Friday, March 31, 2017

Freedom from the Past

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a “sinner.”’

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.’” (Luke 19:1-10 NIV) 

We called it the “gourmet shift.”  I worked at a grocery store while in high school and on weekends often worked the third shift.  There were few customers and little supervision.  So when we took our breaks, we would just pull things off the shelves to eat.  We were stealing from the store, but thought little of it.  

When I went off to college, I was introduced to Jesus and began following Him.  On a visit home one weekend several years later, I drove past the store at which I had worked years earlier and immediately thought of my habit of taking items off the shelves without paying for them.  Honestly, I tried to put it out of my mind.  “Ah, that was a long time ago, and I have been forgiven of all my past sins,” I rationalized.  Months went by and I still couldn’t shake the conviction that I needed to confess to the manager of the store and repay the company.  So one day I sat down and wrote a letter telling what I had done and, because I was now a follower of Jesus, that I wanted to make things right.  I enclosed a check for what I guessed was the value of the items I had taken and mailed it off.  I never heard back from the manager (he probably was shocked and didn’t know how to reply), but I immediately felt a great freedom in my spirit.  

Coming to Jesus requires repentance, and that can sometimes mean going back and asking forgiveness and even making restitution to those we have treated badly.  In my case and Zacchaeus’, it was stealing, but it could be a lot of other things including, cheating in school, treating a teacher with gross disrespect, bullying a classmate, or using someone for sexual pleasure.  The willingness to humble ourselves before others and to admit our sins against them is a sign of true heart transformation and a powerful witness.

Today, go before the Lord and ask Him if there is anyone from whom you need to seek forgiveness and perhaps to whom to make restitution for your sins against them.  It is a very difficult thing to do, but with salvation comes the need for repentance.  And with repentance comes freedom from the past.   

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Blame Game

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’

He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’

And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’

The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’

Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’

The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Genesis 3:8-13 NIV)

Whenever I can’t find something around our house—my car keys, my phone, a particular shirt—my instinct is to blame my wife.  It just comes naturally to me.  She must have put it in a different place.  On rare occasions that is the case, but most often it is I who am responsible.  I just couldn’t remember it was me who put a particular something in a certain place.  

This instinct can be easily traced.  We see in this passage that it had its beginning in Eden with the first man and first woman to exist.  Adam blamed God and Eve.  And Eve blamed the serpent.  Neither of them was willing to admit responsibility and take the blame.  

This trait is embedded in the human DNA and we see evidence of it every day, in the news and in our own lives.  Students blame professors for their poor grades in classes. Employees blame employers for their poor wages.  Spouses blame each other for their marriage woes. Politicians blame the media. The list could go on and on.  Of course, as I mentioned earlier, on occasion the blame is accurately placed, but only on occasion.  Most of the time, the one blaming is the one most likely responsible for the situation, or at least is an equal participant.

So why is it so easy to shift blame and seek to avoid responsibility in the many situations we face in life? The answer is simple: We were born that way. It is our pride. And as is often recognized by professional therapists, the first step to solving a problem is to recognize you have one.  We can either live life continually in the mindset we are never to blame, or we can humble ourselves and carefully begin to reflect on our individual responsibility in any given situation we face.  

Today, ask yourself this question: How often to do I seek to shift blame away from myself and onto others?  With that in mind, begin to observe when you are tempted to do this in everyday situations.  I am guessing you are going to be a bit surprised at how much of a problem it is for you, which of course is the first step to take in beginning to solve it.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Essence of Righteousness

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25 NIV)

I remember during one of our church’s worship services, a woman announced she was collecting signatures for a petition to keep the Ten Commandments displayed in the county courthouse.  Our pastor added he would like to start a petition to keep the Ten Commandments displayed in people’s hearts.  

I am sure he has no objection with God’s Word being on public display, but realizes the power of it’s public witness is not in plaques or monuments but in the lives of those who claim to follow Him.  The temptation for us is to settle for the semblance of righteousness instead of its essence.  We place the emphasis on being in church rather than being the Church, or on having a clean reputation rather than a clean heart, or on spending time reading the Word rather than obeying it.   

