Monday, February 28, 2011

There are certain places that forever hold spiritual significance for me - my childhood bedroom, where bedtime conversation with my Savior was often as real as any human conversation I've ever had. There is my home church, where I learned the great truths of the Bible, and began my spiritual journey. There is the old brick chapel where I truly believe I heard the audible voice of God. And there is the altar area of a church auditorium where I one night poured out my heart in prayer and tears, and was forever changed. These places were all a significant part of my spiritual formation, and I pray I never lose sight or memory of them.

There was a man who encountered God in a particular place, in a life-changing way. He was eventually called back to that place to further his spiritual formation.

"Then God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.'" (Genesis 35:1) ... "So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel ), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother." (verses 6-7) ... " Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel." (verses 14-15)

Bethel. The house of God; the gateway of heaven. It was there that God Almighty, El Shaddai (verse 11) appeared to Jacob, whose name He changed to Israel. The God of his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac, chose to reveal Himself there. And the promises made to Abraham were repeated to Israel as they had been to his father, Isaac. The Almighty God of lasting agreements took the initiative in a place called Bethel.

We all have Bethels. There is place where God became most real to us that we can call our own Bethel. Perhaps it is not as dramatic a place as Jacob's Bethel, but a place nevertheless where God initiated a life-changing experience with us. For many people, it was a breakthrough in a familiar place; a church service. On an ordinary Sunday, the words of a song, or a particular phrase or verse in a sermon suddenly breathed with the life of El Shaddai, God Almighty. In a startling moment, the Eternal One broke through time to powerfully reveal His presence and reality.

Don't lose sight of your Bethels. Revisit them in your mind, and even physically return to them when possible. Don't worship the place, but rather worship Yahweh who revealed Himself in that place. And rejoice that you have a Father who loves you enough to initiate contact.

I pray that today has a special Bethel moment in it for you.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"You can't handle the truth! ... I'll be back ... to infinity and beyond ... run, Forrest, run." Quotes sound like so much nonsense, unless you know their context and meaning. Unless you know that the quotes I've shared are from popular contemporary movies, they likely mean little to you.

So, what about a quote used by a man in the throes of death? If you don't know that his words are a quote, rather than words of despair in the face of death, you miss the point entirely. When He said, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?", we need to understand that Jesus was quoting from Psalm twenty-two and indicating His fulfillment of the words written there.

At first glance, the twenty-second Psalm sounds like a cry of anguish by the writer. But, upon closer examination, it's easy to see a much deeper meaning through the life and suffering of Jesus Messiah. Consider how these words are mirrored in His experience on the cross:

"All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.'" (vss.7,8)

"I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint ; My heart is like wax ; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws ; And You lay me in the dust of death." (vss.14-15)

"They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me;They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots." (Psalm 22:16-18)

In His dying moments, Jesus earnestly sought to make known His true identity through a famous quote from Psalm 22. And that appeal is still being made today: all who compare His suffering on the cross with the remarkable words of Psalm 22, written so many years earlier, will see an uncanny parallel and fulfillment.

Most readers will recognize my opening quotes from movies they have seen. It's far more important that we trace Jesus' words on the cross back to their original source, and understand and believe in who He really is. Do you know Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of all who will believe? Are you getting to know Him better today through what is revealed of Him in passages such as the twenty-second Psalm? I pray that you are.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Parents of famous sons. Often we know about the extraordinary lives of great leaders, but we are mistaken if we believe they somehow achieved greatness in isolation. Influential parents are often overshadowed by the famous children they nurtured.

Many people know of the legendary feats of the famous strong man, Samson. His amazing life is details in the book of Judges. But, the circumstances of his birth, and details concerning his amazing parents are found in Judges 13. There we are told that an angel of the Lord appeared to a childless couple, to announce the birth of a son. This angelic messenger gave specific pre-natal care instructions to his mother (Judges 13:2-5). This woman's husband, rather than being skeptical at the story of the angelic birth announcement, instead earnestly sought wisdom in raising the boy: "Then Manoah entreated the LORD and said, 'O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born.'" (Judges 13:8).

God answered Manoah's prayer and re-sent His messenger. He had opportunity to ask for clarification regarding his role as a parent: "Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy's mode of life and his vocation?" (Judges 13:12). The angel's answer was quite simple: he reiterated his previous instruction - "Let the woman pay attention to all that I said." (Judges 13:13).

