Thursday, May 3, 2018

Surprises

“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.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)

My friend called it “the best surprise ever!” For the past several months, I have been making plans for my wife’s birthday. It is a significant one (today) and I wanted to make it special. So I arranged for her twin sister to fly from South Africa last week to surprise her. And was she ever surprised! Shocked, is how she described it later. I can honestly say I have never been more pleased to see the two of them together and enjoying one another’s company as they mark a milestone in their lives.

Not all surprises are welcomed ones, of course. The unexpected news of a death, an accident, or a marital affair, to name a few, are ones we never want to experience. But a good surprise is one that can bring more joy than almost anything else. And while I may have pulled off a great surprise, contrary to my friend’s claim, it is not among the greatest. There is One who is in a category all His own—Jesus. He was always pulling surprises on folks.

Think about it. He was God, yet became a human, beginning His life on earth in a cattle stall in a “one stoplight town.” He was considered a religious leader, but He confounded those who were religious. He was sinless, but spent all of His time with sinners. He was the Messiah, but He did not pursue earthly power. His disciples were surprised by His death and even more surprised by His resurrection. He was full of surprises. He still is.

I am continually surprised by my life and what Jesus has done with it. I could not have imagined it, even in my wildest dreams! More than 40 years since I first stepped on the path of following my Lord, He has transformed my life into something I would not have recognized or dreamed of when I was 19. I could write pages about what He has done, but suffice it to say, I continue to be surprised by His work in my life.

The reality for many of us is we have a very narrow view of what to expect out of life, and, more importantly, from God. Our imaginations, and therefore our desires, are small. It is our human nature. We bring the Lord down to our size and expectations. But He is oh so much bigger and grander than what we think or can imagine! Immeasurably so. 

Today, know that life can be filled with so many good surprises if you place your life in the hands of the Lord and trust Him with it. He wants to transform you in ways you can’t even imagine. He is full of surprises and He still has many in store for you.

© Jim Musser 2018

Author's Note: Due to the aforementioned birthday of my wife, this will be my final devotion for the school year as we are traveling to celebrate it. This may also be my last Words from the Well, or maybe not. I am still processing whether, after 21 years, I want to continue writing it. That decision will be made later this summer. I know I want to continue writing, but I may want to branch out more into areas about which I have become passionate and write more in-depthly, rather than 3-5 paragraphs.  So we'll see what the future holds.  I am indeed open to another surprise!  

Have a blessed summer or winter, depending on your location!  Jim

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Embracing Tests

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:2-4,12 NIV)

It is the week where students begin taking their final exams.  I have never met a student who enjoys taking exams.  They are always anxious just to be done with them.  

They are really no different than the rest of us.  None of us enjoy the tests that life brings.  In fact, many of us will go to great lengths to avoid being tested.  We avoid situations where we might risk being put to the test, such as living far away from where we grew up, going on a mission trip to a foreign country, or interacting with people we consider different from us.  

The reality is, however, no matter how much we seek to avoid being tested, living in a fallen world will eventually bring trials to us.  But James says rather than dreading them, we should embrace them because through testing we can mature and be rewarded.  

I can attest to this truth.  I have experienced some heavy trials in my life.  Both my parents died after long illnesses when I was in my 20’s.  A woman I loved broke my heart around the same time, and years later my first wife left me.  Those trials were all extremely painful and I would never have chosen them on my own, but I can truly say I grew more in my walk with the Lord during those times than at any other in my life.  

The fact is growth and maturity is produced by hardship, yet we live in a culture determined to avoid it at all costs.  Although it is an older article, this piece in Psychology Today is still accurate in arguing that because parents are so overprotective of their children, they are raising kids incapable of coping with the rigors of life.  They want their children to have lives without tests.

It is natural to want to avoid painful circumstances, but we need to embrace the truth that these difficult times help us to grow and mature. To avoid them is merely hurting ourselves.

Today, recognize life is full of painful and difficult circumstances. Instead of trying to avoid them, embrace them and let the Lord use them to grow and mature you.  If you persevere, you will be greatly rewarded.

