Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What good is a project without a plan? Energy and resources are wasted in directionless activity.

The great Architect of all creation wisely worked from a plan. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1-2) The wording of most English Bible translations confuses the real intent of these verses. "Word" is capitalized and implies that Jesus is the word that existed with God before time. But "word" is much broader in meaning; it suggests a plan, idea, or revelation. In essence, "In the beginning was the plan, and the plan was with God, and the plan was God. The same was in the beginning with God." God had a plan that would become His project.

God's project, developed from His plan, was to reveal Himself to us, His creation. The Bible is the chronicle of all such efforts by Him. He initiated encounters with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah, to name a few. He revealed Himself through dramatic displays and verbal communication. Through the written Law given to Moses and the people of Israel, He revealed even more of His character. But, the plan was not yet complete: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). The word (plan) made flesh was the ultimate project. "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

If we simply read the words of John 1:1-2 and see them as a "doctrinal statement" about the nature of Jesus, we likely miss the point entirely. The key truth is that God had a plan before time began to fully reveal Himself to us. Ultimately, the full revelation would be found in His mirror-image Son, the one in whom we truly "saw His glory" (John 1:14).

If God's project -- based upon His timeless plan -- is to fully reveal Himself to us, what does that tell us about His activities today? He is actively seeking to connect with us right where we are! His most concentrated efforts are to get our attention, and draw us in to Himself through His Son.

Don't miss the main point of the opening verses in John one. The God Who created each of us has made it His extraordinary project to fully reveal Himself to us. His intentions are well summarized in a phrase often found in the Old Testament - "Thus you will know that I am Yahweh" (Ezekiel 36:11, for example). He has even gone to the extreme measure to miraculously birth a Son who would perfectly reflect Him, the invisible God.

Our Creator's most ambitious project is to fully reveal Himself to us today. Ponder that incredible truth this day, and do all that you can to make yourself available to Him to know Him in the most intimate, life-changing way possible.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is there a message in the mess? Are disasters designed to declare dire warnings?

God gets personal with His people in Amos 4. As they stand on the brink of judgment and disaster because of their sin and disobedience, He appeals to them to repent. He declares that there is a purpose in famine, drought, disease, and natural disasters. The design is declared in a simple phrase repeated five times in this short chapter: "Yet you have not returned to me" (Amos 4:6,8,9,10,11).

Not every disaster is divinely appointed. In a fallen, sinful world, "time and chance" factor in to bad things happening to good people (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12). But, as the end of this present evil age approaches, it appears that purposeful calamities will increase (i.e, the plagues of Revelation). Sadly, the general response of the multitudes will be little different than the people of God in the days of Amos the prophet - "they did not repent of their deeds" (Revelation 16:11).

The message in the mess is that time is short and readiness to meet our Creator is an urgent priority - "Prepare to meet your God" (Amos 4:12). Knowing that a divine appointment is fixed on the calendar causes us to consider the God who describes Himself thusly: "For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind And declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness And treads on the high places of the earth, "Yahweh God is His name." (Amos 4:13)

In recent times the secular media has reported such things as all-time record high temperatures, floods of "biblical proportions", and unprecedented ice melting in polar regions. Rather than providing fodder for animated debate over global warming, these events should instead provoke thought and discussion concerning coming judgment and preparations for it.

For the people of God who are prepared, the message in the mess is one of assurance and hope as "redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28). When fear and panic prevail with the unprepared, the people of God "stay the course" in holy lifestyle as they urgently proclaim the good news of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12).

May we be be both guided and encouraged in today's activities by the admonition to "Prepare to meet your God" (Amos 4:12).


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, September 27, 2010

Persistence pays off. I know a pastor who is not timid about asking local businesses for donations of food and supplies to utilize in their church ministry. I've personally never had such experiences because, quite frankly, I'm not that bold and forthright. I have not because I ask not.

"Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened." (Luke 11:5-10)

The challenge in asking is uncertainty about the willingness to give on the part of the person being approached. No one likes the embarrassment of rejection, so reluctance to ask is based upon this element of risk.

The point Jesus so powerfully drives home with this simple illustration is that there is no reluctance on the part of our Father to give to those who ask. The key action words - "ask ... seek ... knock" - are in the continuous tense in the original language. On other words, "keep asking, seeking, and knocking". Those who are persistent with their requests will be given that which they persistently seek.

There are plenty of Bible passages that qualify that which we should seek (i.e., John 14:13; 15:7; 1 John 5:14), but too often overemphasis on the condition causes us to be less than persistent in our seeking. A godly-minded, Spirit-directed disciple will be focused on good and noble requests within the will of God. Therefore, we should persistently seek these good things in prayer!

I've done door-to-door evangelism work in which I knocked lightly on a door and left a tract before anyone could answer the door. Sadly, I've too often done similarly in seeking from God in prayer. Although convinced of the validity of the request, and the desire to give on the part of the One approached, my lack of persistence has too many times resulted in failure to receive. And yet there have been many specific answers received when I have been persistent. He has always been faithful when I have been persistent.

What is the godly desire of your heart this day? Convinced of its validity, and the willingness of the Giver, is there any good reason not to persistently seek? Storm the gates of heaven with your requests and advance the cause of the kingdom through persistent prayer.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It is for me the parable of the two men. Both were about the same age, and came of age during the era of the Great Depression. The one man, like so many during that time, chose to live a guarded financial life, being very careful and frugal. The other man, having lost his father in death, alone faced the prospect of foreclosure on the family farm during this time of extreme economic difficulty. But, regardless of the times. he believed in generosity with what he had, both to his local church and those in need. Over the years he prospered, while the other man always struggled to get by with the meager fare he had. Both men serve as examples of the law of returns.

"Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return" (Luke 6:38 NASB)

It is an absolute choice: choose to be sparing or generous with that which has been entrusted to you, and receive accordingly. Our standard of giving will most assuredly be our standard of receiving.

While on the surface these appear to simply be two basic philosophies in life about giving, there is something much more important in play here. The motive for being generous or guarded in giving is reflected in an important spiritual perspective: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36 NASB). Our giving attitude is a reflection of our perspective on God's grace.

I'll freely admit that generosity does not come easy to me. Like many people, I was raised to know the value of a dollar, and the importance of hard work. The American work ethic became a greater value in my life than the grace of God. But, I've been blessed to know many generous believers through the years who modeled God's grace to me through their compassionate ways. Their generosity has caused to me to better know the grace of God that motivated them.

I much more clearly see that generosity is the "fruit" of a genuine encounter with God's grace through His Son, Jesus. The first church lived in the reality of that grace in that "there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need" Acts 4:34-35 NASB). Grace inspired grace in practical and necessary ways.

May a personal encounter with God's grace today inspire acts of grace that bless others and open doors of opportunity to share the great kingdom gospel.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, September 20, 2010

He doesn't call the qualified; he qualifies the called. Case in point: some fishermen and an I.R.S agent (of sorts). He clarified the fishermen's new purpose: "from now on you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10). As to the I.R.S. agent, He simply issued the call, "Follow me" (Luke 5:28). This they had in common: "they left everything and followed Him" (Luke 5:11. also, 5:28).

So the quality that Jesus values is not so much ability as availability. He supplies ability based upon availability, as we readily see with these apostles later in life, after three and a half years of intensive training in Jesus' discipleship course. This verse best describes what they became: "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13)

I've always been intimidated by scholars. As a simple man from a rural Midwest community, I'm a far cry from a heavy-hitting, learned theologian. And yet I've sought to be a diligent Bible student as I've grown in discipleship over the years. But if ever there was a compliment that I would be thrilled to receive, it would be one similar to that given to Peter and John, as recorded in Acts 4:13.

