Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Fact of Relativity

“The Lord said to Job: ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!’

Then Job answered the Lord: ‘I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.’

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: ‘Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’” (Job 40:1-7 NIV)

Professional tennis player Serena Williams is almost universally viewed as the best women’s player of all time.  She has won 23 Grand Slam titles during her amazing career.  She is, in one word, dominant.  But if she were to compete against the likes of men’s players Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, she wouldn’t stand a chance.  Indeed, her greatness is relative. Against women players, she has no equal, but against the men she would rate as just an average tennis player.  

I call it the fact of relativity.  Depending on to whom one compares one’s self, we can all reach the conclusion we are better, stronger, or smarter than someone else.  Job and his so-called ‘friends’ were having such an exchange. They argued about wisdom, sin, and righteousness and each, at several junctures, seem to make convincing arguments.  But then the Lord speaks and, suddenly, things are put into their proper perspective.  Who are these men who think they speak for God or dare to offer their opinions of how He should conduct Himself?  You can almost feel the awe as the One and Only steps into the picture and removes all doubt to their folly.  Their arrogance is quickly replaced by humility.  Who do they think they are?

I can almost imagine God listening in on some of our discussions in person or on social media where we opine on things upon which we believe we have great knowledge or wisdom.  It is our human tendency to puff ourselves up and compare ourselves to those around us. We become full of pride in our perceived position.  But it’s always relative. We are wise, smart, good compared to whom?  What if the Lord would to insert Himself into our conversations?  What would become of our view of ourselves or of our opinions?   

In this world, there will always be people who are considered great or consider themselves great, but the truth is that view is relative. Compared to what? is the question we should always be asking ourselves.  By doing so, we can keep things in their proper perspective and avoid one day being humiliated.  Serena Williams doesn’t compete against the top men of her sport because she knows better.  It would be humiliating.  We would be wise to apply the same principle of relativity to our lives when we are tempted by pride and arrogance.  If we compare ourselves to God, there will be no chance of that happening.

Today, when you are tempted to think highly of yourself, remember the fact of relativity to keep your pride in check.  Imagine the Lord presenting Himself and questioning you.  That should do the trick.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Holding On Loosely to This Life

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” (Philippians 1:20-26 NIV)

My wife and I have this running joke between us.  We both playfully claim we are going to die first and that it would be very wrong for the other to be the first to go and leave us behind.  It may seem to be a morbid joke at first glance, but it really comes from a similar understanding that Paul had—that living this life to follow Christ is good, but to actually be eternally in His presence is so much better.  

If my wife were to depart first (highly unlikely in my humble opinion), I am sure I would grieve terribly, but not for her because I would know that is what she longed for—to be with Jesus.  And I think the same will be true for her as well if I am the first to exit this world.  We both truly believe the best is yet to come.

I don’t think this is very common among people, even believers. Rather, there is a clinging to this life.  Platitudes evoking the wonders of Eternity may be spoken, but the grip on this life remains steadfast.  

I indeed have felt it, but as I’ve grown older and my mortality becomes more and more undeniable, Paul’s words have taken on deeper relevancy and my grip on this life has been steadily loosening.  

It is this loose grip that allows us to live freely and at peace.  Too many live in constant fear or in denial of their mortality.  Both lead to bondage and unsettledness.  It is only when we hold onto our earthly lives loosely that we can experience the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Today, ask yourself this question: Do I truly believe to die is to gain something wonderful and indescribable?  If the answer is no, then ask the Lord to show you more clearly the riches of the glorious inheritance that awaits you on the other side. For the more you understand about Eternity, the less you will want to cling to this life and the more peace you will have. 

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, February 24, 2017

Choosing To Have Hope

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel. For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.

I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long. Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.’ Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me. May my accusers perish in shame may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace. As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” (Psalm 71:1-14 NIV)

When I read this Psalm yesterday, it was the 14th verse that grabbed my attention: “As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.”  We live in a time where hopelessness is endemic. Many find the current political climate disturbing and wonder what the future holds.  Anxiety and depression permeate the campus culture, with student suicides being the most visible symptom. Out of the opioid epidemic emerge stories of lives broken and destroyed by addiction. There are countless other examples that reinforce this sense of hopelessness in our world.

In this context, what stands out to me in this Psalm is the writer’s steadfast hope in the midst of trying circumstances.  He has enemies. He feels surrounded and outnumbered. But, he says, in spite of this, he will always have hope and praise the Lord even more.

