Friday, March 24, 2017

Handling Difficult Times

“How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? 
How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6 NIV)

David often felt overwhelmed by his circumstances.  He had many enemies and his life was frequently in danger.  That kind of stress can wear on a person.  Light can quickly turn to darkness, hope into despair.  
We all long for a life that is easy and free of stress and hardship, and sometimes we tie our faith to the ease of our circumstances.  When things are going well, we are excited about God, but when things are going badly, we struggle.

David provides the perfect example of how to hold onto our faith when life is dishing out a major helping of stress or hardship.  When he felt overwhelmed, he expressed his feelings to God.  He poured out his frustration, his fear, and his anger.  He did not hold back.  He knew God was big enough to handle his emotions.  Having done that, then we see his heart and mind shift intentionally back to giving his situation over to the Lord.  

Sometimes, we need a safe place to vent.  Things build up and we need to express them.  David demonstrates for us that we can do this with God.  He's not going to cut us off by saying, "How dare you talk to me that way!"  But David doesn’t just vent and then walk away.  He says, in essence, “Okay God.  I have expressed how I feel, but I still love you and trust you in whatever happens, and I rejoice that you have given me new life and have been so good to me.”  

Life will often be difficult and frustrating, and we can learn a great deal from David on how to handle it.  Today, know that if you are unhappy with the way life is going, you can express that to the Lord.  He is big enough to handle it!  But then, as David did, you can continue to love and trust Him because of who He is and what He has done in your life.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Defined, Not by Our Sin, But by Jesus

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

I was talking with some colleagues the other day and we were discussing church leadership and how some churches want perfect leaders, ones without any flaws.  One spoke up and said, “Yeah, if they could, they wouldn’t let David write the Psalms.”

David, you might recall, committed adultery, tried to cover it up, and then had the husband of his mistress killed.  Yet, David is described as a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22).  He faithfully led the Israelites, and he wrote beautiful poetry that has given encouragement and comfort to people for many centuries.  He was a man of Godly conviction and passion.  Yet, he committed adultery and murder.

Most, if not all, of us having read the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah (II Samuel 11) would find ourselves condemning David if we knew nothing else about him.  It is quite easy to be defined by one sin in our lives.  An abortion.  An affair.  A forged check.  It is very easy for us to define a person or be defined by one failure.

Fortunately, God does not do that.  He does not define our lives by our sin, but by whom we are in Jesus.  Thus, an adulterer or a murderer or a thief or any other type of sinner can still make a wonderful contribution to the Kingdom.  

The message of this passage is that your life need not be defined by the sin you have committed.  Your life need not be invalidated because of the mistakes you have made.  In Christ there is no condemnation.  

Today, take comfort in knowing God has forgiven your sin.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not condemned.  He still loves you and desires to use your life in the work of His Kingdom.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Testing God

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' 
In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:8-10 NIV)

Call it a quirk, but I just love having things filled up.  I get a great feeling when the pantry and fridge are stocked full with food, and the bank account is replenished at the beginning of the month.  I suppose it is the sense of security it provides, knowing that I need not worry about running out.  Yet, there is also a danger that lurks in that desire for security.  It can become more important than God.

When Malachi spoke the words of God, the Israelites were holding onto all they had, fearing they could not spare anything.  Although they were back in their own land after years of exile, their memories were still fresh, like my parents who grew up during the Depression and were reluctant to part with anything.  They remembered when things were hard and scarce.  

Yet, God’s promise to Israel and to us is that He will provide abundantly for our needs.  We do not need to cling to everything as if we will never be re-supplied.  God’s storehouse is full and He wants to pour out His blessings upon us, and He calls us to test Him on this.  How?  By being generous with what we already have, not hoarding it for ourselves.  

Most of us would not consider ourselves rich, but the Lord wants us to be generous with what we have been given.  The tithe was a place for the Israelites to start, 10% of their income was to be given to the Lord. They were holding back and God said bring the whole tithe and I will richly bless you.  

