Wednesday, June 29, 2011

God serves up a cup of wine that few care to sample. "For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs." (Psalm 75:8) It sounds like a cup of bitter wine.

Last-day non-believers who choose antichrist over God's Christ are given a similar warning: "Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.'" (Revelation 14:9-10) Again, this sounds like a cup of bitter wine.

Our innocent Savior drank a cup of God's bitter wine so that we don't have to. As He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, prior to His suffering, He earnestly prayed, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42). The bitter cup of suffering and the cross was a drink Jesus preferred to avoid, but He ultimately submitted, giving special meaning to another cup He invites His followers to drink from. "And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.'" (Matthew 26:27-28)

Because Jesus drank from the bitter cup of God's wrath, we are able to drink from the sweet cup of grace. No wine is more mellow, or satisfying. We drink in life and vigor when we drink from this precious cup. And we drink in optimistic hope for the future: "I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:29). We expect to raise a glass together, along with our Savior, as we drink a toast to the ultimate fulfillment of faith and hope.

Believers regularly share a drink together in an observance known as the Lord's Supper. It's a powerful reminder of who we are and Whose we are. And it's a reminder of the cup we are able to freely drink from every day. I choose to drink from that refreshing cup through Bible study, prayer, and fellowship with His family.

May we each drink deeply today, and find the refreshment that only this cup offers.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Some of God's ways are a bit disconcerting to me. His Law requirements for animal sacrifices seem downright gory. Passages such as Leviticus eight are almost too graphic to stomach. The specific details as to the death and dismemberment of animals for sacrifice are hard to read; imagine being there to personally witness such things!

One verse is especially striking: "Moses slaughtered it (the ram) and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot." (Leviticus 8:23)

The right side of our body is considered to be the "good" side (much to the chagrin of us lefties). The right ear represents good hearing. And the right thumb; just how important is it? It's been said that the thumb separates man from ape. The thumb affords us dexterity for intricate tasks that could not be done otherwise. And the right toe: those who have suffered the accidental loss of their big toe can testify to the extreme difficulty of walking. We are critically dependent on it for balance.

The blood of a sacrificial animal on these body parts is rich with symbolism: consecrated hearing, consecrated actions and deeds, a consecrated walk. And isn't that exactly what the sacrificial blood of our Savior provides? Through His sacrifice we are afforded spiritual hearing and insight, holy deeds and actions, and a spiritually balanced walk.

Jesus often prefaced His important parables with the phrase, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear". As those covered by the blood of His sacrifice, may we read and truly hear His words. May those words direct the actions and works of our hands. And may those words guide are steps such that we walk in the path that honors Him and our Father, and leads us to the coming kingdom of God.

Thankful for the cleansing covering of His blood,

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Picture yourself at a wedding reception, seated at the finest table in the room, overlooking all the other tables. Conversation and laughter emanates from each table, while you sit alone in silence at your exquisite table. Suddenly, the announcement is made that the wedding party has arrived, and the bride and groom enter amidst much fanfare. Before the eyes of crowd assembled, they make their way to the head table to be seated. In a moment of supreme embarrassment, you are asked to move from your superb seat as the realization sinks in that you occupy the position reserved for the bride and groom.

"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher '; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:8-11)

Often the Christian life seems like traveling on a two-lane highway in which all the traffic is going in the opposite direction. The crowded lane opposite us is filled with people trying to exalt themselves, and build a name and reputation for themselves. The lonely lane we travel seemingly takes us nowhere; to obscurity and debasing circumstances. And yet, it is the crowded lane opposite us that ultimately leads to a dead-end because, "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." In the spiritual realm, self-abasement wins out over self-aggrandization.

Jesus' wedding banquet parable is rich with imagery. His original audience easily recognized this as a picture of the coming kingdom of God. This future celebration is to bring the ultimate vindication. Those traveling the self-aggrandization highway will come to the ultimate dead-end, while those traveling the self-abasement highway will find status that is elusive in this age. The score will be settled for all eternity.

