Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We live in the age of the impersonal. Convenient as electronic communication is, it is easily cold and detached. Job terminations and broken wedding engagements - matters once only communicated face-to-face - are now sometimes handled through emails. Fortunately, the God of the universe has never changed His method of communication and contact with His created beings.

I recently re-read and re-considered the creation account in Genesis. All of God's creative acts were accomplished through His authoratative, spoken word - except one. While He could have given a word of command to bring the first man into existence, He literally took soil in hand and fashioned the form of man, and then breathed life into the man's nostrils to give him life. Thus, we are the most personal of all God's creation.

As it was at the beginning, so it will be at the end, when time gives way to eternity in the perfect age to come - God will personally touch and comfort His human creation.

"and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4)

As in the beginning, God could just as easily give a word of command to accomplish His purposes. But here we see the tender picture of a Father gently wiping the tears from the eyes of His beloved redeeemed creatures - once and for all eternity. He will personally bring to an end all cause of sorrow, pain, and grief; primarily because death will forever be banished from our realm. And that is a truth we can scarcely wrap our minds around in this imperfect age.

If the God of the universe was this personally involved at creation, and will be at the dawn of eternity, what does this say about His involvement with us today? He is not the God of the impersonal, like our electronic communications so often are today, but instead He is the God who touches rather than issuing a word of command. And His most personal touch of all comes through the hands of His Son, our Lord Jesus. He is the unique personal representation of the Father to us, the children of God. The One who personally touched the lame, blind, and diseased communicates the compassion of the Father through His personal healing touch in our lives as well.

Rejoice this day in the personal touch and involvement of your Father, and His compassionate Son. They both choose the personal to convey the power to each of us as we have need.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, August 30, 2010

In spite of current difficulties, it is a wonderful age that we live in. Even the poorest of us enjoy unimaginable luxuries, and today's technology affords us unprecedented communication and outreach capabilities. But none of these are what truly makes this a wonderful age.

"Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death" (Revelation 12:10-11)

Revelation twelve provides us with a brief but important overview of the past two millennia of history. We are told that a woman gave birth to a child (12:1-2). The ancient enemy of God and man, the devil and Satan, sought to destroy the male child born (12:4). The plot did not succeed, and the male child born, "who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne" (12:5). A great heavenly war follows, in which the ancient enemy and his angelic cohorts are cast down from heaven to the earth (12:7-9). These key events, then, set the stage for the wonderful age we live in, as described in 12:10-11.

The woman who gave birth is symbolic of the nation of Israel, and the male child born is none other that our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. The reason for the devilish destructive plot is because of the overwhelming victory that the male child has brought for all people of faith. It is because of "the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony" that the people of God are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37 New KJV).

And that all leads to the wonderful age that we live in. Salvation, power, and the kingdom are within our grasp. The authority of Christ has come, and the enemy's defeat is assured. We are overcomers through His sacrifice and authority!

A defeated enemy will throw obstacles and entangelments our way as we seek to live under the authority and power of our Savior. He is going down in defeat, and he seeks to take out as many of the people of God in the process as he possibly can. But the threatening taunts of an already-defeated enemy need not alarm us as we live within the salvation, power, and kingdom.

It is a wonderful age that we live in. Cherish the salvation, power, kingdom, and authority that are yours to claim in faith. Today's obstacles and challenges are no match for the substance that is freely available to us through our conquering Savior.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Desperate times call for desperate measures. On the eve of national cataclysm, God called His prophet to dramatically demonstrate impending judgment through a powerdul object lesson:

"Now you son of man, get yourself a brick, place it before you and inscribe a city on it, Jerusalem. Then lay siege against it, build a siege wall, raise up a ramp, pitch camps and place battering rams against it all around. Then get yourself an iron plate and set it up as an iron wall between you and the city, and set your face toward it so that it is under siege, and besiege it. This is a sign to the house of Israel. As for you, lie down on your left side and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it. For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity, three hundred and ninety days; thus you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; I have assigned it to you for forty days, a day for each year" (Ezekiel 4:1-6)

God's national judgment was inescapable due to His people's sin, but Ezekiel's object lesson could effectively lead to individual repentance on the part of those who were responsive. And that seems to be the main point in it all: a public sign to indicate in advance the accuracy of God's word, and a sign to call the responsive to repentance.

There is a sense of desperation in the times we live in, and these seem to be times for desperate measures as well. The wickedness of humanity is "piled up as high as heaven" (Revelation 18:5), and God's judgment is as inevitable as it was in the days of Noah. Nothing can divert His global judgment but, as in Ezekiel's day, God's servants can be instrumental in influencing individuals for salvation and repentance.