There is a sense the writer is making a conscious choice here.  He could be freaking out or withdrawing into depression, but instead he chooses to hope, to trust God in the midst of his circumstances, and to praise Him in faith that good will come to him.  He has chosen to believe the Lord is in control regardless of his present situation, and his view of Him as loving and trustworthy leads him to have hope.

Like Job’s wife, much of the cultural bent is to conclude from our circumstances that God doesn’t exist, doesn’t care, or can’t be trusted. Hope for change or transformation by His hand is considered foolishness and unrealistic. In essence, the message is to give up hope on a divine rescue and come to terms with our lousy circumstances, coping in the best way we can.  

In the face of this message, if we, like the Psalmist, are to have hope, we must choose to have it.  We must choose to focus our attention away from our circumstances and toward the Lord, choosing to praise Him for His goodness and faithfulness, and choosing to trust that He can rescue us from whatever situation in which we find ourselves.  To the vast majority, this sounds foolish and unrealistic, but it is the choice we have before us. 

Today, will you choose to have hope regardless of your circumstances? Will you choose to trust that the Lord can rescue you? Or will you give into the hopelessness towards which the culture is bent?  It is your choice to make. As for me, I will choose to have hope.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Lesson of Knots

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)

They are called “knots” and if you are a wood splitter, you are never too excited to see them.  Knots are where branches have begun to form and the “grain” of the knot runs counter (sometimes perpendicular) to grain of the trunk.  Thus, when you are trying to split a log, a big knot will resist being split.  The result is the need for several swings of the ax or mull or just giving up.  

Now what is bad news for those who split wood tells something wonderful for those of us seeking to remain in Jesus.  We sometimes think the burden is on us to remain in Him, that it’s another work we have to strive to do.  Yet, think of the knot.  It is so difficult to break through, but it is what forms the base of the branch.  If we are the branches, think of how strongly we are attached to the tree!  We will not be easily removed!

It is going to take a lot for us to be removed because His hold on us is so strong.  Thus, we need not be afraid that with every challenge or temptation, we are going to be ripped from His hands.  His grip is very tight.  

So today, think not so much on how to remain in Jesus when you are struggling, but rather rest in the knowledge of His firm hold on you.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Genuine or Fake?

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.  When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’

And he continued, ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, “Honor your father and mother,” and, “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’” (Mark 7:1-13 NIV)

A few years ago, the charger for my Mac stopped working.  I looked online for a new one, and read the reviews for various replacements. There were a lot of warnings about some of them being fakes.  The sellers described them as genuine, but reviewers said, upon closer examination, they were knock-offs and didn’t work well at all.  

No one likes being taken in by a fake.  There is the great anticipation that you have something genuine, but after you purchase it, you realize it’s not the real thing.  What a letdown!

I think this is why Jesus is being so hard on the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  They are trying to sell the people on their own righteousness in order to have them admire and follow them.  But, as Jesus points out, they are a bunch of fakes.  What they claim to be and what they truly are is very different.  And Jesus, like the rest of us when we have been duped, is quite disappointed and let’s them know it.  (At another time, He gets downright angry.  See Matthew 23.)

Jesus, while being fully God, was fully human as well, and one of the things we humans like the least is fakes, whether they be politicians, car salesmen, or religious hypocrites.  We want what is genuine and authentic, and we hate being duped.  I think that is why so many are skeptical of or turn against Christianity.  They have seen too many fakes.

None of us is perfect, but we need to be acutely aware of our day-to-day lives and what they project about the Lord.  Are we living in ways that are genuine and reflect truthfully on our God?  Or are we faking it? You need to realize people eventually can tell the difference.

Today, reflect on your own life in the Lord.  Is it genuine or is it fake? Only you and the Lord know for sure, but it won’t take others long to find out.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

How To Finish the Race

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV)

The Christian life, if one uses running terms to describe it, is much more a marathon than a sprint.  The focus is not on a brief span of time—my senior year, my college days, or my late 20’s or early 30’s.  Rather, it is on a lifetime, however long that may be.  The mistake people often make is they get caught up in the “moment,” thinking that they are doing well and successfully running the race when, in reality, all they’re doing is having a good sprint during a short leg of the competition.  They may indeed be looking good at that point, but the race is long and those leading early or during an earlier portion, may indeed drop out before they reach the finish line.  

As with a marathon, when we are following Jesus it matters more how we finish than how we start.  We can easily be fooled into thinking we are doing great spiritually very early on when emotions are high and we are new to the race.  But the terrain is bound to get tougher and we more weary as time goes along.  Spiritual stamina is required and that is what makes the difference between those that finish with Jesus and those who don’t.

