Friday, March 30, 2012

Stopping To Ask for Help


“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10 NIV)

I was sitting yesterday at a stoplight along a road construction site when a car came from the other direction, slowing down as if the driver was going to ask me a question.  Looking directly at me, I heard him say to his passenger, “I don’t think he can help us.”  Then he drove on.  I don’t know what question he had but, obviously, he decided I wouldn’t know the answer.  On what basis he drew that conclusion I have no idea.  


Isn’t that how we sometimes think of God?  Not that He is unable to help us, but for whatever reason, we are convinced He won’t.  So we don’t ask.  Perhaps we think God only deals with the BIG questions of life, so when we have a small one, we think, “He won’t help me,” so we don’t stop to ask.  Or maybe we think He is too busy for “little ol’ me,” so we avoid bothering Him.  


Yet, this is not the God portrayed in the Scriptures.  Little children, who we know always are full of questions, were welcomed to gather around Him (Matthew 19:14).  We are encouraged to approach God’s throne of grace in our time of need and no mention is made of the type or size of the need (Hebrews 4:16).   And we are told to ask Him.  


The Lord, by all Scriptural accounts, seems very open to questions and requests for help.  We just have to believe He will help us regardless of the size of our need.


Today, if you need help, don’t pass by the Lord thinking He won’t help you.  He has told you to ask, and He has promised to help you.


© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Smelling the Barn


“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:12-15 NIV)

Years ago I was on a ranch riding a trail horse.  The lead rider left the group to retrieve a hat that was dropped, leaving my horse and me second in the line of riders.  Suddenly, the lead horse went from a trot to a gallop and I hung on for dear life as my horse followed.  The rider in front was thrown from her horse, cracking a rib, and I was left unsure if I ever wanted to ride a horse again. We later concluded the horse had smelled the barn and, without a leader, just took off.   


As we are winding down the year and getting close to the end of the semester, students are starting to “smell the barn.”  Like a horse on the trail toward home, it is easy to become obsessed with the end of the school year.  


This is the time of the year, after Spring Break, when students start looking ahead to the end of the semester and the beginning of summer. They can smell it and often their focus on the present is distracted.  


As a campus minister, I can see that happening spiritually as well.  It is tempting as a leader to let responsibilities slide and look ahead to different things in the summer.  That is the temptation of life—letting our longing for the future take our focus away from the present.  But the present is where we live and we honor the Lord by our lives in the present.  The future can be a motivation for living in the present, but should never be an excuse for us to abdicate our responsibilities in the here and now.  Paul was looking forward to Eternity, but he continued to strain to get there.


You may be “smelling the barn” right now and are tempted to just coast to the end, but the Lord is reminding you through Paul that between now and then there is much straining yet to be done.  Pressing on to the end is the best way to honor your Lord.  


© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Living Good Lives


“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (I Peter 2:12 NIV)

I am often surprised by the reaction of people to what I still intrinsically believe to be normal behavior.  Recently, I stopped at a coffee shop to buy a cup of java and realized, after I was served, that I had no money in my wallet.  The owner was really nice.  Told me not to worry about it, that I could pay him later.  The next day I stopped in to pay him the money and the guy was completely shocked.  He told me I needn’t have done that, but I could tell by his face how much he appreciated, well, honesty.


This is a trait that is normal for me because I follow Jesus, but I realize people, like those in business, don’t always see nor necessarily expect honesty from people, particularly in the case of a couple bucks owed.  


I don’t know the coffee shop owner’s spiritual leanings, but my guess would be he is not a believer.  And, if that is the case, he likely has a rather skewed view of Christians.  One can argue that Christians are “nutcases,” “idiots,” and the like, but when individual Christians live good, upright lives, it gives the person pause.  


In a world full of rudeness, apathy, dishonesty, and the like, normal Christian behavior stands out like a light in the darkness.  It grabs people’s attention.


Today, recognize that how you treat people and handle situations can be a powerful testimony for Jesus.  The world may scoff at Christians in general, but the best way to silence our critics and draw them into a relationship with Jesus is by living good lives.


© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Journey of Growth


“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.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-15 NIV)

I recently asked a student to tell me about her spiritual journey.  She responded, “You mean when I was saved?”  Well, not exactly.


