Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Hard Truth

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’

Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.  I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.’

‘Abraham is our father,’ they answered.

‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do what Abraham did.  As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.  You are doing the works of your own father.’

‘We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested. ‘The only Father we have is God himself.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!  Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’

The Jews answered him, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ ‘I am not possessed by a demon,’ said Jesus, ‘but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.  I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.’

At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’

Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. ‘ Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’

‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!’ ‘Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” (John 8:31-59 NIV)

This is such an interesting story.  It begins with John writing, ““To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said…”  So Jesus is speaking to people who believed in Him.  It ends with the same people attempting to stone him to death.  From believing in Him to trying to stone Him, in what, five to ten minutes?!

In this discourse, Jesus is trying to get across the message that truth will set people free, but it is a conditional—the truth has to be objectively true.  His audience, those who believe in Him, has a view of what it is true.  Up to this point they think they are in agreement.  They like Jesus, they’ve heard His preaching, they’ve seen His miracles. They’re drawn to Him.  They believe He agrees with them until they realize He doesn’t, and then they’re ready to let the stones fly.

Objective truth often goes down hard because we tend to believe what we want to believe.  None of us is objective in what we believe.  We all have blind spots and even believe lies because we have no information to contradict our beliefs.  And even if we are provided contradictory evidence, most of us are still reluctant to cede our ground.  We want to believe what we believe because change is difficult and admitting we are wrong even more so.  

This is why, often, it is so hard to accept all of Jesus’ teachings.  We would rather pick and choose according to our pre-set beliefs.  And why many try to distinguish the teachings of Jesus from the teachings of Paul or Peter, because they find some of the latter abhorrent to their rational sensibilities.  What they forget is that all of Scripture is divinely inspired (II Timothy 3:16) All Scripture is God’s truth and, as Jesus claims in this passage, He is God.

What this passage reveals, and what much of history has shown, is that we want a god that is created in our own image.  We want a god who will tell us what we want to hear and validate our “truth.”  If so, we’ll embrace him.  If not, then we will have nothing to do with him or remake him into the kind of god we prefer.  And, sadly, remain in the bondage of our own making.  

In order for truth to set us free, we have to accept it unconditionally.  We have to trust in the One who is the Truth (John 14:6).  We honestly may not agree with Him, but what we believe always must be submitted to Him for examination and correction.  That is the hard part of following Jesus.  It is always His way and only ours when it is in agreement with His.

Today, if you truly want to be free, then seek the Truth and submit to it regardless of whether or not you instinctively agree with it.  Having your own “truth” may seem very freeing, but in reality it is the surest way to remain in bondage.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

Muscle Rehab

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

I was in the midst of a session with my trainer as part of my rehabilitation from knee-replacement surgery last spring.  As he was showing me how to do an exercise, I noticed a man in the mirror watching me closely.  Moments later he walked up to my trainer and began whispering.  It was obvious I was the subject of their discussion as the man kept pointing at my lower body.  Finally, he spoke to me, identified himself as a chiropractor, and said he had noticed during my squats that I was moving to my right.  He said this was due to my abductor muscle on my left side not firing correctly.  As I explained that I had knee problems since I was in my early teens, he said my leaning to the left was due to lack of muscle memory.  My right side was so used to compensating for my left that the muscles on the left side were unaccustomed to working normally.  Now that I had a normally functioning left knee, he said, my challenge would be to re-train my weak muscles on that side to work correctly.

As I was working on a message to conclude a teaching series on our identity in Christ, this encounter got me to thinking about recovery from spiritual injury.  If sin leads to death (Romans 6:23), then acts of sin are injurious to us.  Repeated injuries, like those to my knee, lead to compensation to cope with the results.  For years I noticed how the soles of my shoes wore differently—the right one always showed more wear because my body was compensating for the injured left knee.  

As sinners, we learn to compensate for the injuries we have caused, mainly in two ways.  We may use shame to make ourselves feel better about who we are.  After sinning, we beat ourselves up, confess, and carry around a “woe is me” attitude for a while.  We do it again, and then repeat the same process. But it gives us some comfort because we feel bad about it, so we’re not that bad, are we?  

Or we may, after repeated sin, just accept that’s who we are and it’s what we do.  We can’t stop, so why try and why feel guilty about it? And we’re saved by grace, right?