I have been doing ministry a long time and I have seen many start the race well, but struggle to build the stamina needed for the marathon in which they have entered.  They base their fitness on how they feel rather than on truth.  They lack the strength and diligence to persevere when the going gets tough.  They get distracted by people or things along the way that lead them way off course.  The end result is they fail to finish.  They may have looked great at a certain point, but that was not enough to carry them to the end.  

I think the Hebrew writer saw the danger for the believers in his charge. They had reached a very tough part of the race.  Things were hard and discouraging, even dangerous, and he saw the distinct possibility of them falling by the wayside.  So he gave them three separate instructions.  And these instructions can serve us well in completing the race set out for us.

First, draw near to God in sincerity and confidence.  There is a danger that we get so caught up in the minutiae of our lives that we gradually separate ourselves from the Lord.  We get too busy and too focused on other things.  But this is a sure way to sap our strength to complete the race because He is our source of strength.  

Second, cling to the hope that is found in Jesus.  Living in a world where hopelessness so often is the norm, one cannot hold onto this hope loosely or casually. We must cling to it with all of our strength or it will be ripped from our grasp.  

Third, we must keep around us people of like mind and intention to give us the encouragement and incentive to keep running the race until the end.  We are not meant to, and cannot, run this race alone.  

All three of these instructions are meant to work together.  Each reinforces the others and builds stamina.  When people fail to finish the race, it is because one or more of these has not been put into practice.

Today, consider these instructions.  If you are not following them in your life, know that you are in danger of falling out of the race, even if you feel at the moment that you are doing fine.  You just won’t have the stamina to finish, which is the entire point of being in the race in the first place.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

Putting an End to the Harshness

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:1-3 NIV)

If it weren’t so sad, it would be amusing.  I’m referring to the countless social media discussions that end up with people insulting each other, the deletion of comment threads, and even the blocking of those making comments.  It usually starts out with someone posting an article or a comment they think is interesting or even a self-evident truth.  But then someone offers up a comment voicing an opposing view and it usually goes downhill from there. Others join the fray in support of the original poster and the back and forth becomes more heated and the language harsher. Feelings are hurt and, sometimes, relationships are strained to the breaking point.  

I have witnessed it many times and the results have become almost as predictable as the seasons.  Yet, many seemingly can’t resist.  And I am just referring to those I know who are Christians.

Jesus made it very clear that our best witness to the world on His behalf was our demonstration of love for one another (John 13:34-35). Now I do not believe He is implying we are never to hold brothers and sisters accountable nor refrain from speaking truth to them.  Jesus and His disciples did this many times, but love was always the basis for it rather than pride or self-aggrandizement.  And it seems that with social media it is easy to stray into the latter.  Through it we are given an easy means to express our opinions without any face-to-face contact or any built-in buffers such as putting our thoughts to pen and paper, re-reading them, putting them into an envelope, walking it to the mailbox or post office—all affording us time to re-consider.  Rather in seconds, with a click, we can voice our opinion to a particular person or to the public.  And it feels good.  I know.  I have done it a couple of times and ended up regretting it.  But what feels good and what is right are two very different things.  

One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control, but it seems we are often prone to quench the Spirit in this area.  We say what we want at the peril of our unity and witness. So these three proverbs are particularly pertinent to the social media conundrum.  First, gentleness in our language and tone is always preferable because it helps to keep things civil and calm.  Secondly, as James notes, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak because our tongues are not so easily controlled. Thirdly, we do not post or comment in secret.  The Lord sees everything we do.  That in and of itself should give us pause before we click the Send button.  

My personal leanings are to move away from social media as a means of discussion on important issues and toward face-to-face discussions. I’m weary of the harshness that seems endemic to it, and am very concerned for negative witness it conveys in light of Jesus’ command. But this is just my opinion.  What is not opinion is the command to love one another, to exert self-control in our dealings with one another, and to speak gently, not harshly, to one another.  

Today, consider how you treat your brothers and sisters in the Lord, whether via social media or face-to-face.  Is it in line with the teachings of the Scriptures?  If not, then it is time to change your approach, not only for your sake, but also for the sake of your Lord.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

When We Are Trapped

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:16-21 NIV)

I wrote yesterday about the devil’s desire to trap us and devour us.  So what happens if indeed we become ensnared in his trap?  Is our fate hopeless?  Thankfully, because of Jesus, it is not.  He came to set us free and indeed He can do it.  But there is one caveat: we must walk out of the trap once it is opened and its hold on us is removed.  