So often people frame their spiritual journey in terms of when and how they became a believer in Jesus.  Their journeys have the same beginning and ending points.  For many, being saved is the goal and when that is accomplished, the journey basically ends.


But a journey’s end, by definition, is a long way from its beginning.  There is much that happens in between.  For Paul that was a maturing process where we would increasingly move toward being more like Jesus in thought and deed.  The result would be a community of grown-up believers unified and submitted to the Lord.


I have long thought the emphasis on “getting people saved” rather than discipleship within the church is detrimental to the growth and maturity of God’s people, and every day I see its effects.  The student was sincere in her question, but the sad part for me is she had no concept of spiritual growth.  In her mind, it seems, her journey was basically complete as soon as it began.  And she is far from alone.


Churches today are full of people whose spiritual journeys can be summed up by the age at which they first came to know Jesus.  They have been coasting pretty much since and it shows.  But this is so contrary to what the Scriptures teach.  They speak of bearing fruit (John 15), going from drinking milk to solid food (Hebrews 5), no longer being infants (Ephesians 4).  These are words implying growth.  


Today, if you are a follower of Jesus, realize your journey with Him is to be a journey of continued growth and is to end with you being far more like Him than when you first began.


© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Smell of Life and Death


“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” (II Corinthians 2:14-16 NIV)

It was a faint smell at first emanating from our bathroom, almost a sickening sweet smell to my olfactories.  But within a day, the odor was clearly identifiable—it was the smell of death.  A couple months earlier we had heard what we presumed to be a mouse in the bathroom wall.  I put poison in the crawlspace and we never heard the noise again.  The unwelcome intruder, we suspect, died more than a month ago, but the cold weather had kept the remains from deteriorating.  With the onset of warmer weather, that changed and the aroma of death filled our bathroom.


The smell of death is immediately recognizable.  There is never a doubt about what the odor is.  This is exactly the point Paul is making of his experience sharing the gospel.  Those whose hearts are open to it, like a pleasant aroma, are drawn to it.  Those whose hearts are hardened, like the smell of death, are repulsed by it.  


I was like that when I was young.  I thought true followers of Jesus were weird and I wanted nothing to do with them.  They repulsed me.  But then in my first year of college, I got acquainted with a few.  The love and joy I saw in their lives was very attractive to me.  I was drawn to Jesus through them.  


Salvation only comes through complete surrender of our wills to God.  For many, that very thought outweighs the love and joy which accompanies the surrender.  The idea of giving up their will is repulsive.  They cannot stand it and will reject any notion of it.  


In our culture today, one of the worst social offenses is to offend someone.  So we go out of our way to avoid offending anyone.  However, the fact is the gospel is offensive to those who reject it and any attempts to make it more palatable so they will be more accepting dilute its message.  Neither Paul nor Jesus were concerned about offending people.  They just spoke the truth in love and accepted whatever response they received.  


Today, know the gospel will be offensive to people whose hearts are hardened.  In it, they smell the aroma of death.  It is to them a repulsive odor.  But others whose hearts are open will smell the scent of life and embrace it.  Regardless of the reaction you may receive, always be willing to share the message that to you smells so sweet.  


© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Seeking Wise Counsel


“Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all the Israelites had gone there to make him king.  When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.’ Rehoboam answered, ‘Go away for three days and then come back to me.’ So the people went away. 


"Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. ‘How would you advise me to answer these people?’ he asked. They replied, ‘If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.’ But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.  He asked them, ‘What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, “Lighten the yoke your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him replied, ‘Tell these people who have said to you, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter”-tell them, “My little finger is thicker than my father's waist.  My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions."’

Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, ‘Come back to me in three days.’  The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and said, ‘My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’  So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” (I Kings 12:1-15 NIV)


Last semester, I began meeting with a student and I asked him what he wanted to get out of our time together.  One of things he said was he felt he needed to talk with someone other than his peers, someone who had more life experience and wisdom.  I was grateful to hear that because young people tend to rely on each other for advice and counsel.  In the late 60’s, the rallying cry of the hippies was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!”  It has changed a little, but not that much.