Those of us who lack "official" credentials in the theological realm are in good company. The men who took part in the greatest revolution the world has ever seen were common laborers who had this in common: "they left everything and followed Him" (Luke 5:11). They chose to deny personal ambition so that they could follow the revolutionary carpenter from Nazareth.

Lest we get a mistaken notion, Jesus is anything but an anti-intellectual. It is obvious that He was a diligent student of Scriptures, and was well able to quote Bible passages as was appropriate to the occasion. No one ever spoke with authority as He did (Matthew 7:29), and He clearly saw "the spirit of the law" while the religious leaders of the day were mistakenly hung up on "the letter of the law". He was, and is, a profound theological intellectual in the truest sense of the word. And that's the very reason we need to enroll in "the school of Jesus". His perfect mastery of truth and its application is what we each desperately need.

The first-century church, chronicled in the book of Acts, no doubt knew their "kingdom theology", but the resurrected Christ - king of the kingdom - actively taught them how to live as a radical "kingdom community" in demonstration of that great truth. As willing followers, the original church was equipped and taught by the living Christ.

Our Master today desires available followers. Your social and intellectual status mean little to the One who will abundantly supply the training and resources needed for your success and effectiveness. What He said to His original disciples He says to us: "Follow me" (Luke 5:28).


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It was the first day of a brand-new era. On that day, a solitary figure stood up and declared these words to describe this day of new beginnings:

"It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days" (Joel 2:28-29 NASB)

The apostle Peter declared that this day was that day. Specifically, he stated from Joel that this was the first day of "the last days" (Acts 2:17). And this present day is a continuation of "the last days", characterized by the pouring out of God's Spirit.

According to these words, the last-day activity of God's Spirit would be for the purpose of inspiring prophecy, dreams, and visions. And this Spirit activity would center on the key truth that Peter so boldly declared that day: "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst ..." (Act 2:22 NASB). Inspired to prophecy by the Spirit of God, Peter declared the evidence of God's hand upon His Son, Jesus; His predetermined suffering and death; resurrection from the dead; and exalted position at the right hand of God as the appointed and anointed King of the coming kingdom of God (Acts 2:22-33).

We are the present-day recipients of God's Holy Spirit; poured out upon our lives that we might proclaim the great truth of the good news of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12). The Spirit of God inspires dreams and visions as to how this great truth might be proclaimed.

Recent events have caused me to reconsider a long-held Spirit-inspired dream and vision for proclaiming this great gospel. My ongoing passion has been for video as a tool for proclaiming the gospel, and I'm reminded again that unprecedented opportunities exist to widely proclaim the gospel through this medium. Such efforts are time-intensive, but relatively inexpensive. But the possibilities are phenomenal - the whole world is our potential audience!

Your dream and vision for the gospel message may vary from mine, but it is fully valid if inspired by the Spirit. The important thing is to listen to the dream and vision the Spirit is inspiring within you, and move in the power and prompting of that Spirit.

"Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 46).

May the power and prompting of God's Spirit within lead you to great dreams and visions for proclaiming His truth.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Undercover agents have long been a part of international cat-and-mouse spy tactics. The true national allegiance of some spies is so well hidden that even those working closest to them don't know their true loyalty.

Sometimes as Christians we live so covertly that our true identity is hidden as well. We participate in the "silent witness program" to the detriment of an effective witness. The motto, "actions speak louder than words", becomes the mandate to refrain from verbal witness.

"Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven" Matthew 10:32-33 NASB)

We've probably all encountered overzealous "Bible thumpers" who take every opportunity to laud their faith. Their example may be our rationale for a less-assertive verbal witness, but it's much too easy to overreact and witness by lifestyle only. Granted, a burden is placed upon lifestyle by being an active verbal witness, but both should harmoniously comprise our witness.
I've never been one to easily "cold call" and initiate a spiritual conversation, although I've found myself in that role numerous times over the past thirty plus years. I've had better success through prayerfully seeking opportunities with people I've been burdened for. In such instances, these people often took the lead and were eager and open to my verbal witness. My witness, in those circumstances could be compared to Proverbs 25:11 - "Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances".

