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

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Spirit of Fear


“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (II Timothy 1:6-12 NIV)

I was on campus the other day talking with some students and the subject turned to going overseas.  One student said he would like to study abroad, but his mom nixed the idea because she was afraid, as an American, he would be in danger.  Another student said the mere mention of a friend going to Mexico caused her grandfather to say, “you won’t be going there.”

Within our culture there is a growing spirit of fear.  Children are often not allowed to play outside because of fear they will be kidnapped.  Going anywhere overseas is deemed dangerous because of the threat of terrorism.  And I heard recently of one college student who was required by her mother to call every night before she went to bed, just so she would know her daughter was safe.  

In my position ministering to college students, I have had to deal with parental fears quite often.  Many times I have talked with parents who are afraid to let their children go on a mission trip.  They want assurance their children will be safe.  I tell them I will do my best, but that I cannot guarantee their safety.  

This kind of hyper-protectiveness emanates from the spirit of fear, but fear is not from the Lord.  Paul tells Timothy the spirit we are given through the Lord is one, not of fear or timidity, but of power.  When called by the Lord, we don’t shrink; instead we grow bold!  And we can do so because of great confidence that the Lord will guard our lives until the day He calls us home.  As Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Today, ask the Lord to give you His Spirit to replace that spirit of fear.  For He has promised to guard your life and wants you to live it in a way that is bold and courageous.

© 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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lowering the Temperature


“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV)

I wrote yesterday about the divide among followers of Jesus on many political issues.  What deepens the divide, seemingly, is the fear of what happens if the “other side” gets their way.  Some believe that if “liberals” get their way on issues, the nation, as my mom used to say, will go to hell in a hand basket.  While, on the other hand, there is fear “conservatives” will take us back to the Dark Ages.  So stark is the future in people’s minds, they lash out and demonize their opposition.  

In the midst of such rancor, this proverb I hope can be a healing balm.  It is easy to get carried along by the issues of the day, to get lost in the heated battle for right and wrong, to think it is dependent solely on us to shape the future.  And, thus, easy to lose perspective (and temper!).  

Yet, everything is not dependent on our efforts towards change.  There are many agendas, but only one ultimate plan.  Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you can rest in knowing God’s purpose will prevail.  While we can be passionate on issues of the day (gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, limited government, etc.), there should be comfort in knowing that God is ultimately in control and His will cannot be thwarted, thereby lowering the “temperature” of our arguments.  

Today, regardless of how strongly you feel about certain issues, remember God is in control and His purpose will prevail.  You can take a breath and calmly face the future.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

Praying for Those with Whom We Disagree


“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” (I Timothy 2:1-6 NIV)

You need to go no further than Facebook to see how people feel about President Obama, Congress, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, the NRA, etc.  Almost all of my “friends” claim to be followers of Jesus, yet there is a great divide among many of them.  They often will post articles that back their views, sometimes denigrate those on the other side, and rarely, if ever, admit they might be wrong.  And I have yet to see anyone post anything like what Paul says to Timothy about the leaders and politicians of his day.

As a culture, we have become very divided and I fear have become like those Paul warned Timothy about who gather around them only those who will say what their itching ears want to hear. (II Timothy 4:3)  And, like them, our hearts may have become hardened towards those with whom we disagree.  Yet, Paul says we should pray for ALL people, make petitions and intercede on behalf of ALL people, and give thanks for ALL people.  And he says to do so is good and pleases the Lord, because He wants ALL people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.  

It is difficult to read this passage and not conclude something is missing from the way most of us relate to those with whom we disagree.  First of all, we need to realize the deep love God has for those on the “other side.” It is not just limited to those who have similar views to us, nor does it mean to be saved they will have to switch to our side.  As human beings, we must humbly realize we do not have the corner on truth.  Secondly, we need to heed the command to go before the Lord on behalf of those with whom we disagree.  Jesus said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44)  Thus, it would seem appropriate to spend more time praying for them than debating with them.

This is indeed to swim up the cultural stream and anyone doing so will likely take some hits, but following Jesus is often hard and costly.  But the question we must ask ourselves is, whom do we want to please most—our friends who think like we do or the Lord who is our Savior and the Truth?

Today, consider the Lord’s love for ALL people, regardless of their political views.  If you want to please Him, then start praying for those with whom you disagree.

© 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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Faithfulness, Not Perfection


“Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.  And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.  A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’

But he denied it. ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said.  A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’  ‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.  About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’

Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’  And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:54-62 NIV)

This was probably the lowest moment of Peter’s life.  After proclaiming his willingness to go to prison and die for Jesus just hours earlier (Luke 22:33), here he was now denying he even knew Him!  It was that moment of brokenness of which I wrote on Tuesday, combined with the forgiveness He later received from Jesus, that propelled him onto the path of leading the Church.  But he was still not perfect and that is what makes Peter a great example of what it means to follow Jesus.  

