Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Working for the Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sharing the Gospel in Your World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 26, 2018

Hunger and Thirst

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6 NIV)

I remember the first time I attempted a spiritual fast. I was a college sophomore. I don’t remember the reason for the fast, but I do remember the brownies I had made the previous day that were sitting in the kitchen. From the time I got home from classes that day, they had been calling my name. I was hungry, very hungry, and those dark brown, deliciously looking squares kept drawing me into the kitchen. Unlike Jesus, who resisted Satan’s temptation to make bread and eat it, I finally in desperation grabbed one of the brownies and stuffed into my mouth.

Although I failed in keeping my first fast, that experience has stayed with me. For the first time in my life I experienced true hunger pangs, and the result was they drove me to eat even though I was determined not to.

When Jesus speaks of hunger and thirst, he is speaking to an audience who understood what it meant to have no food and water readily available. They were poor and lived in a desert region.  They knew hunger and thirst. It was the primary driver of their daily lives. So when He said they would be blessed if they “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” they could easily imagine what that meant.

Thinking back to my first fasting attempt, the moment I awoke that day, I was obsessed with food. I thought about it. I noticed every sign advertising it. I stared at anyone eating a snack in class. On the way home that day, I began to think about the brownies. And once the thought of them got into my brain, I couldn’t think of much of anything else.

When we are deprived of something essential, it won’t take much time before the longing for it takes over our minds, whether it be food, drink, or money. Someone caught in a famine, lost in a desert, or living in an economic depression will be focused on practically nothing else.

So it is, then, when someone hungers and thirsts for righteousness. The pursuit is driven by the need, and Jesus says the person who has it will be blessed. Yet, I wonder how many of us truly feel this need. Looking around at churches and on campus, I don’t see much hunger and thirst for being right with God, nor can I say honestly that I always feel the same intensity for pursuing the Lord as I felt on that day long ago for food when I intentionally deprived myself of it.

It is tempting at this point to feel guilty, but I don’t think that was the Lord’s intention. Instead, I think He is merely telling us the truth and if we want to embrace it, we will be blessed.  And the truth is when we insist on attempting to fulfill our deepest desires with worldly things, we will miss out on wonderful blessings. But if we have the same desire for the Lord as the hungry and thirsty person has for food and drink, then we will find countless blessings. 

Today, if you want to hunger and thirst after the Lord, then ask Him to give you that deep desire that leads you to think of almost nothing else. Years ago, a plate of brownies called my name and I, in desperation, answered it. May it be the same when we sense the Lord calling each of us. For when we do, we will be blessed.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 23, 2018

Compiling a Witness List

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

When I was a college student, I remember being told that my campus minister was up by 4 AM and typically read the Scriptures and prayed for several hours. I also remember in the early years of my spiritual journey reading books by authors such as Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonheoffer, C.S. Lewis, and Joni Eareckson Tada, people who discovered God’s goodness in the midst of suffering. And I remember in those early years meeting followers of Jesus from foreign lands or working in them that, while enduring great hardship and challenges, lived their lives with great joy.

These are the “great cloud of witnesses” in my life that gave me encouragement to stay on the narrow path that leads to life when it would have been very easy to leave it when life became so hard. As I have moved on down the road of life, I have picked up additional witnesses along the way. Just yesterday, at a prayer gathering on campus to pray for the campus and the students on it, an elderly gentleman prayed and I found myself so encouraged and uplifted, not only by his words, but also by the strength and earnestness of them. I later learned he once was the Chancellor of Appalachian State University.

Life is sometimes such a struggle that we need all the encouragement we can get. This is the point of the Hebrew writer listing all the faithful people who had lived prior to Jesus coming to earth in the previous chapter. He was showing it is possible to continue on in the faith even if life seems stacked against us and God seems distant. These “witnesses” were an encouragement to him because of the way they lived and kept their eyes fixed on Jesus.

Most of our lives will be long and there will be many low times, times where we are weary, discouraged, apathetic, or full of doubt. In order to navigate these turbulent times, we need our own witness list from which to gain strength, hope and encouragement to continue on.