There is wisdom in being careful with verbal witness, but sometimes caution is clearly cowardice. Risk of popularity or opposition overrides potential life-changing conversations. Delays easily become denials.

According to Matthew 10:32-33, our conversations with others about Christ have a direct bearing on His conversations with the Father about us. That provides powerful incentive to consider our words and our ways.

I've never found verbal witness to be terribly gratifying or effective when guilt has been my motivation, but when love guides (Matthew 22:37-40) it is a great privilege. Gratitude for grace translates into opportunities to share grace.

In these days of confusion and disillusion, opportunities for a timely and effective witness abound. "Soil preparation" (Matthew 13) through prayer can yield great opportunities to sow the seed in the hearts and lives of unbelievers.
May a burden and compassion for the lost lead us to life-changing conversations today.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's a well-worn cliché', but enduringly true: people will never care how much you know until they know how much you care. Truth without love and love without truth are opposite extremes; both equally useless. The priority is to love truth, and to love with truth.

"Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'" (Mat 9:35-38 NASB)

The great proclaimer of the truth of the kingdom of God was also a compassionate healer. Supernaturally endowed with the Holy Spirit of God, Jesus provided powerful and convincing proof of the validity of the kingdom message through miraculous healings. But note it well: compassion was at the heart of both the message and the miracles. Nowhere is that compassion better describes than in verse 36: "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd".

The two words, "distressed" and "dispirited", are spot-on accurate words to describe people of our day. The strain of life in our modern society has placed an incredible burden on the backs of most people, as evidenced by counseling sessions, pain medications, and antidepressants. And, the pervading pessimism at the prospects of a bleak economic future has left many dispirited. Never has there been a greater need for godly compassion.

The combination of compassion and the radically hopeful message of the kingdom of God was powerfully magnetic to the masses of people in the days of Jesus' earthly ministry. Nothing is more compelling than the knowledge that there is something better in the future, and compassionate deeds that validate that hopeful message.

We may not be gifted with the ability to touch and instantly heal diseases and physical defects, but we have been supernaturally empowered with compassion for a wide variety of loving deeds. And, most assuredly, we have been entrusted with the most positive and compelling good news of all - the truth of a renewed earth in the coming age, accompanied by the end of hatred, war, sickness, and death.

A great "harvest" of souls is available to compassionate proclaimers of the kingdom of God message. Those filled with compassion for the "distressed" and "dispirited" around them will find receptivity for the great good news of the kingdom.

May we live and move in the world today as those who love the truth, and love with the truth.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"I can resist anything except temptation", goes the old saying. Well, temptations are sure to come, and some are even brought to us by the Spirit of God.

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1 NASB)

Fresh from the exhilarating rush of His baptism, infilling of the Spirit, and confirmation by the voice of God (Matthew 3:16-17), Jesus was immediately led into the wilderness to eventually encounter the ultimate enemy and tempter. And, as is always the case, the temptations in themselves seemed harmless enough.

The problem with temptation isn't so much about the WHAT as it is the WHY. Why I am being enticed to pursue a certain course of action? What is the motivation?

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness offers valuable insight into the forms of temptation we face. As you'll notice from each of the three temptations offered to Jesus, none of them in themselves appeared to be particularly evil. After all, what would be wrong with turning a few stones into bread (Matthew 4:3), or seeking angelic protection from a perilous jump for the temple heights (Matthew 4:5-6)? The real problem, however, centered on who was directing the activities.

Motive is the trickiest issue of all, and the easiest cause for stumbling. Two people can participate in the same act of service, but it is detrimental for the one all the while that it is the "fruit" of spiritual motivation for the other. Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to God, but motive caused God to prefer Abel's while showing no regard for Cain's (Genesis 4:3-5).

