Thursday, January 31, 2013

Your Spiritual Preparedness

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 24:36-44 NIV)

The Boone Mall parking lot is infamous for flooding during heavy rain. Yesterday was no exception as a cold front moved through our area, carrying with it torrential rains.  The parking lot flooded up to the entrance doors of the mall.  One weather prognosticator mused that Panera Bread was offering, “waterfront dining.”

But as always happens, some folks were not aware or not paying attention to the rising waters, and their cars were left standing in several feet of water.  I assume they hadn’t heard the forecast for heavy rain or just assumed it wouldn’t get that bad.  It seems in every bad weather situation, whether a hurricane, a tornado, or a blizzard, there are lots of people who just assume nothing bad is going to happen to them.

As Jesus pointed out, in the days of Noah there had been plenty of warnings that a flood was coming, but when it did, people were going about their daily lives as if nothing would ever happen.  He warns that it will be similar when He returns for a second time.  

How easy it is to get so enthralled with what is happening currently in our lives to miss the warnings of the danger coming.  Going to school, making plans for the future, living life.  Yet, we have been warned that one day Jesus will return.  Just like when the waters rise, we should be prepared to move to higher ground to avoid getting swept away.  

By His mercy the Lord has forewarned us His return is imminent.  Are you paying attention?  Are you ready?  Today, think about your spiritual preparedness.  Is it enough to keep you out of the danger that is surely coming?

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Living Intentionally

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)

Life has a way of just carrying us along, like a raft in a river’s current.  We sit back and go along for the ride.  But Paul warns us here of the danger of doing that.  Life’s current is full of traps and evil undertows.  For the follower of Jesus, “going with the flow” is not an option.

Rather, we must live intentionally.  We must seek out the Lord’s will for our lives, not just in the big decisions such as career or marriage, but in the daily, often mundane decisions like who will we hang out with or how will we spend a free evening.  As a digital photograph is made up of many pixels, so our lives are made up of many tiny decisions, most seemingly not very important, but together forming the very shape of our lives. 

To be carried along by life’s current without the paddle of God’s will is to live a wasted life.  It may be busy.  It may be challenging.  It may even seem to be important.  But it will be meaningless in the eternal scheme of things.  

Today, seek to know the Lord’s will for your life and live intentionally to fulfill it every day, because what you do on a daily basis will ultimately determine what your life looks like.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Falling in Love with the World

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.” (II Timothy 4:6-11 NIV)

I saw a student recently that hasn’t been around for a while.  Pleasantries were exchanged, but it was awkward.  We both knew decisions had been made that had altered the course of their spiritual walk.  It saddened me to think that just months ago this student was excited to be involved and to draw close to the Lord.

I have been thinking a lot lately about students who were once so excited about the Lord but then fell (back) in love with the world and are now far away from Him.  Some try to keep up the pretense of their commitment when they see me, but we both know the truth that is left unspoken.  The allure of the world beckoned and they could not resist.

As I read these closing remarks of Paul to Timothy, there is a sadness in his tone, to which I can relate, as he speaks about Demas.  We don’t know whom Demas was, but it is apparent that he was a close companion of Paul, or else Paul would have chosen a different term than “deserted.” We don’t usually consider ourselves deserted by strangers or mere acquaintances; friends or family are the only ones close enough to do that.  

As Paul steadfastly lived for the Lord in the face of much persecution and suffering, Demas was lured away by things of this world.  We can only imagine what it was; all we know is he gave up his relationship with the Lord and with Paul in order to pursue it.  You can tell Paul was sad, but I don’t think for himself, but instead for Demas.  He knew the tragedy it is to once have tasted the goodness of the Lord and then to choose a different path.  

It is easy for those of us who remain faithful to get angry and judgmental toward those who abandon the faith, but what I think should dominate our hearts is deep sadness.  It is a tragedy to abandon the Lord out of love for the world.  They don’t need our anger; they need our prayers.

Today, if you know someone who has fallen in love with the world and abandoned the Lord, pray that he might return to Him.  It may not seem likely, but nothing is impossible with God.  

