Friday, February 28, 2014

The Purpose of the Scriptures

“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 3:16-17 NIV)

I wrote earlier this week about the spiritual immaturity of many in the Church.  Much of reason for this I think can be attributed to our use of the Scriptures.  In Paul’s last letter to Timothy, he leaves no doubt the Scriptures are inspired by God and thus have the authority to speak into our lives.  He also states how the Scriptures are to influence us.

Overall, the Church is the strongest in applying the first one—teaching. Between the pulpit, Sunday School, and small group Bible studies, the Scriptures are taught.  Information about doctrine, history, and practice are well disseminated, whether or not the listener commits them to memory.  However, regarding the other three—rebuking, correcting, and training—it seems there is much less emphasis.

In His final command, Jesus 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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)  The practical implementation of what He taught us is a part of the teaching process.  And it is here the latter three uses of the Scriptures come into play.

Rebuking and correction are very similar—both have the goal of putting the believer back on the right path with the Lord.  The rebuke is an abrupt command to one who is intentionally or recklessly engaging in thinking or behavior contrary to the teachings of the Word.  For example, I Corinthians 6  is a rebuke to those who teach that if we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are saved regardless of what we do afterward. A correction, on the other hand, is more gentle and given to those whose intent is sincere, but whose understanding is not quite right.   An example of this would be how Aquila and Priscilla corrected Apollos on his understanding about baptism. (Acts 18:24-26)

Training is the “how-to” of putting the commands of Scripture into practice. The key here is that spiritual leaders provide the example of what that looks like.  Jesus taught the disciples the meaning of servant leadership by washing their feet (John 13:1-17).  Paul demonstrated how to follow Jesus by his example (Philippians 3:17), and he instructed Timothy in how to be an example to the believers he led (I Timothy 4:12).  

Spiritual maturity can only be attained by using the Scriptures as they were meant to be used.  While teaching the contents of the Word is important, how to obey what we hear is crucial.  And to do that we need training, sometimes correcting, and, on occasion, an outright rebuke.  

Today, understand the purpose of reading and studying the Word is not merely to gain more knowledge about God.  Rather, it is to transform your life into looking more like Him in both attitude and action.

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

High Stakes Faith

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-8 NIV)

Recently, my wife and I needed to make a decision that posed some financial risks.  We had been praying and talking about it for a couple of weeks.  When the time approached for a definitive “yes” or “no,” we talked about the Lord’s faithfulness in taking care of our needs.  It was easy to remember the countless times when we had some type of need and the Lord provided.  Yet, in the moment of facing any big decision or great need, there is doubt.

It is easy to talk about trusting God when there is not much at stake for us.  When we’re healthy, it is easy to tell others to “just trust in God.” When we have a job with benefits, it is easy to feel secure and proclaim God’s faithfulness to provide.  When we are in a carefree period in our lives, it is easy to tell others not to worry.  

The true test of our faith, however, is when things really are on the line, when the stakes are high—graduating with no prospect of a job, a medical diagnosis, the death of a loved one.  For us, risking a significant amount of money for a longer-term gain.  After much discussion and prayer, we were at peace to go forward, to take the risk.  The peace and courage comes from our trust in the Lord.  We did our due diligence in seeking wisdom and guidance and then we took the step of faith that, by definition, the results of which could not be known beforehand.  

We took that step of faith because we know the Lord is faithful to provide for us.  It is not in His nature to lead us down a blind alley where bad things will happen to us.  Time and time again throughout the Scriptures, we see God’s faithfulness to do good to those who love Him.  In fact, He even does good to those who hate Him (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35). As the Hebrew writer says: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)  

Today, be assured in whatever situation you may find yourself, the Lord is faithful and worthy of your trust.  You may not know how things are going to work out, but you can have confidence they will result in your good. That’s just who God is and how He works.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


“Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)

As I met with students this week, one theme emerged—weariness. Everyone was tired, not just physically, but emotionally.  And a number admitted to spiritual dryness as well.  

When we are tired physically, it affects us emotionally and spiritually.  The toll of an academic year, months of stress at work or at home, or an extended time of crisis builds up and, without appropriate attention, begins to impact us emotionally and spiritually.