This seems very simple and straightforward, but it is more complicated once we begin to drill down into the details.  Like a woman trapped in domestic abuse, just because people are given a way of escape doesn’t necessarily mean they will take it.  Fear of the unknown often keeps them in the trap.  It is convoluted thinking, but the devil is an expert at exploiting it.  

The abused woman may desperately want out, but the questions arise: Where will she go? How will she protect herself?  What about the lost income that provides security?  Maybe she even questions whether she even deserves anything better.  So the fear and uncertainty of the unknown provides a rationale to stay in the trap.  The door has been opened, but walking through it becomes a fearful prospect.  So she remains.  

The same is true of others similarly trapped—the one in a relationship with an unbeliever, the one who is in bondage to an addiction, the one who is in a toxic friendship, or the one who continues to pursue satisfaction from worldly sources and continues to come up empty.  The rational thing to do would be to take the way of escape, to get out before we are destroyed.  But the comfort of the familiar and the fear of the unknown often keep us in captivity.  It is an instinctive response that needs to be overcome.

The trap we are in is leading to our destruction.  Jesus is providing us a way out.  Can we know or predict what will happen next or even further down the road?  No.  But the fear of the unknown can be overcome by trusting the One who loves us more than any other.  He will not leave us or forsake us. In whatever awaits us outside the trap, we can be assured we will not face it alone.  

Today, if you are in a trap set by the devil, be assured there is a way out.  Jesus can set you free.  And if the uncertainty that exists outside of that trap scares you, put aside your fears and trust Him.  Not only will He lead you to freedom, He will remain with you whatever comes next. You will be okay, and much better off, no matter what you now imagine.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Hunted

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8 NIV)

I am a hunter in the unconventional sense.  Every spring through fall I hunt those cute little critters called ground squirrels (or chipmunks, depending on where you live) that dig tunnels underneath and around my home’s foundation.  But I don’t hunt them with a gun, but with a trap. And I’m good at it.  I take something they desperately want (birdseed) and place it in a trap.  Even if they are suspicious and cautious, they just can’t resist the lure of that bait.  Into the trap they go and the sound of it closing is music to my ears!  Got another one!

On my property, the ground squirrels are the hunted; in this life, it is we who are the potential prey.  The devil, our enemy, is on the prowl looking to capture and devour us. We would be wise to realize that because stealth and deception are the tools of his trade.  Like so many ground squirrels in my neighborhood, the trap door slams shut on us before we even know what has happened.  

The cleverness of the devil is found in his ability to know what bait to use, and he doesn’t always use the same one.  As I told our students this week, his bait for entrapping college students is often relationships—friendships or romantic relationships.  These are important to them and they long to have them; thus, they are very vulnerable to them being used in nefarious ways to entrap them.  But there are many kinds of bait that appeal to our debased desires—position and status to appeal to our pride; money to appeal to our greed; power to appeal to our desire for control; bitterness to appeal to our self-centeredness and desire for revenge; pornography to appeal to our lusts. All can and will be used to lure us into entrapment and destruction.  

Peter warns us to be “of sober mind.”  That is, we need to be thinking seriously and clearly about our enemy.  We so often give him a huge advantage from the outset by being naïve about his intentions.  Like the ground squirrels that only see the birdseed and not how it is being used, we so often ignore how good and innocent things in and of themselves (e.g., relationships, sexual desire, money, etc.) can be used against us. And we do so at our peril.

Today, consider carefully what particular baits are the most dangerous to you and plan your strategies to avoid being lured into the devil’s trap by them.  Be assured that you are being hunted. Your greatest defense is to be aware of his schemes and plan accordingly so as not to be ensnared by them.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Living Faithfully in Anonymity

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:1-5 NIV)

It seems our culture puts a lot of emphasis on fame.  Many now attempt to use social media as a launching point to become famous, whether attempting to showcase their musical talent, political and cultural commentary, comedic abilities, etc.  It seems many want to be well known and receive the lucrative benefits from it.

An interesting thing in the New Testament is how few of the people whose faith is highlighted are actually named.  The paralyzed man was healed, Jesus said, because of the faith of four men who carried him and lowered him through the roof.  They are not identified, but their faith was extraordinarily strong.  It is not hard to imagine if it had happened today that the four men would be on talk shows and writing books about their friendship with the healed man and the back story of how they took him to Jesus. 

