Friday, May 8, 2015


(Author's Note: As the school year closes today, this will be my last devotion until August 17th.  Thanks for your comments and encouragement this past year.  May you be richly blessed this summer. See you back here in three months! Jim)

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25:14-30)

As this school year reaches an end, there have been a lot of lasts for students—last large group meeting, last small group, last cookout.   And for our two interns, all of the above, plus their last staff meeting and staff prayer time.  There has been some sadness and, I think, perhaps a few tears as the semester comes to a close.  

Every school year is different and, thus, unique.  Neither the same group of students nor the same experiences will ever be replicated. That opportunity ends every year as students graduate and are followed by new students coming in the next year.  What they are left with are the memories and the experiences.

It is the same with life; it is full of endings.  Days come to an end, as do semesters and school years.  Our time in certain jobs end, as do, eventually, careers.  Each stage of parenting ends—of infants and toddlers, children and teenagers.  Often, friendships end, not necessarily due to discord, but because of distance and changes in life’s circumstances.  And, ultimately, this earthly life ends as it has for all who have come before us.

So while endings can be sad and difficult, they are a part of this life’s experience.  And the question we must ask ourselves over and over is, what are we doing with the present experience?  Are we making an investment in it or are we wasting it?  As a student, what have you done with this school year?  As a parent, how have you invested in the well being of your child?  As an employee, how have you served your employer and the opportunities presented to you?  As a friend, what have you brought to the friendship that is beneficial and encouraging? When the end comes, will the answer be in a form of  “Well done,” or “You were lazy and wasted the opportunity given you!”?  If we are honest, probably some of both.  

As I look back on my life’s experiences, I see a lot of times where I wasted opportunities, where I was self-centered and blind to what was before me.  But, because of God’s grace, I have learned and grown and need not look back with regret. And, thus, endings become opportunities for new beginnings, to build upon what we have learned.  

The journey of this life is full of endings, but the most important one comes when our earthly lives are no more.  It is at that time, above all others, when we want to hear the words, “Well done.”  But it is important to realize that our lives need not be perfect in themselves to hear those words.  Rather, it is our willingness to trust in the Lord, to confess when we’ve done poorly, and to learn as we go along.  Love covers over a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8) and there is no greater love than His!

Today, as you face endings in your life, remember how things end is dependent on what you invest in those experiences.  And if you have invested poorly, know that with almost every ending comes a new beginning and a new opportunity to do better.  I say “almost” because the last ending, the end of this earthly life, is final.  A new beginning will only be granted to those who hear “well done” from the Master. Regardless of how imperfect my life has been, this is my ultimate goal. May it be yours as well.

© Jim Musser 2015

Thursday, May 7, 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 (Isaiah 37:36-37).  

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

First and Foremost

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:28-33 NIV)

One definition of repentance is to change directions.  In this passage, Jesus is clearly commanding repentance.  

We often view worry and the frantic pursuit of the necessities of life—a good job, good benefits, good retirement benefits—as normative.  On the college campus, students are often worried about grades, frantic about their futures, and seeking to do what they can to build good résumés that put them in better positions for a good job.  In the working world, people with jobs worry about keeping them, worry about the ability of sending their kids to college, and whether they will have enough for retirement.  A lot of energy and focus are going to these things.  

Yet, Jesus says these things should not be our priority. Instead He says we should first seek His kingdom and His righteousness.  If we are not doing that, then we need to repent.  

Recently I talked with a student who was very active this year in some quality university organizations, ones that look very good on a résumé. But she said she is now wanting to lessen her involvement in those and begin to invest more in kingdom work, to invest in the lives of college women and to lead them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  Seeking the kingdom now trumps a good-looking résumé.  In essence, she is repenting of her self-focused ways and embracing God’s plan for her, and for all of us.  

Seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness trumps everything else in our lives.  There is nothing more important and it cannot share the platform with anything else.  Lots of people think, and want us to think, that we can do both—seek the kingdom while also pursuing all the things the world considers of value.  But that little word “first” becomes problematic for that view.  Seeking first the kingdom means nothing else is before it.  It is the first and foremost priority of life.

Today, take an honest look at your life.  Is seeking the kingdom of God truly the first priority of your life?  Does investing in the things of God trump every other thing that you are pursuing?  If the answer is in the negative, then Jesus is calling you to repent.  This can definitely be a scary thing, but Jesus promises if we seek Him first, He will take care of everything else.  If that is true, you have no reason to worry.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Choices and Consequences

“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (Proverbs 12:26 NIV)

As the grading work around our house progresses, my wife and I were out looking over the work yesterday evening.  As we were envisioning how our new landscaping may look, our attention turned to our asphalt driveway.  There are several cracks, holes, and sunken points where water has flowed for years during heavy rainfall.  It wasn’t always like that.  When it was new, I imagine it was nearly perfect.  But a poor choice by the builder in doing the original grading allowed too much water to run down the driveway.  Over time, the water slowly eroded parts of the asphalt.  The previous owner likely didn’t notice the problem until the damage became apparent.  

Isn’t that the way it is with a lot of things?  Poor choices lead to unforeseen consequences, but the consequences are slow in coming; thus, the problems are more difficult to resolve and the penalties more severe.  This is especially true in relationships.