The result is we develop a false sense of confidence that we are right with the Lord, and, as James warns, are deceived.  For true righteousness is that which flows out of a humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2).  

Today, examine yourself to see whether you are merely settling for the semblance of righteousness, the outward appearances, or the essence of it, which is a heart submitted fully to the Lord.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Grip of Envy

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30 NIV)

I grew up a fairly insecure person.  That happens when your home life is not filled with love and affection.  I had a few friends growing up, but I never ran with the popular crowd. I was a little backward socially, physically, and academically. For much of my young life, I was envious.

I was envious of those I knew who were picked first for teams, while I was picked near to last.  I wished math and science came easier to me as it seemed it did for others. In high school, I craved to be a part of the “in” crowd.  

Going into college, envy was a part of my make up.  And then I met Jesus as a 19-year-old and that began to change, very slowly.  As my confidence in His love for me grew, the more secure I became and the less I struggled with envy. However, it was a long road and there were areas of my life where envy stubbornly retained its grip—mainly in my desire for a romantic relationship and success in ministry.  Those held me for a long time, but now I am at peace because with maturity has come a proper perspective.  I no longer crave to have what others have; I am content with what the Lord has given me.

I work daily with young people who are on the same journey I have taken.  I see the insecurity and the longings they have for things that, at the moment, appear beyond their grasp—to fit in more, to have a special relationship, to have a defined career path, to live more righteously.  And I see and hear of the envy that comes with that insecurity. 

But envy is not merely a problem for the young.  Unless we recognize its grip on us, it will continue to be a problem when we’re much older. Peace will elude us because we will continue to long for what others have rather than being content with what has been given to us.  God is the giver of good gifts and our confidence in that can help us avoid living an envious life.  The Lord in His wisdom has created each of us unique and different.  Because we are created differently, we are not meant to all have the same things, whether it be the way we look, our personalities, our abilities, our station in life, etc.  God has created us to be unique and desires us to be content with that.  When we are, we will find peace.  When we are not, using the language of the proverbial writer, rot will set in and slowly eat away at our very being.

What is your thinking today?  Are you content with your life, what you have been given?  Or are you looking around at others and focusing on what they have that you do not? Know that you will only find peace when you eliminate envy from your life.  When you reach the point where you are content with your life as it is, then you will find what you have truly been longing for. 

© Jim Musser 2017 

Monday, March 27, 2017


“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:2-11 NIV)

When I was a young child, like most children, I asked “Why?” a lot. Why do I have to go to bed now?  Mommy, why do you have a big bump on your nose?  Why do I have to get a shot?  And like most parents, often I would get a one-word answer: “Because.”  Of course, that response is rarely satisfying to a child, so the follow-up question usually is, “Because why?”  Sometimes a more detailed explanation follows, but often parents respond definitively to cut off any further discussion: “Because I said so.” Or, “Because that’s just the way it is.”

As a kid, I hated that response. I wanted an explanation and, when it involved my behavior, I wanted a reason that was satisfying to me. But what I realize as an adult is that my parents knew much more than I did and there are many things where kids just have to accept the authority of their parents, whether they agree or not, or whether they understand or not. But that runs against our human bent.  From childhood onward, we want everything justified and explained.  The weight is on the authority to defend the demand. “Because I said so” never will do. The echoes of this have reverberated from Eden down through the millennia.

Today you see this in the rapidly changing culture in which we live. “Why shouldn’t we be able to do what we want to do?”  “If people feel that is what is best for them, why shouldn’t they be able to live as they please?”  These questions have been applied to a myriad of behaviors and belief systems and, less and less, is “because God says so” acceptable as an answer.  As many parents are challenged by their children, so too God’s authority is brought into question.  Who is He to demand such things and why is there need for such demands?