Imagine, just as we have physical muscles, such as the abductors, we have spiritual muscles.  And imagine the two main muscles in this category are the grace muscle and the confession/repentance muscle. Now imagine we are spiritually injured by sin and, as a result, these muscles have atrophied from lack of use as a result of how we have compensated for our injury.  Now, through Jesus, our injury has been healed (II Corinthians 5:17) and we are in the midst of our rehabilitation (i.e., following Jesus in this life).  The challenge we face is to stop compensating as we once did and begin to get these atrophied muscles working properly again.  

Just as the muscles on both sides of our bodies are to work together to help keep us in proper balance and our spine properly aligned, so, too, do our two main spiritual muscles work together to keep us spiritually balanced and in proper alignment with the Lord.  Yet, as I have discovered in rehabbing my body after having my knee “healed,” the muscles are a little slow in coming around to the new reality.  They still naturally act as though I am still injured and need to compensate for it.  As the doctor said, I have to re-train them to act normally again, as they were designed to function.  

During our years of sin, we learned to compensate with guilt and shame, with denial and hard-heartedness.  Those ways are not easily eliminated.  Re-training must be done and it will not be easy, as I have found both in the physical and spiritual realms.  But re-train we must if we want to live healthier, more enjoyable lives.

And the place we start is with the Word of God.  It is our training manual.  It teaches us what is normal and abnormal in living our lives and it instructs us on how to train our grace muscle and our confession/repentance muscles to get them in proper shape.  In a nutshell, sin is never to be taken lightly, never dismissed as something normative in our lives that should not concern us because we live under grace.  Sin has to be addressed—confessed and recognized as a step in the wrong direction. Like a cancer, it should never be ignored because the consequences are so dire.  On the other hand, we do live under grace and no sin is unforgivable if we are willing to confess and repent of it, even if we have to do it countless times during our lives.  These are the muscles working properly in tandem and the Word shows us how to get them to that point and keep them there.

Today, recognize the likelihood that your spiritual muscles are not functioning properly due to years of repeated injuries and your attempts to compensate for them.  They are in need of re-training and the manual is within easy reach.  The difficult part is picking it up and following its instructions.  But if you do, you will be amazed at the results and how good you feel!

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

Learning the Language of Prayer

“ The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:1-6 NIV)

In his book, Working the Angles, pastor Eugene Peterson calls prayer “answering speech,” and the Psalms the perfect source to teach us to speak fluently the language of prayer.  We can learn a lot about this language by looking at one of the most famous Psalms—Psalm 23.  

Note the definitiveness of David’s words.  “The Lord is my shepherd.” He makes me lie down…”  “He leads me beside quiet waters…”  There is no tentativeness or a sense of wishful thinking in his words.  In today’s language, this Psalm likely would sound more like this: Lord, I want you to be my shepherd so that I will lack nothing.  Help me to lie down in green pastures and may you lead me beside quiet waters. Please Lord, refresh my soul. 

And the requests would continue to the end as if we have to ask God to be who He is.  Rather than being fluent in the definitive language of the Psalms, we speak a different language that has a hesitant, doubtful tone, perhaps because instead of being “answering speech,” we view prayer as our initiation.  We are coming to God to say or ask for something, rather than responding to what He has already said.  

He says “I am with you always,”(Matthew 28:20) but we pray, “Lord, be with me.” He says, “Where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) But we pray, “Lord, we invite you into this place.”  The Lord says He will provide (Matthew 6:33), but we ask Him to provide for our needs. David states the Lord’s goodness and love will follow Him throughout his life, but we ask the Lord for His blessings and love throughout our day or the coming week.  Do you see the difference?

The language we often use in prayer is tentative, as if we are unsure of the Lord’s character.  We think He will lead us, provide for us, will be with us, but to be sure, we’d better ask.  But I think it goes deeper than this and Peterson addresses this.  He says we often take the view that prayer is our initiative and God does nothing until we pray.  Rather, he says, prayer is our response to God’s initiative.  He always has the first word.  And this is borne out in David’s prayer.  

God has been a shepherd to him; He has led him and refreshed him. He has always been with Him.  There is no need for him to ask God to be who He already is or to do what He naturally does.  God spoke first. David is responding to what He already has said.  

Today, reflect on the language you speak in prayer.  Does it use the definitive words of David, ones that are in response to what the Lord has already said?   Or do they reflect the belief that you have to take the initiative with God, that you are always the first one to speak? Remember this: “In the beginning was the Word…”  Everything we pray is in response to what He has already said.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Lurking Shadow

“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 

‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?’

