Friday, May 12, 2017

A Heart Problem

(Author's Note: As the semester has ended, so, too, my devotional thoughts until the beginning of the next school year on August 22nd.  As you will read below, heart surgery is in my immediate future, so I would appreciate your prayers for that (May 19th) and for my full recovery.  My wife and I know the Lord is with us and so there is no need for worry. Our trust is fully in Him.  If it is His will, I'll see you back here in August. Jim) 

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ 

Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22 NIV) 

I have a heart problem. I have had it since I was born, but I didn’t learn about it until 16 years ago.  It seems my aortic valve was mis-formed and, over my lifetime, slowly became calcified. Although I have never had any symptoms, the cardiovascular surgeon my wife and I saw yesterday indicated my heart was much worse than it appears. An opening that should be approximately the size of a garden hose is closer to the circumference of a pencil.  The danger, he advised, lies in the fact I am asymptomatic and less likely to be cautious in my physical activity.  And he is right.

Since having my knee replaced three years ago, I have been working out three times a week, hiking mountains, and pushing myself because my bad knee had hampered my activities for so long.  I have heard students say they think I am in as good or better shape than they are! But the reality is appearances have been deceiving. In fact, at this moment my health is in a precarious state, but by looking at me and observing me, you would never draw that conclusion.  Only an internal examination revealed the truth.

And so it is with all of us spiritually.  Our tendency is to believe we are fine as we are, but the reality is all of us have a heart problem. This is perfectly exemplified by the rich man who came to Jesus confident of his own righteousness. He was clearly unaware of his true condition. But just as my wife and I consider it God’s grace toward us that my true condition was revealed to us by the surgeon, so it is a loving act for the Lord to reveal our true spiritual condition, if we will only accept it.

Notice the rich man refused and we can only speculate as to his fate, but I don’t think he was the only one who felt sadness.  I think, too, the Lord was sad.  The Great Physician had the skills to heal his heart, but the man refused His help.  I am sure my surgeon would have felt the same way if we had heard his advice and walked away unwilling to follow it.

I think this story reflects each of our stories, whether or not we consider ourselves rich.  Like that man, we have a tendency to ignore our heart problem—our pride, our bent toward evil thoughts and deeds, and our rebellious nature.  We think we are fine.  The truth is, if we are willing and humble enough to listen, our spiritual condition is much more precarious than we think. Only when we are open to our Lord’s deep love for us can we truly be healed.

Today, seek out the Lord and ask Him to tell you the truth about your spiritual health. Is it as good as you think it is, or is there danger lurking beyond what you can now see?  If it is the latter, it is better to know sooner than later and to allow Him to fix the problem.  As with my pending surgery, it may be hard and painful, but it will be far better than the alternative of doing nothing and suffering the consequences.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Unfamiliar Journeys

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.  I have set the LORD always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:5-11 NIV)

When I was a kid, I remember going over to my friend Billy’s house every summer to hear him and his dad tell stories about their vacations. I, however, had a dad who never enjoyed traveling and rarely ever did. Thus, I was always enthralled with their stories, and longed more and more to travel when I grew up.  

Entering adulthood, I did see my dream to travel become reality and I have traveled throughout most of the country and to a number of countries around the world.  But I have been on other journeys just as exciting and fulfilling, perhaps even more so.  These are the journeys I have taken in life—a career, marriage, divorce, re-marriage, the deaths of my parents, and many others.  Life is full of journeys, not all pleasant, but with the Lord they can all be meaningful.  

The academic year is ending and many students are preparing for life after school.  It is a journey that can be viewed as daunting, even frightening.  School has been their life for nearly 20 years.  But like all unfamiliar journeys, the Lord is at our right hand, walking with us every step of the way.  He will guide us and protect us.  Indeed, I can affirm this is true because I have experienced His faithfulness on my many journeys.

Today, whether you are graduating soon or beginning some other unfamiliar journey, know that the Lord has made you secure in Him.  He will guide you and protect you.  He will not abandon you along the way. Your journey, if you trust the Lord, will lead you closer to Him.  

Have a great trip!