Are you holding back on giving what the Lord has asked?  Know that your security is not found in material things, but in the Lord.  He wants you to trust in Him for your security. Test Him and you will not be disappointed.  

©  Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-25 NIV)

Gravity is a frustrating thing sometimes.  Even though it keeps my feet firmly on the ground, it can be annoying, like when my phone slides off the car seat onto the floorboard while I’m driving around a sharp curve. Or when my towel falls off the elliptical machine during a workout. Or when, as I mentioned yesterday, I tip my salad bowl and the oily contents fall into my lap. On this planet, gravity is an unbending law and I experience it every day.

In many ways, sin is like gravity.  It’s often annoying.  You get that sense of frustration from Paul.  “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”  No matter how hard he tries, he can’t avoid the impact of sin in his life.  It’s always there ready to pull him down.  Like gravity.

While we are in this world, there is no getting around sin.  It is as much of a law as is gravity.  We live with its effects every day of our lives. Daily it seeks to drag us down and our natural bent is to let it.  This is why for the vast majority sin goes unnoticed.  It is the natural way of things.  Like gravity, you don’t really think about it until it annoys you.

But once you decide to follow Jesus, you realize, like an astronaut blasting into space, what a powerful force you are seeking to evade. Suddenly, you feel the resistance, the pull back to where you came from.  It may take a few days or weeks after your decision, during which you may have that feeling of “weightlessness,” where the burdens of sin seemingly have been lifted off of you, but that won’t last long.  Sooner than later the pull of sin will seek to bring you down.

It can be a very discouraging experience and realization—that sin is not so easily left behind.  As a NASA rocket must be powerful to break the force of gravity to reach orbit, so do we need a powerful force to break away from the grip of sin.  As Paul gratefully acknowledges, that force is God and the means He uses to set us free is Jesus.  Sheer willpower will never do.  Only divine power is strong enough.

Like gravity, sin is a part of this world.  It’s presence is all around us and unavoidable.  While we are not strong enough to resist its pull, there is One who is.  He is our only hope to escape its grip.  Today and every day, when you feel the pull of sin, cry out to Jesus for help.  He will rescue you and keep you from being pulled back down.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Right Treatment

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (II Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV)

We were at a restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida a week ago during our Spring Break.  I was sitting among our students when my grilled shrimp salad arrived.  As the waitress placed it in front of me, I inquired about a student’s salad order that had not been served.  As a motioned in his direction, my hand caught the edge of my salad bowl and launched that beautiful salad right into my lap!  Lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, shrimp, and ranch dressing literally covered me from my chest to my thighs.  I managed to pick off everything and wipe off as much of the dressing as I could, but two huge stains remained—one on my shirt, the other on my shorts. As we left the restaurant, there was no hiding these stains. They were exposed for everyone to see. There was nothing I could do until we returned to the camp where we were staying later in the day.  

That evening I spot-treated the stains and put the shirt and shorts in the washer.  Then, after they were washed and I couldn’t see the stains any longer, I placed them in the dryer.  However, after I removed them, with the clothes dry it was obvious the stains were still there.  The spot treatment had failed and I was certain that the stains now were permanently set.  I told my wife and she assured me she had a way to remove the stains.  So after I returned home Saturday night, she treated the stains with Dawn dishwashing soap and left them overnight. Yesterday morning, I washed them and then left them to dry in the sun. A few hours later I examined them and the stains were completely gone!

Like so many things in life, there is a spiritual lesson in this.  Sometimes we think we can rid ourselves of sin on the cheap.  We’ll say a prayer, try a little harder next time, and think we are good to go.  Or we’ll become so exasperated with our struggles with sin that we lose hope that we can ever overcome it.  Both views misconstrue the power of sin. Like oily stains, sin is stubborn and not easily removed, BUT removal is not impossible.  It just takes the right treatment.  