The clear call of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry is the call His people must issue today: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The time is fulfilled in this age; the final chapter of human history is quickly being written. The kingdom of God is at hand, and will soon come to complete fruition. The urgent final cry to "repent and believe in the gospel" goes out to all who will respond while there is yet time.

The methods God used with Ezekiel to declare His message suggests how He might communicate through us today. His message was conveyed, not so much through spoken word, but through dramatic, attention-getting object lessons. Perhaps He has already placed a simple but powerful idea in your mind as to how He would communicate His message non-verbally. If so, be willing to respond and express that message through the medium He has given you.

A popular song speaks of these being the days of Elijah and the days of Ezekiel, "declaring the word of the Lord". May we be a generation of 'Ezekiel's', willing to delcare His word using the methods He gives us.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Imagine standing on the bank of a river at a sharp bend in the river. From your vantage point, you can see many pleasure boats loaded with passengers reveling in a party-like atmosphere. But from your vantage point, hidden to the boaters, you can also see a large waterfall with a precipitous drop that will prove deadly to anyone going over. What will you do?

Such is the predicament of the people of God - we see the reality of today as well as the impending judgment for the unprepared. And exactly what we do is a formidable challenge.

"Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me" (Ezekiel 3:17 NASB)

We are the watchmen of our day. Like Ezekiel the prophet, we are entrusted with God's word in these closing days of human history. The storm clouds of the great apocalypse are gathering on the horizon, and yet few see them. As those who see clearly, and who hold out God's gracious invitation, we know that time is short for the unprepared. While our excitement grows at the prospect of the realization of our hope, even as we groan during the difficulties of the last days, we are all too aware of the awful impending reality for the unresponsive.

Like Ezekiel, and many of prophets of God, the message of God often falls on deaf ears. But responsiveness is the responsibility of the hearer, not the messenger. Ezekiel was absolved of all personal liability if he faithfully proclaimed God's message (Ezekiel 3:18-21). And so it is with us: if we have clearly proclaimed it to those within our sphere of influence, we have discharged our duty.

Although less personal, today;s electronic media offers inexpensive access to a limitless audience. Creating a blog, such as I do with these devotionals, can be done in a matter of minutes by even the most inexperienced computer user. And who doesn't have access to an email list of friends and family? These tools allow each of us to write and declare God's invitation and warning to all we know.

We are the watchmen of our day. God has invited us to "feed on His word" (Ezekiel 3:1-3), and then proclaim it to our contemporaries. It is a duty to be performed, but more importantly, it is driven by a burden for the salvation of those we love. May that burden today give rise to an urgency to bring His message to all we love and know.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, August 16, 2010

The young daughter of a family attending a church I once pastored asked me if we were a "pushover" church. After some discussion with the child's parents, I learned they had previously attended a church where the pastor would pray over people, touch them on the forehead, and they would fall down in a phenomenon called being "slain in the Spirit". It is easy enough to see why, from a child's perspective, she considered that church a "pushover" church.

Perhaps God's Spirit will cause a person to fall down, but most assuredly it will cause a person to stand up:

"Then He said to me, 'Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!' As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me" (Ezekiel 2:1-2 NASB).

God's word is vital information every person needs to know and respond to in order to live in His coming kingdom age. The operating force behind that essential message is His dynamic Spirit. It is His Spirit that enables His people to "stand and deliver" His live-changing message.

It will come as no surprise to tell you that many people today are anything but responsive to God's word and message. And yet, unresponsive as many people are, they are no more so than people in the prophet Ezekiel's day:

"But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious. Now you, son of man, listen to what I am speaking to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you" Ezekiel 2:7-8 NASB)

God, through His Spirit, gave Ezekiel a "diet" of His word. He instructed Him to "eat", or internalize, His word. He then gave him the directive to "speak My words to them whether they listen or not" (similar words to the apostle Paul's - "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" - 2 Timothy 4:2 NASB).

Ezekiel's directive is ours. We are called, first of all, to "eat"; to feed on His word. Bottom line: get in to it; read it; study it; know it. Secondly, God calls us to declare it, regardless of receptivity to it. I'm not convinced this means we become a screaming street corner preacher, or an abrasive "force-feeder" or His word to friends, family, and coworkers. But I do think it means that people closely associate us with God's truth in what we say and how we live. And, equally important, we are people who "stand and deliver" through the power of His Spirit.

Whatever your setting, God has provided you with an environment to be His living, breathing word to others. Through the opportunities He provides this day, confidently stand and deliver His life-changing word.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Light shines brightest against the darkest backdrop. One of the brightest promises of the Bible is written against the darkest backdrop; so much so that the backdrop is called Lamentations.