In my many years working with college students, I have seen this play out countless times.  The choice of friends during their freshmen year determines the outcome of their college experience.  A poor choice, even though it is not recognized as one, will have  consequences that students will fail to recognize until the damage is done.  A committed Christian meets others on his dorm floor.  They are looking to have a good time and he joins in.  Over time, what started as a way to fit in becomes a way of life.  By the time he reaches his senior year, he is far removed from the life he lived before college.  

Or a student comes to college, finds a group of believers with which to involve herself and begins to grow and mature spiritually.  Then she meets an attractive guy that has been hanging out with the group, but is much less committed.  She likes him; he likes her.  Soon, they are spending more and more time with one another.  Like water pouring over asphalt, in time cracks begin to appear in her commitment to the Lord.  She has found another more satisfying to her.  And as time goes along, her love for the Lord, not in words but in action, deteriorates.  

The Teacher is right; those of us who seek to follow Jesus must choose our friends carefully because friends are the most effective means used by our Enemy to lead us back onto the wide path toward destruction. We must be attentive at the very beginning to where these friends might lead us.  Are they going to lead us closer to the Lord or away from Him?  

We may think, particularly when we are younger, that our choice of friends won’t matter that much, but we must take the long view. Choices always have consequences, but those consequences, good or bad, may take some time to appear.  It is easy to be fooled.  But know they will eventually appear, and if our choice is a bad one, the damage may be done and very difficult to repair.

Today, consider the friends you have and/or the relationship you are in. Are they drawing you nearer to the Lord?  Are they encouraging you to grow deeper with Him and leading you into greater righteousness?  If not, know damage is being done even if it has not yet become apparent.  You have a choice: Make the changes necessary to fix things or suffer the consequences later on.

© Jim Musser 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

Telling the Truth

“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers."’

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mark 11:15-18 NIV)

Jesus sure knew how to spoil the mood.  A day earlier He had entered Jerusalem triumphantly with crowds of people cheering Him on.  Now here He is creating havoc in the temple courts.  

Didn’t He realize He would provoke the Jewish authorities and perhaps risk His reputation among the common people?  I’m sure He did, but He had a higher calling—to tell the truth.  And the truth was nothing spiritual was really going on in the temple courts.  Instead, unscrupulous men had a lucrative racket going there.  They were selling animals with which to make sacrifices at greatly inflated prices.  And Jesus called them out.  They were robbing people!  Of course, this did not sit well with the religious authorities and they began a plan to get Him out of the way.  

Telling the truth to people is always risky and is why we are so reluctant to do it.  You have a friend who is repeatedly falling into sin.  While she says she is a follower of Jesus, her actions are in direct contradiction to her claims.  Do you confront her?  Or you have a boss who goes to church every Sunday and leads a Sunday school class, but treats you and the other employees badly.  Do you say anything?   What if you have a friend who becomes engaged to someone not following Jesus?   Do you let it go or do you tell the truth?  

Because He was the Truth, Jesus didn’t hesitate to tell it, regardless of the risk.  He wasn’t ever worried about offending people by telling the truth.  While this is a difficult model for us to follow, it is one we should strive to emulate because truth-telling is actually a demonstration of love.  We care so much for a person that we want them to know the truth.  As Jesus did with the woman at the well (John 4), and with the woman caught in adultery and the men who accused her (John 8), telling the truth offers the opportunity for repentance and to be set free from the sin that so easily entangles.  

As I look back over my early life with the Lord, I wish more of my friends had been bold enough to tell me the truth about some of my behaviors and choices.  By fearing they would offend me, in the purest sense they were being unloving toward me, because love is wanting what’s best for the person.

Today, consider if there is someone for whom you care deeply who needs to hear the truth.  The most loving thing you can do is to tell them.  

© Jim Musser 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

Being Prepared

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

It was the longest two minutes of my life.  Standing in front of Miss Williams’ 6th grade class trying to multiply two fractions on the chalkboard.  As I struggled to figure it out, she said to me, “We will not go to recess until you solve the problem.”  Talk about pressure!  And I wilted under it.  I was caught unprepared.  Eventually, after it was apparent I couldn’t do the problem, the teacher relented and let the class go to recess.  It remains one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.  

Preparation is essential to doing things right and doing them well.  As we are in the midst of the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs, the athletes are the epitome of preparedness.  They practice for hours daily during the season as well as the offseason. Even competitors with enormous talent and ability, if they are slackers in preparation, they will not go far.  

Preparation is the key to success in almost every aspect of life.  If you have not prepared for the MCAT, you will probably not go to medical school. If you have not prepared well for a career (by learning rather than just achieving a good GPA), you are much less likely to be successful.  If you have not properly prepared for marriage, you are going to struggle to have a healthy one.
The same is true for followers of Jesus who seek to lead others into a relationship with the Lord.  If the time comes when someone asks you why you follow Jesus, if you are not prepared to give them an answer besides something like, “well, I’ve just always believed,” then you are not going to be very persuasive.  

Preparation in any discipline requires a lot of time and thought.  For many Christians, they have spent little time thinking about what they believe and why they believe it.  For the unbeliever, saying “I’ve always believed” or “because the Bible says so” doesn’t really cut it.  And these types of answers are really reflective of a lack of preparation. 

Today, consider how prepared you are to give an answer to the question, why do you believe?  Can you answer it in a way that is reasonable and from the heart?  If not, then start preparing.  There is nothing worse than facing a moment where you should be ready and you are totally unprepared. 

© Jim Musser 2015