I thought my oily stains could be removed merely by a spot treatment and a wash.  I underestimated the power of the stains.  But then when I saw the treatment failed, I was ready to give up and declare the clothes ruined.  Our approach to sin is often similar.  

Paul’s words here offer both hope and a warning.  Sin is removable, but it needs the right treatment.  If we try to do it with anything less than the blood of Jesus, we will fail.  And this is what many of us attempt to do. We know we should be living differently, but we try our own treatments—willpower, rationalization, denial, etc.—and fail. Yet, failure to remove our sin doesn’t mean it is permanent and unremovable.  Rather, as Paul indicates, it just needs the right treatment.  Sin can only be removed by Jesus.  Our only effective response to it is to go humbly to Jesus and ask Him to take care of the problem.  

Today, consider your approach to treating sin in your own life.  Are you trying to remove it on your own?  Have you given up trying after so many failures?  There is only one treatment that is truly effective and that is Jesus.  Sin is indeed powerful, but there is One (and only One) who can overcome it.  He is the treatment that will solve your problem.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Is the Lord in It?

(Author's Note: Spring Break is upon us and I will be away next week, so WftW will be as well.  I'll see you back here on March 20th.  Jim)

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2 NIV)

Tomorrow morning I will be leading a group of students and staff to Florida for Spring Break.  I figured out recently that I am nearing 30 such trips in my ministry career.  This psalm that I read yesterday brought one in particular to mind.  It was 1993 and we were in Lydia, Louisiana, a tiny community that had been devastated by Hurricane Andrew the past summer.  Our theme for the trip was the first sentence of the psalm: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”

I remember we spent a lot of our time roofing, doing electrical work, painting, cleaning, and eating some of the best Cajun food I've ever had. And I remember a young seeker being baptized and others growing in their understanding that the Lord has to be central to everything thing we do. 

Most of the many trips I have led have focused on doing some type of work projects, but I have always understood that these efforts have little value unless the Lord is in them, that the students allow Him to work in their lives during these trips.  Why this psalm is so instructive is we often get caught up in the work we are doing and the Lord is pushed to the side.  

The danger of many mission trips is the focus solely becomes on the work we are going off to do. It’s OUR mission; it’s OUR work.  WE are the ones doing everything.  But, as the Psalmist writes, if God is not in it, the work is in vain.  We may have built a house, dug a well, etc., but the question must always be asked: Was the Lord in it or was it just us doing a good work?  

The difference lies in the outcome.  I have seen students participate in Spring Break trips and mission trips overseas who have return unchanged.  They had a great time and perhaps even performed some good work, but they were unchanged by it.  Why?  Because, for them, the Lord was not the focus.  Rather it was the adventure of the trip or the opportunity to do something good.  It was about them.  And when we are the focus, then the work of the Lord is naturally inhibited.  

So as I depart on another Spring Break trip, I leave you with this question: Is the work you say you are doing for the Lord actually for Him?  Is He in it or is it really just for you?  If it is the latter, then realize it is in vain.  If there is to be any eternal value in what we do, the Lord must be in it.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dealing with the Stresses of Life

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

Life can be overwhelming at times and the constant stress of world events and just day-to-day life can drain us.  A common theme among students most weeks during a semester is how tired and stressed they are.  

Yet, Isaiah 40 offers hope and a way out of this weariness.  We are told of God’s overwhelming power and control.  He created the heavens and the earth.  He is in control of the nations.  He is not oblivious to what is going on in the world, nor too busy to notice what is happening in our own.  

When we are stressed or overwhelmed by life events, there is a sense of loneliness that accompanies it.  It feels as if we are alone to deal with it.  But the message of Isaiah 40 is that we are not.  The Maker of the heavens is right there with us.  And our trust and hope in Him will carry us through whatever we face in life.

Today, if you are weary of life’s stresses, put your hope in the Lord, for He has the power to renew your strength.  

© Jim Musser 2017