Contained in this simple statement is the greatest principle of parenting - and living - ever declared: "pay attention to all that I said." It really is as simple as that: do as God has said. His word, the Bible, contains His detailed instructions for living life on every level - as a parent, husband or wife, single person, child, teen, elderly person, employer, or employee. There is no level of living not covered by God and His word. The biggest problem? Paying careful attention to what Yahweh God has already said. Various text books, instructions manuals, and seminars have displaced the timeless wisdom of God. Life on planet earth would go so much better if every living person would simple "pay attention" and apply God's wise principles to life. And, while God's principles for life are often broad and require wisdom in applying them to specific life situations, they are tested and true.

It really is as simple as the angel said: "pay attention to all that I said." Rather than looking for new answers in new places, let's revisit the timeless ones that have never failed. May His ancient words be your light and guide this day.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is anyone listening? Amidst the daily noise of work and play, is anyone listening to the steady stream of vital information being transmitted?

"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard." (Psalm 19:1-3)

The heavens are telling, but - according to the Psalmist - few are listening: "their voice is not heard". It seems ironic that space probes have traveled further and deeper into the universe than ever before, and yet on earth the messages sent back have not truly been received. Stunning pictures of planets, comets, and galaxies leave viewers awe-struck, but apparently without a full appreciation of the Creator they reveal. Bent on disproving the existence of God, modern technology has instead opened an unprecedented window for viewing God through His creation.

It appears that one of the enemy's great tactics is to keep us so busy with daily mundane activities that we don't take time to look up and out. If we are saturated with the world's busyness and mindset, how is it possible to honestly pray, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)? That which is in our hearts and minds is the source of our words, and those words and thoughts which are acceptable to God come only from time spent with Him and His word.

Perhaps one of our most profitable pursuits this day, in addition to time in prayer and Bible study, would be a computer search of images from the Hubble space telescope. This unique high-tech "window on the universe" has yielded countless images that leave the follower of Yahweh God gape-jawed at His intricate and immense creation. Supplementing that which is revealed of our Father in scripture, these images serve us well in cultivating words and meditations that are acceptable in His sight.

Is anyone listening? May we take time to truly receive and perceive the steady stream of information that creation is pouring forth about our Creator and Father.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Conventional wisdom says there is safety in numbers. Be that the case, then there is great risk and danger for a three-hundred-man army.

The story of Gideon's army, recorded in Judges 7, is legendary. God informs Gideon that his army of twenty-two thousand is too large. It is eventually pared down to ten thousand, and ultimately to three hundred. A mere three hundred men will wage war against a formidable foe, and be victorious. Nothing could be more absurd; defeat is almost certain, barring God's miraculous intervention. And that exactly the way God designed it:

"Israel would become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me.'" (Judges 7:2).

The rest, as they say, is history; Gideon and his three-hundred-man army did exactly as God instructed, and an overwhelming victory was won. The battle was won, not by human might, but by Yahweh's direct intervention.

I engage in battle with the smallest of armies. Our local church "army" numbers considerably less than three hundred, and our fellowship of churches is likely less than three hundred congregations. Against a vast superior army of false philosophies and religions, what possible chance of victory is there? We are obviously hopelessly outnumbered. Except that "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4). As an old saying goes, God plus me makes a majority.

Our primary battle is a battle for truth. Radical militant religions, non-biblical church traditions, and secular religions seem to have the upper hand in the war. Radical, life-changing biblical truth appears to be in retreat in the face of a strong enemy. That's how it appears to be, but what we see is not all there is to see. As God once reminded a dejected prophet, there are considerable numbers of people that He has preserved who have not bowed down to false God (1 Kings 19:18)

Perhaps you feel alone in the battle today. Is no one else passionate for God's truth and righteousness? Does no one else care in this age of non-absolutes? Am I alone as God's truth is diminished to a mere flickering flame amidst the pervading darkness of a wicked world?

Gideon's three-hundred-man army is our encouragement. The small army we war with is not cause for discouragement, but rather a reminder that God is our deliverer, and not we ourselves. God specializes in showing His might through few rather than many. Rejoice in the privilege of being part of His small army, so that He might display His strength through you.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's often obvious. Without a word being said, many times others know the truth about us. Take, for example, a man named Isaac:

"We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.' " (Genesis 26:28-29)

Ungodly people easily identified the blessings of Yahweh God in Isaac's life, and sought his favor because of God's favor upon him. Abraham's son was recipient of the blessings of Abraham, including prosperity in a time of famine (Genesis 26:1,11-14).

As descendants of Abraham, we also are recipients of God's favor (Galatians 3:9, 26-29). We likely have not been prospered materially, but something of the Spirit of God within burns brightly enough for others to see. I choose to call it a special "spiritual twinkle" in our eyes that is evident to others.