There may be reasonable explanations that God gives if people are willing to take the time to hear Him though His Word, but often, because His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours, we will not be able to fully understand why He commands certain things or works in certain ways. Like children, we will just not know enough to be able to comprehend His motives. We will just have to accept His authority and trust He has our best interests in mind.

Today, in a culture that increasingly dismisses the authority of God in our lives, realize that road is wide and leads to destruction. You instead must take the narrow road that trusts that God knows what He is doing whether or you fully understand or not. That is the road that leads to life

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Handling Difficult Times

“How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? 
How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6 NIV)

David often felt overwhelmed by his circumstances.  He had many enemies and his life was frequently in danger.  That kind of stress can wear on a person.  Light can quickly turn to darkness, hope into despair.  
We all long for a life that is easy and free of stress and hardship, and sometimes we tie our faith to the ease of our circumstances.  When things are going well, we are excited about God, but when things are going badly, we struggle.

David provides the perfect example of how to hold onto our faith when life is dishing out a major helping of stress or hardship.  When he felt overwhelmed, he expressed his feelings to God.  He poured out his frustration, his fear, and his anger.  He did not hold back.  He knew God was big enough to handle his emotions.  Having done that, then we see his heart and mind shift intentionally back to giving his situation over to the Lord.  

Sometimes, we need a safe place to vent.  Things build up and we need to express them.  David demonstrates for us that we can do this with God.  He's not going to cut us off by saying, "How dare you talk to me that way!"  But David doesn’t just vent and then walk away.  He says, in essence, “Okay God.  I have expressed how I feel, but I still love you and trust you in whatever happens, and I rejoice that you have given me new life and have been so good to me.”  

Life will often be difficult and frustrating, and we can learn a great deal from David on how to handle it.  Today, know that if you are unhappy with the way life is going, you can express that to the Lord.  He is big enough to handle it!  But then, as David did, you can continue to love and trust Him because of who He is and what He has done in your life.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Defined, Not by Our Sin, But by Jesus

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

I was talking with some colleagues the other day and we were discussing church leadership and how some churches want perfect leaders, ones without any flaws.  One spoke up and said, “Yeah, if they could, they wouldn’t let David write the Psalms.”

David, you might recall, committed adultery, tried to cover it up, and then had the husband of his mistress killed.  Yet, David is described as a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22).  He faithfully led the Israelites, and he wrote beautiful poetry that has given encouragement and comfort to people for many centuries.  He was a man of Godly conviction and passion.  Yet, he committed adultery and murder.

Most, if not all, of us having read the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah (II Samuel 11) would find ourselves condemning David if we knew nothing else about him.  It is quite easy to be defined by one sin in our lives.  An abortion.  An affair.  A forged check.  It is very easy for us to define a person or be defined by one failure.

Fortunately, God does not do that.  He does not define our lives by our sin, but by whom we are in Jesus.  Thus, an adulterer or a murderer or a thief or any other type of sinner can still make a wonderful contribution to the Kingdom.  

The message of this passage is that your life need not be defined by the sin you have committed.  Your life need not be invalidated because of the mistakes you have made.  In Christ there is no condemnation.  

Today, take comfort in knowing God has forgiven your sin.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not condemned.  He still loves you and desires to use your life in the work of His Kingdom.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Testing God

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' 
In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:8-10 NIV)

Call it a quirk, but I just love having things filled up.  I get a great feeling when the pantry and fridge are stocked full with food, and the bank account is replenished at the beginning of the month.  I suppose it is the sense of security it provides, knowing that I need not worry about running out.  Yet, there is also a danger that lurks in that desire for security.  It can become more important than God.

When Malachi spoke the words of God, the Israelites were holding onto all they had, fearing they could not spare anything.  Although they were back in their own land after years of exile, their memories were still fresh, like my parents who grew up during the Depression and were reluctant to part with anything.  They remembered when things were hard and scarce.  