© Jim Musser 2018

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Gratefulness

“Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp. He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.

He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:7-11 NIV)

There is an old saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” If we pay close attention, we will see that lived out in small ways on a regular basis. On campus, I see it with students desperate to complete an assignment or in need of a reference messaging me or others to acquire what they need. Others frantically email a professor asking for extra time to turn in an assignment.

In the world at-large, we often desperately need people to help us out in a crisis—a doctor, a plumber, someone with money or a car, or someone with knowledge who can help us out of a dilemma. When we have a desperate need, we will do whatever, use whomever, we need to fulfill it. That is just human nature. 

The problem lies when we make use of people, but with little or no gratitude for what they provide beyond the moment when our need is fulfilled. Like children, often we are much more grateful for our need being met than for those who meet it. I once knew a young woman who despised her adoptive father, but who often sought him out when she was in need. She was grateful for having her needs met by him, but was not grateful for him.

There are many stories in the Bible of people who are grateful for their needs being met but who lack appreciation for the person responsible. Joseph interpreted a dream for the king’s cupbearer while in prison, but once released, the man forgot about him (Genesis 40:23). The Israelites many times were glad when their burdens were lifted, but quickly retreated into complaining to Moses about their next plight (Numbers 14:2-4). When Jesus healed the ten lepers, nine of them went on their way without expressing any gratitude to the Lord for their healing (Luke 17:11-19).  The lesson is it is natural to be grateful for our own satisfaction, but easy to forget the ones who supply it.

What about you? Are you grateful for the people who have supplied the many needs in your life? If so, have you made that known to them? And what about the Lord, who is the ultimate supplier of all our needs? Do you regularly acknowledge your gratefulness to Him for all that He has given you and continues to give? 

Today, be grateful for the people who sacrifice for you and get into the habit of freely expressing it. And always be grateful to the Lord, for all that you have comes from His hands.

© Jim Musser 2018

Monday, April 30, 2018

Good Works

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV)

Admit it; there are times where you look at other people and think you are better than them. It may be because you look better, get better grades, have a more blessed life, or don’t do the wrong things you see others doing. Let’s face it: we all are bent toward thinking like this, perhaps some more than others, but we all do it.

This is admittedly bad enough, but worse is when we compare ourselves favorably over others and believe it somehow helps our status before God. Again, we all tend to do this at one time or another. It happens when we fail to understand the utter depth of our sin and the Lord’s abhorrence of it.

The fact that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23) completely disqualifies us from any position to boast about our “goodness.” As Jesus reminds us, “No one is good—except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) Thus, as ones who consider themselves to be saved, there is nothing about which to boast, except the Lord’s grace to us, undeserving as we are.

Sadly, this is not what people, even many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus, believe. Rather, they believe the lie that good works play the key role to getting in good with God. They think He will be impressed with their attempts to live a good life. This is why many do religious things—to make up for their sins, similarly to Muslims who seek to “tilt the scales” of their lives with more good deeds than bad ones in order to gain entry into the eternal realm. 

If, indeed, you think you are somehow better than someone else because you go to church regularly, or read your Bible or pray daily, or don’t do some of the many things others do, like getting drunk, sleeping around, cheating, etc., then recognize this truth: you still are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. No amass of good works can overcome the deadly effect of even one sin, let alone of a lifetime of them. It is God’s grace alone that can save us from eternal death. And when we understand this, we can then give up the folly that somehow we are better than others.

Today, if you haven’t already, recognize the truth that you can never be good enough in your behavior or thinking to overcome your own sinfulness. Only the Lord can do that through His grace. And once you realize and accept this, then your good works will not be to impress Him, but rather expressions of your love and appreciation for Him.

© Jim Musser 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

Applying the Word to Life

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25 NIV)

It is that time of year where students are stressed and anxious about all they have to do before the school year ends. Projects are coming due and final exams are looming. I have been known to quote I Peter 5:7 to those who say they are overwhelmed by all they have to do. I know a lot of them do not appreciate it, but I have a point in doing so.

