Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ah, the city life. Congestion. Pollution. Road rage. Shopping malls. Nearly unlimited dining and entertainment options. It's a mixed bag of it all, good and bad.

The city of God. It's both a place and a people, just like any city - but with notable differences. No unpleasant congestion. No pollution. No road rage. No malls? Well, now we're getting in to speculation.

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King ... As we have heard, so have we seen In the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God; God will establish her forever ." (Psalm 48:1-2,8)

Jerusalem is destined to be the capital city in the coming kingdom of God, and the dwelling place of God Himself: "I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them'" (Revelation 21:2-3).

The city of God, dwelling place of God, is both a people and a place. It is to come, and it is already. You see, we are the city of God in a very real sense. "'Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:9-10). The church, in one very real sense, is the city, the dwelling place of God. And, as such, we are designed to be "the joy of the whole earth" - a blessing to the earth.

Our identity as the city of God is important to ponder. If indeed we are the dwelling place of God, then our character should increasingly resemble that reality. As the city of God, we are a people whose community life reflects the character of God. That's what I find especially compelling in the book of Acts - these people lived and functioned as the city of God, and their contemporaries were in awe of this radical community. The world had never seen anything like it, and they found it compelling.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that the primary witness of the people of God in the world is how they live out truth as community. Sadly, this has all too often been an area of great downfall. How many churches and Christian communities have been racked with division, infighting, and pettiness? The world has often had cause to discount Christian community is being little different than non-Christian social organizations.

We are the city of God. The world may little note our biblical talk, but they will definitely observe how we live, and live with one another. May a skeptical and unbelieving world today see harmony in our talk and in our personal and corporate lifestyle.


©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Days of distress inevitably come. No one can live life without loss of possessions, family members, friends, and friendships. It's an absolute cycle of life that we both give up and gain. As Job famously said, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21).

Second Samuel one is a tragic record of loss. King Saul and his sons were killed in battle, and Israel had experienced a devastating defeat. This was an especially crushing blow to David because of the loss of his dear friend, Jonathan, Saul's son.

"Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so also did all the men who were with him. They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword ... I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women." (2 Samuel 1:11-12,26)

Whether the literal death of a friend, or the death of a special friendship, both are painful times of loss. I well remember the woman who spoke with me about the loss of a special. long-term friendship. Her friend was still alive, and living near her, but the death of this special friendship was just as real and painful as though death had occurred.

I have been blessed and nurtured by special friendships in my journey of life and ministry, and have been painfully separated by some as I have relocated from one place to another. While I have mourned these losses, I reflect back on how blessed I am for having had them. And, I rejoice in nurturing friendships today.

Tragic seasons of loss inevitably come. Like David, these are valleys we must walk through. But, as we learn from David in the Psalms, there are future times of rejoicing. And, as Job so well said, the name of the LORD (Yahweh) is still to be blessed, regardless of seasons of loss or gain. From a kingdom of God perspective, we anticipate that all seasons of loss will ultimately one day be incredible gain!

Whatever season of life you may be in today, may your praise be steady, and your hope sure.


©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Here's a great thought to savor today: "I, the LORD, am your healer." (Exodus 15:26). This remarkable declaration was based on some important conditions: "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians" (Exodus 15:26). An obedient people were promised freedom from the diseases that had plagued the Egyptians because of their disobedience.

I've never met a person who didn't need some form of healing. Illness and diseases comes in a variety of forms - mental, spiritual, and physical. Often the greatest afflictions are the unseen spiritual and mental illnesses that are at least as real as physical ones. Regardless, God is ultimately the LORD your healer.

Like Father, like Son. Should it come as any surprise that Jesus' earthly ministry was characterized by the miraculous? There was no more clear evidence of His Sonship than the miracles that could only be done through Holy Spirit coursing through Him. Perhaps His most outstanding defense before the Jewish religious leaders was this: "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." (John 10:37-38) In essence, His testimony was that if they were not convinced of His identity through His authoritative teachings, at least they should be convinced through the dynamic miracles. Only God's Son could be enabled to do such.