Yet, God’s promise to Israel and to us is that He will provide abundantly for our needs.  We do not need to cling to everything as if we will never be re-supplied.  God’s storehouse is full and He wants to pour out His blessings upon us, and He calls us to test Him on this.  How?  By being generous with what we already have, not hoarding it for ourselves.  

Most of us would not consider ourselves rich, but the Lord wants us to be generous with what we have been given.  The tithe was a place for the Israelites to start, 10% of their income was to be given to the Lord. They were holding back and God said bring the whole tithe and I will richly bless you.  

Are you holding back on giving what the Lord has asked?  Know that your security is not found in material things, but in the Lord.  He wants you to trust in Him for your security. Test Him and you will not be disappointed.  

©  Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-25 NIV)

Gravity is a frustrating thing sometimes.  Even though it keeps my feet firmly on the ground, it can be annoying, like when my phone slides off the car seat onto the floorboard while I’m driving around a sharp curve. Or when my towel falls off the elliptical machine during a workout. Or when, as I mentioned yesterday, I tip my salad bowl and the oily contents fall into my lap. On this planet, gravity is an unbending law and I experience it every day.

In many ways, sin is like gravity.  It’s often annoying.  You get that sense of frustration from Paul.  “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”  No matter how hard he tries, he can’t avoid the impact of sin in his life.  It’s always there ready to pull him down.  Like gravity.

While we are in this world, there is no getting around sin.  It is as much of a law as is gravity.  We live with its effects every day of our lives. Daily it seeks to drag us down and our natural bent is to let it.  This is why for the vast majority sin goes unnoticed.  It is the natural way of things.  Like gravity, you don’t really think about it until it annoys you.

But once you decide to follow Jesus, you realize, like an astronaut blasting into space, what a powerful force you are seeking to evade. Suddenly, you feel the resistance, the pull back to where you came from.  It may take a few days or weeks after your decision, during which you may have that feeling of “weightlessness,” where the burdens of sin seemingly have been lifted off of you, but that won’t last long.  Sooner than later the pull of sin will seek to bring you down.

It can be a very discouraging experience and realization—that sin is not so easily left behind.  As a NASA rocket must be powerful to break the force of gravity to reach orbit, so do we need a powerful force to break away from the grip of sin.  As Paul gratefully acknowledges, that force is God and the means He uses to set us free is Jesus.  Sheer willpower will never do.  Only divine power is strong enough.

Like gravity, sin is a part of this world.  It’s presence is all around us and unavoidable.  While we are not strong enough to resist its pull, there is One who is.  He is our only hope to escape its grip.  Today and every day, when you feel the pull of sin, cry out to Jesus for help.  He will rescue you and keep you from being pulled back down.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Right Treatment

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (II Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV)

We were at a restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida a week ago during our Spring Break.  I was sitting among our students when my grilled shrimp salad arrived.  As the waitress placed it in front of me, I inquired about a student’s salad order that had not been served.  As a motioned in his direction, my hand caught the edge of my salad bowl and launched that beautiful salad right into my lap!  Lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, shrimp, and ranch dressing literally covered me from my chest to my thighs.  I managed to pick off everything and wipe off as much of the dressing as I could, but two huge stains remained—one on my shirt, the other on my shorts. As we left the restaurant, there was no hiding these stains. They were exposed for everyone to see. There was nothing I could do until we returned to the camp where we were staying later in the day.  

That evening I spot-treated the stains and put the shirt and shorts in the washer.  Then, after they were washed and I couldn’t see the stains any longer, I placed them in the dryer.  However, after I removed them, with the clothes dry it was obvious the stains were still there.  The spot treatment had failed and I was certain that the stains now were permanently set.  I told my wife and she assured me she had a way to remove the stains.  So after I returned home Saturday night, she treated the stains with Dawn dishwashing soap and left them overnight. Yesterday morning, I washed them and then left them to dry in the sun. A few hours later I examined them and the stains were completely gone!