Today, consider whom you can put on your witness list. Who have you known or read about whose faith inspires you?  Put them on your list and keep your eyes open for others. For there will soon come a time when you will need them as inspiration and encouragement to continue fixing your eyes on Jesus.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Your Calling

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every 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 Lord’s holy people, 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.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 3:14-4:4 NIV)

Evangelist Billy Graham died yesterday at the age of 99. His last appearance on the national stage was shortly after 9/11 when he spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. at a memorial service for the victims of that dreadful terrorist attack. Among the students I work with, and even the many who have graduated in recent years, they have no memory of Dr. Graham. If they recognized his name, they knew little about him other than he was famous and very old. But like so many elderly people we know, Billy Graham had an extraordinary life, and the Lord used him to impact literally millions of people over his lifetime. 

He became a Christian in his teens and felt the call of the Lord on his life to be an evangelist by the time he was 20. Imagine that. And what can be said about him as we remember his life is that he was faithful to the calling he received and lived a life worthy of it. Was he perfect? Did he do everything right along the way? Of course not, and he freely admitted that. But what he did do was live out faithfully the call the Lord had given him and to trust Him. Growing up on a farm just outside Charlotte, NC, Graham could have never comprehended what his life would become. He just followed Jesus and proclaimed what he deeply believed and felt—that the Lord’s love for us is much greater and grander than we can fathom.

My life intersected with Dr. Graham’s life on a wintery night when I was 20 years old, at a missions conference attended by 18,000 college students. As he spoke about God’s call on our lives to surrender to Him and follow Him wherever He leads us, I listened with much unease. I had given my life to Jesus just a little over a year before that and I was terrified that God would send me overseas somewhere to live as a missionary. I was more than content staying in the good ol’ US of A. In fact, I had an iron-fisted grip on that idea. Until Graham challenged us to surrender our lives to the Lord’s will, whatever that might be, to trust Him not just with a portion of our lives, but all of it. That night, I surrendered my will with much fear and trembling for what might be looming ahead for me.

Some 40+ years later, as I reflect on both Mr. Graham’s life and my own, I see the hand of God; I see His love; and I see His incredible power to use people in ways that are truly unimaginable. Life trusting the Lord always turns out much different and better than if we shrink back in distrust and choose to live life on our terms. 

The sad thing is we will never know what we have missed by going our own way until our life is over. This is why I think Paul urges (pleads) that we live a life worthy of the calling we have received so we can know just how great the Lord is in loving us and transforming us. That terrified young man of the mid-70’s became one who has eagerly traveled to much of the world to help college students grasp the Lord’s love for all who live on this planet and how they can play a role in His mission to tell them, just as Billy Graham went from a farm boy to a global evangelist.

Today, what do you sense God’s calling is on your life? Are you shrinking back from it out of fear? Are you instead planning your life the way you want it to be? Then just as Dr. Graham challenged me and thousands of others decades ago, let me challenge you, plead with you, to trust the Lord and embrace His call to follow Him no matter where He leads. It may be terrifying, but you cannot even imagine the great things He has in store if you surrender all of your life to Him. This is the legacy of Billy Graham’s life. I hope it is the legacy I leave. And I hope it will be your legacy as well.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Great Deal

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

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

Yet, most of American Christians don’t see it as a good deal for them. Only five percent tithe, and the average is two percent of their income. A lot of people are going reap very little!

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Sacrifice of Regret

“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’

Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (Hebrews 10:15-18 NIV)

For years I internally berated myself for many of the sinful choices I made in my youth after I had decided to follow Jesus. I had no problem putting the sins of my pre-Christian days behind me, but found it very difficult to do so with those after I acknowledged Him as my Savior and Lord. I had not blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31), nor intentionally went on sinning (Hebrews 6:4-6). No, I just kept on sinning in ways that were appalling to me.

Have you ever felt that way, guilt-ridden, ashamed, and stuck in a vicious cycle of sin and self-condemnation? It is a miserable place to be and, during my early life, I spent much time there. And it is where our enemy desires us to remain. He wants us to be so overwhelmed by our sin that we feel ashamed, guilty, and hopeless. He takes advantage of the sorrow that naturally follows for anyone who has a good conscience. We feel bad, but then what?