Yet, we don’t see that kind of notoriety in the Scriptures.  The vast majority of those written about are identified only by their gender, nationality, malady, sin and/or vocation.  No names are given.  The woman at the well who evangelized her village was a Samaritan (John 4). The woman Jesus forgave was caught in adultery (John 8). The man whose servant Jesus healed was known only by his rank in the Roman army (Matthew 8).  Men and women of great faith whose names are never known.

And then there are the men and women who faithfully served that only their names are known, but nothing more about them.  The list of people Paul greets in Romans 16 is a good example.  Only a scant description, if any, is given of them.  And what about Matthias, the disciple chosen to replace Judas? (Acts 1)  He is never mentioned again in the New Testament.

Is there a lesson here for us?  Could it be the notoriety so many seek, to be recognized for their accomplishments, or just to be recognized, is just a chasing after the wind?  Is it perhaps the one who cares the least about being known for his faithfulness who will be the most acclaimed in Heaven?

Today, remember there is only One from whom we should seek recognition, and it will not happen by seeking to parade our deeds before the world.  It will happen when we are merely concerned with living daily lives of faith no matter who is watching or knows.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Chasing of the Gods

“Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:4-8 NIV)

It doesn’t take much keen observation to recognize people often are their own worst enemy.  Every year I witness students getting in their own way of spiritual growth and maturity.  As David so wisely notes, when you chase after other gods in your life, you will suffer.  And as in most places, there is a lot of “chasing of the gods” on college campuses.  Students often run desperately after the approval of their peers, a friendship or romantic relationship, a 4.0 GPA, the dream of a promising and lucrative career, or simply endless fun and pleasure for themselves.  

The point David is making is if what you are chasing is anything other than the one, true God, you will eventually come up empty and the worse for it.  And, that it is such a dumb thing to do!  God is so wonderful, why would you choose any other?

Yet, the vast majority does, and most without giving much thought to it. It is the way of the world and it appears to them normal.  But the end result is also, sadly, normal—lives full of disappointment, anxiety, depression, and lack of fulfillment and purpose.  But in every generation, the futile chase continues and the results are the same.  

God, however, is loving and faithful.  He continues to seek to turn eyes toward Him, to where hope and joy are found. He does this through His creation and through His people.  David says elsewhere that the heavens declare His glory, and we, His followers, are as well, through the way we live our lives and treat others.  Through both, the Lord is declaring His glory to those who desperately, for their own sakes, need to see it.  

So today, know the Lord wants to use you in the lives of those who are chasing other gods to show them how much better it is to chase after the one, true God.  And, if those same things tempt you, remember you will only come up empty in the end.  Truly, only God can fully satisfy.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Freedom of Grace

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:23-25 NIV)

In the past couple of months, the postal service has returned several letters to my ministry’s office that were sent to a supporting church.  I called a friend who is an elder at the church to find out if we had the wrong address.  Sure enough, we did.  Instead of the street number being 11221, it was 11231.  Only one number off and probably only a few doors down from where we intended to send it.  Now my question is, why couldn’t the postal carrier just deliver the letter and let us know of the error in the address?

But that would have been an act of grace and the postal service, like all institutions, operates under rules.  To me, it is a reminder of how blessed we are, as followers of Jesus, to live under grace rather than the law.  Under law, even the slightest deviation is never overlooked and always has a consequence.  There is never a “don’t worry about that; we’ll take care of it” attitude.  Under law, life is lived with an attempt at full awareness of every action and in fear of every consequence. There are no breaks or do- overs.  No wonder Paul describes those under the law as prisoners.  

Grace, however, sets the prisoners free.  No longer do we live under the threat of the consequences of sin.  No longer is it looming over us, watching every move we make.  Instead, grace beckons us to resist sin because of the love we have received, and provides us with a safety net when we fail.  

Today, if you are a follower of Jesus, rejoice in the freedom you having living under God’s grace.  And if you are not, know that you, too, can be set free from the oppressive life under the law.  Jesus came to set you free, and if He sets you free, you will be free indeed.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017

Small Gestures of Love

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (I Timothy 6:17-18 NIV)

Every morning, the first thing I do is make myself a pour over coffee. To sit and take those first sips in the quietness of our home is one of my favorite things each day.  It is easy to take these little pleasures for granted, but what Paul reminds us is that they are truly gifts to us from the Lord.

It may be a warm scone or a slice of toast with your favorite jam.  It may be a hot cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon or an ice-cold glass of sweet tea on a hot summer’s day.  It may be a crimson sun rising in the east or setting in the west, or feeling the pull of your line as you fish in a mountain stream.  It may be that sense of accomplishment from fixing something or creating something. 