Like so many things in life, there is a spiritual lesson in this.  Sometimes we think we can rid ourselves of sin on the cheap.  We’ll say a prayer, try a little harder next time, and think we are good to go.  Or we’ll become so exasperated with our struggles with sin that we lose hope that we can ever overcome it.  Both views misconstrue the power of sin. Like oily stains, sin is stubborn and not easily removed, BUT removal is not impossible.  It just takes the right treatment.  

I thought my oily stains could be removed merely by a spot treatment and a wash.  I underestimated the power of the stains.  But then when I saw the treatment failed, I was ready to give up and declare the clothes ruined.  Our approach to sin is often similar.  

Paul’s words here offer both hope and a warning.  Sin is removable, but it needs the right treatment.  If we try to do it with anything less than the blood of Jesus, we will fail.  And this is what many of us attempt to do. We know we should be living differently, but we try our own treatments—willpower, rationalization, denial, etc.—and fail. Yet, failure to remove our sin doesn’t mean it is permanent and unremovable.  Rather, as Paul indicates, it just needs the right treatment.  Sin can only be removed by Jesus.  Our only effective response to it is to go humbly to Jesus and ask Him to take care of the problem.  

Today, consider your approach to treating sin in your own life.  Are you trying to remove it on your own?  Have you given up trying after so many failures?  There is only one treatment that is truly effective and that is Jesus.  Sin is indeed powerful, but there is One (and only One) who can overcome it.  He is the treatment that will solve your problem.

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Is the Lord in It?

(Author's Note: Spring Break is upon us and I will be away next week, so WftW will be as well.  I'll see you back here on March 20th.  Jim)

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2 NIV)

Tomorrow morning I will be leading a group of students and staff to Florida for Spring Break.  I figured out recently that I am nearing 30 such trips in my ministry career.  This psalm that I read yesterday brought one in particular to mind.  It was 1993 and we were in Lydia, Louisiana, a tiny community that had been devastated by Hurricane Andrew the past summer.  Our theme for the trip was the first sentence of the psalm: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”

I remember we spent a lot of our time roofing, doing electrical work, painting, cleaning, and eating some of the best Cajun food I've ever had. And I remember a young seeker being baptized and others growing in their understanding that the Lord has to be central to everything thing we do. 

Most of the many trips I have led have focused on doing some type of work projects, but I have always understood that these efforts have little value unless the Lord is in them, that the students allow Him to work in their lives during these trips.  Why this psalm is so instructive is we often get caught up in the work we are doing and the Lord is pushed to the side.  

The danger of many mission trips is the focus solely becomes on the work we are going off to do. It’s OUR mission; it’s OUR work.  WE are the ones doing everything.  But, as the Psalmist writes, if God is not in it, the work is in vain.  We may have built a house, dug a well, etc., but the question must always be asked: Was the Lord in it or was it just us doing a good work?  

The difference lies in the outcome.  I have seen students participate in Spring Break trips and mission trips overseas who have return unchanged.  They had a great time and perhaps even performed some good work, but they were unchanged by it.  Why?  Because, for them, the Lord was not the focus.  Rather it was the adventure of the trip or the opportunity to do something good.  It was about them.  And when we are the focus, then the work of the Lord is naturally inhibited.  

So as I depart on another Spring Break trip, I leave you with this question: Is the work you say you are doing for the Lord actually for Him?  Is He in it or is it really just for you?  If it is the latter, then realize it is in vain.  If there is to be any eternal value in what we do, the Lord must be in it.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dealing with the Stresses of Life

“Do you not know? 
Have you not heard? 
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)

Life can be overwhelming at times and the constant stress of world events and just day-to-day life can drain us.  A common theme among students most weeks during a semester is how tired and stressed they are.  

Yet, Isaiah 40 offers hope and a way out of this weariness.  We are told of God’s overwhelming power and control.  He created the heavens and the earth.  He is in control of the nations.  He is not oblivious to what is going on in the world, nor too busy to notice what is happening in our own.  