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:50-58 NIV)

It seems I have been reading a lot about death lately—more precisely, dying with grace and purpose.  People have been posting Kara Tippett’s farewell letter on Facebook (her body succumbed over the weekend to the cancer she had been battling and writing about) and I just read the blog of a friend’s daughter, who writes of her grandmother’s final days on this earth and the legacy of life she left.

Death, as one late colleague and mentor of mine once said, is an intruder.  Like a home invader, it jolts us out of the comfort of our everyday lives and reminds us of our vulnerability, that we are not immortal and that, for all of us, our days are numbered. Our tendency is to live in denial, to acknowledge the reality of death, but to assume it will not come for us anytime soon.  Yet, the proof is all around that its shadow lurks.  It’s trailing us whether we choose to notice or not.  

For the majority, the shadow causes fear.  It propels many to do whatever they can to fend it off.  Whole industries exist solely because people are afraid to die and are willing to do whatever they can to stave off the inevitable.  

Yet, what I’ve been reading, which is reinforced by this passage, is life can be lived without fear of death’s shadow.  Even when it appears on our doorstep and forces its way into our lives, we need not be afraid. For One has gone before us.  He has overcome Death and removed its sting.  When our time comes to leave this world, He is there to escort us into a wonderful Eternity, eliminating the shadow by His shining Light. The fear is not completely eliminated, but it is no longer paralyzing.  

The lives I have been reading about continued to be lived with grace and purpose to the very last breath.  “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” resonated with them and was a reality because the shadow of death did not overwhelm them.  

Today, recognize the shadow of death lurks, desiring to cause fear to rise up within you.  But know the hope and security you have in Jesus, the Overcomer of death.  He has removed its power over you and set you free to live your life fully for Him, knowing at your last breath, He will be waiting to escort you into a whole new world full of beauty and peace.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Lesson of Palm Sunday

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” tell him, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:1-10 NIV)

It was the spring of 2001 and Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas was filled with 10,000-15,000 people awaiting an announcement from basketball coach Roy Williams on whether or not he was going to accept an offer from the University of North Carolina to replace Dean Smith as head basketball coach or remain at KU. Williams came out of the tunnel and onto the stage and proclaimed, “I’m stayin’.”  The crowd erupted and a celebration ensued, much as if the Jayhawks had just won the National Championship.  Williams was feted like royalty.

Two years later, it was a different story.  Williams, who once again was offered the UNC position, couldn’t turn it down a second time.  And many of the same people who packed that stadium two years earlier were now calling Williams a traitor and worse.  Radio talk shows were deluged with vitriolic calls and letters to the editor were very few in support of his decision.  The “king” had fallen hard and fast from favor.  

Two thousand years ago, another man who the people proclaimed king was celebrated by the crowds.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was greeted with jubilant celebration.  The crowd adored Him and couldn’t get enough of Him.  Yet, only days later, many of the same people were shouting, “Crucify, crucify!”  

The reality is we human beings are very fickle by nature.  Our hearts can turn on a dime.  Sunday morning we can be lifting our voices in praise to our King and by Sunday afternoon we can be gossiping with a friend.  We can be in a Bible study on Wednesday and by Thursday planning for a weekend party.   The lesson of Palm Sunday is how weak our hearts really are.  Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we praise the Lord on Sunday and continue to live for Him throughout the rest of the week.  

Today, acknowledge to the Lord the weakness of your heart and ask Him for the help and strength to live for Him every day.  Then you will indeed stand out from the crowd.

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Need for Change

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:16-21 NIV)

We concluded our eight-week discipleship group last night and, as we were reviewing what the students had learned during our time together, several mentioned the difference of being “saved” from being “born-again.”  In our teaching we had emphasized that many churches mistakenly emphasize the former at the expense of the latter, leading many claiming to be saved, but looking very similar in their lifestyles to those who make no such claims. One student spoke of knowing someone who is involved in a campus ministry, but also enjoys the party scene.   It echoed what we recently heard from another student whose Bible study leader seems to have no problem with getting drunk on the weekends.  

Paul in this passage says he used to think of Jesus from a “worldly point of view.”  I wonder if this isn’t at the heart of why so many who claim to be Christians bare little resemblance to the One from whom they receive their name.  Paul originally didn’t see Jesus as Lord or Savior, just as a blasphemer or perhaps a misguided man so full of himself to claim Deity.  He saw Him as he wanted.  