Paul identifies two types of sorrow—godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. He says the former brings repentance, salvation, and leaves no regret, while the latter brings about death. (II Corinthians 7:10It is easy to conclude that he is referring to the experience we have when we come to Christ and give our lives over to Him. That’s how I once interpreted it. However, repentance is not a one-off thing; just as we sin repeatedly as believers, so also we are called to repent of these various sins, and then move on without regret. This is only possible if we truly believe and understand what we read in this passage in Hebrews. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice through His death on the cross, nothing more is needed on our part but to humbly accept the grace that is freely offered to us.

Yet, what we often do, just like I once did, is to offer up repeatedly to Him our sacrifice of regret. We are so, so sorry and we tell Him as well as ourselves long after the sin has been confessed, and forgiven. We act in a way that suggests His sacrifice was not enough; that more is needed. So we offer up over and over the sacrifice of regret. It feels right because we feel so bad. This is the worldly sorrow Paul speaks of, and if we remain there, it only leads to a deep emotional and spiritual dark hole that will eventually destroy us. 

Today, if you find yourself feeling ashamed of your sin and in the habit of offering the sacrifices of regret, know they are not necessary or wanted by your Savior and Lord. The sacrifice He made on the cross was sufficient. No other is needed. As John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9 NIV) That is all that is required of you, and if you can do that, then you can move on in freedom and grace without regret.

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dealing with Anxiety

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV)

“Anxiety: 100 %.”  This is what a student posted about a personality test she had recently taken on Facebook. The test divides an individual’s personality into 16 traits, one being anxiety.  I am not surprised, because university counseling centers across our nation are overflowing with students whose presenting problem is anxiety. But with a masters degree in counseling psychology and personal experience, I know these traits are not fixed and can move to a more balanced position, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I also know present-day realities can influence one’s answers on such personality tests. 

For most students, and many adults, life is perpetually overwhelming. They view anxiety as normative for them and unavoidable. I interact with a lot of them on a regular basis. The interesting thing is most of those with whom I associate are believers, or at least claim to be. So the question is, in the face of their persistent anxiety, how do they respond to the commands of Scripture, such as those the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Church? Do they take into consideration, from a human perspective, that Paul is writing as one who five times received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one; three times was beaten with rods; once was pelted with stones; three times was shipwrecked; spent a night and a day in the open sea and was constantly on the move; was in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from his fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers; labored and toiled and  often went without sleep; knew hunger and thirst and went often without food; had been cold and naked; and faced daily the pressure of his concern for all the churches? (II Corinthians 11:24-28)

If in the midst of his life circumstances, Paul can say, “do not be anxious about anything,” then shouldn’t that give each of us pause when we want to excuse our anxiety because of what life is currently throwing at us? Should any of us accept that anxiety for the follower of Jesus is normal, or worse, an integral part of our personality?

There is no doubt that all of us are prone to anxiety; thus, the reason for Paul’s command. It is a trait of fallen humanity, but it is far from unchangeable. Following Jesus is a walk of obedience, and the more we are obedient, the easier it becomes. As Paul says elsewhere, we walk by faith, not by sight. In other words, regardless of what we think or feel, we obey. Thus, when we feel anxious, which we will, then we recognize the command of Scripture and obey. We put our anxiousness aside and go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him, pleading with Him to give us strength to cope and thanking Him for how He has blessed us in our lives. And we do it daily or even more often. We do it alone and we do it together with our fellow brothers and sisters. This was Paul’s way of dealing with the overwhelming circumstances in his life. It should be ours as well.

Today, if you are overwhelmed and anxious, instead of accepting it as normative, remember Paul’s life and heed his words. Take your anxiety to the Lord. Then you can have peace in whatever overwhelming circumstances in which you find yourself.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

Unity and the World

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)

Earlier this week, I spent time in Nashville, TN with a small group of campus ministers from two branches of a unity movement that began in the mid-18th Century and, as typically happens with these things, split up over several doctrinal issues. I won’t bore you with the history, only to say that this gathering was an attempt to begin dismantling a wall that was created by our ancestors over issues that no longer seem relevant or important to people many generations removed.