I recall a recent conversation with an individual who spoke of her attempt to distance herself from her Christian faith heritage. Raised in a strict pastor's home, she felt that God would strike vengeance on her for neglecting to attend church services. Although she didn't attend church for a period of time, she continued with the discipline of Bible reading and study. One day she was asked by someone about an internal quality that was noticeable, and this person eagerly desired it. This pastor's daughter came to clearly realize that the presence of God's Spirit in her life left an indelible mark that others could see.

People can easily observe our faithful church attendance and participation, but most intriguing is the dynamic internal Spirit life that is magnetic to those aware of their own need. What we DO is interesting, but who we ARE is a compelling witness.

If you are a child of God - born again in the waters of baptism, and faithfully living within God's truth - then the blessings of Abraham rest upon your life. It should not be surprising, then, when others ask for an explanation of the dynamic of our lives. As such, "always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15).

May the light of faith and truth shine brightly in our lives for others to see and ask concerning.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

No one is immune to questioning God's attentiveness to prayer. How many times do prayers seem to "bounce off the ceiling"? How often does He seem silent when we most need to hear His voice?

"How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?" (Psalm 13:1-2)

There is consolation in knowing that a man after God's own heart also questioned His silence. But for David, questions about silence never lead to despair. Present circumstances never blinded this man of God to past blessings or future hope. "But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me." (Psalm 13:5-6)

Yahweh God had "dealt bountifully" with David in the past, and he knew in the future his heart would rejoice and that he would once again sing for joy. The "nasty now" did not negate yesterday's blessings or tomorrow's hope.

Nothing is more perplexing than present pain and God's silence. I've walked through plenty of valleys of emotional and spiritual pain when the silence was deafening. I've raised an angry fist at God (it pains me to admit that), and I've been face down on the floor in tears and anguish. And yet God was silent when I thought I most desperately needed His voice and touch. But, I've always eventually walked out of the valley and back into the sunshine of joy and communion with Him again. The valleys have always led to a level path and eventually a mountaintop experience.

Perhaps the hope and truth of the coming kingdom of God to earth ignites a fire and passion within me like nothing else because it represents the fullest and best experience of life. Dark valleys will be forever vanquished, along with all of life's most painful experiences. Surrounded by a glistening clean and pure environment, we will savor the most enriching relationship possible with one another, and with our Creator, and His Son. Prayer will no longer be a struggle. Our Father's thoughts will be clearly impressed upon our minds, and His voice will never cease to ring pleasingly in our ears.

We've grown accustomed to pain in our present circumstances, even as His grace sustains us. He has faithfully delivered us in the past, and His future deliverance is beyond imagination. Look up from the valley to the hope coming on the clouds. The pain of the present moment could be giving way to the reality of the hope of the age to come even as we write and read these words.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Revisiting decisions made is a common practice. How many times have we wondered if we should have purchased that car or house, or taken a job in another city or state? If we linger long over decisions made, we easily develop a case of "what-if's", and this can lead to regrets if we determine the decision was unwise.

Have you ever second-guessed serving the Lord? If you have, you certainly wouldn't be the first person to do so.

"If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)

These are Joshua's words in his farewell speech to the people of Israel. This one-hundred-year-old-plus man has had a long history with Yahweh God, and in his final speech he recounts the mighty acts of God. In disobedience, the people of Israel had wandered aimlessly for forty years, and yet God had provide for them and protected them. Now, they have completed the conquest of the promised land and are about to begin a new chapter in their lives. This is a watershed moment; a time to reflect and to act. Reluctant service and obedience will benefit no one; this is the time to decisively choose and wholeheartedly serve. And Joshua and his family have clearly made their choice: "we will serve the LORD."

I made a choice thirty-eight years ago. After nearly fifteen years of instruction and first-hand experience with my Father and His Son, a time for action came. I chose new life in Christ through baptism, and the straight and narrow path and gate through life. That pathway has had its ups and downs, but I'm still on it. And I've chosen today to continue.

The choice to "fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth" (Joshua 24:14) is a daily choice. It is incomprehensible for me to think that one-hundred-old Joshua waited until near the end of his life to choose to serve the LORD. I believe, on this occasion, he reaffirmed the decision he made every single day of his life. No doubt the temptation to walk away from it was there daily, and often perilously enticing. If serving the LORD involved leading a stiff-necked people, who wouldn't be tempted to run?

We've made our choices in the waters of baptism, at the marriage altar, and at the lending institution. But, these one-time choices are also daily choices. We can walk away from the faith, our marriage, and our financial responsibilities. Or, we can reaffirm those decisions today. The choice is there, today, to be made. No choice is a "no" choice, whereas decisive reaffirmation is a commitment to throw our entire selves into the choice, no matter how easy or difficult.

A choice is before us today. Honestly, what is your decision?


© 2011, Steve Taylor