I remember at the end of the previous academic year, I was exhausted. Months of pouring my life into others had taken its toll.  I did not feel very close to the Lord. Did I have some deep spiritual problem?  No.  I was just tired and my weariness was impacting how I felt.  

Satan loves to take advantage of our weariness and play with our minds and emotions.  He wants us to believe we are far from God because when we believe that, we are less likely to pursue Him.  We feel guilty and the guilt can push us to move away from Him.  But it is a great deception! He dupes us through our feelings.  We feel far away from the Lord so therefore we conclude we are.  

However, our feelings are not necessarily indicators of reality.  We often still feel guilty about sin we have confessed when the Scriptures say sin that we confess is forgiven (I John 1:9).  Our hope must be placed not in our feelings, but in the Lord who promises to renew our strength.

Today, if you are feeling weary, be aware of Satan’s great deception. Seek out the Lord and put your hope in Him.  He will renew your strength and you will likely feel a lot closer to Him. 

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Learning to Grow Up

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” (Hebrews 5:11-6:3 NIV)

It’s an illustration that my wife absolutely hates.  Each year I use it as a part of a discipleship course I teach to our students.  When I talk about how to mature as a Christian, I set it up by talking about the lack of spiritual maturity in the Church as a whole and our tendency to see it as normal.  For example, we don’t think it odd at all for people to have been in church for years and yet feel uncomfortable or incapable of sharing the Gospel with others.  Or we think it extraordinary when certain believers have a mastery of the Scriptures, a deep prayer life, or a passion for the Lord that leads them to sacrifice their comfortable lives to take the Word of God to the far reaches of the world.  These are merely signs of spiritual maturity.

So I tell the students this: Imagine if you saw a mother nursing a six-year-old.  What would you think?  Their eyes widen at the thought.  Then I throw in the kicker: Imagine it was a teenager.  Their faces crinkle in disgust and their lips purse with “oooohhs.”  Exactly.  It is a disgusting image.  Yet, as I tell them, we are often perfectly comfortable in the church with the idea of believers acting like spiritual babies long after they should be spiritually mature.  How often is this complaint heard: “I’m just not being fed” and considered legitimate?

The Hebrew writer is very blunt: It’s time to grow up and to be feeding yourselves.  And not just the milk of the basic teachings of how to be saved and the end times, but moving on to adult food that has to be chewed on to consume and to enjoy.  Food like the spiritual disciplines—prayer, fasting, silence, submission, etc.  Or loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.  Or a sacrificial generosity toward the work of the Kingdom.  This is not extraordinary food meant to be consumed by a small spiritual elite.  This is understood in the Scriptures to be the ordinary food consumed by spiritual adults.  

To look at the majority in the Church today is to see a total lack of understanding of this.  They come Sunday after Sunday with their mouths open asking to be fed.  And the leaders, whose responsibility it is to equip them with abilities to grow into spiritual adults (Ephesians 4:11-13), repeatedly give them what they want rather than what they need.  So, as the Hebrew writer says so clearly, we have a Church full of babies rather than adults.  Is it any wonder the Church is so weak and ineffective?  For if it is to be the presence of Christ in this world and its work be transformative, the babies have to start growing up.

Today, consider your maturity level in the Lord.  Are you a spiritual baby? If so, and you have only known the Lord a short time, that’s okay.  A baby has to be fed and grows over time.  But if you have known Jesus for years and still have not learned how to feed yourself and grow in maturity, it’s time to start.  And if you lack motivation, just picture that teenager sucking on his mother’s breast.  That should do the trick.

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Church's Brand

“Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (I Thessalonians 4:9-12 NIV)

The bent of our culture is to draw attention to one’s self.  Whether it is through a “selfie,” a video we hope will go viral, a witty tweet, or a blog post.  As is always the case, the Church must guard itself against being carried along by the cultural current, and Paul’s counsel to the Thessalonica believers would be a good place to start.

