Here And There

“Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.…Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?” –  Matthew 26:36,40.

Matthew 26: 36-46 paints a picture of the difference between Jesus and the rest of us. Jesus is with His disciples.  Several times Jesus asks them to be in prayer for what was about to happen, but each time they fell asleep. Jesus wasn’t preparing to die a horrible death for each one of us. Then as now, Jesus is over there and the disciples and each one of us is over here.  

The you in five years should bridge some of the gap between here and there; between where we are now and being more Christlike. And that is hard to do if we can not keep watch with Him because we are asleep. Being asleep is when you are going through the motions. Being asleep is when we get alive spiritually only when it is convenient or it fits our schedule or when we are at the end of our rope. Being asleep is staying the same, so our life stays the same.

The Bible talks about life transformation and we have seen evidence of real life change in people. And that is what we want: to be transformed in 2019 and beyond. But real spiritual change will not happen if we are here and Jesus is over there.

We should never be comfortable with any distance between us and God. We are saying, essentially, “I’m close enough. I don’t need to go any further. I’m good right over here. I don’t need more of You at this particular moment. Maybe in the future, but not this moment. Thank you for saving me but I’m good with You over there.”

Don’t settle for God being over there. Ask Him to get close and then closer. Ask Him for more of Him and then more after that. We should make a beeline over there. And if that hunger has waned, we need to rekindle that hunger. We need to revive or increase that spirit that is thankful, and grateful, and awestruck, and in love, and can’t for the life of us get enough of Him.

Will you be the Christian who is comfortable with being close to over there knowing that He is within reach? But definitely an arms length away just in case we need Him for something; the person who wants the relationship with God on our terms. Or will you be the Jesus follower who is passionately pursuing Christ and moving constantly because you can never ever be close enough to Him. We will see God do what only He can do over the next five years if we have the courage to step out and go there. God is there and He is waiting for us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How close or how far are you away from being there with God?
  2. What is keeping you from getting there? What can you do this week to start overcoming those obstacles?  

Risk-Free Guarantee

“So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:4.

Many marketing campaigns include “risk-free trial for 30 days” or a “guaranteed warranty” for some amount of time. This is a guarantee without a long-term commitment. It makes sense because we live in a world where nothing is guaranteed long-term. There are caveats, rules, conditions and strings attached. There are usually limits. 

As Christians we have a guarantee, a promise that is never to return void, fail, decay, or even have a limited time offer. It is the risk-free guarantee of salvation and it is good for all eternity. Not only is it free, but it is the best investment you’ll ever make. But once you have that risk-free guarantee, we still need to make some investments in God daily. Who you will be in five years will be largely determined by the investments you make in your life over these five years. 

We live in a scary yet exciting time in history where investing in the Lord has significant returns. Returns that produce, not material gains, but eternal gains. Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” So it’s not just preparation for this life, but also our eternal life in heaven.

Think of it as your eternal life insurance. Your life is literally insured in the guarantee of Jesus Christ—today tomorrow and forever. So what investments can we make over the next five years? 

What in the next five years are you willing to give or surrender to God? Contrary to what most people think it doesn’t have to be something hard or painful. It could simply be thanking God. Giving thanks to God is mentioned over and over again in the Bible. So God expects and requires us to be thankful. We should thank Him everyday. Another investment we can make is trusting God to the point we let trusting God rule our hearts and mind completely. We can trade our problems for a purpose; trade our grief for joy; trade our weakness for strength; and trade our hopelessness for hope.

Even the best of us will make small, limited and even seemingly bad investments at times over the next five years. The good news is the size of our investments have no bearing on the excellent return we receive from Christ. We have a risk free guarantee for eternity from a loving God that is always working on our behalf.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it hard to make spiritual investments? Why?
  2. What will your life look like in 5 years if you start making spiritual investments today? 

Small Changes

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” – Like 16:10. 

If you don’t think that small things can and do make a difference, consider that one of the most powerful forces is the splitting of the smallest thing. In the splitting of the atom, a succession of explosions can be set off to cause the biggest explosion the world has ever known.

You see this a lot: people who have great intentions of changing their life are super-enthusiastic for a while, and then that enthusiasm wanes. Take New Year’s resolutions for example: Most people think big and want to make significant changes in their lives. That may be part of the reason so many people do not keep their New Year’s resolutions.  If you want long-term change in your life, you have to start slowly, knowing the initial spurt of energy won’t last. Instead, aim at changing in smaller increments. Once you take a few smaller steps it will be easier to carry on when the initial enthusiasm is gone. This habit will stabilize your walk, and provide the inspiration to stay with it.

Think of it this way. It is assumed that being a Christian will translate automatically into becoming a Christian. It is also logical to think that a five-year-old Christian will have five years’ worth of spiritual maturity, a ten-year-old Christian will have ten years’ worth of spiritual maturity, and so on. The assumption is that faith cannot help but grow with time, and it is time alone that is required. But the key is to start small and try to make them habits and turn those habits into growth. 