When we are stressed or overwhelmed by life events, there is a sense of loneliness that accompanies it.  It feels as if we are alone to deal with it.  But the message of Isaiah 40 is that we are not.  The Maker of the heavens is right there with us.  And our trust and hope in Him will carry us through whatever we face in life.

Today, if you are weary of life’s stresses, put your hope in the Lord, for He has the power to renew your strength.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Hardest Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

© Jim Musser 2017

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Everything You Need

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (II Peter 1:3-4 NIV)

What is it that you think you need?  A romantic relationship?  A great career that earns you a lot of money?  To be popular, or even famous? Or maybe it’s just a new computer or a new car.  We tend to think we need a lot of things.  And through these things we seek satisfaction and contentment.  Yet, Peter tells us that only one thing is ultimately needed—Jesus.  

It is through Him that we will have all that we need, including food, clothing, shelter, relationships, etc.  As He stated in Matthew 6 , He knows our needs and will not neglect them, but the temptation always is to pursue our needs instead of Him.  This is not to say we fail to acknowledge Him.  We may indeed do that, but do we also trust Him to provide for our needs, or do we take control and pursue them instead of Him?

Often the difference between those who call themselves Christians and those who are truly followers of Jesus is the amount of trust they have in the Lord to provide for them.  The former lack trust and so focus on providing for their own needs, while the latter so trust in the Lord that their attention is given fully to Him.

Where are you today?  Do you trust the Lord to provide for whatever needs you have, or are you busy trying to fulfill them on your own? Know that the Lord is trustworthy.  Through Jesus, He has provided everything you need to live life fully.

© Jim Musser 2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Source

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” (Psalm 104:27-30 NIV)

It is so easy in our advanced, modern world to believe our existence and our destiny are in our hands.  The extremes of this thinking are seen in opposing views: we are to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, or we are totally dependent on societal forces beyond our control.  The former emphasizes taking personal responsibility; the latter focuses on government and personal charity to meet needs.  

What is often left out of the equation is the Creator and Sustainer of life. A reading of Psalm 104 puts life, and His role in it, back into its proper perspective.  (The psalm is too long to reprint, but you can read it here. The message clearly is we are totally dependent on God for our lives, generally and specifically.  He is the Source of everything. We may think we have earned our way or that our lone help lies with others, but both discount the centrality of the Lord in this life. Everything comes back to Him. 

The challenge for all of us is to find the balance between the extremes. To think we earn our way through our own efforts and abilities discounts the Source for giving us those abilities and the very strength to accomplish anything.  On the other hand, to think we are totally dependent on what society or individual people provide us (e.g., opportunities, love, etc.) again discounts the Source.  One leads to a false sense of independence, and the other to a mistaken belief our fate lies solely in the hands of others.  

Today, know, as the Psalmist declares, the Lord is the Source of everything.  If you are well positioned in this life, recognize the Lord’s hand in it. If you are struggling and life is not going the way in which you envisioned it, don’t blame others for your misfortune.  Rather, cry out to God for help and relief.  He is your Source for all that is good in your life and for the help when it isn’t.  

© Jim Musser 2017

Friday, March 3, 2017

Pour Over Theology

“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)

A pour over coffee is very trendy right now. It’s the same concept, in essence, as the automatic drip coffeemakers that became all the rage in the 1970’s.  One of the differences is the filter. Paper filters are still the most popular, but metal filters, such as the Chemex have also gained traction with baristas and the public alike.  And these are not just plain, conical filters.  There is much science behind their design and, according to their makers, truly affect the quality of the coffee in the cup.  

I was thinking about pour overs the other day when a former student asked me for help with developing some youth group lessons based on suggestions of the youth themselves.  As I was reading over the list, there were some interesting and relevant topics, like same-sex marriage, transgenderism, peace and justice issues divorce, dealing with stress, bullying, etc.  What struck me, however, was the lack of any mention of the Bible. Not that I was surprised, as this was from a church whose denomination focuses primarily on the social issues of our day and little on the authority of the Scriptures to guide one’s viewpoint on these issues.  That is when the illustration of the pour over came to my mind.