We have a Father and Son team who are ultimately healers. Their great desire and purpose is for perfect healing of all creatures and creation. That's the essence of the kingdom of God - complete healing and perfection as it existed at the beginning. As such, their deliberate efforts are being exerted to ultimately bring this perfect healing to pass. There are moments of healing breakthroughs in this age, but ultimate healing is yet future. Isn't it tremendously encouraging to know that true healing is our destiny?

We are "agents of healing" in the world today. That's not to say that we're necessarily empowered to instantly heal through our touch (although that possibility can't be ruled out). Ultimately, we are called to be used by the Father and Son team of healers to bring healing wherever there is brokenness - to our own lives, to broken relationships, and to all that is sin-scarred.

"I, the LORD, am your healer." Be encouraged and comforted in this wonderful truth, and be open to how He would use you as a healing agent in the world today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You've likely heard the saying, "go with the flow." As a general rule this is bad advice, because it implies blindly following the lead of the majority. But, there is a biblical sense in which it is the best possible course of action.

"God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold." (Psalm 46:1-7)

All of the water imagery in these verses bring to mind the powerful forces of tsunamis. Most, if not all of us, are familiar with the recent scenes of tsunami wave destruction in Japan. I've also been reading recently of the most powerful tsunami ever to strike the United States, in California in 1964 following a great earthquake in Alaska.

The constant uproar of humanity and the nations of the world is like turbulent sea waters, and this often is the source of trouble for the people of God. How many times have His innocent children been victims of revolutions and upheaval in the land they live in? These times of revolution and change are like roaring and foaming waters. But, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God." We do well to flow with this river amidst the rapids and waterfalls of ever-changing human government and rule.

I picture the river of God as a peaceful current in which we can easily enjoy the calming sensation of floating along in safety. And perhaps this scene serves as backdrop from what we read later in this Psalm: "Cease striving and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). "Cease" can also be translated, "Let go, relax". Cease trying to "paddle your boat" against the current of God as you try to follow the tumultuous current of humanity, and instead "go with the flow" of God's current, and truly know Him amidst that tranquility.

There are two currents than run through life: the roaring, foaming waters of humanity, and the tranquil, steady current of Creator God. Choose which you will travel, because you definitely cannot travel both. In choosing the river of God, you have the greatest privilege of all in experiencing peace and tranquility, and the true knowledge of God. May the journey today be peaceful and enriching, as you come to know your Father better.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

True character is evident in how we handle setbacks. When trouble comes, we either fall apart or stand strong in faith.

Consider this example from David's life: "Then it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekiteshad made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown Ziklag and burned it with fire; and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way. When David and his men came to the city,behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. Now David's two wives had been taken captive, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." (1 Samuel 30:1-6)

The families of David's fighting men had been taken captive, and it appeared that all their possessions were gone. David was facing mutiny; there was talk of stoning him because of this tragic turn of events. It doesn't get much worse than this! These were circumstances that would cause someone of weak character to crumble, but notice David's response: "But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." While David was distressed over these circumstances, he wasn't given over to despair, but rather to faith in his God.

We later read that David consulted God concerned the course of action he was to take (1 Samuel 30:6-7), and the story ultimately ends on a victorious note. But, this good ending would not be possible except that "David strengthened himself in the LORD his God."

One of life's certainties is that crises will come. It's not a matter of IF, but WHEN. During "normal" times, we can effectively fake faith, but the inevitable crisis will clearly indicate the true reality of faith. If we have quietly and regularly cultivated faith in our Father, that faith will stand as a break wall against the storms of adversity. But, if we've been in the habit of faking faith, we'll fall apart amidst adversity.