Starting small does not mean it will stay small. Jesus never pastored a large church. He told simple stories about a flower, a bird, a lost coin, and a boy who ran way from home. His Father and our Father takes note of a bird that falls. Hence, if we would be Christlike, we too must be willing to do the small things.

So here’s my suggestion to you. Take that area of growth in your life and break it down into very small pieces. If you don’t listen well to your wife, don’t just pray, God, help me to be a better listener. Instead pray, God, when I ask my wife how her day went this afternoon, help me to listen through her entire response without thinking about what I want to say when she finishes. It is those moments that sanctification takes place. So think small. Very small. And watch as God transforms you into the image of Christ one degree at a time.

So, if you are going to start with the small things, I encourage you to be consistent in order to reap the full benefits out of these small things.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so easy to neglect the small things in life? Can you make up for lost time in these areas?
  2. Pray about and identify the one area that you can begin doing consistently by making daily deposits of time.

Building Momentum

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” – 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Momentum is an amazing thing, built over time by the constant movement of activities, events and initiatives to create something extraordinary. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, sustaining momentum can be a powerful force for growing a vibrant, healthy spiritual life. 

“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Isaiah 43:19 MSG) Buried right in the middle of Isaiah 43 God gives His people the promise of momentum.  

Momentum is the impetus we need to ignite our life, work, ministry, and our relationship with God. But as valuable as momentum can be, the lack of momentum, or being passive leads to problems.  Being passive is when we are “stuck” in the same place for a very long time. We wish things would change, but we are reluctant to do what is necessary to effect that change. The law of inertia teaches us that once an object has stopped moving, it won’t start moving until force is applied. We may need to take drastic action in order to move on in our spiritual life. I have often heard people say, “I am waiting for God to do His work in my life.” That’s fine, but we also need to consider whether God is waiting on us to do something.

To build momentum, step out in faith. God has already been where He is asking you to go and prepared every step of the way for you. You don’t have to be afraid of the unknown. It is unknown only to you. God is well aware of where you are and of every step He is asking you to take. He may be asking you to get rid of old memories, eliminate destructive habits, or mend broken relationships. He is waiting for you to take one step. Remember the story of Elisha and the huge step he took by killing his oxen. This was basically Elisha stepping out and saying, “there is no back up plan here.” By choosing this path, Elisha was forfeiting his very good and secure life for a lot of unknown variables, but it created a momentum that lasted the rest of his ministry.

The safe life is not that safe. Living a safe life will prevent you from experiencing all that God has planned for you.  I believe that we will never get to where we want to be without boldly stepping out in faith and creating momentum by doing the things that God calls us to.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where is God working? How can you build on His momentum?   
  2. What one thing is keeping you from stepping out in faith? Are you willing to surrender that one thing to God right now?  

Ready. Steady. Plod.

Slow and steady wins the race” –  Robert Lloyd

While watching ESPN Sports Center one night, I was struck by one of the announcers blunt assessment of a NHL hockey player: “he’s an NHL grinder, a guy who skates his lane, takes the body, and who for the better part of six seasons now has plodded along in two-bladed anonymity.” Ouch. 

The dictionary defines “plodding” as a slow, heavy walk; to trudge with monotonous perseverance. But maybe plodding is not such a bad thing. Plodding is a good word to describe how God wants us to live the Christian life while we are here on this earth. Most people would not want to view themselves as just plodding along. Perfectly understandable because plodding is not exactly a pretty word; it lacks pizazz.

Success in the Christian life is not measured by remarkable spiritual accomplishments and spectacular spiritual feats. It is not about pizazz. It is measured by sure and steady progress as we “…work out your own salvation …” (Philippians 2:12 ESV)  If we’re plodding, we might as well plod toward something worthwhile. As Christians, we are  plodding our way to the kingdom. We need to adjust to the idea that being a Christian is not always a dazzling mountaintop experience, but involves plodding through the lowly valleys. And sometimes these spells of plodding may even be months or even years.

Some of the greatest leaders were plodders. Moses on a decades-long march. David fleeing his enemies, hiding in caves. Jesus walking from one village to the next. Paul making long looping journeys. It is the plodders who make things happen. They have faced “trials of many kinds.” and when they made steady progress by not giving up, they were stronger, wiser, and more likely to keep their eyes on the right horizon. The Christian life is not so much of a sprint as it is a marathon, and it’s better to have a good finish than a quick start. Many people have had very bad starts, but if you are to be in the kingdom, what matters most is a good finish, and that is often determined by how you recognize the power of plodding or steadiness. 

As with the Apostle Paul, we don’t win the prize from God until our life’s work on earth is done.  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”(Galatians 6:9-10 NIV) 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we plod, or make steady consistent progress as Christians?   
  2. How can that steady progress help us in the future? 