The lesson is both obvious and practical: travel the road of selflessness and servanthood today if kingdom reward is your priority. From a kingdom perspective, fame and fortune in this age is clearly seen as fleeting. Investment in the lives of others with the good news of the kingdom of God and name of Jesus is all that matters, and all that will ever be ultimately exalted. A life of put-downs in service will be richly rewarded in the age to come.

Serving Christ and serving our Father through serving others with the kingdom gospel is the ultimate principle of success. May we each be guided by this important principle as we live in the world today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What will it take to get good government? As politicians ramp up for their run for office in an election year, the future sounds bright (according to their campaign promises). And yet, experience tells us the rhetoric is much more about getting elected than the good of the people.

Here are some appeals for good government leadership that we would all like to see: "May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, Save the children of the needy And crush the oppressor ... In his days may the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace till the moon is no more. 8 May he also rule from sea to sea And from the River to the ends of the earth ... May there be abundance of grain in the earth on top of the mountains; Its fruit will wave like the cedars of Lebanon; And may those from the city flourish like vegetation of the earth." (Psalm 72:4,7-8,16)

This much is certain: no mortal government leader or earthly government will ever deliver on these high ideals. Every experiment in human government - from dictatorship to monarchy to socialism to democracy - will inevitably fail. The reason is quite simple: "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19) No reform or revolt will ever sufficiently purge a government system of its ultimate control. For this reason, I choose to invest my energies in the only government that will ever succeed.

Jesus announced the ultimate political revolution at the beginning of His earthly work: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) The gospel was - and is - the message declared by the coming King of the kingdom. That kingdom, which He declared, was a kingdom "of God" - a realm of rulership belonging to His Father. This truth was well understand by king David, ultimate author of Psalm seventy-two. As such, his final words were: "Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." (Psalm 72:18-20) The LORD God Yahweh will ultimately usher in a perfect age of government, as His Son - the king of the kingdom - emphatically announced.

The latest round of political posturing and campaigning on the eve of yet another election year will be as fleeting and disappointing as every previous one. The government of God, destined to abolish every failed governmental experiment, is alone worthy of our investment and energy. I pledge allegiance to this government, and vow to be completely consumed with its advance. I pray that i stand shoulder to shoulder with you in this truly excellent cause.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Risk it all, or conserve what's left? Such was the dilemma for a widow and her son with extremely limited resources.

"when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, 'Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.' As she was going to get it, he called to her and said, 'Please bring me a piece of bred in your hand.' But she said, 'As the LORD your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, i am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.'" (1 Kings 17:10-12)

Amidst a desperate situation, Elijah the prophet extended an extraordinary challenge: "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel, ' the bowl of flower shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.'" (1 Kings 17:13).

This same challenge is extended to each of us: "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25). Conserve what little we have of our lives, or sow it in faith and service - this is our Master's challenge to us.

Serving the King and the kingdom is worth the risk. It's certainly not the path to fame and prosperity, but it is ultimately the way to make our lives count. The scope of our influence is greatly multiplied when we risk losing our lives for the King and the kingdom. We are brought near to many who are hungry for life-changing truth. Our lives are extended like a seed planted in the ground that becomes a fruit-bearing stalk or tree.

Life is full of risks. A wise person carefully calculates before taking a risky step, but then boldly moves ahead having done so. We do well to count the cost of kingdom investment, but then to forge ahead in faith and confidence having done so.

May the risk of kingdom service today bring a sense of fulfilling adventure to your life.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

To lead is to serve. On the surface, such a statement sounds like an oxymoron. Conventional wisdom states that leaders take charge; servants are at the end of the line, performing menial tasks. So, choose which it will be, because it appears impossible to be both. And yet a phrase subject to ridicule because of abuse of position captures the ideal - "public servants", referring to elected government officials.

A current Sunday School class focused on Elders and Deacons unswervingly centers on this concept of leading through serving. Perhaps no passage clarifies this radical concept better than this one from Mark ten:

"Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, 'You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'" (Mark 10:42-45)

This lofty concept of leading through serving was no idealized philosophy spouted by the CEO of the Kingdom of God while seated in His plush Oval Office. No, these were the words of the ultimate public servant, with basin and towel in hand -lowly serving His disciples at the Last Supper through the most menial task. This was the One aptly described in these memorable words: "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6-7).

