Close Encounters Of The Spiritual Kind

“As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:3-5. 

What would change in your life if you personally encountered God? If the lives of those in scripture provide any precedent, one God encounter changes everything.  Moses, Saul (Paul), and Dwight Moody are just a few examples. 

Moses’ encounter with the I Am, in a burning bush, changed him from a stuttering back-country shepherd into a bold leader and deliverer of a nation who could confront the Pharaoh of Egypt, the world’s most powerful ruler. Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ—in a vision on the road to Damascus—transformed him from a firefighting persecutor of Christians into Paul, a fire-igniting apostle who carried the gospel of Christ throughout the Roman Empire. Dwight L. Moody’s encounter with the calling of God—during a prayer meeting in a hayfield—changed him from a poorly educated, unconfident shoe salesman into one of the greatest evangelists of modern times.  There are many more examples that prove an encounter with Jesus can be life-changing. 

There is a well-known bible story of the woman at the well who had a real Jesus experience. When she met Jesus, her life was transformed. For the first time in her life, she knew that the details of her life mattered to God and she knew for certain that God loved her.  This real-life encounter with Jesus was life-changing. When she gets back to town, the woman tells everyone she can find that she’s met the Messiah. Picture this – the woman who just a few hours ago was going to the well in the middle of the day to avoid seeing people comes back into town running around, gathering up as many people as she can find. She tells them that He knew everything about her and her enthusiasm for Him makes them want to meet Him themselves. They believed her based on her testimony about Him, but then they encountered Him and believed even more.

So this, I think, is the most important thing we need to remember about a true encounter with Jesus. When we truly know Him and He’s done all this work in our hearts, we can’t possibly keep it to ourselves. We should be compelled by what He’s shown us and by the love He’s placed in our hearts to help other people meet Him and be changed by Him. A true encounter with Jesus sends us out to tell others about Him.

The God of the universe longs for each of us personally. He wants us to encounter Him. Not some of us but all of us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What constitutes an encounter with God to you?  
  2. What can we do in the short term to foster a more intimate relationship with God? 

Encounter God In a Daily Quiet Time

“When these birthday parties ended—and sometimes they lasted several days—Job would summon his children to him and sanctify them, getting up early in the morning and offering a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and turned away from God[a] in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.” – Job 1:5. 

Do you remember the day you chose to put your trust in Jesus and accept Him as your Lord and Savior? It was the best decision you will ever make. Other Christians were excited for you. They want to help you grow in your relationship with God, so with the best intentions, they will suggest you start reading the Bible and having a quiet time with God. That is good advice. Spending time daily with God through reading the Bible and praying cultivates a real, personal love relationship with your Creator and Savior. It is one of the best ways to have a daily encounter with God. 

Quiet time with God is simply spending time with Him. Thinking about Him. Talking to Him. Listening to Him.  There are no requirements for the length of time or time of day. Scripture simply invites us into a closer relationship with our Heavenly Father. What that time looks like is up to you. If you have 1 hour every day to spend with God, great. If you only have 3 minutes before your children find you hiding in the bathroom, great. God will meet you wherever you are. While a daily morning quiet time is ideal, you can have profound encounters with God while on break at work, while driving to the store, doing the dishes or listening to a podcast. We should not get hung up on things like how long we read or prayed or if we are using the right materials. God doesn’t care about any of that. He just wants a daily encounter with you. 

There are so many benefits/perks of spending quiet time with God. Spend quiet time with God on a regular basis, if not daily, and your life will change. First, God takes pleasure when we spend time in the Word and fellowship with Him in prayer. Psalm 147:11 says, “No, the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Secondly, your trust in God grows. You can’t trust God unless you know Him. The only way to truly know Him is by spending time in the Word and really basking in who God is. The more time you spend with someone, the more like them you will become. The same is true of God. As you saturate yourself with Scripture, you will become more Christ-like. 

