Good Evening Lord

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” – James 4:8. 

After a long day of work, most people envision an evening of relaxation and maybe watching some TV. But even though having the rest of the night to do whatever you want sounds amazing, there are ways to make the most of your night and be just a little bit more productive. While chilling and watching TV can be very entertaining, sometimes the best use of your time is to spend it doing something that makes you prepared for tomorrow and five years from now.

Rather than watching TV or working on your computer till midnight, maybe it would benefit you more to get some additional sleep. Or maybe you would be better served planning for the next day, or in Bible study or searching ways to better use your gifts. Maybe the time would be better served going deeper in spiritual, physical or creative activities and studies.  

But here is something to keep in mind: God can show up at any time. God will not limit Himself to your designated time for Bible study and prayer. You could be adding some structure to your evenings, planning the day or week ahead when the presence of God shows up. You could be sleeping when God jolts you awake. You may initially grumble that God does not respect your schedule. But if God shows up there is a reason. If God is trying to get your attention there is a purpose. 

It doesn’t matter when God wants to communicate with us. We need to learn how to recognize God’s still, small whispers to our hearts. We get so enamored with our schedule, we expect God to be enamored with it as well. The truth is we should never be too busy for God. God loves us enough to communicate with us, even if that means shaking us out of our daily routine to get our attention.

In the morning and evening we need to recognize His presence. We need to come close to God, and God will come close to us. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world also needs to recognize that God can and will sovereignly choose how He speaks to us and leads us. We also need to avoid becoming routinized in how we expect to experience God’s presence.

When you draw near to God, He promises to draw near to you ( James 4:8). Not just as something that happens occasionally, but throughout your days, every day, so that all of your life, even the most ordinary parts, becomes extraordinary because it’s infused with His presence. And it is there, in his presence, that you’ll find fullness of joy, no matter what is going on in your life. “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can the time between evening and morning be so important? 
  2. What can we do this week to recognize the importance of the evening hours?

Good For The Soul

“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” – Jeremiah 6:16. 

It is hard to imagine what technology will bring us in 25 years. Even five years will probably bring a whole new level of possibilities. You would think the world would be a perfect place considering the progress we have made in every area of life over the centuries. But while we have made unbelievable strides, we are still far from perfect people living a crime-free, disease-free, utopia. Yes, technology and science have made great strides, but I am not sure technology or science will ever truly understand the human soul. No matter how far MRI and other technologies have come, they can’t find where the soul is in the human body. Since it can’t be found it can’t be studied. There are no prescriptions, surgery or treatments a doctor can prescribe for the soul. But we know that we have one: and we know that the You in Five Years will be a reflection of the condition of your soul/heart, good or bad.

Toxic attitudes, behaviors, and cultural influences are the bad. While it is impossible to avoid avoid contact with such toxins in our culture, we don’t have to be contaminated by them. You can protect your soul and start experiencing the pure life that God wants you to enjoy. Things like identifying the lies that deceive you. Or changing behaviors that harm your walk with God and your witness to others. Focus on the things of God rather than the things that are not of God; things like emotions, consumptions, habits, etc.   If you think unhealthy thoughts, you’ll become an unhealthy person. But if you think healthy thoughts that reflect God’s truth, you’ll become more like Jesus, as God intends you to become. Regularly pray for the ability to view the situations you encounter as God sees them so you can have the right perspective on them. Every day, ask God to show you which thoughts that enter your mind are good and those that are not so good. Focus on the things that are good. Try to rid your heart of envy. Minimize the times you get angry.

Break free of fear. God gives you a spirit of power, love, and peace – not fear. Rather than placing your faith in all the “what-ifs” of life and feeling afraid of what may or may not happen, place your faith in God who is in charge of your future and wants what’s best for you. Pray about the fear in your life and surrender it to God, asking Him to help you trust Him more with it. The closer you become to God, the less you’ll struggle with fear. And finally break free of any negative influences in your life: materialism, media, poor company, etc.

I pray that each of us can make the main thing the main thing, shed ourselves of any toxic attitudes, behaviors, and cultural influences, and begin each day by asking, “How can I magnify you today, Lord, and become the person you want me to be in five years?” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How often do you think about your soul? How are the soul and purpose connected?   
  2. What are some preliminary steps we can take to make our soul/heart healthy? 

Knowing God

“This is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 9:23-24. 

Of all the goals for the future, one of most important is knowing God.  It is probably safe to say that all of us, at one time or another, have been so busy trying to “do” Christianity that we neglected the “know” part.  We give our time, our money, and our resources to God’s work while forgetting the most critical connection with Christ. 

No one ever disagrees that knowing God is central to the life of a Christian. We can know about God, but that is quite different from knowing God. What does it mean to know God? The idea of knowing God can seem abstract. It can seem like a pie-in-the-sky concept that most people can never attain. But you can know God.  If you don’t know God as well as you like, five years is a sufficient amount of time to get better acquainted with our Savior and Lord. 

Knowing God is not about joining a religion, following a set of rules, or even about being a “good person”.  Knowing Him is about having your own personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe, discovering just how much He truly loves you, and embarking on the journey of loving Him in return. Too often we see truly knowing God as a chasm seldom crossed. We assume that “encountering or really knowing God” only happens in extreme miraculous or emotional experiences. There is nothing wrong with wanting and seeking those experiences, but we should not overlook the moment-by-moment encounters we have with God’s Spirit every day. Knowing God is more than an acquisition of knowledge or information. Nor is it just a fact finding mission. 

Knowing God means encountering Him. Knowing God means communing with Him. It is getting to know Him as a loving Father. Knowing God means there is a relationship. Knowing God is the byproduct of regular, consistent time spent with Him, in His word and in prayer. Knowing Him is when we are no longer content with learning about Him but want to really know Him. 

My prayer over the next five years is that each of us make knowing God a priority in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to “know” God?   
  2. What can we do in the short-term to better know God?  

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?