Thursday, May 9, 2013

From Good-Bye To Hello


(Author's Note: We have come to the end of another school year and, thus, to the end of these devotions for a few months.  WftW will start up again on August 20th.  Until then, feel free to visit the archives.  Have a wonderful summer!  Jim)

“Jesus went on to say, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.’  At this, some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,” and “Because I am going to the Father”?’  They kept asking, ‘What does he mean by “a little while”? We don’t understand what he is saying.’

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, ‘Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me”? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.’” (John 16:16-22 NIV)

I have said a lot of good-byes in my life.  It started when I worked at a summer camp while I was in college.  For 12 weeks I worked with a group of college students as a counselor.  We saw each other everyday.  We worked together, hiked together, and ate together.  Then, at the end of the summer, we said good-bye.  I have never seen any of them again.  

In my 30 years of campus ministry, every spring I say good-bye to a group of graduating seniors.  I have known them from one to six years depending on their length of involvement in my ministry and have seen them weekly, if not more.  Then they graduate and are gone.  Many I will see on occasion, but some I never see again.  They move on in their lives and we lose touch.  

In this passage, Jesus is saying good-bye to His disciples.  They were confused and grieved by His words.  The man with whom they had traversed the desert and shared life with for the past three years was telling them He was about to depart.  While they struggled with His words, He encouraged them by telling them they would see Him again.  Their separation, He told them, was not permanent.  And they clung to that promise throughout the rest of their lives.

Good-byes are always hard, but they are a part of this life.  Yet the promise Jesus made to His disciples holds true for us as well.  In Him, good-byes are always temporary.  Whether it be to a student graduating, a good friend moving, or parent dying, hope in Jesus assures that good-bye is never permanent.  

Today, know that for those of us whose hope is in Jesus, “good-bye” will one day again become “hello.”

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

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 grew up with 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, He 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 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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 are 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.  An article in Psychology Today argued 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 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Talking About Jesus


“‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.  So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together.  ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?  You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:12-20 NIV)

For my Bachelor of Social Work degree, I was required to do a practicum, or internship, during my final semester.  When I met with my supervising professor, she asked a very direct question: Can you promise you will not share your faith during the practicum?  I told her I could not, and she replied that she might refuse to allow me to finish my degree.  

What she was afraid of was I would be proselytizing—attempting to convert people to the Christian faith.  It is a loaded word that in our culture conjures up images of telling people they are going to hell, cornering someone and reciting Scripture to them, or brainwashing them. Proselytizing is illegal in many countries and often cited as unacceptable in the codes of conduct of businesses and educational institutions, as well as the U.S. military.  

It is what the religious authorities were accusing Peter and John of doing. And what they commanded of them is increasingly what our culture is telling those of us who believe: Don’t speak any longer to anyone in this name.  We don’t want to hear it!  

While there are examples of those following Christ being rude, judgmental, and coercive to unbelievers, this isn’t the norm nor is it what most are against.  They just don’t want to hear about Jesus, their need for Him as Savior, and the fact that He is Lord of their lives whether they acknowledge Him or not.  That was my professor.  She disliked Christians and what they represented (though pressure from the department chairman forced her to allow me to do my practicum).  Those with similar views are increasing and are gaining influential positions in our society.  

As the hostility towards followers of Jesus increases, Peter and John offer the perfect example of responding to it.  They were not angry or rude, just matter of fact: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?  You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”   They were not cowered by the hostility they encountered.  They knew what they had seen, heard, and experienced with Jesus.  No amount of pressure, harassment, or suffering was going to deter or silence them.  They were going to tell others about their Lord.

Today, recognize the increasingly hostile environment growing around you as a follower of Jesus.  More and more you are going to hear voices that tell you not speak to anyone about Jesus.  But take courage from the example of Peter and John.  They could not help but telling others about Jesus because of the transformative impact He had on their lives. Neither should you.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

Awesome!


“For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? 
 Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?  In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.  Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? 
 You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” (Psalm 89:6-8 NIV)

“Awesome!”  In today’s world, that exclamation could be a response to a friend’s good news, a new phone, or your lunch.  Just about anything can be considered awesome these days.  

But in the Scriptures, and by definition, the word awesome is reserved for God or something truly extraordinary, far beyond one’s normal experience.  I wonder sometimes if, by diminishing the meaning of the word, that in turn we don’t diminish God as well.  For if a lunch or a phone can be deemed awesome in our eyes, is God’s awesomeness reduced to that level?