Think of the coffee grounds as the social issues of our day.  And think of the coffee in the cup as the end result of how we deal with these issues. What stands between the grounds and the coffee is the filter.  It is there to make sure the grounds don’t get into the coffee.  The grounds themselves are crucial to produce the coffee, but grounds IN the coffee are disgusting and ruin the experience.  I once received a free cup of coffee from Starbucks because my last sip of one of their drinks was full of grounds.  It was terrible and they wanted to make it right.  

Unfortunately, what happens with a lot of churches and individual Christians seeking to address social issues is they do it without a biblical filter.  Rather, the filter is of the cultural variety, which is thin and allows the “grounds” to go directly into the “coffee.” The result is a far inferior product and one, sadly, that is more like one made with no filter at all.  Rather than producing a delicious “drink,” it produces something undrinkable and often hideous.  

As I told my former student, every issue on that list was a good one to discuss, but I encouraged her to use the filter of the Scriptures to address the issues she chose rather than merely the opinions of the day.  Too often the trend is frame discussions on topics around our opinions, what we think is right.  As one student once argued with me, we should just sit around and talk about an issue until there is consensus of wisdom formed based on our own thoughts.  In other words, just let the grounds fall into the coffee!

As Paul says, the Scriptures are to serve as our filter in forming our beliefs and practices on any issue of life.  We cast it aside at our peril. Without this filter, as he points out later in the same letter, we give into the temptation of “hearing what our itching ears want to hear.”

Today, know that to end up with a “delicious” result, one that is pleasing to the palate of the Lord, when you pour over the many issues of the day, you must filter them through His Word.  Anything less will produce a very unpleasant result.

© Jim Musser 2017

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Turning Routine Into Blessings

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:17 NIV)

I have been reading through the Psalms recently and, as often happens, a particular verse or passage leapt off the page this morning with meaning and relevance. It was this quote attributed to Moses.

I try each day to make it a point to ask God to show me favor in the work I am doing that day and/or in the meetings with students I am having, and to bless my efforts.  While I am far from perfect at it, I believe it to be a good practice.

I think it is easy for us to fall into the habit of assuming there are some things in life where we need little or no help.  We get comfortable and confident because they are things in which we have experience and are common to life, such as the tasks of our jobs, the routines of married life or of school, or managing our finances or time.  As a result, I think we do far less for the Kingdom than we might if we were to go to the Lord daily with a request similar to that of Moses.

By doing so, instead of living the bulk of our lives out of our own strength and wisdom, we are tapping into the power of the Creator of the universe to guide us and to make a way for us to have an eternal impact. We are opening the door for our jobs to be a place of ministry and witness, for our interactions to be a means to plant and water ‘seeds’ that may eventually sprout into a rich harvest, and for our relationships to grow deeper and to have a greater impact on those around us.  By doing so, we are opening ourselves up to be used by God in ways we might never imagine.  In essence, we are asking the Lord to be His instrument every day in working out His will in this world.  

Life typically can be mundane, particularly if it is filled with routine and things familiar to us.  We go about our daily lives, go to sleep, and then wake up to do the same thing all over again.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t think that is God’s desire for us.  Instead, He wants every day to be one where what we do matters.  He wants to show us favor and to bless all that we do.

So today start out by asking the Lord to show you favor and to make whatever you do effective in working out His will.  For nothing in His hands is ever merely routine.  It has purpose and impact.

© Jim Musser 2017

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Fearing God

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

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

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

The Israelites had suffered the full effects of their rebellion against God. They had been exiled to Babylon and their beloved Temple had been destroyed.   They were cowering in fear.  Yet the Lord came to them through Jeremiah and declared His intent not to harm them.  He had plans for them, great plans!  Unfortunately, they never fully trusted Him and insisted on going their own way (Jeremiah 44:15-30).  And they missed out on a life of blessings.

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

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

© Jim Musser 2017