Older adults are often viewed by younger people as out of touch with their world and thus are thought to have little understanding and little to offer in terms of advice and wisdom.  King Rehoboam was a young man and demonstrated this view.  He chose to listen to his peers rather than to his elders, and it cost him.  Israel rebelled and began a civil war.  


There is an old saying, that if we fail to learn from mistakes of the past, then we are destined to repeat them.  Older people may not be up on the latest technology, and may not have a clue about X-Box or the latest bands, but the wise among them do know about relationships, the struggles that come with youth (they were young not so many years ago), the mistakes they made and the wisdom they gained as a result.  They are a vast resource of wisdom and practical advice, and it is foolish for a young person not to take advantage of what they have to offer.  And if they did, they wouldn’t end up like King Rehoboam and make some very costly mistakes.  


Today, consider who might be available to you that are 20, 30, 40 years older than you with whom you can spend some time talking about your questions and your struggles.  Your peers can often be a help and an encouragement to you, but their life experience is limited.  Sometimes the questions and circumstances of life require much more experience and wisdom than they have.  You would be foolish not to seek out those who have it. And, if they are like me, they will be glad and honored you did.


© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

True Worship


“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24 NIV)

Worship is a word whose meaning has been greatly diminished over the years.  “Reverent honor or homage paid to God or a sacred personage” is how Dictionary.com defines it.  For most believers today, however, it just means singing praise songs.  Worship leaders are, by definition, leaders of singing.  They will often, to open a set of praise songs, say to those gathered, “Let’s worship the Lord together.”  


One of our worship band members, after going on our Spring Break mission trip, shared that she thought she had been worshipping when helping to lead songs, but realized on the trip that she wasn’t truly worshipping.  In other words, she learned worshipping God involves more than just singing songs of praise to Him.


The Jews and the Samaritans both believed worship was defined by place and ritual.  Like many today who believe worship takes place in a church building and through singing.  Yet, Jesus defined “true worship” as being done “in the Spirit and in truth.”  In the Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit and implies a relationship, a connection on a deep level with God.  In truth means worshipping with honesty and authenticity of the heart rather than just going through the motions.  


True worship then flows from a real relationship with the Lord and a heart that is truly awed by who God is.  It indeed can be expressed through singing, but is far from limited to words combined with melodies.  We can worship the Lord through reading His Word, through how we conduct ourselves at work or in school, through how we treat our friends or our enemies.  We pay honor to God by how we live our lives day to day.  


Today, recognize your worship of the Lord is not limited to singing praise songs or hymns on a certain day in a certain place.  It is to encompass every aspect of your life.  And most importantly, it is to flow out of a real relationship with the living God.  Otherwise, it is not truly worship.


© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Hardest Forgiveness


“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’” (Luke 23:32-35 NIV)

Forgiveness is hard, even when the person is repentant.  But what of situations where the person is not repentant, does not acknowledge his wrongdoing?   These are the hardest circumstances in which to forgive, but Jesus left us a model.  Faced with a mob bent on seeing Him die, Jesus appeals to His Father, asking Him to forgive them.  


To receive a gift, one must be willing to accept it, but it can be offered regardless.  Offering the gift reflects the attitude of the heart.  In the case of forgiveness, we offer it because we love (want what’s best for) the person, just as God loves us.  It is up to the person to decide whether or not to receive it.   And by doing so, we are set free from the grip of bitterness and hatred.  


We aren’t told how many standing at the foot of the Cross received God’s gift, but we know it was offered.  That is all we can do, but we must do it if we are walking behind Jesus.  And the offer is not limited by the severity of the offense.  Jesus was being killed when He uttered His plea to the Father.  


Are there individuals in your life who have wronged you in some way and have never acknowledged it?  Offer them the gift of forgiveness, just as the Lord offered it to you long before you acknowledged having wronged Him.  They may choose not to accept it, but there is freedom in making the offer.


© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fighting for the Faith


“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 3-4 NIV)

Have you ever felt really uneasy about a friend’s behavior and have been reluctant to talk with her about it?  Is there something that bothers you about the lifestyles or beliefs of some of those in your church or ministry?  We are not a society that relishes confrontation, but Jude says we need to have more of a “fighting spirit” when it comes to the Christian faith.  