It was a great time to meet people passionate about Jesus and helping college students find their joy and purpose in Him. What the others and I discovered is we similarly believe and are committed to the fact Christians belong to the same body and Spirit. While there may be differences in practices and even some doctrine, our hearts and minds are together on the main thing—Jesus is Lord and the Bible is His Word for all generations. Thus, brothers and sisters, even if they are from other branches of the faith, have the same Lord and are family.

As we memorized and studied this passage together, I was convicted by Paul’s command to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” I confess I have not done this. On my campus, I have no animosity toward any of my fellow believers, but I have made little effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. I have not sought them out to pray with them or find ways to have the students in our ministry work with theirs to create more of a sense of unity.

What I realized is I have given way to life’s general busyness. I have thought about it many times, and years earlier had participated in some “unity events” that left me discouraged because, while we may have been occupying the same geographical space, students sat and talked with their own groups. I suppose I have made efforts, but the “every” has been lacking.

So you’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with me?” Well, prepare yourself because I’m about to tell you. This passage, I believe, applies not only to various groups of Christians, but to individual relationships as well. Think for a minute, are there any relationships in your life that are broken? Can you honestly say that you have made every effort to repair them?

Relationships between believers are very important because Jesus says this is how the world will know what to believe about Him (John 17:23). In our current political environment, it should be obvious that strong impressions are being formed by how believers across the political spectrum relate to one another. Acrimony, expressions of disgust, and hateful social media posts leave the world shaking its collective head at people whose Lord says people will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).

It is impossible to change everyone’s perceptions of Christians or Jesus, but if we dedicate ourselves to making every effort to be united with those believers within our circles of interaction, we will be doing our part to making the Lord’s love known because we are living it out. However, it will not be easy because it may require us to humble ourselves, which we are often loathe to do. Yet, we must push through any hindrance to fulfilling the Lord’s command.

Today, consider the steps you can take to be reunited in the Spirit with a brother or sister in Christ. Then make every effort to do so. It may not be easy, but following the Lord usually never is.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Training Wheels

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Unconditional Call of Jesus

“And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’  Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’” (Luke 9:22-24 NIV)

I hear it quite often from students who desire to go overseas on mission trips to countries where circumstances appear to be dangerous.  Their parents and other family members don’t want them to go.  I remember years ago a father sitting down with me to talk about an upcoming trip to Haiti in which his daughter wanted to participate.  I explained to him that I had taken students many times, and while I couldn’t guarantee his daughter’s safety, that the organization with which we worked took great care to avoid danger.  He still said no because a friend of his who worked for the State Department advised he shouldn’t let her go.

A few years ago, as we were putting together a team to go to South Africa, a dad called me about his daughter’s desire to go with us.  She was his “little girl” and he did not want her to be in any danger.  He was looking for assurances that I would ensure her safety.  

And recently I spoke with a student who is planning to go to a region of the world where human trafficking is rampant to help lay the groundwork for a ministry there.  The parents are resisting because they fear for her safety.

Many Christian parents want their children to follow Jesus, but they want conditions attached.  They want them safe, close to home, and earning a secure income.  In other words, they don’t want them to become missionaries.  But following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow on His terms, not our own.  And one of those terms is the willingness to lay down our lives.  Let us remember the cross was an instrument of execution in the days of the Roman Empire.  And the history of the Church is one of persecution and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel.   

We in America have grown so accustom to our freedom of religious expression that we think it abnormal to be at risk for our faith.  But throughout history and still in many parts of the world today, that is the norm.  And from what Jesus says, we should embrace it rather than doing all we can to avoid it.

Today, consider what conditions you place on following Jesus or those upon your children who follow Him.  Remember, following Jesus is unconditional.  We follow where He leads, even if it leads us into danger or the possibility of death.  For to gain eternal life, we must be willing to lose the one we enjoy here on earth.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Impossibility of Controlling Our Tongue

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:1-12 NIV)

I have experienced the truth of this passage before when I’ve said something to someone that I shouldn’t have said.  I know it as soon as the words come out of my mouth, but by then it’s too late.  The words have already landed and I’m full of regret. 