Life is full of small pleasures.  What I think we often miss is that these are as much from God as are the “big” things, like a spouse, a job, or some type of healing.  He cares so much for us that He tends to the little things as well as the big.  But how often do we notice or give Him the credit?  Do we give Him thanks for coffee, desserts, or any of the many things that bring us pleasure, or do we just take them for granted?

As in any relationship, small gestures are especially meaningful—a note, an act of kindness, or a small gift.  If we pay attention, we can easily see the small gestures of love the Lord gives us on a daily basis. They are intended to reinforce our understanding of His love and appreciation for us.

Today, particularly if you are a little down or discouraged, think of that nice cup of coffee or tea, or whatever gives you pleasure, and remember these things are given to you out of a deep and abiding love. They may be small gestures, but if you take the time to notice, they reveal just how much you are loved.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Simple and Straightforward

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:34-36 NIV)

What are we to make of our culture today where the president is considered the enemy or the president’s enemies are considered the enemy?  Or where Republicans hate Democrats and progressives hate conservatives?  Or where social media fights break out practically every minute?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I am perplexed in many ways.  But what I do know is we believers need to heed the words of Jesus, lest we continue to add to the problem.  We are commanded to love our enemies.  Jesus doesn’t get into exactly whom these people are, so I assume He leaves it for us to decide.  They may be the people who have the opposite political beliefs from ours, or the people who hold to a different religion, or people who look or speak differently than we do.  Or it could be someone who betrayed or cheated us, or sought to do us harm. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter.  

The command is simple and straightforward: Love your enemies and do good to them.  If this makes you uncomfortable, it should.  It is not natural, for one thing, to act lovingly toward those who are unwilling to do the same. It also can seem unfair and even unjust.  But it doesn’t matter what it feels like or what we think about it.  It is a command from our Lord.  The only choice we have is to obey or disobey.

He had the same choice when He walked the earth.  He had many enemies, but in the end, He chose to love them even though they hated Him (Luke 23:34). He only asks that we do the same.

But it is our bent to get caught up in the moment, to let our emotions get away from us and lead us toward hatred and mercilessness.  We hold grudges, are harsh and lash out.  And we rationalize our actions by whatever means possible.  But, still, it doesn’t matter. The truth still stares us in the face even if we choose to look away.  God is kind even to the ungrateful and wicked.

Today, consider this command of Jesus. Whoever you consider to be your enemies, He is telling you to love them, to be kind to them, to do good to them.  It doesn’t really matter what they have done or how you feel about them.  What matters is whether or not you will submit to Jesus and do what He commands you to do, which is no more than what He Himself did toward those who hated Him.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3-10 NIV)

It is a true love story.  A single missionary gets a call late in the night to come rescue an abandoned baby.   Not even thinking of caring for a child, she takes the baby to an orphanage the next day.  But she can’t get the baby girl out of her mind and so visits her every day.  Seeing she is getting lost in a sea of babies, she decides to take her home.  In those early days, a connection forms and the woman begins to feel a love that only a mother can have.  After four years of winding through a tedious adoption process, this single woman legally became the mother to a child she had loved since that rainy night she first held her in her arms.  Since then, that baby has grown into a young girl struggling with her identity and her past, yet her mother’s love remains steadfast.

Adoption is never easy.  It always requires a great deal of sacrifice in both time and treasure.  If one is adopted, she is truly loved. 

So when Paul says we have been chosen for adoption, we should sit up and take notice.  It means God felt connected to us from the beginning and was willing to pay the cost to bring us home with Him.  The death of His only Son was the price He paid, but He considered it worth it to have us as His children.  And once He has us home, He lavishes His love on us.  This is no begrudging Father forced by circumstances into an adoption.  No, this is a Father who loves deeply and lavishes His love upon us freely.

Yet, as is true for most adopted children, no matter how much we are told we are loved by our Father, there are still doubts and we can sometimes lose ourselves in our search for validation.  But He remains true in his devotion to us regardless because His love for us is that deep.

Today, know your adoption by the Heavenly Father is a sign of how much you are loved.  He sacrificed what was most precious to Him in order to bring you home.  Yes, you may be mired in struggles over your identity as a child of God, but your Father’s love for you remains steadfast.

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Hungering for the Word of God

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.” (Psalm 119:103-106 NIV)

Since my early days as a follower of Jesus, I have often been dumbstruck by the lack of knowledge people who claim to be Christians have of the Scriptures.  I have met elders in churches and people who have sat in the pews for decades that have little true understanding of what the Scriptures teach.  And having worked with students for several decades, I think I understand why.