"This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:21 NASB).

Out of the depths of despair while in captivity in a foreign land, the prophet Jeremiah saw the sunlight of God's promises to His people shining through the dark clouds of their suffering and defeat. No matter how dark and dire present circumstances seemed, God's lovingkindness and compassions were constant. Each day brought the freshness of His faithfulness.

No one would mistake the times we live in for the brightest in human history. Economic uncertainty, military conflict, and international tension contribute to an age of anxiety and pessimism. Whether the dark clouds before us are gathering or dispersing is anyone's guess, but the fact that they are there are descriptive of our times.

So, have God's promises ever shined brighter in our modern age than they shine now? Remembering His presence and blessings in the past establishes the precedent for hope and optimism today. There are no circumstances so dire and extreme that our Father would withdraw His loingkindness and compassion.

If God is faithful, then we can be no less. Whatever securities are threatened in this ominous age, our ultimate security and provision is not the least bit affected. The Helper, the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17), remains with us as a constant companion, enabling our growth, learning, and service. The opportunity for the salvation of lost lives has never been greater in modern times. and so faithfulness to the mission, as we are empowered by the Spirit, is an urgent priority.

In an age when our society and world are reaping the results of unfaithfulness, we are privileged to hold out the bright light of God's faithfulness through His Son, our Lord Jesus. The brightest message of all - "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15) - shines especially bright as we hold it out against the backdrop of our dark times. Those who would not see it amidst the bright times of prosperity and ease are especially eager to see it in these times.

These may very well be times of "lamenting" in your own life just now. Dark clouds of economic uncertainty, health concerns, or family crisis may be gathering. But the God Who was present during the sunny days is still present during the dark days. His lovingkiness and compassion are a constant.

May you today be encouraged, and encourage others, with Jeremiah's bright words of hope.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's not so much what it says; it's what it does. After all, talk can be cheap, as the saying goes.

"Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it" (2 John 1:5-6 NASB).

Maybe a paraphrase of a line from a modern movie says it best - love is as love does. Love isn't defined by what we say, but by what we do.

Elsewhere John gives us a clear definition of love expressed through obedience - "This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us" (1 John 3:23 NASB). This working definition of real love leads to the controversial but vitally-important teaching that John sets forth in 2 John:

"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John 1:7 NASB)

Much could be debated as to what John meant by this deviation from the truth of the nature of Jesus, but this much seems certain: knowing the true historic Jesus is the basis for the supernatural love that will characterize true believers. Seeking to know the Jesus of the Scriptures, regardless of creed or tradition, is an absolute priority if we are to comply with the command to love.

How God will deal in judgment with the beliefs many hold to about Jesus is certainly His business, but His command to me is clear: know His Son truthfully and wholeheartedly, and be a conduit for genuine love. The better we know the true Christ, the truer our love for Him and others will be.

I recently realized that I had largely been ignoring and neglecting Jesus in my times of prayer and personal worship. Following His pattern in the model prayer, I had been coming to the Father, but the truth that "no one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6) weighed heavy upon me. Conversation and communion with Him is prerequisite to coming to the Father. And how invigorating and liberating it has been to have that conversation as we prepare to come before the Father!

To know and understand the true Jesus is monumentally important. It is the basis for genuine love, and it has a direct bearing on our approach to the Father. What others say about Him is interesting, but what we personally know and understand is far more important. It is as if He asks us the same question that He asked His disciples: "But who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15).

May your firsthand and personal knowledge of Jesus guide and encourage you this day.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, August 09, 2010

The truth will set you free, but it can also get you in a lot of trouble. Not everyone is overjoyed to hear the word of the Lord, especially when it has threatening implications for the hearer. Consider the prophet Jeremiah:

"Then the officials said to the king, 'Now let this man be put to death, inasmuch as he is discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people, by speaking such words to them; for this man is not seeking the well-being of this people but rather their harm' ,,, Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king's son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud." (Jeremiah 38:4,6 NASB)

We read later in the chapter that God provided for Jeremiah's escape and safety (Jeremiah 38:10-13), and even kept him safe when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 39:11-14). But ultimately, according to historic tradition, Jeremiah died a martyr's death.

So what are we to make of these things? Better to keep quiet and stay safe, or to risk it all to speak His truth? I'm sure you know the answer as well as I do.

"preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:2-4 NASB)

Whether people can handle the truth or not, faithfully declaring and demonstrating it is a constant priority for us. The truth is not a matter of opinion polls, but faithfulness to the One whose word must clearly sound forth from the people whose lives have been radically impacted by it.