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Following in the Footsteps of Jesus

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 3:10-15 NIV)

The plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American, has been in the news lately.  Arrested in August while on a visit with his family in Iran, he was sentenced last week to eight years in prison for threatening national security.  Abedini was involved in the Iranian house church movement in the early 2000’s before the government began a crackdown on Christian activity.  (You can read the latest news here.)

A lot of people have been shocked that such a thing could happen.  One Facebook post I read in response to the verdict, expressed surprise that “such things even happen anymore.”  Yet, Paul is very clear that persecution of followers of Jesus is a given.  And Jesus said that anyone who desired to follow Him must take up his cross (an instrument of execution) and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).  Peter also said that by enduring suffering, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. (I Peter 2:20-21

Persecution of those who are following Jesus should not come as a shock to us; it should be expected.  While we may have yet to experience it ourselves, perhaps because we live in a country that historically has been quite tolerant of believers, persecution has been taking place since the beginning of the Church, and is widespread throughout the world, particularly in North Korea, China, India, and many Islamic countries.  

I have just completed reading through Acts and it is amazing to me how much persecution the early church endured.  And even more surprising, how they embraced it as part of what it meant to follow Jesus.  On occasion they fled, but the majority of the time, they endured for the sake of the Gospel.  I wonder would I do the same?

Today, while we pray for Pastor Abedini’s release, let us ponder this question: Would I, like him, be willing to risk persecution for the sake of the Gospel?    

© Jim Musser 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hitting the Trail

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (II Corinthians 5:1-10 NIV)

“It is time to pull on my hiking boots, grab my backpack, and hit the trail.”

Those were the words of Tom Swift sent out via Facebook this week to all of his friends.  Tom, a friend from my seminary days, wanted to inform us of his impending death from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), a horrific disease he has suffered with since 2007.  An avid hiker, ALS took away his ability to walk almost immediately, then progressively his ability to speak or move any part of his body.  His two daughters conveyed his last message by interpreting his eye movements to spell every letter.  

It is a sad story, but Tom is not sad.  His final words express hope of a new life, unrestricted by disease and sorrow.  Under the relentless attack of ALS, Tom became less at home in his body and more at home in the Lord.  As his body deteriorated, his faith grew.  And as his voice was taken, he began to speak through the written word, providing insight and encouragement to many.  (You can read his writings here.)

Most of us live in denial or fear of death, but one day, sooner or later, it is coming to each of us.  We may not suffer from a terminal illness, but we are on the road to death.  In a fallen world, that is where all roads lead.   But, as Paul and Tom realized, the road is not a dead-end for those who follow Jesus.  Beyond the road of this life is another and it leads us Home, where the lame walk, the mute speak, the blind see.  Where there are no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain.  And they embraced the journey, increasingly looking forward and focusing less on the here and now.  

Tom will soon be hitting the trail, completely healed and totally alive.  It is a day he has longed for and has been promised.   It has been promised to us as well.

Today, embrace it, for your time to hit the trail is coming, too.  And like Tom, you can look forward to it without fear.  

© Jim Musser 2013

(Note: Tom Swift hit the trail on January 24th at 11PM.  Happy hiking, Tom!  I can't even imagine the views you now have!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Ace in the Hole

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12 NIV)

It is a common story.  A person becomes fired up spiritually, ready to live “full out” for Jesus.  He wants to lead a Bible study.  She wants to devote her life to missions.  He is ready to put his past behind him.  She is ready to make different, better choices in her life.  Full of good intentions, they plow ahead to live life for the Lord.

To the side stands an interested observer.  Once in full control, he now stands as one shunned and irrelevant, and wholly underestimated.  He knows the drill.  He has seen it many times before and he is undeterred. He’s got an ace in the hole and it is time to play it.  

The card is different for every person but there are some common ones the devil plays.  Among young people, particularly, it is the romance card. A young woman or man is getting along well in the faith, growing closer to the Lord when the possibility of romance comes along.  There are few things more tempting than the idea of love and acceptance by a person of the opposite sex.  The focus begins, suddenly or gradually, to shift from the Lord to the romantic interest, the excitement once burning for spiritual renewal now burns for a man or woman.  