Is that not also true of many of us?  We see Jesus as we want to see Him, not as He truly is.  Many want to see Him as their Savior, the One who keeps them from Hell and gives them a ticket to heaven.  No cost is involved.  Pray a prayer and you’re set.  Others want to see Jesus as the devoted friend who accepts them unconditionally and just wants them to be happy.  Still others see Him as the permissive Parent who always loves and forgives, accepting them as they are and never really demanding anything.  

This is how the Lord is often viewed, but is this who He really is? Obviously, something isn’t right with us if we are in need of a Savior, if we are in need of reconciliation with God.  Someone in dire straits needs someone to save them.  A relationship in need of reconciliation cannot remain the same and survive.  

What this passage tells us is change is essential when we decide to follow Jesus.  He is not the One in need; we are.  He has set the standard and we fall way short of it (Romans 3:23).  We don’t define the terms to suit us; He does.  If we freely choose to follow Him, then we give up the right to live as we please (I Corinthians 6:19-20).

As with any broken relationship, change is necessary if it is to be repaired. Reconciliation has a cost.  With the Lord, that cost is our will. No longer my will, but yours (Matthew 26:39).  For He is Lord over us. We may want to view Him in a different way, but that does not change the reality of who He is.  

Today, recognize that following Jesus, proclaiming Him as Savior and Lord, must involve change in your life.  Of course, through the power of His Spirit, He will help you make those changes, but there is no having it your way when you choose to follow Jesus.  He leads and you follow. It’s that simple. 

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spiritual Gardening

“For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (I Corinthians 3:4-9 NIV)

My wife is getting excited because Spring is about to arrive here in the mountains.  That means cultivating the soil, planting seeds, watering, and, the most important and thrilling part, watching the plants grow and bear fruit.  She loves every aspect of growing things.  

Growth does tend to bring joy.  Parents love to see their children grow from babies to children, from children to teenagers, and then into adults. Entrepreneurs love taking an idea and growing it into a thriving business.  And gardeners, like my wife, love growing flowering plants and vegetables.  The joy of growing things seems to be a part of our DNA.  

The Scriptures often use agrarian metaphors to describe spiritual realities and Paul does that here in this passage.  He talks of seed-planting, watering, and growth.  Combatting the human tendency to glorify others, or ourselves Paul makes clear our role in the spiritual harvest is minor compared with the Lord.  Yes, we are the planters of seeds and the ones who water the fledgling plants, but God is the One behind their growth.  We may be proud of what our hands have accomplished, but we cannot take credit for the results.  

However, there is something lying deeper within this passage, akin to what my wife and others feel this time of year—an excitement and joy in the act of spiritual gardening.  In order to plant seeds, the soil, hardened by winter’s grip, must be loosened.  Have you ever felt the excitement of taking the hoe of grace or the spade of joy to loosen the soil of a hardened heart?  Of showing someone who has become embittered by life the simple kindnesses of listening and caring?  Or showing love to one who has grown up repeatedly rejected and abused?  Have you experienced the joy of pouring love into someone, who having first experienced it, is thirsty for more?  Have you experienced the thrill of doing these things and watching people grow and blossom before your eyes?

I have countless times and that is why I am an avid spiritual gardener.  I just love the joy of being a worker in God’s garden—cultivating, planting, watering, and watching people grow!  There is nothing more satisfying, and like any enthusiast, I highly recommend you try it.  As the Lord has said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38 NIV)  

The reality is too few in the Church get excited or are willing to put in the time in God’s garden.  We are too busy with our own work and interests.  We often are great cheerleaders for the gardeners, but do not see their work as something we could or would want to do.  But, like a lot of things, we will never know until we try.

Today, know that you are in the midst of a garden with a mixture of hardened soil, buried seed, and fledgling plants who need nurturing if they are to survive and thrive.  What an opportunity you have!  Don’t shrink back!  Pick up that hoe of grace, that spade of joy, that watering can of life and get to work.  I think you will be amazed at the excitement there is in being at work in the Lord’s garden and the joy of experiencing the harvest!

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

Facing a Crisis

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.  And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD : ‘O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.  Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.

‘It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands.  They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.  Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.’

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word the LORD has spoken against him. . .’” (Isaiah 37:14-22 NIV)

Hezekiah was facing a monumental crisis.  The king of the mighty Assyrian empire was threatening his nation with destruction. “Surrender or die” was the message he sent to Hezekiah.  Out of desperation, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord.  

There were a lot of things he could have done.  He could have rallied his people and vowed never to surrender.  He could have turned tail and ran to save his own life.  Or, to save the lives of his people, he could have laid down his weapons and let the king of Assyria have his way.  He did none of these things.  Instead, he prayed.