And lastly, God will reveal areas that you need to grow. Scripture is like a mirror that gives us a reflection of our hearts. God uses Scripture to pierce the soul: “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

Forming this time into your daily schedule will not be easy. Nothing of value is ever easy. The main objective for any of us is disciplining ourselves to have a quiet time every day. Over time, it becomes a habit that is easily repeated. Even better, it will soon become the best and most productive part of your day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a regular quiet time? Why or why not?
  2. What different ways have you tried to intentionally connect with God? Were some more meaningful or impactful than others? Why do you think that might be?
  3. What would it take for you to make this a priority in your life?

New Year. New You.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day”. – 2 Corinthians 4:16. 

In the mid-to-late 70s, there was a TV show called The Six Million Dollar Man. If that was before your time, the show was about an astronaut who nearly died in a terrible accident.  The government replaced his crushed body with bionic parts that made the new him better, stronger and faster than the old him.  Now I would not want to be a bionic person, but who wouldn’t want to be better than you were last year; a better follower of Jesus, a better spouse, parent, employee, friend. Or be better at loving others, having joy, and finding peace. 

Today we stand on the threshold of a new year. What seemed so distant is now history.  For the next few days, we’ll continue to pinch ourselves saying, “Is this really another year and another decade?” Will 2020 be better than 2019. What does the new year hold in store for us?   

Paul’s words to the church of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 4:16 give all of us who are believers hope in times of transition and change. He was writing to a persecuted church telling them and us that regardless of what you are experiencing today, there is something better coming in Christ. And isn’t that the longing in our hearts as we approach the new year. Whether we are a child, a high school or college student, middle-aged or in our golden years, there is a belief that the future will be better. We “are being renewed every day” by God. His mercies are new each morning, and we are able to grow each day in our understandings of Him and personal relationships with Him.

The new year brings with it the thought of new opportunities. The new year seems the perfect time to make commitments and take action. If you are dissatisfied with how you have lived this past year, there will be new opportunities before you. It can truly be a new year for you, with a better and s stronger relationship with God. 

My prayer is that we will embrace the new year. It may be filled with headwinds, transitions, and trials, but for the believer, there is such incredible hope and unexplainable joy as we serve Him no matter the circumstances. May this be a new beginning for a new you where you see the Lord move in your life.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you want to pursue in the new year?  
  2. What are some ways we can be better as followers of Jesus in the new year? 

No Room Then. No Room Now.

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” ― Matthew7:7. 

The story of no room in the inn is well-known. It surely must have been obvious that Mary was with child and it seems to me that the innkeeper should have felt bad for Mary and found some space for her. But that wasn’t the case. If Joseph and Mary were high ranking officials or Roman dignitaries, I am sure the innkeeper would have found them a room. 

But there weren’t, so the innkeeper did not consider Joseph and Mary’s need a priority, so no room. But we aren’t given any details. We don’t know what the innkeeper was thinking, or what his situation was. All we know is that “there was no room for them in the inn” for the baby who is the Savior of the world. This baby is God in human flesh.

Things have not changed since that day. People still don’t make room for Jesus because He is not high on their priority list. Our nation has become secularized and so materialistic that wherever you look there doesn’t seem to be room for Jesus. There is a story of a woman who was frantically trying to complete her last-minute shopping, Complicating things were the crowds of people trying to get their last-minute shopping done and her young son trying to keep up with her. The woman was dragging the young boy from store to store looking for particular items on her list. Suddenly she realized the boy was not at her side. Turning around she saw him staring into a store window. She walked back and in her irritated maternal voice said, “What are you doing, we don’t have time to stop. Let’s go.” In the store window was a nativity scene. The little boy excitedly pointed at the display and said, “Mom, look, there’s baby Jesus.” She said, “Come on. We don’t have time for that right now, we have to get ready for Christmas.”