James says it is impossible to control the tongue—for anyone.  Now reading that in the Bible is a little odd because it seems so hopeless. Nobody can control his tongue?  Really?  Gee, James, thanks for letting me know!  I guess that means we should just stop trying.  Well, not really.

I think James is setting us up for his point in the next chapter about the need to humble ourselves before God.  We humans are bent toward thinking we can do things on our own and that is why we fail so often. By emphasizing our inability to control our tongues, James is taking us out of the equation.  Our only hope is to rely on God and that takes humility, often via the path of desperation.  We come to the end of ourselves and realize how much we need God.  With regard to controlling our tongues, James leaves no doubt our own strivings are useless.  We cannot do it.  That has been made very evident to me many times over my life.  

With that understanding, our only hope then is the Lord, and when we turn to Him, acknowledging our need for His help, He will lift us up. (James 4:10)  That is true with all of our struggles in life, but especially so with controlling our tongues.  We just can’t do it without the help of the Lord.

Today, realize it is impossible to control everything you say.  This is not meant to discourage you so much as to help you see the truth.  You need the Lord’s help, and if you don’t realize that, you soon will, just like I have.  

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Great Power of the Lion

“Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:19-20 NIV)

The lion and hyena have waged a battle on the plains of the African continent for millennia.  Both are super predators who share the same battlefield.  As I and students learned a few years ago at our ministry’s Fall Retreat from a former safari ranger, this battle has many spiritual applications.  

Lions are superior to the hyenas in every way, but they get into trouble when they are isolated from their pride.  Hyenas are relentless in their pursuit of prey and they often use overwhelming numbers to gain the advantage.  However, they will never take on a fully mature male lion regardless of their advantage in numbers.  He is just too strong and they are too fearful to engage him.  

As followers of Jesus, we can learn valuable lessons from this ancient battle.  One is never isolate yourself from other believers.  Instead, surround yourself with people of faith who will encourage you and hold you accountable to living a life pleasing to the Lord.  Second, when you are in trouble, call out to the Lord, the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5) for help and He will come to your rescue (II Timothy 4:18).  For, like the hyenas against the male lion, the devil is no match for our great God. For a great visual of this, go to the following link:

It can often seem overwhelming, this battle we face to stay on the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).  We face a relentless enemy and are constantly bombarded with temptations to take the wider, easier path. It may seem we are powerless to overcome him. But in those moments of weakness, we need to realize we serve a Lord that is so much more powerful than our enemy.  He can rescue us and keep us safe.  And one day, He will crush Satan and put an end to his attacks and all the misery he inflicts.

Today, know the Lion of Judah is there to protect you.  You may feel you are surrounded and harassed, but your tormentors are no match for Him.  Call out and He will come to your rescue.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018


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

Watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night, particularly with several of the players and coaches of the winning team mentioning the Lord in their post-victory comments, reminded me of former Baltimore Ravens’ star, Ray Lewis, who quoted a part of Romans 8:31 (“If God is for us, who can be against us?”) when asked how his team won the Super Bowl back in 2013.  Soon after, people were asking, legitimately, if that meant God was against the 49’ers. Athletes are notorious for giving God credit for victories, but usually are silent about Him in the midst of defeat.  This just adds to the belief that God is easily trivialized by our culture.  

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

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

In the case of an athletic competition, no doubt both sides want to win badly and, likely, there are players on both teams asking God for victory.  So it gets tricky to say God gave the victory to one team or the other.  But I think even if we think such talk is silly, we need to be cautious in concluding God is too big for such trivial things.  To do so ignores the truth that God indeed takes notice of things we consider very small and insignificant, and is extravagant in the giving of good gifts to His children. In fact, just this week a student shared that when she ran out of toothpaste and had no money to buy more, her mother “just happened” to bring her a tube of her favorite toothpaste when she came to visit!

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

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Why Do You Do What You Do?