From reading the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, we know there were people seeking to alter and thus diminish the message of the Gospel.  There were those who said grace was not enough to receive salvation, while others claimed grace covered over all sin and thus one could live as he pleased without consequence.  Jude was dealing with the latter and was quick to tell his friends not to turn a blind eye, but to fight for the faith.


How often do we feel the need to fight for the faith, to stand up against wrong thinking and living among our Christian brothers and sisters?  Of course, Jude is not talking about physical confrontation or threats.  He is talking about having the courage to speak up for the Truth in situations where it has been clearly distorted.  When Christian friends justify their sin by saying, “We all sin, and God forgives me,” Jude says we need to speak up and contend for the Faith that calls us to confession and repentance.  When someone says, “God just wants us to be happy,” Jude says we need to fight for the Faith that calls us to deny ourselves and take up the Cross.  When a brother says, “Though I am a Christian, I believe there are many paths to God,” Jude says we need to stand up for the Faith that follows the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)


It is much easier to keep quiet than to stand up and contend for the Faith. In fact, we would all rather focus on more positive things, just as Jude confessed he would.  But he felt the distortion of the Gospel compelled immediate action.  So he urged his friends to have the courage to speak up and take a stand for Truth.  


You may, like the friends of Jude, be reluctant to create a stir by speaking up for Truth.  But clearly when the message of the Gospel is threatened within our own Christian community, it is important that we stand up and defend it.  


Today, have the courage to speak up if that is what is needed.


© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Following the True Leader


“’Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.’  Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.


Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’” (John 10:1-10 NIV)

Our Spring Break trip to a children’s ranch in Missouri last week entailed a lot of woodcutting.  One afternoon, after lunch, we were heading back into the woods to our cutting sight.  I was leading the way along what I thought was our path.  After a few minutes, I noticed the sounds of voices fading away.  I turned around and saw the group had veered off into another direction—along the true path.  I had been leading them away from our cutting site and deeper into the woods.  When they realized this, they stopped following me.


We need leaders and it is good to follow them, but it doesn’t mean we follow them blindly.  We need to stay alert that they are leading us along the right path.  In my years in ministry, I have seen a lot of people led astray because they took leaders solely at their word without consulting the Word.  I recall one young man who had been involved in a solid campus ministry, but upon graduation, got involved with a legalistic, Scripture-twisting church with a charismatic leader.  I met him after he became a leader of the church’s campus ministry.  Later I was part of a disciplinary board formed by the university to investigate charges of abuse.  In meeting with him, he was adamant he was following the Lord even in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary.  Years later, the pastor of the church was forced to resign and the elders issued a statement of confession and repentance of misleading their people and leading them astray.  


None of us are immune to falling prey to false teaching.  Therefore, we need to be students of the Scriptures.  We need to trust our leaders, but we also need to understand they are not above making mistakes, or being led astray themselves.  We need to be alert to what the Scriptures say in order to continue on the right path even when a leader is veering off onto the wrong one.


Today, don’t merely follow any leader wherever he leads.  Make sure he continues to follow the right path.  A leader is not worth following if he is going to lead you away from the True Leader.


© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fearing God


(Author's Note: App State is on Spring Break next week, so WftW will be taking a break as well.  Look for the next devotion on March 19th.  Jim)


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)

I once adopted a dog named “Buttons.”  She had been abused by a man and so was deathly suspicious of me when I first met her.  She hid under a table when I approached because she was convinced I was going to do her harm.  It took several days before she allowed me to get close, but for years she still cowered whenever I stepped over her.  Her first instinct always was fear.


A lot of us treat God in the same way.  Our first instinct is He is going to harm us or to allow harm to come to us.  I think that is why many of us are hesitant to fully trust God.  What might happen if we do?  He might leave me single all my life.  He might send me to the African bush as a missionary.  He might change my lifelong plans for a career.  So while we may be devoted to God, as did Buttons, we still keep our guard up.   We never give Him full control out of fear for what He might do.  


The Israelites had suffered the full effects of their rebellion against God. They had been exiled to Babylon and their beloved Temple had been destroyed.   They were cowering in fear.  Yet the Lord came to them through Jeremiah and declared His intent not to harm them.  He had plans for them, great plans!  Unfortunately, they never fully trusted Him and insisted on going their own way (Jeremiah 44:15ff).  And they missed out on a life of blessings.