That may be an extreme case, but I think it accurately describes how the reason for the season is often missed. Perhaps most people wouldn’t express it as that woman did, but now more than ever, it seems we’ve run out of room for Jesus at Christmas. Though the Christmas season bears His name and its purpose is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it’s becoming rare to hear His name in public. Fewer families read the story of the birth of Jesus or attend church at Christmas. But December doesn’t bring just another holiday or just another break from the grind of work. It brings a celebration of the advent of hope and joy—the birth of the Savior of the world. 

This Christmas season, let the wonder of Christ’s love stir you to make room for Him. Is there room in your heart for the crucified, risen Christ? Let’s not just open a room for the Messiah—let’s open our hearts as we focus on Him, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we make room for Jesus this week? 
  2. How do we make room for Jesus in the new year?  

The Gift Beyond Words

“And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in the darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Have you ever eagerly anticipated a trip that you’ve planned for months, a new job or relationship, a book or the latest Star Wars movie? But when you actually go on vacation and watch the Star Wars movie, your anticipation turns into disappointment because the experience did not live up to your expectations.  

Christmas is one of those rare occasions in life where reality far exceeds our already high expectations. How could it not? For hundreds of years, prophets like Isaiah and Malachi anticipated a Savior who would come to us in the flesh as an infant “so tender and mild.”  

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is writing about human gifts. The church in Corinth is taking up offerings to give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He commends them for their eagerness to help and reminds them that those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, but that those who sow generously will reap generously. Then he shifts his attention from human gifts to God’s gift of sending Jesus to earth for us. And he cannot find words to describe that. He simply says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV).  The Living Bible describes it as a “gift too wonderful for words” while the King James version simply calls it “his unspeakable gift.”

God gave a gift beyond words, the unspeakable gift of His Son. My prayer is that we all will embrace this gift. It doesn’t come in any wrapping paper. No assembly is required. The gift of Jesus never expires, goes out of style, or becomes outdated or obsolete. Jesus is one gift that will never lose its value or worth. Even though we don’t deserve and could never earn this gift, God freely gave Jesus to all who will receive Him.  

Christmas is the season for giving gifts. And it’s no wonder that we give gifts to loved ones at this time since Christmas is really the celebration of God’s gift to those He loves—His perfect Gift of Jesus to you and me. 

Merry Christmas. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever tried to describe the gift of Jesus that first Christmas? What words did you use? 
  2. What can we do this holiday season to make more room for Jesus?  

Focusing On The One Thing

“The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. – Psalm 27: 4-5. 

There is room in my inn (my life) for Jesus. The question is how much room? Inns come in all shapes and sizes and as a result, rooms range from the barren and austere to the excessive and lavish. At many inns, there are economy rooms, rooms with a view, rooms with a balcony, perhaps even a penthouse, or top floor room.

The inn of your heart is similar. The most important things in our lives often get the biggest rooms at the inn of our hearts. Family and careers get large rooms and material possessions get better than average accommodations, while hobbies and other things get smaller rooms. The question for today is which room(s) does the Lord get in your heart? Is it all of them? Is it the biggest one? Or the economy room? If God is not taking up residence in all the rooms, it is because we are crowding Him out with other things, with stuff. Simply put our hearts become overcrowded and unavailable. We’ve overbooked our life. 

But what about you?  What are your priorities? What is the focus of your time and energy? What is the one thing you really seek in life? Many times in life we go after various things, but this scripture states that all we need is one thing.  That one thing is Jesus. God made us for the relationship of His perfect love. But if we’re always chasing after other things, we’ll never experience the fullness of that love. The heart is easily deceived and divided. There’s a big difference between a half-hearted approach to God and wholehearted devotion. God wants and deserves our whole heart.  

Matthew 28:20 says, “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Did you catch that? The Lord is present. Our regular lives are being transformed by a new, powerful presence that is the one thing we need to live fulfilling lives.  Take a few minutes on this Christmas Eve and reflect on this simple, but powerful truth: the Lord is present. The King above all kings, Lord above all lords left the splendor and beauty and glory and holiness and wonder and perfection of heaven to come to the dirt and sin and trouble and sadness of earth. How can we not make room for Him? 