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 3:1-6 NIV)

There is a desire for college students to build their résumés with the goal of impressing prospective employers as they near graduation. So they seek internships, research assistant positions, job-related opportunities in their field of study, etc.  In other words, their pursuit is all about themselves and how they will look in the eyes of others.

The problem for Christian students (and, in reality all of us), however, is the temptation to do the same in terms of their relationship with God. Rather than serving the Lord out of love for Him, they are tempted to do things that will draw attention to themselves or for their own gratification. For example, one can be a faithful attender of church with the purpose of impressing God and others of how good and faithful one is. Or being a Bible study leader in order to have a position of influence and will draw admiration.

When living out the Christian life, it is all about why we are doing it. Is it to draw attention to ourselves or is it to draw attention to the Lord and bring Him glory and honor? Only each individual and God can truly answer that question, but it is clear from the Hebrew writer that our sole focus should be on Jesus and honoring Him above ourselves. He is our Creator and Sustainer, and without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). So in whatever we do, He ultimately deserves the credit and this is something we must always keep in the front of our minds, lest our pride overtakes us and we begin to think of ourselves more highly than we should (Romans 12:3).

Today, recognize the life you are building and living is meant to bring glory and honor to the Lord. No matter what your accomplishments are or will be, He is the one ultimately responsible for them and He should receive the credit.

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Missional Thinking

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (II Corinthians 5:20 NIV)

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

Last week, I met with a graduate student who recently accepted a full-time position with the university. She had been working as a grad assistant when the position came open and her supervisor suggested she formally apply for it. It is rather a remarkable thing for any university department to hire a current grad student to a full-time position while they are still a student. After graduation, yes, but before? Hardly ever. In talking with her, it was clear why this opportunity came to her.

This young woman, from early on in her college career, has been thinking missionally about her life. She has always been an excellent student and worker. And the reason is she sees herself as an ambassador for Jesus. She sees herself representing Him in whatever she does. It is her mission in life. 

Missional thinking is rare among Christians. Yes, they try to live good lives, go to church, and maybe get involved in a small group Bible study or prayer group, but, for most, those are just pieces of their lives among others, such as work, school, and social interaction. For missional Christians, their lives are centered on the mission of being an ambassador, a messenger, representing their King. They look for opportunities wherever they are to either overtly or subtly communicate the message of God’s love and His desire that all people find salvation through Jesus (I Timothy 2:4-6).

I say it is rare because most Christians think this is the pastor’s or missionary’s job, something that is best left to the professionals. Yet, Paul is very clear to the Ephesian church that the responsibility does not lie with them alone; rather, it lies with all of us who choose to follow Jesus. And it makes sense. How many people can a pastor or missionary reach alone? Now consider what the difference would be if a pastor’s congregation of 200 or 15,000, or a missionary’s few converts, were trained to think of themselves as ambassadors of Christ and went out looking for opportunities, large and small, to spread the message of King Jesus. 

I am not talking of thousands of believers heading out to the nearest street corners and preaching the gospel to strangers. I am talking about people, like the grad student I mentioned above, going to their places employment, the grocery store, or the gym with the intent of making the message of Jesus known, whether by asking someone how their day is going, offering a word of encouragement, or actually taking the opportunity when asked of explaining why they are so different in how they live life. And trust me, people will take notice of those who are living out their faith in every day life.

What about you? Are you thinking missionally about your life? Are you looking for opportunities daily to make Jesus known through what you say and how you live? If not, you are missing the point of being a follower of Jesus. He came that all people might be saved. He loved us to the point of death. And He has explicitly given us a mission to take that message to the world in which we live out our daily lives. Today, what can you do to begin fulfilling your mission?

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, February 5, 2018

Just Like Everyone Else

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

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

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

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

The reality is we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.  The only true difference between followers of Jesus and everyone else is we have embraced His grace and walk in faith.  They are still left to account for their own sin; we are justified by the righteousness of Jesus.  
Today, recognize you are just like everyone else in the world—a sinner in need of God’s grace.  And understand accepting His grace doesn’t make you better, just forgiven.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, February 2, 2018

The X Type

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3 NIV)

I remember the first time I took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a well-known and respected personality test, the results indicated I was an extreme introvert. At the time, I had been in campus ministry for a few years. It clarified things on some of the challenges I had faced in my vocation. It also revealed changes that needed to happen for me to be a healthy and balanced person.