To truly take refuge in the LORD, we must do so daily. Adversity will not shatter the life of the saint who slips away in the quietness of the early morning to attend to scripture reading, study, and prayer. Those time of quiet solitude with the LORD effectively build a wall of protection around our lives that will withstand adversity when it comes.

Whether today brings prosperity or adversity, may we be found as David was: "But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God."

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Simple words and phrases work well for me. Computer tools called Explorer or Finder leave no doubt in my mind as to their purpose, and so I know I can turn to these when I need to locate a particular file. Similarly, the word, "Passover", works well for me too, because it's meaning is clearly evident.

"The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt." (Exodus 12:13)

The blood of a pure, firstborn lamb on the doorposts of a house was a sign for the angel of death to pass over it on a fateful night many, many years ago. This image is of utmost importance to every person in every age and location, and we're especially reminded of this at this time of year. The season of remembering the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus from the dead is closely associated with an ancient story and observance called Passover.

The details are all there in Exodus twelve, but they take on even greater significance when we see that this important observance was the backdrop for the suffering of the perfect Lamb of God: "Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people." (Luke 22:1-2).

As events unfolded, the blood of the perfect Lamb of God was poured out as the means for "passover". The angel of death, hovering over wicked humanity, is divinely instructed to pass over those covered by the blood of this Lamb - "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:1-2).

Many consider this week to be "holy week", as we remember the suffering of the perfect Lamb of God during the Passover observance. More importantly, these events overarch our lives this week and always. We are those "passed over" by the angel of death because of the blood of the Lamb, and thus we will be privileged to share in the life of the age to come; even as we sample it in our lives today. Judgement and destruction is averted for the people of faith covered by this precious blood. Rejoice this day in your deliverance! And freely share this great truth and hope with all who will freely embrace it as well.


© Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The catch-word of our day is "passion". Find your area of passion, goes the modern reasoning, and you will find real success in life. And there is some sense that we are at our optimum when we serve and work where our greatest desire and energy lie. But, passion is also something to be cultivated, as well as channeled.

Passion is written all over this passage: "As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God ?" (Psalm 42:1-2). Try substituting "is passionate" for "pants" to get some sense of the meaning of this passage in today's vernacular. The Psalmist was clearly passionate for his relationship with the living God.

Intense passion is difficult. Ask any married couple and they will testify that passion ebbs and flows. And so it is spiritually. Anyone who anticipates ongoing intense spiritual passion is destined for disappointment.

Twice the Psalmist says, "I shall again praise Him ... I shall yet praise Him" (verses 5,11). These phrases indicate that he currently is not praising God, but anticipates in hope that he will in the future. I find consolation in these words, because I have those moments when praise is absent. Honestly, the fire of spiritual passion sometimes is reduced to the glowing coals that remain after the red-hot fire has burned down. Praise is more perfunctory than passionate.

A key to rekindling spiritual passion is found in the Psalmists'' word: "These things I remember ..." (verse 4). Spiritual lethargy becomes a dangerous disease when we fail to reflect and remember as we evaluate our current condition. Jesus prescribed remembering and repenting for a church that had left its fist love (Revelation 2:5), and we periodically need the same prescription, as did the Psalmist.

There is nothing wrong in lacking spiritual passion if we realize this is our true condition. It is a hopeful sign when we realize that the fire of passion has dimmed, and that we long for the raging fire again.

Honestly, if I asked you to assess your spiritual passion today, would you compare it to a raging fire, the remaining embers, or somewhere in between? And, more importantly, how do you truly feel about your current condition? Perhaps the most important exercise for any of us today is to seriously ponder these questions, and decisively act upon our findings.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Man does not live by bread alone, but he also can't live without it. And, since food is key to survival, it often can be the source of trouble. Consider this guy who ate some forbidden bread ...

"Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.' The priest answered David and said, 'There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.'" (1 Samuel 21:3-4)

David, future king of Israel, is fleeing as a fugitive from King Saul. Naturally, he and his men become hungry and look for food. With no drive-through fast-food options available, they stop by the temple and ask the local priest for bread. None is available other than sacred bread offered to God in the temple, which they are allowed to help themselves to. Now, this is a serious offense, and yet we do not read of any punitive measures taken by God against David and his men. But, this is not the end of the story. Fast forward to the time of Jesus' public ministry:

"At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, 'Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.' But He said to them, 'Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?'" (Matthew 12:1-4)

Jesus' point in using this history lesson from the life of David was simply this: "But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent." (Matthew 12:7). David was not condemned for his actions because there was more in play than something procedural. The God who established and gave the procedures in ultimately a God of compassion, who desires compassion from His people.

I've encountered plenty of religious zealots who insist on meticulous religious procedures. Perhaps the ultimate are those who insist on rebaptism of those didn't get some part of their body wet in the baptism process!

Whenever procedure is emphatically insisted upon, compassion is almost always in short supply. Doing things the right way overrides meeting real needs, and we can be certain that the God of compassion is absent from such proceedings.

We are creatures of habit and routine, generally speaking. Amidst our routines this day, however, may we be sensitive to needs around us even as the God of all compassion is fully attentive.

© 2011, Steve Taylor

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's never too late for the LORD to mightily use you. Sometimes we get the erroneous opinion that God only uses youthful people; full of energy, idealism, and vision - and let me quickly add, inexperience. And there is no doubt, from the biblical record, that this has been the case many times. But, don't relegate retirement years to spiritual ineffectiveness, because I know of these two guys whom the LORD used mightily in their later years.

"Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh." (Exodus 7:7)

Granted, people lived longer then - Moses died at one hundred twenty. But at eighty years old, he was well into his retirement years. Except that this was the time when he was most mightily used of God.

The key point here is not so much about age as it is about obedience: "So Moses and Aaron did it; as the LORD commanded them, thus they did." (Exodus 7:6). Whether young or old, the priority is well described here: absolute obedience.

No one - young or old - has cornered the market on second-guessing God. Regardless of what He says or reveals, it's all too tempting to presume we know better. Better to make plans and then seek the overlay of His blessings, than to unquestioningly seek His direction and expect His blessings, is the conventional human wisdom. As if God is not intelligent enough to develop plans for us, we too often choose to make great plans on His behalf and then ask His blessings upon our presumptuous plans. Better that we should be like Moses and Aaron - "as the LORD commanded them, thus they did."

God took an ordinary object - Aaron's staff - and used it to display His power (Exodus 7:8-10). God used these two elderly, obedient men and an ordinary article in their possession to display His power and presence. What a picture and a pattern! Common, everyday items in the hands of obedient people, mightily used by our Creator Father.

Whether you are young or old, our mighty God will take ordinary items within your grasp and use them mightily for His glory and purposes if He finds within you an obedient spirit. So, be quick to listen and obey this day, and anticipate that He will transform common tools and tasks into something eternally-significant for His name and will.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

am at an amazing age - I am constantly amazed that I've gotten this old this quickly. While serving on staff as Bible college faculty, I labored under the illusion that I was closer in age to the students than the other staff members. An honest look in the mirror would have indicated otherwise.

As with most of us, I have plans and dreams for the future, and I imagine there is plenty of time to get serious about doing those things. Fact is, life is far more transient than I can begin to imagine. Consider what the Psalmist said on the subject:

"LORD, make me to know my end And what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath." (Psalm 39:4-5)

While my gut reaction is to label the Psalmist a killjoy, I know in my heart he is a realist. Time flies by faster than I ever imagined possible, and the distance from the end of life is much less than from the beginning. Coming to terms with mortality and the fact that life is transient is key to focusing on that which is important in the grand scheme of things.

I'm thankful that a priority for the things concerning the kingdom of God has been impressed upon me. I see with greater clarity that seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) is top of the list. Praying, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" is the highest priority prayer request. Everything else in life flows down from this great priority.