So today, make a decision to make Him the “one thing” that you desire above anything.  Fall in love with Him, and reserve your heart for Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a part of your heart that you have not given to God? How do you give that part to God? 
  2. What can we do this Christmas season to give make Jesus the “one thing?” 

No Room For Jesus

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” – Luke 2:7 (ESV). 

Have you ever been on a long drive and turned off on an exit that has a hotel to get a room, only to see a blinking red no vacancy sign? So you get back on the highway and get off at the next town only to see the same blinking neon message. No room. It makes me picture Joseph pounding on doors trying to find a place where Mary can give birth to Jesus. The owner of the local inn tells Joseph that there is “no vacancy.” Then Joseph finally finds a stable where animals are kept and brings Mary to the humble place just in time before Jesus is born.

It begs a simple question to each of us this holiday season: “Is there room for Jesus this Christmas?” Or “Is there room for Jesus with you this Christmas?” This is a legitimate question to ask. Since Jesus’ birth nearly two thousand years ago, many have found no room for Him.  As a whole, the story of Christ’s birth is one of humble beginnings. There was nothing fancy on the first Christmas. There were no ribbon or bows. The smell of Christmas cooking was not in the air. There were no Christmas lights to brighten the outside. There were no stockings, no mantle, no warm fire burning in the fireplace to take away the chill of the night. There was no holiday turkey and dressing to satisfy hunger.  

The man who would live a perfect life, conquer death, offer saving grace to all of humanity, and sit at God’s right hand was born to an unwed, teenage mother and a working-class, adoptive father. In a barn. Isaiah 53:2 says, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”  

Unlike a traditional king, Jesus did nothing to promote his regal appearance. Instead, He modeled humility by choosing to renounce the rights and privileges He deserved as the King of all kings. He came into this world with little fanfare or recognition.  Who would have guessed that God would choose such a time and place for the birth of His Son? No one expected Him. So no one made room for Him at the inn.  

No room at the inn. Think of that statement for a second. There was no room for the Way the Truth and the Light. Jesus emptied Himself of all that was due Him in glory and honor by being born in a stable. Later, He emptied Himself and “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8). When you have the big picture, no room at the inn comes into focus. The manger was just the first step along a path of humility and obedience.

Let’s make room for Jesus this Christmas Season. Let’s serve and worship Him so that we might follow Him and give glory to Him alone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does no room at the in mean to you? 
  2. What can we do this Christmas season to give Jesus more room in our lives? 

Giving Back This Christmas

“They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11. 

Christmas is one of the happiest holidays for several reasons. First and foremost, the Son of God descended from heaven to “give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20: 28). Secondly, people are more generous at Christmas than at any other time of the year. The practice of giving is not a recent innovation—it began on the first Christmas when Jesus was born. Everyone in the Christmas story had something to give.

When Mary submitted to God’s plan, she surrendered her good reputation in order to fulfill the Lord’s calling for her life. (Luke 1:30-38). Joseph offered his love and protection to Mary and the child who was not his own (Matthew 1:18-25) And the wise men relinquished the comfort of home to seek the newborn King and give Him gifts. You can’t talk about the wise men without talking about the three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-11)  

Christmas and the holidays are the seasons of giving. But what about the reason for the season? What can we give to God? What do you give to God, who has everything? What does God want from us? Too often we think of giving as synonymous with giving money. While God doesn’t need our money, giving is a privilege out of love for the Lord and a desire to see His kingdom advanced. But this Christmas, consider giving an additional gift to God.

One of the greatest gifts you can give Jesus this season is the gift of you. The greatest gift you can give to God is to say, “Lord, I give You my life. I give You my talents. I give You my abilities. I give You my dreams. I give You my future. I give You my weaknesses. I offer myself to You. Here is my gift to You.” Jesus wants a closer, deeper relationship with you. Surrendering your life and allowing God to guide and direct you will lead to an intimacy with God. This starts by giving Him your heart. The Bible tells us, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Luke 12:34). Your heart is what you love, value and care about most. One way you can give Jesus your heart this Christmas is by giving your resources to His work.