Sometimes, sincere prayer is the last thing we do when we are facing difficult times.  Rather, we turn to ourselves believing somehow by our efforts we can save the situation.  Or we turn to others thinking they are the answer to our dilemma.  Or we just seek to distract ourselves with other things, trying to ignore what’s happening around us.  

Hezekiah prayed, and the Lord said because he prayed the Assyrian army outside the walls of Jerusalem would be destroyed.  And the Lord did exactly as He said He would.  The next day the vast majority of the Assyrian encampment was dead.  

Is there a crisis in your life that you are facing?  Have you sincerely and fervently gone to the Lord in prayer?  As He did for Hezekiah, know the Lord will help you when you pray.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Discipline: An Act of Love

“And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5-11 NIV)

While eating breakfast last week at the homeless shelter in Atlanta, the two women at my table went on and on about how bad it was living there.  One said it was like a jail; the other said the people running the place were mean.  This was not the typical attitude of the women I met, but there were a few who felt they should be able to do whatever they wanted and be treated better.  Most, however, understood the rules, and one even told me that those who chafed at them probably had never had discipline in their lives.

Let’s face it, none of us likes to be disciplined.  We would much rather people tell us what we want to hear and allow us to do what we want. And it seems the culture continues to head further in this direction, with the Church slowly following.  The important thing, it appears, is to be liked, for people to be happy, and everyone to feel good. On campus, we are told we should tolerate everything (except intolerance) and celebrate every way of life (diversity).  Critical opinions of certain views or lifestyles are often considered “offensive.”

In such an environment, can there really be discipline?  Can anyone be told what he believes or what she is doing is wrong, or at least not beneficial to them or others?  The increasing evidence points to no, there cannot.  If we are to be considered loving, then we must allow people to believe and do what they want without expressing any objection or, if it is within our authority, implementing any consequences.  In other words, we are not allowed to truly love people.

If you are objecting right now, consider the words of this passage: “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.”  Discipline, rather than being a form of punishment, is rather an expression of love.  It may not be received as such, but it is.  When parents establish rules and consequences for violating them, it is out of love for their children.  The rules at the City of Refuge are in place because those running it love the homeless and want what’s best for them.  And when the Lord lays out rules for how we are to live our lives, it is not out of a desire to make us miserable or spoil our fun.  Rather, He is seeking to protect us and help us to grow into the men and women He created us to be.  

As the Hebrew writer says, we will not enjoy being corrected or suffering the consequences of our wrong thinking and behavior, but the point of discipline is not to make us feel good, but to get us back, or keep us on, the right track toward experiencing the blessings God ultimately has in store for us.  

Today, recognize discipline is a necessary tool for the Lord to use in your life in order to mold you into the man or woman He created you to be.  If He were to allow you to do whatever you pleased just so you would be happy, the truth is He wouldn’t truly love you at all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Light in the Midst of the Darkness

“Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’” (John 12:44-46 NIV)

This is the time of year I really look forward to.  The long, long winter is coming to an end.  The days are getting longer and the sun is beginning to break through the fading winter overcast.  Long dormant plants are beginning to come to life and green hues are beginning to envelop the brown landscape.  Light once again is overcoming darkness and the changes are unmistakable.  

There have been many research studies showing the negative effects from lack of natural light during the winter months, from the mild “cabin fever” to severe depression.  As the daylight hours increase in spring, these effects dissipate.  The light of the sun literally has a transformative effect, not just on the landscape, but on people as well.

I do not think it is coincidence that Jesus refers to Himself as the “light of the world” (John 8:12) or to those who follow Him by the same description (Matthew 5:14).  Light represents hope.  Light represents change and transformation.  And when Jesus came into the world, He came to bring hope and transformation to the lives of hopeless and sinful people.  

The results were amazing.  Lepers healed.  Prostitutes and tax collectors set free from lives of sin.  Unschooled, ordinary men transformed into men who would change the world.  People in darkness set free by the Light.

As it has been since the Fall, our world has been shrouded in darkness; however, as Isaiah predicted, when Jesus came, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)

While we enjoy the coming of spring and with it the longer and warmer days, and the transforming of winter’s dull landscape, still there are so many who remain in spiritual darkness.  They have not experienced the Light and been set free from the darkness of their sin.  