If the highest and most exalted of God's creation could abase Himself through humble service, how much more should we His followers? Sure, there is the danger of being a doormat, but there are lessons here from the Savior as well, who chose service on His terms. But, the key fact is, He chose. And we do well to do the same.

Another English translation adds special emphasis to Jesus' words from Mark ten: "But it must not be like that among you." (Mark 10:43). In contrast to the heavy-handed lording-over system of the world, Jesus states that such tactics are to find no place among His followers. As such, His church is to be characterized by deliberate service to others rather than calculated ladder-climbing leadership. Sadly, church history indicates Jesus' words have largely been ignored.

The world will little note eloquent elaboration of Jesus' lofty ideals, but it will sit up and notice those ideals in practice. A community of believers characterized by humble service, genuine consideration of others, and unqualified acceptance, will be too compelling for the world to ignore. And such a community will gain a hearing for the radical, life-changing good news of the kingdom of God and life in it through Jesus.

May we deliberately choose the life of a servant, and gain the opportunity to effectively declare the life-changing good news of a coming kingdom whose reality is exhibited through a community of servants.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Supply and demand are keys to free enterprise. Give people what they want at a fair price and everyone profits.

In God's economy, however, there is a critical problem with supply in relationship to demand. It's a supply crisis worse that any oil or food crisis the world has ever seen. "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Luke 10:2)

Growing up in the fertile Midwest, I well remember the many acres of ripe corn and soybean fields in the fall. Through the hardships of spring planting amidst plentiful rains, and the challenges of summer heat, a healthy crop ready to be harvested is eagerly anticipated. Nothing, then, seems more ironic or unjust, than a waiting harvest with woefully inadequate harvest workers! The time of harvest is limited, and thus the urgency of the need for workers.

If Jesus pronounced God's harvest ready, then the urgency of the task is great. Harvesting too soon would be pointless, and too late would be incredibly wasteful.

It appears to me that a certain degree of "harvest discernment" is essential in God's economy. We live in a society that exhibits what I will call "harvest reluctance". The need for harvest is especially urgent, but the willingness just isn't there. It's like trying to run a combine through a field of steel poles. These are people characterized in the parable of seed and the soil (Matthew 13:1-23) as thorny soil - things of the world crowd out growth of the word about the kingdom (the gospel).

Our greatest effectiveness is in working with the "crop" that is ready, and is yielded to harvest. And we all encounter such people regularly. These are people that have a need in their lives and know it; people whom we especially have their ear. These are people who longingly look toward us for the "supply" they see in our lives that they perceive matches the "demand" and need in their lives.

Jesus exhibited "harvest discernment" in his service on earth. He declared truth to the masses, invested Himself in a certain "seventy" (Luke 10:1) that He sent out, and poured Himself intensely into twelve, three, and ultimately one person. His efforts varied according to the ripeness of the harvest.

A vast harvest is ready around us, and it is essential that we have a harvest mentality. It's much too easy to focus on ourselves and those in our immediate circle, and neglect to see the waiting harvest. It's far bigger than us, so the Jesus' priority is our urgent priority as well - "beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

May our harvest mentality be expanded this day.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

We all need something to shout about, and we've got it: "Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; Sing the glory of His name; Make His praise glorious." (Psalm 66:1-2) Psalm 66 provides us with plenty of shouting material for the God who deserves the highest praise from every living creature. For years, I failed to see that the God who deserves shouting and glorious praise has a name that should be celebrated and sung about - "sing the glory of His name". With reverence and respect, but with clarity, Yahweh God is the focus of our praise.

Heartfelt praise results when we draw near to Him and consider what He has done - "Come and see the works of God, Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men." (Psalm 66:5) Ponder that amazing phrase: "Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men." Is He not actively and intensely involved in the lives of all His children? Indeed! And so there is not one of us who does not have ample reason for praise and thanksgiving.

Personal problems will always be center stage in our lives if we fail to focus on the praise of Yahweh God. Psalm 66 leads us wonderfully away from personal fixation to the vast arena of praise to the One who is ultimately deserving.