Future Shock

“Jesus gives us hope because He keeps us company, has a vision and knows the way we should go.” –  Max Lucado

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler was a huge sensation when it was published in 1970. The book perfectly captured the angst of that time and prepared society for overwhelming changes in the emerging global civilization. It struck a nerve and scared a lot of people. People are scared of the future because we have doubts about our ability to handle the unknown. 

Christians are concerned about the future howbeit for a different reason. Some of this concern is due to a deep desire to be where God can use us greatly. But even for the committed Christ-follower, the future is always unknown. We are intrigued about the future and always want to know as much as we can about it before we set forth on our spiritual journey for the next 5 years.

In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf coaxes Frodo to go on a journey by borrowing these words from his Uncle Bilbo: “It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept up to.” The truth is that life is a journey. We either walk with Christ or on our own.  All we need to face the future shock of the future is faith in God. No matter what you’re going to face over the next five years, you’re not going to face it alone. God is with you, He is in you, and He is for you.   

We often worry about taking big steps in life, about changes, about finances, relationships, health, etc. and all the other critical issues of tomorrow. Will things be dramatically different? Will we look at things differently?  Will it be a shock? 

Let me suggest a different way of looking at the future. When you think about it, the future consists of three parts. First is the remembrance of the past: a reflection of our history with God and being thankful for God’s work and guiding Spirit through the years. The second part is God being present in our circumstances today. I can’t begin to remember the stories of God working in people’s lives in the devastation of Hurricane Michael. God is present:”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 ESV) And then the future is a celebration of what is to come: an anticipation of what Christ will do in and through us in the next 5 years. We all hunger to be made new and, intuitively, we all know that means we must change if we are to be the person God can use today and five years from now.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think the future will be a shock? Why?  
  2. What can we do this week to look at the future as an opportunity?  

Looking Into The Future

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” – James 4:13-17.

These days, the future is coming faster than it ever has before. Time waits for no man. Technological advancement moves so fast that most people can’t keep up. Industries change seemingly overnight.  Many of the jobs that we know today could well be obsolete in 20 years.  

But our future is about more than technology.  It is about more than jobs, or economic trends, population growth and climate change. The future will change most things and it should change us. Five years will come and go pretty quickly. The time to start preparing for the future is today. But regardless of what changes on our road to the future, we need to seek the guidance or the will of God. And what a future that is: 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

When you imagine you in five years, you probably think of a life-altering dramatic change: that your present will equal your future unless you make wholesale changes. In some cases that may well be true, but the rest of us need to remember that the future does not arrive overnight. It is a journey. We start the process of change by knowing what we need to change and then developing a plan over time to make those changes. In other words, we often need to take small steps to build up for a bigger change in the future.  

Your future starts today. Are you happy with the direction of your life or are you merely existing? Are you excited about the future and moving toward a desired goal? Or do you feel as if you are drifting along from day to day hoping that the future will be better?  Through the years, I have met countless people who are living a “settled-for life.” Someplace along their journey, they became complacent and content in their circumstances. They settled for what they believed was adequate or satisfactory. That is not what God has planned for you in five years.  If that is where we are we should ask God about His will, plan and purpose for our life:

“What do You want to do in my life?”

“What do You want to do through my life?”

“What do You still desire for me to experience?”

“What potential lies before me?”

“What could I become?”

“What do You desire for me?”

God works throughout your entire life to bring you to the fullness of both your attributes and your abilities. You cannot do it in your own strength. You can do it only in God’s strength and supply. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What incremental steps can you take to get you where you want to go in 5 years?
  2. How can we involve God in your future this week?

Succession Planning

“So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!” – 1 Kings 19: 19-20. 

All businesses lose good people for a variety of personal or professional reasons. That is why succession planning is so important. There are substantial benefits to be gained by identifying talented employees – including those deep in the organization with specialized skills – and coordinating their training and development to prepare them for the future. Investing the proper amount of time and effort needed to carry out a fully defined, organization-wide succession planning program is crucial.  

The Bible has numerous stories of succession planning. An example is Elijah and Elisha. Elisha was out in the field, minding his own business, when the man of God came up and threw his cloak over his shoulders. It was a proposition. An invitation. God tells Elijah to “…Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus…anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.” (1 Kings 19:15-16)  God had a plan for continued ministry. Elijah acted with great humility by anointing Elisha. He recognized that God’s ministry did not start and end with Him. For God’s work in the world to continue, Elijah had to realize it was time to step down. 