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”  Not many church leaders make this their “life verse.”  As did Jesus’ brothers (John 7:3-5), the temptation is to think you need to make a big splash, to draw attention to your work and your opinions.  Some leaders even go as far as “branding” their churches with cool logos and professional marketing.  The idea is to become known and recognizable.  

Yet, Paul’s marketing strategy for the Church is very simple: Love one another more and more.  Let that alone be what speaks to the identity of the Church.  Let love be the Church’s “brand.”  Otherwise, just live out your lives as faithful servants, not drawing attention to yourselves, but rather to the Lord who resides within you.  As Jesus said, our identity as His followers will be clear by our love for one another (John 13:35)

Today, know the way any church or Christian is to be known or recognized is by love.  It is a simple brand, but also the most powerful and recognizable in the world.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

No Ordinary People

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV)

Recently, I walked up to a group of students, all Christians whom I knew, and greeted them.  One barely looked up from her computer to acknowledge me.  I don’t think she intended to be rude; it’s just how people are today.  They are too absorbed in what they are presently doing to acknowledge others, often even those they know.  People are into whatever is on their screens or coming through their headphones. Without realizing it, through our self-absorption we often fail to validate the most precious of creatures.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.” (The Weight of Glory)

Lewis gives us a sober reminder.  The people we often ignore are truly extraordinary and have great worth.  They are creations of the God of the universe, for whom He desires a great destiny—eternal life and to become like Him (I John 3:2) In fact, a great sacrifice was made, blood was shed, to enable that destiny to become a possibility.

As Lewis so eloquently states, there are no ordinary people.  No one can be ignored as unimportant or not worth our time.  Jesus gave up His life for all of them.

Today, recognize the people you meet—the stranger, the acquaintance, or the friend—are extraordinary and precious to the Lord.  For He gave up His life for them, which should tell us all we need to know about their value.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Secret

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)

My wife and I spent a day off the mountain recently to do some shopping and to watch a movie.  I had a craving for “Back Yard Burger,” which went out of business in our town a few years ago.  She was not too excited about the idea, but said she would do it for me.  As soon as we walked through the door, a group of four employees behind the counter greeted us with smiles and friendly chatter.  Their friendliness continued through our entire visit.  As we walked back to our car, my wife said she would come back to the restaurant just because of the friendliness of the employees.

As we were driving home later in the evening, I was thinking about our BYB experience.  I must say in the bulk of my interactions with service industry workers, whether they be in fast food, grocery stores, or other retail outlets, most are not very friendly.  By and large, they are not rude, but you get the impression from their attitudes that they don’t like their jobs very much.  This is why the BYB employees stood out so much. They seemed to be content with the jobs they had at the moment.  I am sure they have aspirations beyond manning a fast food counter, but they were able to enjoy where they were at the moment.

I think this is what Paul is saying to us.  No doubt he would have preferred not being in a Roman prison being persecuted for his faith in Jesus, but instead of being resentful or bitter, he found joy in his present circumstances.  He accepted, perhaps for reasons he did not fully understand, that the Lord had allowed his imprisonment and would bring good out of it (Romans 8:28).  And he allowed himself to be strengthened by the Lord so he could resist his natural tendency to be discontent and embittered by his circumstances.  For it is not natural for us to be content in all situations.  This must be learned.

This is why we see so much discontent in people and why we are often discontent.  We have not learned to trust the Lord and lean on Him when the circumstances of our lives are not to our liking.  

Today, know regardless of your present circumstances, it is quite possible for you to be content and to find joy in the midst of them.  The secret is to trust that the Lord is in control and to rely on His strength to do so.  Then, like Paul, you can be a shining light of contentment in a world full of discontent.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Grasping God's Love

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)

I once heard of a young woman who, while injured and being cared for, cried out that the people shouldn’t bother, that she was not worth the trouble.  There are so many like her, people who think they are worthless, who loathe their very existence, and wish they were either dead or could become someone else.  This self-hatred leads them into prisons of addictions, bad relationships, violence, and clinical depression.  

If only they knew and could imagine how much Jesus loves them, then they could be set free.  But this can only happen by the power of God and the openness of a human heart.  That is why prayer is essential to reaching those around us who hate themselves.  