When my wife met Jesus and decided to follow Him, she says one of the transformations that occurred in her life was her desire to read God’s Word.  She wanted to read it every day, and she still does.  But in my work with students, that desire is rare.  For many it is a chore and, if they would be honest, they don’t feel they get much from it.  For others, there is a fear of it—either from the sin in their lives to which they would rather not be called to account, or from not being able to understand what they’re reading.  And still others think they know enough to get by and may read more when they get to a point in life when they’re not so busy.  

This all adds up to developing a habit of not reading the Word, which often remains long into their adult lives.  If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then this is a habit that has to be avoided or, if established, must be broken.  As would be the case for a husband or wife with the habit of not listening to what his/her spouse has to say, a relationship with God is not sustainable if we are not listening to what He says.  And the main way He speaks to us is through His Word.  

What each of us need, if we do not have it, is a hunger similar to that of my wife to read the Word of God.  And knowing her, the answer to getting it is simple: opening up our lives to Jesus.  Because we were created by Him and for Him, the more we open ourselves to Him, the more we will hunger for Him.  What gets in the way often is our openness to other things besides Jesus.  My wife was wholeheartedly pursuing them when she met Him. What changed was she let Him take control and those other things took a back seat or were completely removed.

Today, do you find yourself hungering for God’s Word?  If not, then perhaps it’s time to take a look at why that is, because anyone claiming to follow Jesus should be longing to read and understand His Word.  So ask the Lord to reveal what is going on with you that is blocking this desire.  And, do one more thing as well.  Say to the Lord something like this: “Lord, give me a desire for your Word.”  Not only will He answer your prayer, but the Word of God will come alive for you and, as with David, will give you the understanding to help you to live a righteous life.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017


“I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:21-24 ESV)

If you are like me, you were up late last night watching the Super Bowl, one of the most exciting football games in its 51-year history.  It was worth staying up for, but all of us faced the reality this morning that it’s Monday and we have to go to work or to class.  

This is why Mondays in modern times are so despised.  Talk to most people on Monday morning and they will complain about having to get up early and start their weekly routine.  They may also throw in how much they are looking forward to the weekend.  Mondays get no respect.  I haven’t checked, but I’m sure a popular hashtag campaign is, or could be, #IHATEMONDAYS!

Here’s the thing, though, if you are a follower of Jesus: Monday is a day the Lord has made, so we are to rejoice and be glad in it. His words, not mine.  I say to students a lot that following Jesus is an intentional task, that the cultural currents are strong in the opposite direction.  

It may seem like a small thing, but complaining about Mondays is not to be the mantra of believers.  Rather, we are to recognize Monday as a day (like every other day) created and given to us by the Lord.  It is a day, like every other day, where we can give thanks for the Lord’s mercies, which are new every day and rejoice in the fact He made a way for us to be saved and have hope for eternal life.  

Complaining is the cultural norm and about Mondays it is practically universal.  But complaining is frowned upon in the Scriptures.  One way in which we can shine brightly is the way in which we rejoice rather than complain.  

Today, on this Monday, regardless of how late you were up or how tired you are, rejoice because this is the day the Lord has made, His mercies are new, and in Jesus you have eternal life—some great reasons to be excited about a new week! 

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, February 3, 2017

Religious and Moral Pursuits

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:13-15 NIV)

In a conversation with a student recently, we were discussing others’ attitudes and viewpoints of Christianity.  He said one of his roommates viewed it as a “crutch” for people too weak to deal with life on their own. Another, he said, saw it as just one of many options from which to draw moral direction.  

The great challenge for those of us who truly know and follow Jesus is to explain Him to a world long infected with corrupted understandings of Christianity, and to make sure we don’t infuse our beliefs with the same corruptions.  Like the Pharisees, many see a relationship with God formed around following strict rules—the “thou shalts.”  Certain behaviors are required and when they are fulfilled, God is pleased and one is in good standing.  This was the Pharisees’ view and many have adopted it down through the ages.  Go to church, be a good and sincere person, and that is enough.  Jesus forcefully condemned this view.

Another view is that Jesus is on equal footing with other moral, religious teachers, such as Buddha and Muhammad, or, in modern times, Gandhi. People searching for moral meaning, then, should study the teachings of all these men in order to find their own ethical code by which to live.  But, as C.S. Lewis noted in his classic book, Mere Christianity, Jesus didn’t give us that choice.  As Lewis said, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Many view Jesus as a founder of a religion. He was nothing of the sort. He is the Son of God who came to earth for one reason—to make it possible for humans to reconcile with God.  Religion says we can do that through our own moral efforts.  The Scriptures, on the other hand, tell us there is nothing we can do, that we are helpless (Romans 3:23). And Jesus said He was the only possible way back to God (John 14:6). Following Him rather than rules, obeying Him rather than trying to carve out our own moral way is the only path to salvation.