Today, remember you are the light of the world because you have the Light living within you.  Just as He brought you out of darkness and transformed you, He desires to do the same for others who are in need of hope in the midst of a dark and cold “winter” that never seems to end.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Simply Love One Another

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

We were crammed into two rooms of the homeless shelter, over 40 of us, twin beds lined up each within a foot of one another.  We knew going in that the arrangement would be challenging for all, but what would make it the most interesting is that we would be sharing these rooms for a week with many non-Christians.

I have worked for many years on the college campus and know that Christians are viewed often as intolerant, as “haters,” as mindless, as idiotic, just to name a few of the caricatures created in the minds of those on campus.  I expected a somewhat chilly, uncomfortable response from the other students and their advisors and, with a few exceptions, that is what we got.  There was uncomfortable eye contact and few conversations that first night.  Given the stereotypes, I understood it.  

During our first de-brief time, I reminded our students that all we need to do is love on each other and love on them.  In other words, be true followers of Jesus.  

Often we take for granted the sheer power of the community of believers to proclaim the love of Jesus.  Many believe we need to make our communities more like those of the world in order to reach people who do not believe, to be hip and cool, to make the messages/sermons more appealing to the masses.  I think, rather, what the world needs to see and exposed to is brothers and sisters in Christ loving one another, meeting each other’s needs, and serving along side each other in the work of the Kingdom.  Many of us don’t realize just how powerful and moving this is to those on the outside looking in.  

What drew me to Jesus was not a market-tested church program or strategy.  Rather, it was the love of believers towards one another.  I had never seen or experienced anything like it.  I vividly remember praying, “Jesus, if this is what you are about, then I want you in my life.”  

Throughout the week, we did our thing.  We served with joy and enthusiasm, we sang praises together and with the residents, and we treated everyone, including our fellow university companions, with love and respect.  And it was noticed.  Slowly, conversations began, a couple of which revolved around spiritual things, and friendships budded.  One of our interns asked one group’s advisor if we could pray for her group as they left.  So, on Thursday morning, our group and theirs stood in a circle for prayer!  Afterward, hugs were exchanged, as well as Facebook info between the two groups of students.  And on Saturday morning, I wanted to pray for our hosts at City of Refuge before we departed and invited the other group to join us.  Most of them did, including their advisor who had made it clear all week that she was not “religious.”  

There were to my knowledge no conversions among the folks in the other two groups, but I firmly believe many seeds were planted and some watered.  I told our group on the last night that while we came to minister to the homeless, our greatest eternal impact may be on the college students that were serving along side us, simply because they saw how we loved the Lord and one another.

Today, realize the power there is when non-Christians see those of us who follow Jesus simply loving Him and loving one another.  From personal experience, there is no greater draw to Jesus than that.   

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

Small Things

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7 NIV)

“You did something this morning that brought tears to my eyes,” said the woman sitting across from me.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  “When I got up from the table, you helped me put my coat on. You’re so kind.”

I spent last week in Atlanta, Georgia with a group of students at the City of Refuge, a shelter for homeless women and children. Each day we would start out eating breakfast with the residents.  On one particular morning, I was eating with “Jenny,” a sweet woman in her 60’s who said she had been a missionary in Mexico and was forced to flee drug cartel threats, leaving all of her earthly possessions behind.  With no family, she had ended up in Atlanta at the City of Refuge.  

As the breakfast time ended, we got up from the table and I slipped behind her, grabbed her coat, and held it out as she slipped her arms into the sleeves. She thanked me and we went our separate ways.  For my part, it was a simple act of kindness and courtesy that I didn’t really see as very significant.  I never gave it another thought until that evening when we again sat down for dinner and she expressed her deep gratitude.  

So many times, it seems among Christians the emphasis is on doing big things—big conferences, mission trips to the other side of the world, huge offerings to help ease suffering—to the point I think we sometimes forget the Lord so often works mightily in the small things, the ones that gain no attention at all, except from the ones for whom they are done. And this was very apparent last week as we lived with people whose lives have shrunk to the point of seemingly insignificance.  They own only what they can carry.  Life has been crushing by events and, sometimes, by their own poor choices.  And they know and feel that very few people really care.  

So the small things matter. A bed to sleep in, three meals a day to eat. People to talk with that listen to their stories and look them in the eye. And small acts of kindness, like helping put a coat on. These things communicate value and love—two things each one of us needs to feel whether we are homeless or have everything materially we need and want. 

My act of kindness brought “Jenny” to tears because her situation brings into question whether she has any value.  By just helping her with her coat, she felt someone cared for her.  It was a small thing, but very big to her.  