So what does Elisha do? He is faced with an unknown future. Should he stay or should he go. Elisha asks if he can say his goodbyes, but then takes the drastic action of burning his equipment; destroying any possibility of returning to the life he once lived. “So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.” (1 Kings 19:21)

The story of Elijah and Elisha is one of the most obvious succession planning stories in the Bible. It tells us much about both the role of the successor and the mentor. In his first encounter with Elijah, Elisha is willing to let go of his occupation, his family, and the life he had built thus far in order to follow after a man offering his mentorship by throwing his cloak across his shoulders.  

Elisha wasted no time in obeying. He didn’t go away to take time to think about it. He didn’t write out a list of pros and cons. He didn’t play it safe. He immediately said yes to God’s calling through Elijah. He took drastic action. We too may need to take some dramatic steps if we are to get to the future we desire. Drastic action is needed sometimes to overcome inertia and moving forward to be the person we want to be in five years. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would be difficult about making a sudden break with your present life – style if God were to ask you to do it? 
  2. Is there any action you need to take this week in order to change you in five years.  

Living In The Future Tense

“Relying on God has to start all over everyday, as if nothing has yet been done.”  – C. S. Lewis.

The future can sometimes seem a long way off. Even so, we are always preparing for the future even if we do not think or dwell on the future. We are always preparing for the future even if our mind is focused on the past or the present. This is because our life builds upon itself. What you experience today is based upon what you accomplished or did not accomplish yesterday. And what you will experience tomorrow will be partially built on what you can accomplish today. So how do we prepare for the future today? The first step is to give God your future.

We read these words in Philippians 3:13-14: “ …I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Paul was clearly looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that Paul has suddenly developed amnesia in the Roman jail. He clearly understood his past and had not forgotten the man he once was, but he was determined to press on and to keep running the race. Paul was focused on eternity and what awaited him at the end of his life.

Today, we are accustomed to viewing our lives from the past, to the present to the future. The Bible, however, suggests that time flows from the future into the present and then into the past. The believer should be future-oriented, “forgetting the past.”

It is hard to think five-years out, when we are mired down in the here and now or in the past. Sometimes we are singularly focused on all the noise and potholes in our lives. Things like broken relationships, money problems, illnesses, and so on. None of those things will matter in eternity. What matters is the end of the race. If we keeps our “eyes on the prize” we will stay on track. Similarly, the runner who makes it to the half-way marker and stops there, saying “I made it!” will usually not finish the race.

You may have started the race a few days or a few weeks ago. Or maybe you started the race a long time ago, but somewhere along the way you stopped running. Perhaps you stumbled and fell, or maybe you just got tired and decided to take a break. If you’re temporarily sitting on the sidelines, I encourage you to get back in the race. There’s a Savior to serve and a prize of an eternity with Him to be won.

Discussion questions:
How well are you running the race? 

How can we start thinking future, present, past rather than the current order of past, present and future?

Pray and ask God for wisdom to help you on what you can do to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus?

Trusting God With Your Future

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie Ten Boom

Can God be trusted with my future? The answer for most Christians is yes. But each time we struggle with letting go of our agendas to follow Christ, we are asking if we can trust God to navigate the future successfully.  We think we know what is best for us, and that we know what will make us happy, how to get it and we do it on their own terms without God. There is one problem with that idea, control of our life in the future is an illusion. Trust is a choice, not just a one-time decision of saying yes to God but a series of daily and moment by moment choices built on trusting God with your present and future. 

Trusting God is simply believing that He loves you and knowing He’s good, He has the power to help you, and He wants to help you: in the next few moments and five years from now. As followers of Jesus we are called believers, but in some times and in some circumstances we are more like unbelieving believers because we are scared to trust God. 

We may be looking for a job, an answer or solution to a problem, or we make plans that we think are beneficial to our lives. We don’t want to talk to God or ask His opinion on the circumstance because we think He will alter or even thwart our plans; He will make us do something we don’t want to do, or we are scared to let go of what we think will bring us happiness. We can find ourselves trusting our friends, the bank, the stock market, or the government more than we trust God.  John 15:5 reminds us of a stark truth: “…For apart from me you can do nothing.” In other words, we need to lean on Him for help with everything in our lives, including our future.  

It is not easy to trust completely in God. It always seems a little easier developing the habit of trusting in ourselves. Some time or another other people will fail you. And when that happens, the logical conclusion is that if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. If you don’t ask anybody for anything or open your heart to them, they can’t hurt you. But this mindset can keep us from trusting God.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” 

Because we are so scared of God saying “no” to our dreams and desires for the future we miss out on what else He is trying to tell us. He may be saying “No, not this person” and that’s all we hear because we don’t listen to the rest of what He is trying to tell us. “I have something better for you. I have unimaginable blessings and promises in store for your future.” This is what else God may be telling us, but all too often we we only focus on the no.

My prayer is that we learn to trust God with the future. He has a plan for each of our lives and He will bring good from our choice to trust Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were able to know one thing about the future, what would it be?  
  2. What can we do this week to trust and accept God’s plan for the future?