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Separations

“When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (Acts 20:36-38 NIV)

Last night was our final campus event of the school year.  I know it will be the last time I see a few of our students. They may stay in touch, but years of experience tell me that life has a way of separating us from others we have known.  I had a lot of friends in college, but I can literally count on one hand the number of them I have seen in the last ten years.  Life moves on and so do we.

Nevertheless, good-byes are hard and that is okay. As believers we know we will eventually be reunited on the other side, but that hope doesn’t soothe every tear. Because we invest in current relationships, it is very natural and understandable that parting ways is sad and difficult. It was for the Ephesian elders who realized they would never see their beloved Paul again this side of heaven, and so it will be for us.  The more we’ve invested, the more it will sting.

Sometimes we are eager to cover up our sadness with spiritual platitudes to ease our suffering or to cover for what we see as weakness, but that inner repulsion in the face of separation is the catalyst for us to long for the Kingdom where there are no more tears or sorrow (Revelation 21:4) It is not the Lord’s desire for us to be comfortable and content with this fallen world, but rather to long for a much better one where sin no longer reigns. Our worldly separations can do that.  

In my life, I have lost my mom and dad and several friends to death. I eagerly anticipate seeing them again.  Why would I want to be content to remain in this life forever?  That is the point.  Heaven holds the promise of a reunion with those we love. It is the separation that creates the longing.

Today, recognize that if you are saying good-bye to friends this week, or have lost someone you love to death, that sadness, and even tears, is understandable.  It is normal and intended.  Let it serve to feed your longing for the day when all separations will end, where sorrow and tears will be no more.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Idols in Our Lives

“With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.

A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple. Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? 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 40:18-31 NIV)

The word “idolatry” has a primitive connotation to our modern minds. Gaudy statues of gold come to mind or wooden figures propped up in some dense jungle village.  It is hard for us to see idolatry in our midst, but it does exist if only our minds can grasp it.

Take a look around today on your way to work or on campus.  Notice how many people have their heads bowed toward a screen, their eyes fixated on the glow that emanates from it, mostly unaware of the people around them.  Think about the stadiums and arenas filled with people cheering, screaming, and jumping up and down, who have made their sacrifices of time and money to be there.  Think about how romantic relationships, of all kinds, are depicted in our culture as the pinnacle of love and the sacrifices people make to pursue and acquire them.

There is plenty of idolatry in our world if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear what people truly value. So the words of the prophet Isaiah are just as relevant to us today as they were to his audience nearly three millennia ago.  The stark choice he offered them was between those things created by man and the Creator.  But he didn’t merely leave them with an either or choice; he explained the futility of pursuing created things over the Creator.  All the idols fashioned by humans cannot replace God and will not provide the ultimate fulfillment its worshippers are seeking.  Can an iPhone truly compare to the Almighty God?  Does a sports team or a performer deserve more adulation than the One who provided them with their abilities?  Can a mere human be an adequate substitute for the One who is the source of all life?

The people in Isaiah’s day had the same problem as we do: our bent is to seek to fulfill our needs with something (or someone) other than God, who created us for Himself.  Everything He has created was given to us for our enjoyment, but not for our worship.  He, and He alone, has the sole claim on our hearts.

And the evidence of the futility of idolatry is all around us.  People are lonely, depressed, anxious, unhappy, discontent, bitter, and unfulfilled. The creators of today’s idols promote them as necessary for our happiness and fulfillment, but look around and listen carefully, and you will recognize the lie beneath the sales pitch.  “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? says the Holy One.”  Indeed.

Today, if you find yourself struggling and unfulfilled, examine your life closely.  Are there idols present in your life, things to which your heart is devoted to more than God?  If so, that is the source of your difficulty and it is time to get rid of them.  They will not give you what you seek from them.  Only the Lord can do that.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Being Tested

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 NIV)

For college students across the nation, exam time is starting or will soon begin.  The only excitement this brings is it portends the end of the semester.  Otherwise, it is something they endure.  It is just a necessary part of the college experience.  

Exams are ideally a way to judge a student’s grasp of the subject.  It’s one thing to show up for class, but has the student learned the material?  A professor can only know that through a test.  