Financial budgeting has been a recent focus of study and consideration. I clearly see that one cannot live in a dream world financially, hoping against hope that certain expenses will not come. Budgeting involves a realistic look at known expenses and planning for them, and preparing for unexpected emergencies. Life needs to be considered similarly: budgeting time and energy for key priorities, knowing that our days are not limitless, any more than are our financial resources.

So, high on today's priority list is sharing these thoughts with you, and encouraging you in profitable pursuits. I pray that you and I live long lives, but there is no such promise. So, I pray that we see with great clarity how quickly our lives are passing, how soon they may end, and how important this moment is to invest in things of eternal significance. Seek the kingdom first and foremost. Serve wholeheartedly as the king's ambassador today. Savor meaningful spiritual relationships. Make this moments count for all eternity.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

There are giants to be killed today. They loom large and threaten peace and safety. There is no way around them, because they maneuver directly in our path when we try to evade them. They are there, and must be confronted and killed.

You probably know the story of David and Goliath. It's recorded in 1 Samuel 17. A nine-foot giant named Goliath yearned for a one-on-one match on the battlefield. Confident and arrogant because of his size and armament, he was certain no Israelite was up for the duel. But, he met his match with a young shepherd boy who confronted him with nothing more than a sling and five smooth stones.

David's confidence must not be confused with Goliath's arrogance. Note well the source of his extraordinary confidence: "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear ; for the battle is the LORD'S and He will give you into our hands." (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

The battle was not for personal fame or victory, but for the LORD's reputation. And it was not David's battle, but rather the LORD's. And so it is with our battles today. The giants in our path stand in opposition to the LORD, and the war to be waged is for His name, not our fame. Our battles ultimately are His, and He wages the war through us.

The giants before us that loom so large appear as financial, family, or health crises. They may be conflicts or impasses. But they are giants, nevertheless; looming so large that they appear impossible to defeat or evade.

As you face down your giants today (or as they appear to face you down), consider the young shepherd boy with a sling and five stones. The meager offensive and defensive weapons in your hands may seem just as absurd in the face of a menacing giant, but never underestimate their effectiveness when guided by the LORD God.

May today be a great day of victory in killing the giants the hinder the progress of the people of God.


© 2011, Steve Taylor

Monday, April 04, 2011

You just never know when God will choose to break through the ordinary. It happened with this guy who was out tending his father-in-law's flock one day.

"Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed." (Exodus 3:1-2)

In an utterly mundane and simple setting, the Creator of the universe showed up through His angelic messenger. In a moment, Moses' workplace was transformed into a holy sanctuary of the living God: "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5). This was a defining moment in the life of Moses; life would never be the same again, and his life would veer off in a new direction.

If we think we can relegate this story to past performances of our Father, we have a mistaken assumption. While there is no repeat performance of the burning bush incident, God has chosen to show up to many other people in a myriad of ways. Fact is, The Creator of all has a well-established track record of breakthroughs in ordinary mortal's lives. Which brings it down to us today: He chooses to show up when we least expect it through His Son, Jesus (Yeshua). The Messiah is constantly in process of revealing the Father to us and redirecting our lives in unimaginable ways.

The possibilities available through the example of Moses' divine encounter add a sense of exciting expectation to daily living. Whether at work, school, or home, God could very well show up in a life-changing moment. He may not call upon us to lead His people as He did Moses, but He has a mission for us that will serve His kingdom purposes. Perhaps He will call you to engage in spiritual conversation on a website or chatroom. Possibly He will call you to write or distribute some biblical literature. Maybe He will call you to eternally-significant conversation with a neighbor or coworker. This list is endless. But, fact is, He could show up today in a life-changing way.

I'm convinced God will never do anything apart from His word. The pages of scripture easily become burning bushes, and talking donkeys, and mountaintop encounters with their Author. Read and study, and live expectantly. You just never know when and how God will show up.


© 2011, Steve Taylor