I know a man who had been addicted to drugs for many years.  He came to know Jesus, gave his life to Him, and has been clean ever since.  A co-worker, hearing his story, observed it must have taken a lot of willpower to get off drugs.  He corrected her, saying he had tried his own willpower for too long.  He said it was only the power of Jesus that finally helped him overcome his addiction. 

We cannot will our way out of sin.  Nor can those who hate themselves be convinced they are loved through self-help.  This is a spiritual battle that can only be won through spiritual power.  

Are there those you know who are imprisoned by their own self-hatred? Then today begin to pray this prayer of Paul.  God’s love for them is immeasurable, but it will take the power of God at work in their hearts in order for them to grasp it. 

© Jim Musser 2014  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Lesson from "Downton Abbey"

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?  As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.  They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:46-49 NIV)

Like so many it seems, my wife and I are fans of the show, “Downton Abbey.”  The show, depicting the lives of the British aristocracy in the early 20th Century and those of their servants, is well known for its great characters, such as the Countess of Grantham, Lady Mary, Mr. Carson, and Mrs. Patmore.  

While to most Americans the idea of lords and servants is foreign, for most of history, and still today in parts of the world, these classes of people were the norm.  And so it was in the days of the Roman Empire. “Lord” and “servant” were common terms and well understood by the people.  Jesus used them frequently in his teachings and parables.  In the context of 1st Century Roman culture, these terms had precise meanings.  “Downton Abbey” surprisingly can help us understand more accurately what He meant.

Those living upstairs in Downton are the ones in charge and those living downstairs are their servants.  The authority upstairs is understood by both classes to be absolute.  The servants downstairs may not always like or agree with orders given, but there is no question they will be obeyed.  

So when Jesus asks the question, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” it is likely He had a perplexing tone.  How can you give someone the title of “Lord” and not submit to the authority that comes with it?  It had become merely a title for many who claimed to be His disciples.  They called Him “Lord,” but did as they saw fit with their lives. Imagine if Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham’s servant, decided to do whatever he wanted rather than the Lord’s bidding.  It would be unthinkable to those in that era.

This is what we need to understand about calling Jesus, “Lord.”  It is more than a nice title.  When we confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-11), we are committing to serve Him and accept His authority over our lives.  We give up any right to control our lives or make decisions apart from His will. This is what it has always meant to be a servant to a lord.

Today, if you need to get a picture of what being a servant of Jesus means, watch “Downton Abbey.”  Though it is a fictional story, it shows clearly who is in charge and who serves.  It is an understanding we desperately need if we call Jesus our Lord.

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fine-Sounding Arguments

“I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual force of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:1-8 NIV)

Early in my walk with Jesus, I was told by many around me that the “charismatic gifts” (I Corinthians 12) had been replaced by the New Testament, that any such display of these gifts in the modern church was of the devil or based on out-of-control emotionalism.  To my young ears, it was a fine-sounding argument.  Yet, as I matured, continued to examine the Scriptures, and experienced a different point of view from fellow believers, both in this country and in many countries around the world, I began to see the flaws of this argument.  It was shortsighted and mostly a reaction to extreme beliefs and practices with regard to the spiritual gifts.  

Today there are a lot of fine-sounding arguments out there and, like me, a lot of people accept them because they sound reasonable.  For example, there is one that says followers of Jesus should not concern themselves with the sins of others.  Pope Francis added credence to this argument by saying a few months ago, “Who am I to judge?” when asked to comment on the Catholic Church’s stand against homosexuality.  Yet, if one reads the Scriptures, there is plenty of evidence that believers should be concerned and seek to persuade (not condemn) others, particularly their brothers and sisters in the Lord, to repent of and avoid sin. (For example: Colossians 3:5-10; James 5:19-20; John 8:9-11)