Much to the chagrin of students, I am sure, tests don’t end with their college careers.  While formal tests aren’t necessarily given, when a graduate takes a job, her ability to do the job well is the test.  Rather than getting grades, you get paid for doing the job—for passing the test.  
All through the Scriptures there are references to God’s people being tested.  The Israelites were tested in the desert, as was Jesus.  Job was tested.  Peter was tested. Paul writes of being tested and testing those with whom he was working.  The goal of these tests was the same: to discover the veracity of people’s faith.  Were they truly followers of God?  Was their any depth to their convictions or were they just “fair weather” believers?  

Just as professors give exams to reveal the depth of knowledge of their students, God tests us to reveal the depth of our faith.  Is it real?  If it is real, how deep and resilient is it?  

Tests can be humbling and they can also be exhilarating, depending on what they reveal.  Jesus, Job, and Paul passed their tests and were strengthened by them.  Peter was humbled by his failure.  Yet, his humiliation later led to his redemption.

Throughout your life, know that God will test you.  He wants to see, and for you to see, the genuineness and depth of your faith.  You may not enjoy them, but they are a necessary part of your spiritual development and an opportunity to see you much you have grown.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Huge, Sturdy Rock

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.  I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:1-4 NIV).

For a person swept away by the current of raging river, a large rock sticking out above the water can be a lifesaving refuge.  Sometimes life feels like a raging river and we are caught in its fury.  In desperation, we grab for anything we think might save us.  But like the person in the river will find, not everything we grab hold of is strong enough, solid enough, or high enough to provide us refuge.  

In the river we call life, there are many calm places where things seem just about perfect.  There are others that are a bit rough, but manageable.  Then there are the places that seem impossible to pass. They are scary and if we had a choice, we would avoid them. We would head back upstream to calmer waters. But the current carries us into them and it becomes a quest of survival.   

In the midst of the roaring, churning waters, there is a huge, sturdy Rock sticking up out of the water.  And the current carries us right past it.  All we have to do is grab hold of it. Once we do, it is an easy climb to dry ground. 

It sounds easy, but it is not.  Many people drown in rivers because they panic.  They are so scared they miss the opportunity to be saved.   In life we can be so overwhelmed by our circumstances, so panicked, that we miss the help God can provide.  We fail to grab hold of the Rock that is higher than us.

Today know that whatever circumstances you encounter in life, God is there like a huge rock in the midst of the churning waters.  Don’t panic. Grab hold of Him and you will be safe.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, May 4, 2017

When Life Gets Difficult

“But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” (Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV)

The procedure about which I wrote two days ago gave us the news we really didn’t want to hear, but knew, without Divine intervention, we would have to face.  Thus, my wife and I now are embarking on an unfamiliar, and somewhat risky, journey.  The temptation, and we both have felt it already, is to be overwhelmed with fear of the unknown. So this passage has come in handy when the temptation rears its ugly head.

The prophet Isaiah had been proclaiming God’s judgment on His people. The outlook was grim—exile, death, and destruction.  It was the darkest of visions to take in and the people were greatly afraid. But with the forbidding prophecies came also hope for those who would yet place their full trust in the Lord.  His judgment was due to Israel’s and Judah’s (the Northern and Southern kingdoms) rejection of Him and their turning to idols and to other nations for worship and help.  But to those who would still repent and turn back to the Lord, He gave this promise and hope.  

As with most of the Scriptures, while written specifically for one audience, its application extends to all. So, too, this promise of the Lord is just as applicable to us today as it was so many millennia ago.  

He has created each of us.  He has given us the opportunity for redemption through Jesus. He has called us each by our names and we belong to Him.  And when we walk through troubled waters or the fire of persecution or suffering, He will be there to protect us and to guide us. For He is God, our Lord and Savior!

As my wife and I begin this journey that seems fraught with challenges, it is this hope to which we cling.  It won’t be easy, but we will not be alone or on our own.  

Today, what struggles are on the horizon for you? What is causing you to be anxious and afraid?  Whatever it may be, know the Lord your God is with you and will protect you.  Nothing will be able to overwhelm you if you trust in Him, no matter how difficult the journey ahead.

© Jim Musser 2017