I don’t think it is merely the homeless who struggle with feeling validated and loved; I think this is a battle for each of us.  We long to be loved and valued.  And we most often experience this in the little things people do for us—the small acts of kindness, the ones that we see Jesus doing in his earthly ministry—touching a leper, talking with a woman shunned by her community, inviting Himself to the home of a hated tax collector.  Small acts that were transforming to the lives of those who experienced them.

Today, remember you don’t necessarily have to do “big things” for God. The small ones are quite sufficient and will have an impact far greater than you might think. 

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Journey into the Unknown

(Author's Note: As I will be on a Spring Break mission trip, I will not be writing any devotions next week.  WftW will resume on March 16th. Jim)

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27 NIV)

Tomorrow morning, we set out for Atlanta to serve a ministry to the homeless during our school’s spring break.  Among the students going, there are a number who have never done anything like this.  I have heard there is some nervousness.  That is to be expected when we venture into unknown territory and experience.  Yet, they are going because they have a certain amount of trust in me as a leader.  They know me enough to know I would not take them somewhere that they shouldn’t go.  But still they are anxious.

Following Jesus is not without its trepidation.  We know Him and we trust Him, but still there is nervousness when we fall in behind Him and follow Him to who knows where to encounter who knows what.  

I have had  many of those times in my life where the Lord called me to follow Him into the unknown.  Just after I graduated from college, I went to what was then Communist-controlled Eastern Europe.  I was a young man from Indiana who had never set foot outside of the United States. Upon graduation from seminary, I loaded up all my earthly possessions and moved to Kansas where I knew not a single person to take a ministry position for which I had no experience.  And after more than two decades of living and working in one place, I moved across the country to a place where again I knew no one to begin a new ministry.  

As I took my first steps in following the Lord on these journeys, there was trepidation.  What was ahead and what would I encounter?  There were many fears that filled my mind, but I always came back to the One whom I was following.  He knew the path; He knew what was ahead.  I knew that no matter how difficult the path ahead might be, that He was in control and I could trust Him.  He wasn’t going to lead me to somewhere I shouldn’t go.

And in all three of these journeys, among many others over my lifetime, the end results were amazing.  The trepidation that naturally filled my heart always turned out to be unwarranted.  Not that these journeys were without difficulty; sometimes they were extremely hard.  But the Lord was always there with me and what I gained far outweighed the challenges.  He knew when He first called me on each journey that it was exactly what I needed.  

Today, if you are beginning or in the midst of a journey onto which the Lord has called you, know you can trust where He is taking you. Although you may not see it or understand it now, when you get there you will realize what the Lord has known all along.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Knowing How to Get Where We Need to Go

“Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:133 NIV)

The GPS is a wonderful device.  Just put in the address and follow the instructions of the female voice!  Yet, there are two down sides to the GPS.  First, it can lead you to the wrong place, particularly in the mountains!  Secondly, often you don’t even know where you are because you are just following verbal directions without any true sense of location, like when you are in the passenger seat or following another car to a destination.  You just don’t pay attention to how you are getting to where you are going.

I think many live life this way.  It is much easier to just follow the directions of those close to us or of the culture at-large, but do people really know where they are or where they are going?  On campus, I see many students just following the cues of their culture, without any real idea where they are being led.  

The general effect of the GPS is that most of us no longer rely on maps or even know how to use them.  Spiritually, I think the same is true.  The tendency is to rely on others, whether it be the general culture, our peers, or even our pastors, rather than rely on the equivalent of a spiritual map—the Word of God.

It is true that we can learn a lot about where to go in life from those around us, but there is always a danger if we are exclusively dependent on them.  First of all, no one is perfect and those around us can be fallible in their directions.  If we are just blindly following them, we may end up in the wrong place.  Second, without a good sense of where we are, we don’t even know where we need to go.  We may be completely lost, but are completely unaware of that fact.  

Just as maps, and the ability to read them, still have a place in our GPS world, so do the Word of God and a good understanding of it have a key role to play in our lives.  There are so many voices out there telling us where we need to go and the best way to get there.  But the question we need to continually ask is, “Am I being led in the right direction and to the correct destination?”  You will never know unless you use the Map and know how to read it correctly.  

Today, recognize the Word of God is still the accurate map to direct you through life.  It is the only way you will truly know where you are and how to get where you need to go.

© Jim Musser 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Confidence Booster

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)

Sometimes when things aren’t going well, it’s just good to get back to the basics.  When a sports team is faltering, the coach will gather the players in the gym and emphasize the fundamentals of the game. When a marriage is on the rocks, a counselor will stress the need to rediscover what first attracted the couple to one another.  And when we find ourselves in a spiritual funk, recognizing God’s deep love for us is a good place to start getting back to where we once were.  