Another fine-sounding argument regards evolution.  The argument goes that science proves there is no Creator; that the earth and the entire universe evolved to their present state over billions and billions of years. Thus, it is immense amounts of time that proves God is unnecessary. Scientists like Bill Nye scoff at the idea of a God creating anything instantaneously out of nothing.  In essence, they argue that time is all that is needed to do what Christians claim God did.  It sounds reasonable, particularly when they lay out their evidence, but they operate on the assumption there is no omnipotent God, that human beings are the highest order of existence.  There is no room in their thinking for the God described in the Scriptures as the Source of all creation and the One who holds the universe and everything in it together (Colossians 1:15-17).  Yet Paul tells us that Creation reveals clearly the existence of God, as well as much about Him (Romans 1:19-20)

Fine-sounding arguments, by their very nature, sound good and reasonable.  Yet, Paul warns us not to accept them at face value.  We instead must evaluate them with discernment and Scriptural truth. Whether they come from the world or from within the church, no argument should be accepted without scrutiny.

Today, know not every fine-sounding argument is true, regardless of how reasonable it might sound.  So the next time you hear one, be on your guard and investigate its veracity.  Otherwise, you place yourself at risk of being deceived.

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

True Love

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13 NIV).

Today across America and in many countries around the world, lovers will be engaged in an annual ritual of expressing love to one another through cards, gifts, and romantic dinners. It's Valentine's Day.  

Long forgotten, however, is the man in whose memory this ritual was originally celebrated.  Valentine was a bishop in the 3rd Century Church. When the Roman Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage, Valentine began to secretly perform marriage ceremonies for young couples.  When the emperor discovered this, he had Valentine arrested.  Impressed by the bishop's convictions, he attempted to convert him to the worship of Roman gods.  At the same time, Valentine sought to persuade the emperor to follow Christ.  The end result was his execution.

It is said that while in prison, Valentine healed the daughter of a jailer of blindness.  Just prior to his execution, he penned a letter to the young woman, ending it with, "From your Valentine." 

Valentine gave up his life in the service of others.  That is what real love is.  So much of today's celebration of Valentine's Day trivializes love.  A recent survey revealed that this holiday causes more anxiety among men than any other.  They feel great expectations are upon them in what they do for their spouses or girlfriends.  And often they don't perform very well. Go today to any store selling greeting cards and you will see men gathered trying to find a card right before heading home.  For many, doing something on Valentine's Day is an obligation rather than a gift from the heart.  They do it, not because they really want to, but because that is what is expected of them. 

True love is not coerced.  Jesus was not forced to love us.  He chose to. No one made Valentine take a stand against Claudius; he chose to do it out of compassion for young couples.  

On this Valentine's Day, remember the words of the One whom the original Valentine followed to his death.  For in them we find the true meaning of loving someone. 

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Changing Plans

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16 NIV)

My wife and I had plans to go to Charlotte today for a doctor’s appointment and then, since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, to spend the night in a hotel and enjoy the day in the city.  Then the biggest snowstorm of the season descended upon this region and scuttled our plans and those of many others.  

We tend to assume all of our plans are going to work out until they don’t, whether they be plans for life or merely plans for the weekend.  Many college students envision what their lives are going to look like after graduation.  Newlyweds visualize their married lives as going exactly as they plan them.  Older couples picture their lives in retirement.  They will all be surprised and disappointed to some extent because life never goes the way we plan it in our minds.  

Now James is not condemning planning in one’s life.  In fact, there are a number of Scriptures that speak of the wisdom of planning (Proverbs 6:6-8, for example). No, what James is condemning is the arrogance we sometimes have in thinking that we are in control of our lives; what we plan will happen.  And that arrogance tends to blind us to the fragility of our lives.  We are not masters of our universe.  In fact, our lives can end or be dramatically altered in the blink of an eye.  Look around.  It happens all the time.  

What James wants us to understand is only God is in complete control. We are completely dependent upon Him, whether we realize it or not. But when we do recognize our dependence, we are naturally humbled and submissive to His will which is good and perfect (Romans 12:2)

Today, know that you can make plans for your life, but recognize your plans may not be God’s plans.  If yours don’t quite work out, don’t fear or be disappointed.  The plans of God are always better in the long run.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Value of Citizenship

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:17-21 NIV)

As we sat down for a celebratory dinner a few years ago, I mentioned to the American hostess that my wife had just become a U.S. citizen.  She looked at us with an awkward grin, said, “Ahhh,” and then told us the name of our waitress and walked away.  Obviously, she had no appreciation of the occasion.