I was personally reminded in a fresh way today that my praise will always be imperfect and inadequate unless I learn from the One who reveals the Father to me. Jesus' great statement in John 14:6 is such an important guide: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Often I attempt to come to the throne of God and bypass my Mediator, and such efforts are futile. Only my King can truly bring me to my Father. And, unless I learn of the Father through Him, I'll never really know Yahweh God, to Whom I should make "His praise glorious".

Pause today and consider the great praise guide of Psalm 66. Let these powerful words move you away from self to serving up praise to Him who is worthy. Make His praise glorious.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

It's easy enough to have a God-in-the-box mentality. Just because we had a special encounter with Him in a certain place doesn't mean that's the only place where such things can happen.

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27)

King Solomon, on the occasion of the dedication of a great temple built for Almighty God, uttered words we do well to always consider. While God chooses to bless certain times and places with a dynamic display of His presence, He cannot be limited by such. He is the God who supersedes all creation; how then is it possible than anything created could ever begin to contain Him?

Note how Solomon addressed the Almighty: "O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart" (1 Kings 8:23). The God who transcends place and time is unequalled in heaven and earth; He is the God of covenant promise toward those whose wholehearted lifestyle is in harmony with Him.

The times and places where I encounter my Father give me a perspective of Him, but these provide me with only the roughest sketch of the God I cannot begin to picture in totality. I don't know the half of it ... or thousandth of it ... or millionth ... well; you get the idea. He is immensely larger than the self-imposed box I contain Him in.

Someone once stated, "Your God is too small!" I would have to agree; MY God is too small. However, the God I can only fractionally glimpse this side of the Kingdom is immensely more than I can think or imagine. Fortunately, His Son allows me - and you - to see Him with greater clarity: "He who has seen Me has seen the Father " (John 14:9) His uniquely created Son puts a face on the Father that we could never see in any other way.

Any time I can have the "box" expanded in my perception of the Father, my faith and love for Him grows. I'm thankful for words such as Solomon's in 1 Kings 8 that remind me there is far more to discover about the God I already love and an wowed by. Further revelation can only deepen these things. May our God-horizon be significantly expanded today through our walk with His Son.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cravings. We mostly have them for food - chocolate, ice cream (chocolate ice cream?), steak, seafood. Cravings are more than just a mild desire or appetite; we are obsessed with finding what we desire. Call it passionate pursuit.

Men are especially familiar with passionate pursuit. Youthful pursuit of the young woman we've determined we cannot live without is our sole obsession. Whatever it takes to win her heart is all that matters.

Spiritual passionate pursuit, for many, sounds like an oxymoron. And yet this phrase well describes David's relationship with our Creator Father.

"O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1)

Such words may sound strange to us; even somewhat erotic. David knew much about what someone has called, the sacred romance. Unbridled passion for his God and Father was key priority.

Spiritual passion is clearly evident in the life of Jesus our Lord. This statement is very telling: "But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray." (Luke 5:16). Jesus nurtured spiritual passion through frequent time alone with the Father.

Passionate pursuit of Jesus is prerequisite to passionate pursuit of our Father. As Jesus declared, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6). We cannot sidestep the Mediator at the right hand of the Father in our pursuit; it is only through Him that we approach the throne.

Jesus Himself issued the sternest of warnings to a band of followers who had lost their spiritual passion: "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place -unless you repent." (Revelation 2:3-4).

They had left their first love. Spiritual passion had waned, and a spiritual separation had occurred. Divorce was inevitable unless they remembered and returned. A passionate appeal is made to return to spiritual passion.

Assumptions can easily be erroneous, but I believe I can safely make this one: each of us are likely not as spiritually passionate as we could be. We may not have left our first love, but we're tempted to have an affair with something we love in the world. Or maybe we are cheating on our first love and thinking we can have it both ways. Either way, the need is real to remember and repent.

A careful reread David's passionate declaration in Psalm 63:1 is a great way to rekindle the passion. Perhaps the fire has burned down to embers that are barely glowing. At least they can be fanned into flame.

Return today to the sacred romance. Remember and repent, while there is opportunity.

©Steve Taylor, 2011