If we grew up going to church or have been involved with a community of believers for awhile, the challenge always is to not only read or hear the Word, but to act on what it commands.  We are told repeatedly of the importance of “getting into the Word” and the expectation is for us, as believers, to be in church every Sunday to listen to the Word being proclaimed.  But according to James, that is of little real value unless we take what we read/hear and put it into practice.  

The danger for us is to grow content with just reading and listening to the Word.  It can feel good and we can get plenty of kudos for our commitment and discipline.  But James pointedly says we are deceived if we think this is enough.  It means nothing if we do not take what we’ve heard and apply it to our lives.  

So when students are all stressed out, I remind them of what the Scriptures say, because it gives them clear instructions on what to do when they find themselves full with stress and anxiety. And if they will only do what it says, they will find they can be at peace even when life seems so overwhelming.

Today, remember the Word of God is not a book merely to be read or listened to.  It is to be applied to your life.  And in doing so, you will be greatly blessed.

© Jim Musser 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

What's Your Story

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Peter 3:15-16 NIV)

Jesus was a storyteller—an amazing one, in fact. Even those who have little knowledge of Him know at least one of His stories. Think “The Good Samaritan,” “The Prodigal Son,” or “The Parable of the Sower.” He knew what we all know, that stories draw us in like no other form of communication. This is why people binge on Netflix, go to the movies, or curl up with a good book. A good story just naturally pulls us in and holds us there until it ends. And, normally, when we reach the end of a story, it does not really end; it continues to occupy space in our brains which we access frequently to re-tell it to friends or to contemplate its meaning.

In his letter to fellow believers suffering persecution because of their faith, Peter recognizes the value of storytelling and encourages his readers to tell theirs—to give the reasons for their steadfast faith when it would be much easier to forsake it given what they are enduring. The assumed question people are asking them is this: Why do you have such hope and joy when things are going so badly, when the world is such an unjust and unfair place? What’s your story?

To tell your story, you have to get a hearing. People have to be interested in it. For published authors, that comes when they have gained a reputation as a good writer, or when there is a “buzz” about their book that grabs people’s attention. For us as believers, this comes when our lives draw attention for being different than the norm. Why are you always so kind? Why do you care so much? You mean you’ve never had sex? Our behavior is the draw to hear our story.

The question for us is: Do we know how to tell it when there is interest in hearing it? From my experience with college students and adults, most do not. We know the parts, perhaps, but few of us have ever considered a way to form them into a compelling story that communicates the love of the Lord and the ways of His Kingdom. 

Today, think about your story of why you are a follower of Jesus and the reason you live this life differently than what is considered normal. If indeed you do live differently, know that people are taking notice and the time may come when they ask you why you do. What will you tell them?

© Jim Musser 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Taking Time to See God at Work

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)

I sometimes wonder if the majority in Jesus’ day ever realized the significance of the time in which they were living.  Did they take note of the extraordinary things He was doing and saying, or were they so busy with the details of their daily lives that they barely noticed?  Were they more like Mary, who knew she was in the presence of the Divine, or Martha, who was so focused on the tasks at hand that it barely registered who was visiting her home that day? 

I suspect it was the latter.  The daily grind of life consumes us and our vision is narrow.  We see only what is in front of us.  Martha saw only the task of preparing a meal and completely missed the significance of the moment she was in.  I think this is a common occurrence today, as well.  I experience it frequently with students, who are so consumed with their studies and social lives, they fail to see what the Lord is doing around them or wants to do in their lives—the healing and transformation in people’s lives, the encounters with people in need, or the opportunities to use their lives for the furtherance of the Kingdom.   

One of the things I often encourage them to do is to look for “God sightings.”  As they go about their daily lives, I tell them to look for God at work.  It is amazing what we can see the Lord doing if only we are taking the time to look.  

We live in a world where God is very active, but our lives are so easily filled up and distracted that we are blinded to what He is doing.  This is what Martha allowed to happen, but Mary chose differently and Jesus commended her for it.  

Today, take the time to see God at work in nature, in circumstances, and in people’s lives, including your own.  You will be amazed at what you see.

© Jim Musser 2018