In a given year, over one-half million people from around the world are given the privilege of U.S. citizenship and many more apply.  The process for most takes years and many are rejected.  It would be fair to say that American citizenship is a coveted status among people all over the world. Yet, many Americans, like our restaurant hostess, have little appreciation for it.  They were born here and take it for granted.  And what is taken for granted loses its sense of value.  

Kids take their parents for granted and, thus, often don’t appreciate the sacrifices they make for them.  Students take their opportunities for education for granted and, thus, don’t take advantage of their chance to learn.  And citizens can take their citizenship for granted and not fully appreciate their rights and responsibilities.  

Paul writes that we as believers are citizens of heaven.  I wonder if many of us don’t take that for granted, too.  Do we truly appreciate the privilege we have to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom?  Do we understand that our responsibilities involve more than just showing up at the port of entry when we are called out of this life?  Or do we take it for granted, oblivious to our privileged status.  

Citizenship may be given freely, but a price is always paid. Without the sacrifice of many Americans before her, my wife would not have been given the privilege of citizenship, or at least a citizenship worth attaining. By fulfilling her responsibilities as a citizen, she is honoring all those who sacrificed their lives to preserve this nation.  In the same way, when we truly live out our lives as citizens of the Kingdom, we honor the One whose sacrifice made our citizenship possible.

Today, if you are a citizen of God’s Kingdom, recognize what a privilege it is and never take it for granted.  The opportunity came at a tremendous price.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Posting and Tweeting

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV)

On Saturday, Marcus Smart, star guard for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, shoved a fan in the stands and was suspended for three games.  One well-respected coach speculated social media played a role in the incident.  Tom Izzo of Michigan State said players are constantly bombarded with critical tweets and posts.  They hear it not only from the stands, but also online, which he says is very difficult for players to deal with day in and day out.  

Perhaps if Paul were writing today, he would add, “let no unwholesome tweets or posts go out from your phones.”  It is so easy to be critical when not face to face with someone.  This was true in Paul’s day; it is true in ours.  But what has changed is, with social media not only can one be critical in the presence of a few friends, but with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.  I recall a couple of years ago, during the presidential election, a Facebook friend posted a message skewering another friend for her political position.  That message was seen by hundreds of others.  Imagine how she felt.  He posted an apology, but the damage was done.  

We must be on our guard as followers of Jesus not to follow the trend of the world to be quick with negative tweets and posts.  We follow the One of Whom it is said, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3)  With everything we say or post, we should strive to lift up, not tear down.

Today, know that you are to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17).  The next time you are tempted to post or tweet something disparaging, this would be a good thing to remember.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

Wolves Among the Sheep

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20 NIV)

There is a civil war taking place in the Central African Republic and last week it was reported that Christians were killing and maiming Muslims and destroying their homes.  It brought deep sadness to my heart, not only because of the brutality taking place, but also that the perpetrators were identified as Christians.  

I know this cannot be true.  The fruit of a true follower of Jesus, who is filled with the Holy Spirit, looks entirely different.  (Galatians 5:22-23)  Like so many, these murderers identify themselves as “Christians,” and the media confirms it, without any true understanding of what makes a person a Christian.   They may hold to some beliefs that align with historical Christian tenets, such as Jesus being the Son of God, but they have no relational experience with Him and have not come to a point of humility before Him.  They are Christians in name only.  

Jesus warned of such people, particularly those who are in positions of leadership or seek to influence others.   I remember years ago a charismatic man who became pastor of a struggling church.  The elders were won over by this man’s charm and promises to produce a growing church, but I just sensed something was not right.  As I observed his ministry, I saw a man more interested in notoriety and power, than in loving and serving people.  Sadly, the man did great harm to the church during his tenure and was eventually fired when the elders learned the full extent of his poor and manipulative leadership.  