That is why Jesus describes this path as narrow and one that few will find (Matthew 7:14). In our pride, we want to be in charge; we want to be the ones to achieve our own destiny.  And this is why religion and the pursuit of morality capture so many.  

Today, recognize that religion and moral pursuits lead in the exact opposite direction people think they are going. These will never be enough to bridge the gap between them and God.  Only Jesus can do that.  Anything else always will come up short. 

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

From Destruction to Freedom

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (II Corinthians 3:12-18 NIV)

I was thinking of a young woman this morning who, for many years, has been on a path of destruction and still has not recognized her plight. Her childhood was difficult—her parents divorced and for years they used her and her siblings as leverage in their fight with one another. She loved them, but grew to hate them.  And her hate, as it is prone to do, turned inward.  She began to slowly destroy herself.  Poor choices led to a bad marriage, a divorce, jail, losing custody of her kids, and still she remains blinded to her desperate need.  She has surrounded herself with those like her and considers her life normal.  She once knew of God, but now denies His existence. 

Hers is an extreme case, but I have known many people who are similarly blinded. Most are consumed by hate, bitterness, and self-loathing. Most, like this young woman, have had difficult childhoods, or been the victim of a particularly traumatic event.  And the experience plants a seed of anger or hate in their hearts that, if not confronted and rejected, will enslave them, cripple them, and perhaps destroy them. Exactly what our enemy intends.  He seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). But he does it in a very crafty way.  Strangely, people like this willingly participate in their own harm.  They unknowingly become partners in his scheme.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, very dysfunctional relationships, extreme perfectionism are all tools which he uses, but there are many more.  

Often our culture relies on recovery programs and counseling to deal with these issues, and, as a trained counselor, I do see their benefit. However, on their own, they will not be able to set people free to see and experience the truth.  Only Jesus can do that.  For some, this may seem cliché and I will admit that this view has been applied in an overly simplified fashion, but it is still the truth.  If we are so afflicted, then the veil over our hearts must first be removed by Jesus in order for us to truly see reality and be led into freedom from that which has for so long held us in bondage.

This is my continued prayer for the young woman. And if you know of anyone in similar circumstances, this should be your prayer as well. And if you happen to be in a destructive pattern in your life, then cry out to Jesus for help.  He indeed can set you free.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


“When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates—Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.’

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’  Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.” (Nehemiah 6:1-4 NIV)

My wife and I listened to a news piece this week about the development of smartphones.  According to one of the developers, the phone most of us carry around with us was intentionally designed to keep our eyes engaged with the screen.  Because all of the apps are advertising-driven, designers focused on keeping users engaged.  So the phone buzzes or dings when there is a message, or a bright red number appears to indicate how many notifications we’ve received.  Think about it: these devices were created intentionally to distract us, to draw us from one thing—a conversation, a book, a time of reflection, or responsibilities to which we are committed to fulfill—to a device that holds great financial potential to a select number of companies!  Yes, there may be some benefit that comes along with our devices, but the main goal is not to serve us, but for us to serve them.  

Nehemiah found himself in a similar situation.  He had committed to the responsibility of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but there were parties that had another agenda, so they sought to distract him.  They wanted his focus elsewhere so as to achieve their goal.  But Nehemiah was resolute.  “‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”  He successfully dealt with the distraction by knowing what his priority was and being committed to keeping it before him.

I think we would do well to apply Nehemiah’s strategy in dealing with our world of distractions.  Ask yourself this question: What are the priorities of your life?  If you are a follower of Jesus, let me suggest a few.  Spending uninterrupted time with God reading His Word and praying.  Loving others by giving them your sole attention in conversations.  Spending time looking up and around, instead of down, reflecting on God’s creation.  

There are many more, of course, but this can be a good start.  And be prepared for the distractions that will seek to draw you away from doing them.  Our mutual enemy has a very different agenda and so will seek to deter you from the one the Lord has for you.  But, like Nehemiah, you will need to have your “great project” in the front of your mind and always ready to defend it against anything or anyone seeking to take you away from it.

Today, as did Nehemiah, know what your priorities in life are and then be strong against any attempts to distract you from them.  In doing this, you won’t complete a wall, but you will build a great and fulfilling life.

© Jim Musser 2017