Several years after this, Peter was in Antioch where he encountered some Jewish Christians who believed it wrong to associate with non-Jews.  Although he knew better (Acts 10), Peter joined in with their discrimination.  It was Paul who called him out (Galatians 2:11-21).  We are not told how Peter reacted, but we can assume he likely reacted in a similar way as the night outside the home of the high priest. 

What Peter’s life tells us is we will not be perfect in following Jesus.  We will mess up, perhaps sometimes in very big ways.  Yet, the Lord’s grace and mercy covers us.  I think a lot of us struggle with thinking if we can’t live perfectly, then we have failed and so we give up or we just don’t try as hard.  What Peter’s life reveals is faithfulness, rather than perfection, is what the Lord desires.  David failed big time (II Samuel 11), but he is still known as a man after God’s heart. (Acts 13:22)

Today, recognize you don’t have to be perfect in your following of Jesus. Just like Peter, and David, you are going to mess up.  But like them, you are under the grace and mercy of God.  Acknowledging your sin and repenting is all that is needed to get you back on the right path again. They weren’t perfect, but they were faithful.  That is what the Lord truly desires in us.

© 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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Way to Transformation


“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’  Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:37-47 NIV)

Have you ever wondered why the church in the modern day so seldom looks like the one we see in Acts?  Why there can be so many churches across our country, yet so little change within or without?  Why most of those in church act basically the same as everyone else except for the space they occupy on a specific day of the week?  I think there is a clue in Luke’s description of the response to Peter’s message to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost.  

He says that, after hearing Peter’s words, they were “cut to the heart.” Upon hearing his appraisal of their involvement in Jesus’ death, they were overwhelmed with the conviction of their guilt.  They had rejected the Christ, their Messiah, and now were feeling the full impact of their betrayal.  They were desperate to find relief and asked Peter for a solution.  “Repent and be baptized,” he replied.  About 3000 did and formed the nucleus of the emerging movement that became known as the New Testament Church.  

What happened next was truly extraordinary and has been the template ever since for what the community of believers should look like.  Yet, it rarely does.  Why?

When was the last time you have seen people “cut to the heart” about their rejection of the Lord in their lives?  There may be some tears and some guilt, but conviction so deep that it leads to real transformation? Rarely.  

Jesus said, referring to Himself, “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces.” (Matthew 21:44)  The 3000 on that day in AD 33 fell on the Rock and were broken.  And it was their willingness to suffer brokenness that led to their transformation.  There can be no spiritual transformation without brokenness.  Yet, today the emphasis is more on embracing the gift of eternal life, as if it came without cost.  Just say a few words and the gift is yours!  A close examination of the New Testament reveals none of that.  Transformation comes not with words of contrition, but with being cut to the heart, falling on the Rock and having our pride and our will broken.  It will cost us everything, but will gain us so much more.

Today, know the prerequisite for transformation is brokenness.  You cannot get there from sitting in a comfortable seat on Sundays.

© Jim Musser 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Resolutions


“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 7:18-25 NIV)

The commercials began appearing on New Year’s Eve and continued heavily for the next week.  “I lost 40 pounds using. . .” Fill in the blank. Weight-Watchers, Nutri-System, Jenny Craig, and dozens of other weight-loss companies know that with a new year comes resolutions and one of the most common is to lose weight.  So they flood the airwaves with amazing stories of people losing large amounts of weight.  Of course, there are other resolutions people commonly make, like spending more time with family or friends, getting out of debt, or improving on a personality trait.  

The problem with resolutions, however, is that we most often fail in fulfilling them.  As Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38) A review of long-term diet studies at UCLA revealed that two-thirds of dieters regained more weight than they had originally lost. We have a lot of good intentions, but as Paul laments, what we don’t want to do, we do, and what we want to do, we fail to do.  No wonder so many people are discouraged when they look back on their previous resolutions.  

So, what should we do?  Well, we could just give up and acknowledge our attempts at change are hopeless.  We could just give in to gluttony, to lust, to worry, to whatever keeps dragging us down.  Or we could make the one resolution that will make all the difference—to resolve to give ourselves wholly to the Lord and rely on Him to transform those things in our lives we know need to be changed.  Our flesh is weak, but He is not!

It may seem counterintuitive to stop making resolutions.  Shouldn’t I want to change, you may ask?  Of course, but we must also recognize our inability to transform ourselves in any truly significant way. Transformation is God’s business and He does it like no one else.

Today, if you truly want to change some things in your life, resolve to rely on the Lord to make the changes.  This will be the most successful resolution you ever make.     

© Jim Musser 2013