Many identify themselves as Christians, but we should not be so quick to accept every claim.  We should always carefully examine the fruit of a person’s life.  Are you dating someone who says he or she is a Christian? Is that claim backed up by how they conduct themselves in daily life? Are you involved in a church whose pastor claims to be following the Lord? Does the fruit of his life confirm that claim?  Are you a member of a small group Bible study?  Does the leader display the fruit of the Spirit in his or her life?

Today, know while Christians aren’t perfect, there should be clear evidence of the Spirit’s fruit in anyone who claims that identity.  If there is not, then be wary of placing yourself in a position to be influenced by them.  As with wolves among sheep, the outcome will not be good.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Friday, February 7, 2014

Withstanding the Siege

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)

With the Internet, social media, and the unique personal world (location, friends, work, etc.) in which we each reside, we are bombarded with information and messages daily that influence how we think and how we live.  It is often like we are a military battalion under siege.  

Paul says the key to not following the living pattern of this world is the renewing of our minds.  Yet, with our minds exposed to so much information and so many messages, renewal is difficult, just as is a military victory if the battalion is in a weak position and outgunned.  The only path to victory may be to retreat and regroup.  

To do this spiritually, we need to remove ourselves from the information and messages around us and retreat into the Word of God.  Doing so allows us the opportunity to gain a different, but true, perspective from what we are constantly exposed to.  And we strengthen our position to better withstand the siege that the world brings to us.  By being in the Word, we are able to discern the truth or falsity of the information we are receiving.  

Today, recognize the need to renew your mind if you are to live a godly life.  And the only way to do that is to be in the Word of God, allowing it to enlighten you on God’s perspective of the world and of life.  Then you will be better equipped to withstand the world’s siege on your mind.  

© Jim Musser 2014

Thursday, February 6, 2014


“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)

By nature we are easily dissatisfied.  You don’t have to go long or far to hear people complain.  They complain about the government.  They complain about the weather.  Students complain about classes.  Employees complain about their employers. Single people complain about being alone while many married people complain about their spouses.  

The reality is complaining is in our genes.  Adam and Eve complained to God (Genesis 3:12-13); the Israelites complained to Moses (Numbers 11:1-6); Jeremiah complained to God (Jeremiah 20:7-18) ; and the disciples complained to Jesus (Mark 10:41).  Throughout human history, we have struggled to be content in our circumstances.  So much so that it seems normal to complain.  Everyone does it.

Yet, Paul told Timothy that we gain something great if we pursue not only godliness, but contentment as well (I Timothy 6:6) Thus, what is normal for the world should not be the norm for us.  Rather, Paul says we should learn to be content with our circumstances.  His secret?  To accept that God is in control of all things; to be satisfied with how He allows things to unfold; to trust Him.

To complain is basically to say we would do things differently and better. In other words, we are saying we know better than the Lord. Contentment, then, is an act of submission.  When we are content with our circumstances, we are acknowledging our trust in the Lord.  

Today, recognize complaining for what it is—a lack of trust in the Lord.  It is in your genes and won’t be easily overcome, but if you are willing, God will give you the strength to be content.  And then you will have gained something great.

© Jim Musser 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Checklist Relationship

“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.” (I John 4:9-10 NIV)

A student recently shared that when she first came to college, getting involved with a campus ministry was on her list.  It was something she thought she should do since she had grown up in church.  When she came to CCF, she was then able to check that off her list and focus on other things.  

Isn’t this how many of us approach our relationship with God, as an item to check off our list?  Went to church, check.  Prayed before my meal, check.  Read a passage in the Bible, check.  Our relationship with Him is an obligation that we must fulfill.  We approach it as a “to do” list and once we have completed the list, we feel pretty good about ourselves.  

The question is does love really work this way?  As we approach Valentine’s Day, I think of the men who at the last minute try to find a card or order flowers.  It’s expected.  It’s on their list of things they have to get done.  But are their hearts really in it?  Women know the difference.  So does God.  

He doesn’t want us to feel obligated; He wants us to feel love.  Don’t we all?  Are we ever truly satisfied being given love and attention out of obligation?  We know the difference.

The student of whom I spoke realized the emptiness of her relationship with God and now has one that is full and rich.  God is no longer merely an item on her checklist.  And both of them notice the difference.