Another card the Enemy plays is the fear of rejection and loss.  Friends and family members often fear the change they see and, either subtly or directly, threaten rejection if things don’t return to “normal.”  So a once powerful desire to change direction in life retreats out of fear of being rejected. 

Still another card played is the doubt card.  Running on the emotion of a new commitment, questions begin to arise as to the genuineness of the commitment, or the wisdom of such a change, or whether it is too extreme.  Struggling with doubt slows the momentum of change and opens the possibility of totally derailing it.  

What we must realize is we are in the midst of a spiritual war where the Enemy’s avowed purpose is to destroy us. (I Peter 5:8)  We can’t attempt to live the Christian life on emotion alone.  We must be properly equipped or else we will be vulnerable to the devil’s ace in the hole, which he never hesitates to use.  

Today, realize following Jesus is serious business; in fact, it is a matter of life and death.  Never underestimate the Enemy’s ability to lead you astray.  He is always prepared to pull out his ace in the hole.  You need to be ready for it.

© Jim Musser 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Language of Hell

“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.’” (John 8:42-47 NIV)

The language of which Jesus speaks is spoken a lot in this world.  Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner just confessed last night to Oprah Winfrey that he has been fluent in it for over 20 years.  And Manti Te’o, the outstanding Notre Dame linebacker, said this week he had been a victim of someone speaking this language for more than three years.

The language of lying has been around almost since the beginning. Satan, from whom Jesus says the language originates, first spoke it in Eden, and it soon became spoken worldwide. It still is.

Lying has its roots in pride.  Armstrong said he spoke lies out of  “the need to win at all costs” and to keep a false image alive.  Just like the father of lies.  We lie to protect our image or to bolster it.  And whenever we do, we are speaking the language not of Heaven, but of Hell.  

Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6) and truth is His native language.  If we are followers of Him, then we no longer have the need to speak the language of the devil.  Our image is one of the forgiven sinner, and there is no need to protect it or bolster it.  We are sinners living under His grace.  

Today recognize, as a follower of Jesus, you are a citizen of a kingdom where truth is the native language.  Learn to speak it fluently because it is where you live and you have no need to speak any other.

© Jim Musser 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Expanding Your Circle

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’  He answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’

In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’  Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:25-37 NIV)

I first left the soil of the United States shortly after graduating from college. Up to then, my traveling had been limited to a few states and I had been satisfied with staying within the confines of my cultural world.  My first trip outside the U.S. was to Eastern Europe to work with missionaries ministering on the other side of what was then known as “the Iron Curtain.”  

As a Christian, I had never given any real thought to the lives of people, especially Christians, outside of those I knew in the U.S., or, for that matter, any within the U.S. that lived in an entirely different culture, such as the inner-city or on a reservation.  Then I spent time in homes and churches in Communist-dominated Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia.  I met people with names, families, and histories.  They spoke different languages, but were not that much different from me, except their struggles and suffering were great and helped put my problems into better perspective.   I saw their faithfulness and sense of hope in what seemingly was a hopeless situation. 

Since that time, I have traveled much and spent time meeting a lot of people in varying cultures and circumstances, from people in Kenya, Haiti, and South Africa to those living on government reservations in Arizona, and in inner-cities in Pennsylvania and Mississippi.  What I realized early on was the smallness of my circle of concern and understanding. It was tightly drawn around me.  I cared little about anything other than myself and my own interests and concerns.  I was much like the priest and the Levite.  I didn’t have any real concern for other people.  I was too busy living for myself.  Allowing myself to be exposed to other people and cultures opened my eyes and mind to just how big God is and that He is working far beyond my little world.  The circle which was so tightly drawn around me has expanded greatly as a result.

Today, think about your circle of concern and understanding.  Is it any larger than your own life?  You live in a big world, a world that God so loves, and He wants you love it more and more, too.  One way for that to happen is to be willing to expand your circle of concern and understanding.  Allow the Lord to lead you into experiences with people and cultures new to you.  Then, like the Good Samaritan, you will no longer just focus on your own life, but will make room for helping and loving others. 

© Jim Musser 2013