When we fail to trust God out of fear of what He might then do, we miss out on His blessings.  He loves us and seeks to do us no harm.  Rather, He wants to bless us in ways far beyond our limited imaginations. However, we often think we know what’s best for us and so resist handing control of our lives over to another.  Like a toddler approaching a hot stove who will not listen to his mom’s command, “don’t touch,” we are going to unintentionally do harm to ourselves when we don’t trust God to know what is in our best interests.


Today, know the Lord does not seek to harm you.  Rather, He wants what’s best for your life.  So do not fear giving Him full control over your life.  You are in good hands and He will take good care of you.


© Jim Musser 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

In His Time


“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 NIV)

Sometimes we want to push things forward; sometimes we want to hold back.  As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything, but we don’t always have the timing down right.  We’re ready for a romantic relationship and so we push for one; or we aren’t ready and so push one away.  We may have our eyes on a particular job or make plans for a dream trip, but it doesn’t work out the way we had hoped.  The timing was just off.


If you read the Bible thoroughly, you will find that God’s timing is perfect. The angel of the Lord stopped Abraham just at the right time from killing his son, Isaac.  He sent the fish to inhale Jonah just in time to save him from drowning.  And He timed Jesus’ arrival on earth and subsequent death to have maximum impact in the world.  


As we look ahead in our lives, we need not be anxious about how things are going to work.  When will I get married?  What will I be doing after college?  How long should I remain in my current job?  These are questions God will answer in His time.  We can give thought to them and make some tentative plans, but, as Proverbs 16:9 says, it is the Lord who directs our steps.  In His time.


Today, may you find comfort in knowing that God’s timing is perfect.  You can trust Him to work things out—in His time.


© Jim Musser 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Finding Strength and Courage


"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:6-9 NIV)

You see it around campus these days.  Students are tired, and with fatigue often comes discouragement.  When we are extremely tired, we are much more vulnerable to becoming discouraged.  


Imagine that you came to college with the goal of graduating in four years, but 40 years later you still had not received your degree.  Think you would be tired and discouraged?  This is basically what Joshua experienced.  He and the Israelites, led by Moses, left Egypt with the promise of God they would enter a new land “flowing with milk and honey.”  Yet, 40 years later, they were still on the Egyptian side of the Jordan and Moses was dead.  


The Lord then speaks to Joshua and tells him he will be the one to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land.  He tells him to be strong and courageous and reminds him that He will be with him wherever he goes.  


Sometimes life just keeps pressing in on us.  We would love to have a break, but there is not one to be found.  Project deadlines.  Chronic illness.  Children.  We can’t just wish them away.  They are there staring us in the face demanding our time and energy.  


It is at these times the words of the Lord to Joshua are especially meaningful.  To carry on when we are tired and discouraged requires strength and courage.  It is easy to give up or to do the bare minimum; it takes strength and courage to keep going full speed with our hearts and minds fully engaged.  And this will come from the Lord.  Through His Word and His presence, He will see us through when we are tired and discouraged.


Today, heed the words of the Lord to Joshua.  He is with you and He will provide you with the strength and courage you need to make it through.


© Jim Musser 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Way Out of Loneliness


“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (I Thessalonians 2:8 NIV)

A study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona released several years ago revealed that one quarter of Americans have no one in whom to confide about personal problems.  And the rest, on average, have no more than two people with whom they can talk about their personal issues.  


The most striking thing about this study is what it did not say.  The sociologists did not find that Americans lacked social contacts.  We are one of the most socially “connected” societies on earth with smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, and we are in contact with people daily at work, at school, and at church.  


One would think that a society having so much connectedness would not be so lonely, but the reality is much different.  It is possible to be in a room full of people and be lonely.  It is possible to have a multitude of conversations and still feel unknown and disconnected.  It is possible to have friends but feel friendless.


What is missing in much of American culture is what Paul gave to the Galatians.  He shared with them his life.  He opened himself up, made himself vulnerable.  He did not put up a fa├žade.  How many of us feel we can do that?  Fellowship, in the Greek, means “shared life.”  How often, when we are having times of “fellowship,” do we really share our lives with one another, not just the things we want people to know, but what is really going on?  


