience the riches of what Paul calls “our glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), requires more than a one-time prayer and a one-hour commitment on Sundays.  It requires the discipline of an athlete in training, who shows up ready to work.  It is not easy, and there will be times you question whether it is worth the time and effort, but in the end the reward will far outweigh all the work.  

This work involves regular study of the Scriptures, prayer, serving, and other disciplines that will lead us into becoming spiritual winners, ones who take home the prize of knowing fully the riches of Christ.  

Today, as Paul did, live the life of following Jesus as one who desires to win the prize.  It won’t happen without effort and discipline, but it will be totally worth it in the end.

© 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

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sharing the Gospel in Your World


“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

It was Saturday morning and I had just walked into McDonald’s to grab some coffee and do some final preparation for a youth conference workshop I would be teaching in a couple of hours.  I overheard the young woman trying to sell some jewelry to another man standing in line.  After he politely declined, she moved on to me.

Her name was Kristin.  She was doing a yearlong project with a group promoting global peace and trying to raise money.  She would soon be getting the opportunity to go overseas for the first time.  Would I be interested in helping her out?  I was almost certain she was from the Unification Church, but asked just to make sure.  She was.  I politely told her I was a follower of Jesus and didn’t agree with the teachings of her church.  She moved on.  But I felt incomplete; my heart broke for this deceived young woman.  I wanted to say more.

After I purchased my coffee, I sat down in a booth, opened my Bible and began to pray for Kristin.  Suddenly, there she was standing by my booth introducing herself again.  She didn’t immediately recognize me as one she had already approached.  Then it clicked and she asked me about what problems I had with the Unification Church.  Thus began a 10-minute discussion of the Gospel and the central role Jesus plays in it. Our conversation ended with me asking where she was from.  It turned out she was from a city just down the road from where I had worked for over 20 years.  She said she was homesick and knowing I had roots in her home state made her want to cry.  A connection, albeit brief, had been made and I believe the Lord used it to plant that gospel seed just a little deeper.

Interestingly, my workshop was about creating a missions atmosphere in a youth ministry.  One of the points I had already planned to make is that missions is not confined to going overseas; it can be found in our daily lives—like at McDonald’s.  

Jesus says to go into all of the world, but that includes the immediate world in which we live—on campus, in our workplace, in our neighborhood.  The call to share the gospel is not just for “over there,” but “right here” as well.  The question is, are we ready to share when those opportunities arise?  

Today, recognize the command of Jesus to take the gospel into the entire world includes the one in which you live.  For there are a lot of Kristins in need of hearing about it.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

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)

The American Freshman Survey recently released by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program reveals what has been 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 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

Greetings


“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

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Great Deal


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

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

Yet, most of American Christians don’t see it as a good deal for them. Only five percent tithe, the average is gift is three percent, and one in five believers give nothing.  A lot of people are going reap very little!

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Triviality


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

Ray Lewis, the middle linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, quoted a part of Romans 8:31 (“If God is for us, who can be against us?”) when asked how his team won the game.  Soon after, people were asking, legitimately, if that meant God was against the 49’ers.  Athletes are notorious for giving God credit for victories, but usually are silent about Him in the midst of defeat.  This just adds to the belief that God is easily trivialized by our culture.  

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

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

In the case of an athletic competition, no doubt both sides want to win badly and, likely, there are players on both teams asking God for victory. So it gets tricky to say God gave the victory to one team or the other. But I think even if we think such talk is silly, we need to be cautious in concluding God is too big for such trivial things.  To do so ignores the truth that God indeed takes notice of things we consider very small and insignificant, and is extravagant in the giving of good gifts to His children.

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

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, February 4, 2013

Traction


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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, February 1, 2013

Just Like Everyone Else


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

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

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

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

The reality is we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.  The only true difference between followers of Jesus and everyone else is we have embraced His grace and walk in faith.  They are still left to account for their own sin; we are justified by the righteousness of Jesus.  

Today, recognize you are just like everyone else in the world—a sinner in need of God’s grace.  And understand accepting His grace doesn’t make you better, just forgiven.

© Jim Musser 2013