Perhaps the best method for dealing with temptation is to look below the surface and consider the issue of motivation. Is this course of action, however innocent in appearance, directed by the Spirit of God, personal selfishness, or by the tempter himself? Who is in control if I take this action?

It is the nature of temptation for it to appear innocent. And it can even come packaged with spiritual wrapping! The devil uses Scripture as the basis for appealing to Jesus with his second temptation (Matthew 4:6), so it should not surprise us that some of our greatest temptations will be accompanied by convincing biblical references. But, once again, the real issue is motivation.

Jesus battled temptation with Scripture. The surest way to overcome that which would trip us up is to be as close to the word of God and the Spirit of God as possible. Our instincts will often deceive us, but the word and the Spirit are the surest safeguard.

Stand strong against the devil's schemes by standing strong today in His word and Spirit.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Flattery wasn't his strong suit. This straight-talking, non-nonsense, survivalist preacher was hardly one to mince words. If he were taking a course in the fine art of diplomacy, he clearly would have failed the course miserably. But, popular or not, we need more of his kind today.

John the Baptist was a major sensation on the Israeli scene when he went public. His electrifying message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2), was later echoed by Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry. The Jewish people en masse responded and went to him for water baptism, including the religious leaders of the day. But, what appeared to be commendable spiritual initiative was viewed otherwise by this prophet of God.

"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham'" (Matthew 3:7-9 NASB).

As was characteristic of their lives, these religious leaders were entirely focused on external appearances. The rite of baptism was merely another good external practice, devoid of any connection to a true change of heart, as was characteristic of all others who sought out John for baptism. And for this reason, these misguided leaders bore the brunt of John's most stinging rebuke. Baptism, according to John, must be accompanied by sincere inner repentance. And, just because they "grew up in church", they were no more exempt from repentance than anyone else. "Coattail spirituality" (ancestry) would no more save them than anyone else.

It's an age-old lesson, but one much too easily missed: God wants inner change, not outer compliance. External "religion" easily supersedes matters of the heart and mind. The external act of sitting in church too easily takes precedent over fully engaging one's heart and mind in sincere worship and humble obedience.

What God ultimately wants is not readily seen. The "fruit" of what He desires will be observable over time, but the inner reality of a compliant heart and mind is intensely personal, and infinitely valuable.

May the outer form of our devotion fully comply with the inner reality of a pure and humble heart.


© 2010, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

If you knew your spouse would be unfaithful to you, would you still marry? A challenging question to say the least, and one that a man of God once was likely forced to consider.

"The word of the LORD which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, 'Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD'" (Hosea 1:1-2).

God's directive to Hosea was clear: marry a prostitute and have children by her. This unholy union would serve as an object lesson to the people of God regarding their unfaithfulness to Yahweh God, their true Husband.

I cannot imagine the personal anguish God's directive brought to Hosea. Marriage is designed for the nurturing of trust and unguarded openness; it is the realm of the closest possible human relationship. Unfaithfulness is the ultimate betrayal to this unique relationship, and Hosea is instructed to marry knowing full well that this will be the outcome! I'm sure we cannot know the personal anguish this man of God experienced.

The harsh truth is, we've all been unfaithful in our marriage. And our Spouse knew we would before we ever married. "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We are a type of "Israel of God" through Christ, and thus are the bride. But we have not always lived according to our wedding vows. We have been adulterous with the world; we have indulged in forbidden pleasures.

Far more marriages than we will ever know have been rocked by the betrayal of unfaithfulness (no doubt there are those reading who know this firsthand). The monumental struggle for forgiveness on the part of the wronged spouse is an indescribable anguish. And our Spouse is intimately acquainted with that anguish in offering us forgiveness:

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved ), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Live life today in the wonder of a Faithful Spouse who is willing to forgive our unfaithfulness, and let that forgiveness be powerful motivation for purity in lifestyle and faithfulness in service.