But, there is an important qualifier to what we do with truth - "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). I've met a number of people along the way who were much better at loving to the speak the truth than "speaking the truth in love". Compassion, stirred up by the God of compassion, must be the driving force of truth. Even in the instances when we must "shake the dust off our feet" (Matthew 10:14) as a witness against those who are callously unresponsive to the truth we bear, this is a final act of compassion designed to stir up responsiveness and repentance.

As messengers of truth, we serve a Savior who "saw a large crowd, and felt compassion" (Matthew 14:14). Do we view the masses of unbelievers in the world with genuine compassion, or ambivalence and apathy? Does love for the truth and love for the lost move us out of our comfort zone, or does apathy cause us to hide safely in the shadows?

"Father, teach us to know what it really means to be lost, with no hope of resurrection or of life in the age to come. Move us with compassion from our comfort zone and into the realm of risk where love and truth have full opportunity for expression and response. Whether convenient or not, move us this day as messengers of truth and love. Amen."

Blessings be upon you as you administer His truth and love today.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

It's an Extreme Makeover like you cannot imagine. The interim details are a little sketchy, but the ultimate completion is absolutely astonishing. When it's done, we'll look just like Him.

"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2 NASB)

To see Jesus at His return is to appear exactly like Him. One of the last detailed picture of Him that we see in the Bible is found in Revelation 1:13-16, and it's a picture almost beyond description. No longer is He the carpenter from Nazareth, with no particularly striking physical appearance (Isaiah 53:2). Gone forever is the horribly disfigured Jesus who was abused and then crucified (Isaiah 52:14). Replacing those images is a magnificently glorified, exalted, triumphant Jesus that we are destined to resemble! So, we ultimately win the battle of the bulge; we are victorious over age spots; wrinkles, sags, bags, and arthritis are forever banished. We are destined for perfection in appearance, and character.

The key priority for us today, then, is to work backwards from the final result. If Christ-likeness is the result, then the priority is the process leading to the result. In other words, what is consistent in my life today with the direction that the Lord is taking me? For that reason John says, "And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3 NASB).

Make no mistake: we will not be perfectly Christ-like this side of the kingdom, nor will we achieve it by our own frail efforts. But lifestyle today should increasingly harmonize with the ultimate goal. Obsession with success and wealth should be diminishing; worldly pleasures and charms should be losing their luster and appeal. As the goal shines brighter, diversions to the goal begin to pale in significance and appeal.

The life leading to the kingdom of God often gets a bad rap for being a "religion" of "don'ts" and "can'ts". It is increasingly clear to me that it's a lifestyle of joyous denials for the sake of future gratification. The long view, with the true goal clearly in focus, is one that sees passing pleasure as deadly diversion from ultimate satisfaction in the Age to Come. Therefore, why would any disciple want to displace the goal of true Christ-likeness with that which is completely inconsistent with His character and appearance?

We know the ultimate goal and outcome. May we live victoriously and optimistically today in light of the goal.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, August 02, 2010

Imagine planting a garden, and then daily digging up the seeds to see if they are growing. Your garden likely will not grow well, if at all, if this is your practice. Gardening is based on a faith assumption that seeds planted in fertile soil, properly watered and with enough sunshine, will germinate and grow. The progress of God's word is no different.

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it' (Isaiah 55:10-11)

You and I are in the gardening business. We've been entrusted with sowing seed that is guaranteed to produce a harvest. Now, it may not yield the exact harvest that we anticipate or would prefer, but it will be effective. A major factor in the harvest is the type of soil it is sown in, as Jesus' famous Parable of the Sower and Soil (Matthew 13) tells us. But, if we faithfully sow the seed, there is the promise of harvest. There absolutely cannot be a harvest if there is no planting of seed.

The greatest privilege of my life is to be a sower of the seed. I have utmost confidence in the potential of the seed - the "word of the kingdom" (Matthew 13:19) - to accomplish exactly what God intends for it. Through preaching, teaching, discipling, and sharing these written thoughts, I am confident that growth and progress occurs in proportion to the type of soil it is sown in.

If the seed were my personal words, I would have plenty to be concerned about. All I can offer is opinion and commentary, and those words are no more authoritative or productive than anyone else' words. The only effective words are God's; the "word of the kingdom".

You and I can never produce a harvest, but we can confidently sow seed that will. Whenever we bring the word of God to bear on people's lives and their life situations, we can be completely confident that His word is actively at work accomplishing God's purposes. We likely will not see immediate results, and may never see any results even in our lifetime, but the word is at work.

Let the word of God permeate your life, through reading and study, and allow it to produce the crop that God desires. As those in whom the seed is at work, go out with confidence and sow the seed into the lives of those around you who will receive it.