Sometimes we are under the illusion our personalities are fixed and unchangeable. We think we can never be a more extroverted person, or more organized, or more reliant on facts rather than feelings when making decisions, or vice-versa. We tend to believe we will always be who we are now. 

The person who introduced me to the MBTI was, at the time, working on her Ph.D. in Psychology and her doctoral thesis was on the personality of Jesus as viewed through the categories of the MBTI. The hypothesis of her work was that Jesus was the perfect combination of personality traits. She dubbed Him the “X Type.”

This makes sense given that the Hebrew writer says Jesus is the “exact representation” of God, who is perfect (Matthew 5:48). If God is perfect and Jesus is an exact representation of Him, then one aspect of His perfection is His personality. And if we are to pursue perfection in our lives, then it is logical that includes our personalities.

What I realized a number of years later as I reflected on those first MBTI results is that my personality was too extreme in a several areas. I was unhealthily introverted, too much in my head, and too rigid in my thinking. And now as I look at who I am, I realize as I have grown in my relationship with the Lord, I am no longer that man. I have taken the MBTI twice more over the years and the results reflect that change. I am still a strong introvert, but not nearly as much as I used to be. I am still more of a thinker than a feeler, but much less so than I was in my 20’s, and my thinking is more flexible. In other words, I have a more balanced personality than I did when I was younger and have moved closer to being perfect. I am obviously still far from it (just ask my wife!), but I have moved closer to being more like Jesus—a perfectly balanced human being.

Today, think about your personality. Are you like so many who think they can never change? If so, know the Lord is in the changing business. Your core personality likely will remain the same, but where you are out of balance, He can help you move toward the middle.  For the closer you get to Jesus, the more you will become like Him.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, February 1, 2018


“But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.

If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Psalm 81:11-16 NIV)

It has been known for some time that developers of smartphones and their apps intentionally sought (and continue to seek) ways to make them irresistible to users. One of the early developers said notifications were a key component in their strategy. These, of course, are the things that notify users of a recently received message, a new tweet, comment on a post, etc. So they designed them to immediately attract our attention through a number of ways—sounds like the “ding” or bird chirp, vibration of the phone, a text box appearing on the home screen, or a red circle appearing on the app icon with a number. All intentionally designed to grab our attention. And do they ever!

Most of us have our phones face up and close by. How many of us immediately turn our attention to the screen when some notification comes through? I have been in many one-to-one conversations where people, even as they talk, look away to check a notification. I have done it as well, particularly when I get a text message. There is almost an instinctive pull from our phone notifications, regardless of what is happening right in front of us or around us.

I have been thinking about this for awhile and had to laugh when I came across this Psalm and this sentence: “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” Obviously, the Psalmist had no idea of any tech devices as we experience them today, but I wonder if the Lord, given His Word is timeless, is not saying something here about our own context.

Notice that the people were not listening or willing to hear. They were too into their own lives and what was important to them. Is it really any different today? This brings me back to the notifications. Are we as in tune with the notifications to us from the Spirit of the Lord as we are to those from our phone? When we have a sense of the Lord saying something, do we immediately turn our attention to it?

If you are unfamiliar with what I mean, here are some examples: Recently, a student told me she felt the Lord wanted her to pray for a newly-arrived international student. As I was praying last week in a small group, the Lord impressed on me to get together with a certain student. And years ago, at a student retreat, I felt the Lord saying to give my Bible to a student. Just as the Lord continued to give notifications to the Israelites, hoping they would listen, I am convinced He continues to give us notifications as well. The question is, are we willing to give them the same attention as to the ones coming through our devices?

Today, consider how attuned you are to the notifications from the Lord regarding your life. Does it match the attention to those from your phone? If not, then realize, just like the Israelites, you are missing out on the blessings the Lord desires to give you.

© Jim Musser 2018