 This Christmas, be committed to growing in your relationship with Jesus and doing all that you can to reflect His love and greatness to others.

Discussion Question:

  1. Matthew 2:2 says, “The wise men didn’t come to get something from God, but to offer something to Him.”What can we offer to God this Christmas season?

Wise Men and Worship

“Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp! Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes! Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!” – Psalm 150:1-6

Worship should be our highest priority, one that permeates every aspect of our lives. John 4:23-24 says, “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”Warren Wiersbe said that ”Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does.” The wise men were all about worship.

“…About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem…” (Matthew 2:1)  This is a small sentence with large significance. The wise men had to travel 600-800 miles to Jerusalem. What if they were wrong and following the star thing was a wild goose chase? It would have been like packing the kids in the station wagon in Alaska, driving all the way to Orlando only to discover that Disney World was only a rumor. Then with everyone angry and frustrated, you had to turn around and drive all the way back to Alaska. The wise men invested their time and resources on something that was worth the investment. The wise men were seekers. It was in their seeking that they saw something.  The wise men invested their time and resources on something that was worth the investment. They worshipped someone worth worshipping. They found God in the person of Jesus Christ.  

And when they found Jesus, they fell down before him and they worshipped him. “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” (Matthew 2:2) The Scripture says that “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” They were full of the greatest joy.  Worship brings joy.  Worship and joy are inseparable partners.  And the wise men discovered it in Jesus Christ.

Worship, true worship, is our life’s expression of reverence and faith in God. The songs that we sing, the activities of our day, all that we do only becomes worship when those things are the expression of our faith in God.  A song is worship when that song is sung in faith because of the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. Worship happens when we mentally, emotionally and spiritually connect with the Lord, loving Him with our lives through song, actions, thoughts, and intentions, everything we think and do.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does worship mean to you? How did this story of the wise men help shape that definition?
  2. When you worship God, what percentage is at church? How could you surrender to God in worship every day of the week?
  3. Matthew 2:2 says, “The wise men didn’t come to get something from God, but to offer something to Him.” What can we offer to God this Christmas season?

A Change Of Route

When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.” – Matthew 2: 10-12.

Sometimes life takes you in a direction you didn’t want to go in. You are not alone. There are a lot of people who know where they want to go but find themselves far from their desired destination. But that can change. You can change your heading, and steer away from what you don’t want, and towards the direction, you want to go in. Consider the story of the wise men. 

In Matthew 2:7-8 gives us the background:”Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

When the wise men encountered Jesus, it changed their route.  The wise men had found what they were looking for. But before the wise men could return to Herod, however, they were warned in a dream not to do it, and they returned to their country by another route. They were one of the first, of millions upon millions of people who have had their path changed after an encounter with Jesus.  In Acts 17:30, Paul said, “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.” Repentance is more than forgiveness. Repentance is a 180-degree turn. Repentance is a commitment to begin walking the correct way.  When we meet Christ, it should change our direction – once we were walking according to our own way, now we are walking according to God’s way; once we did as we please, now we seek to please Him.

The wise men were changed by their encounter with Jesus.  When they approached the house in Bethlehem, they were wealthy men, at least wealthy enough to buy expensive gifts.  They were certainly confident as evidenced by their willingness to undertake this long and dangerous journey.  But when they entered that house and came face-to-face with the Christ child, they bowed down and worshiped Him.  Imagine that for a second.  These wealthy, wise men – bowing at the feet of a little boy.

When we meet Jesus, we are faced with a choice – to accept Him or reject Him.  If we reject Him, then there is no need to change direction or alter our path.  But if we accept Him, we cannot remain unchanged. We need to change our direction toward Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you the kind of person who asks for directions quickly or is it a last resort for you?
  2. What can we do to make a more permanent change of direction toward God?