When we are floundering, whether it be in sports, a relationship, or spiritually, the natural tendency is to lose confidence, to get down on ourselves.  It can become a vicious, downward cycle.  What can make the difference is a confidence booster.  It may be that 10-point run that says, “we can beat these guys!”  Or it may be that night out when some good, deep conversation gives us hope the relationship can be more than bickering or cool detachment.  Or it may be, when we are spiritually down, that sense of God’s deep love for us that pushes us back from the brink and toward spiritual renewal.

I cannot think of anything more encouraging when we are down than the knowledge of God’s great love for us and this passage details it perfectly.  While still in rebellion, having no love or appreciation for God, He chose to love us.  And in a way that is really beyond our comprehension—He gave up His life for us.  

We can understand the love of a parent giving up his life for his child, or a friend dying to save a friend, or maybe even a stranger giving up her life to save another.  But someone giving up his life for the sake of an enemy?   That is difficult to comprehend, yet it is the love God has for you and me.  He loved us even while we were His enemies.  This should be a boost to our confidence when we are struggling.  If He loved us even when we were aligned against Him, He surely continues to love us when we are in a spiritual funk.

Today, if you find yourself struggling spiritually, may these words from Paul be the confidence booster you need to get back on track.  I think they convey just why you were attracted to the Lord in the first place.

© Jim Musser 2015 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Be Still

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,  the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.  He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

He says, ‘be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations  I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46 NIV) 

Typically, when life is in an uproar, when things are chaotic, we tend toward frenetic activity.  We are stressed and worried.  The adrenaline is flowing; the heart is racing.  Someone might say, “You need to calm down,” but we don’t listen.  The matters of the moment dominate our thoughts and crowd out any thought of peace.  We think and feel something has to be done.  Our minds rush to find solutions or grasp for thoughts of comfort.  The last thing we want to do is be still, to wait, to trust.

This Psalm captures the feel of chaos and upheaval.  One gets the sense that things are out of control.  Yet, there in the midst of the turmoil is the command: “Be still and know that I am God.”

It’s not what we want to do, or think we ought to do.  When life is in an uproar, our natural tendency is to rush about in body and mind to deal with the situation.  But God says, rather, “Be still.”  “Know that I am God.”  In other words, “Know that I am in control.  I am bigger than the chaos in which you find yourself.  You can trust me to get you through this.  Be quiet and take a moment to reflect on just how big and powerful I am.  You, my child, have nothing to fear.  I am here and in control.”

Today, know that no matter how chaotic or overwhelming life may seem to be, there is One who is in control, to whom you can go for help.  Be still and trust Him.  He is big enough to handle whatever life throws at you.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” (John 6:35-36 NIV)

I have said it and thought it many times over my life and you probably have, too: I should read the Bible more; I should spend more time in prayer.  

There’s that old colloquial phrase that tends to sum up our failings to do the things we have good intentions of doing, but never do—woulda, shoulda, coulda.  There are a lot of shoulds and oughts in most of our lives, particularly when it comes to spiritual things.  

We tend to think of Bible reading, study, and prayer as good things to do, as goals perhaps of better living.  We don’t see them as necessities, but as better things toward which to strive.  We ought to do them; we should do them, but we don’t have to do them to get by.  

Yet, Jesus compares Himself to bread—a necessary food in the 1st Century, and to water (John 4), necessary to all of life.  No one can physically survive without food and water.  There are no “I should eat” or “I ought to drink” statements when talking about sustaining our physical lives.  Rather, we know we must eat and drink to survive and thrive.  

What we so often fail to realize is there is no woulda, shoulda, coulda when it comes to the role of a relationship with Jesus in our spiritual lives.  He absolutely is necessary and essential.  Like eating and drinking sustains us physically, so does spending time with Jesus through His Word and in prayer sustain us spiritually.  He is our necessary Bread and our essential Water.  Without His nourishment and replenishment, we cannot thrive or even survive.  

Today, recognize that thinking you should spend time with Jesus is a misunderstanding of the spiritual reality.  Instead, know you MUST spend time with Him.  He is the Source of your spiritual sustenance; thus, you need to devote time reading the Word and praying.  For at the end of your life, you don’t want to look back thinking: woulda, shoulda, coulda.  By then, it will be too late.

© Jim Musser 2015