Today, consider your relationship with the Lord.  Is it a vibrant relationship of love or is it more of an obligation, something to check off your list?  He knows the difference and, I guess, so do you.

© Jim Musser 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

God's Amazing Love

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV)

No matter how many times I read this passage (and it has been hundreds), it still grabs me.  I think of my early life and how I used others and lived for myself.  I think of the hatred that resided in my heart for a number of high school classmates, the lust that infiltrated my adolescent mind, and the sense of entitlement that led me to steal from my employer.  
A lot of people told me then that I was a good person.  It felt good to hear it, but deep down I knew the truth.  I knew who I really was and I was without hope.  But then I began to learn about Jesus and of His great love for me.  To think the God of the universe could love such a person still boggles my mind.  That type of love can be transformative if we can just accept it.  But it is very hard to do.

To accept it means we acknowledge our true selves—sinners to the core, deserving eternal death rather than life.  We have to acknowledge we have earned nothing but judgment.  In other words, we must humble ourselves, swallow our pride, and throw ourselves upon the mercy of God.  

This flies in the face of what we are taught and what we would like to believe—that basically we are good with a few imperfections.  The truth is no one is good but God (Luke 18:19).  The rest of us, as Paul says, are by nature deserving of God’s wrath.  This is the truth and what makes God’s love so amazing and so meaningful.

Every day I try to remember who I was before I came to know Jesus. After so many years of following Him, it is tempting to forget, tempting to think I have earned His favor.  But the reality of my sinful nature reveals itself daily.  Though I am a new creation in Christ, the old man is not completely dead yet.  Apart from God’s grace, I would still be deserving of God’s wrath.  This fact humbles me and makes me so thankful for the love I’ve been shown.  

Today, reflect on the depth of your sin.  This is an exercise not intended to deepen your guilt, but to deepen your gratitude for something you do not deserve—God’s amazing love!

© Jim Musser 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Cool Factor

“What has been will be again, 
what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which one can say,
 ‘Look! This is something new’?
 It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.  No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come
 will not be remembered by those who follow them.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 NIV)

There is always a challenge in ministry to make the Gospel relevant to the culture.  However, the danger is always overestimating the value of the latest trends at the expense of the value of eternal truth. I think we tend to get caught up in trying to be cool.  

It has been interesting to observe over the past few years a lot of believers embracing the alcohol culture.  Posts on Facebook and Instagram contain pictures of the latest craft beer or mixed drink.  I’ve heard of Bible studies being held at bars, not to talk with patrons about the Gospel, but so as to indulge in some drinks while discussing the Scriptures.  I think the reason is the cool factor.  Whereas most believers once shunned  alcohol consumption or drank in moderation in the privacy of their homes, now folks are trying to shun stereotypes, trying to show how progressive and free Christians can be and promoting it for all to see.  
Another trend is to have cool church services, which often include pastors wearing cool glasses and cool clothes.  Add to that a cool worship band playing cool music and you are bound to draw attention and a crowd.  

And that is really the problem.  The motivation is to draw attention to ourselves.  We want people to think we are cool and cutting edge.  It’s about us.  What we forget is the wisdom of Solomon, that there really is nothing new.  It may look a little different but the essence is still the same. Trends and fashions come and go, most to be forgotten except in history books, but it is the desire to be trendy or fashionable which remains consistent.  And Solomon says this desire is meaningless.  It leads us from the solid path of truth into the weeds of triviality.

We are not wrong in trying to be relevant to the culture in which we live, if indeed the goal is to make God known, the Gospel understandable and the Scriptures more meaningful.  But often most of the energy seems to be put into being relevant as if relevancy is an end in itself, and the attention being sought is for ourselves rather than for the Lord.  The only end worth pursuing is gaining attention and glory for God.  Everything else, in the long run, is meaningless.

Today, know there are and will be plenty of trends you can latch onto to be cool.  But being cool is always an endless endeavor because it is bound to the trends and fashions of the moment.  Your time is much better spent being grounded and living in the truth.  Exchanging meaningless pursuits for meaningful ones?  Now God finds that very cool!

© Jim Musser 2014