The Psalmist writes that God is considered more awesome than anyone else, that there is no one like Him.  He is in a whole different category.  He is truly awesome personified.  Yet, if we identify normal, everyday things as awesome, can it not help but diminish what is truly awesome?

A lot of things in life can excite us and some even amaze us, but there are very few that can truly elicit awe, and those are all within God’s realm—Himself, His creation, and His grace.  Today, when you hear some news or see something very interesting, think “good! Or “great!”  But when you contemplate God or His creation, think “AWESOME!

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Loving the Lost


“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24 NIV)

At 7 AM on Saturday morning I received a call from one of my students.  I immediately knew there was a problem because students don’t call me that early.  He and some other guys had gone camping.  Two had gone out to look for firewood the previous night and hadn’t returned.  Feelings of dread rose inside of me.  They were experienced hikers and the only explanation in my mind was something bad had happened.  

While the student called 911, I sent a text to one of the missing student’s phone, hoping he would respond.  A few minutes later, a text came through—they were safe.  They had gotten lost and, because night was falling, they had had to build a shelter and hunker down for the night. They were unable to get a cell phone signal, so they were not able to let their fellow hikers know they were safe.  It wasn’t until daylight the next morning that they were able to hike to a point where they had cell service.

When that text came through, my heart leapt in my chest.  They had been lost, and I had feared the worst, but now they were found.  What a great feeling that was!

I am sure the father in Jesus’ parable had similar feelings at the sight of his son.  I suspect the father assumed the worst, so his joy was immense when he saw his son coming down the road towards home.  

Jesus told this parable to highlight the Heavenly Father’s concern for the spiritually lost in face of criticism that He hung out with “sinners.”  The spiritual leaders of the day refused to associate with those they deemed living sinful lives.  So when Jesus came on the scene and spent time with them, they were appalled.  

His parable points out the fact, the greater the love for a person, the greater the joy will be when the person is lost and then is found.  So what He is saying in this parable and the others in Luke 15 is that God cares deeply for the lost; thus, so should we.  

The question is, do we care?  Do we care about those in our neighborhood, those we work with, those we know in our classes that are lost?  Or do we succumb to the cultural belief of ‘to each his own’ and just mind our own business?  

Today, recognize the Father’s deep love for those who are lost.  If you haven’t already, begin to pray for the lost in your midst and look for opportunities to share with them the Good News that they are loved by their Father who longs for them to return home.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Keeping It Real


“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.

Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.” (Acts 5:1-6 NIV)

Have you ever offered to pray for someone after they have shared some difficulty they are going through without really intending to actually pray for them?  Have you ever been on a retreat and during the personal devotion time acted as though you were reading and praying, but in reality you were just passing the time until the next activity started?  Or have you ever raised your hands in praise of God and at the same time have been thinking about what you have to do after the worship service is over?

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is one of the most interesting in the New Testament.  At that time, Christians were selling land and possessions in order to give the money for the Church to use.  This couple, desiring to impress those around them but without similar generosity, lied about how much they sold their property for.  They wanted to appear more generous, and thus more spiritual, than they really were.  They were seeking to impress people and, in doing so, lied to God.  And they paid an extraordinarily heavy price.

Now I have never known anyone putting up a spiritual pretense having been struck down by the Almighty, but this account does tell us God takes our authenticity seriously.  As Peter noted to Ananias, God does not force us to give Him anything.  He has freely given to us and we are free to do with it what we want.  What it seems He has is a very low tolerance for pretense.  If you don’t intend to pray for a person, you don’t have to.  Just don’t say you are going to in order to appear spiritual.  If you would rather do other things than read the Scriptures and pray, then do it.  Just don’t pretend to read and pray because you fear others will think you are less of a Christian.  And if you are lifting your hands in praise, let it be real, not just a display for others to see.  

Because the Church was brand new, it seems the Lord was sending a very strong message that His people were to be authentic.  If we read further, we see the message was received loud and clear.  It is a message we Christians need to hear again and often.  Drop the pretense and let our faith be real.

Today, examine how you project yourself to others.  Are you real, or do you fall to the temptation of trying to impress others with how spiritual you are?  From what we learn from Ananias and Sapphira, the Lord definitely wants us to keep it real.

© Jim Musser 2013