What a tremendous opportunity we have as followers of Jesus to show our culture the way out of loneliness, if we will just practice what is to be normative for Christians—to have fellowship with one another, sharing our lives in deep and intimate ways, to be known for who we really are and loved all the same.  Our culture hungers for this because that is how God created all people—for deep fellowship with Him and one another.  


Today, seek out someone with whom to share your life, not just for your sake, but theirs as well because it is a lonely world out there.  


© Jim Musser 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Lesson of Knots


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

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


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


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


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


© Jim Musser 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Not Shrinking from Death


“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. 
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:10-11 NIV)

Ryan Boyette has lived in Sudan for nearly a decade.  He is 30 years old, married to a Sudanese woman, and he loves the Sudanese people.  Yet, this love has put his life into danger.


Ryan first came to Sudan with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief agency.  Two years ago, SP decided it was too dangerous for their workers to remain and ordered them to return home.  Ryan refused to leave and instead resigned his position.  He said he could not leave the people he loved knowing the suffering they were under at the hands of the Sudanese government.  Near where he lives in the Nuba Mountains, government planes daily bomb the area and every day, people die.  Ryan believes the government may also target him because he is bringing to light their atrocities.  


Our ministry office is next door to Ryan’s mom’s African gift shop.  We have talked a number of times about him and she knows his life is in danger.  Like any mother, she is deeply concerned for her son’s safety.  But unlike most mothers in a similar situation, she supports her son’s efforts.  She understands there is more to life than just hanging onto it.  And she retains the hope that if her son were to die, his reward would be great.  


As followers of Jesus, we are called to take up our cross and go wherever He leads us.  And the truth is, for some that will be down the path of losing their lives at the hands of men bent on evil.  But Paul tells us there is no “sting” in death (I Corinthians 15) because of the promised resurrection.  In death, we pass immediately into real, untainted life.  Thus, the martyrs of whom the Lord speaks did not love their lives so much that they avoided death at all costs.  And in so doing, they were triumphant over the devil.


Ryan Boyette is not yet a martyr and may never be.  But it is clear that he does not love his own life so much that he will put it above the lives of those he loves.  Sounds like Jesus.


Today, consider how much your life is worth to you.  Would you be willing to give it up if that were the path on which the Lord wanted to lead you?


© Jim Musser 2012


(Author’s Note: You can find out more about Ryan Boyette’s work in Sudan here: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/rock-center/46581824)


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fellow Strugglers


“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.  When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Galatians 2:11-14 NIV)

Sometimes we have too pure of a picture of the apostles.  We see them after Pentecost as perfect men and, after all, they have been referred to as “saints” down through the centuries.  Yet, we see in this passage that Saint Peter was indeed no saint as we typically think of the term.  He still struggled with cowardice and when faced with much peer pressure, he buckled.  


Now there is no question that Peter’s life was transformed after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).  He went from denying Christ in front of a few to boldly proclaiming Him in front of thousands.  He went from fearing Jewish officials to proclaiming he would not follow their command to stop preaching about Jesus (Acts 4).  He was indeed transformed, but he was far from perfect.  


I think it is sometimes easy for us to dismiss the applicability of the Word to our lives because we look at the people of the Bible through distorted lenses.  We see them as perfect, or at least far different from us, so what they have to teach us, though nice, we consider disjointed from our reality.  If we were them, sure, the teachings would fit, but we are not them.  We are not giants of the faith.  We’re just little folk struggling along the path of life, putting one foot in front of the other.  


Well, I don’t think that is much different from their experience.  Peter struggled.  Paul struggled.    Following a perfect God is a struggle no matter who we are.  Yet, what we learn from these “giants” or “saints” is that we continue to seek God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And as we seek, the Lord will transform us.  The Christian life is a journey of growth, not a one time, all is fixed experience.  


Today, if you think you are just not up to the task of living the Christian life, you are absolutely right.  And what’s more, you are like every other human being that has ever lived, including the likes of Peter and Paul.  Following a perfect God is no easy task, but what we learn from these saints is perfection is not a requirement; only a wholehearted desire to seek God and the willingness to be transformed is needed.  Our Lord will do the rest. In the meantime, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other.


© Jim Musser 2012