Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I remember hearing an elderly saint pray, "Lord, if it be your will, save me in Your kingdom". This prayer was prayed with the utmost sincerity and humility, but what I found troubling was the uncertainty this godly woman had concerning her prospect of entering the coming kingdom of God.

There is a danger in believing once saved, always saved, in that it can easily lead to a life of spiritual neglect. But, the uncertainty of hope in the coming kingdom is crippling personally and in one's outreach.

Parents and children experience daily changes in their interaction with each other. But, relationship is never in question. Regardless of how strained communication and emotions may be, the relationship is a constant. And so it is with our heavenly Father.

"If his sons forsake My law And do not walk in My judgments, If they violate My statutes And do not keep My commandments, Then I will punish their transgression with the rod And their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, Nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, Nor will I alter the utterance of My lips." (Psalm 89:30-34)

God established a solemn covenant with David and his descendants. Those who violated His commandments would be punished, but God promised, "I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, Nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, Nor will I alter the utterance of My lips." What God promises, He keeps.

We are reminded succinctly and powerfully that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1). Disobedience and sin will always be a factor in day-to-day intimacy with the Father, but the covenant remains except in the most extreme circumstances (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Live confidently today in God's grace and covenant. Deal decisively will sinful habits and thoughts, but never question His covenant of life with you. It IS His will that you be in His coming kingdom, and He has adopted all who come by faith through His Son, Jesus. Savor grace, and be a conduit for it to others.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

If you knew how much time you had left to live, how would you live? If we knew the specifics, it would likely have a radical impact on living and perspective.

A man lay dying on his deathbed, with only a short time to live. He deeply lamented his life's end: "'Please Lord, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly and have done what is good in Your sight.'" And Hezekiah wept bitterly." (2 Kings 20:3)

Now, the end of the story is not the end of King Hezekiah's life. God, in His mercy, granted him an extension of life: "I will add fifteen years to your life" (2 Kings 20:6). Hezekiah's life was not only spared, he was allowed to know just how much time he had left. Imagine the perspective that gave to him! Not surprisingly, this is recorded of his remaining years: "Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and all his might, and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? (2 Kings 20:20). He worked diligently during his remaining years, as anyone would do with specific knowledge of their life's end.

Mercifully, we are not privy to specific information about our life's end. None of us accurately know whether we have 50, 20, 10, or 5 years, or even 1 day left. But, we intuitively know that our days will come to an end, sooner or later. So, the challenge and opportunity before us every day we live is to make the moment count. Don't take loved ones for granted. Savor friendships. Be moved with compassion for those who haven't responded to the gospel of the kingdom and the name of Jesus.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

How well would it work if love was law? Imagine a husband and wife compiling their "love list" - specific things to be done to qualify their love for one another. Each would be expected to regularly comply with the minimum requirements or else the marriage covenant would be null and void. Not much of a basis for a loving marriage!

Fact is, it's all too easy to have this kind of relationship with our Creator Father. In looking at the so-called "sundry laws" of God contained in books like Leviticus, it is easy to reduce relationship to ritual. Obedience to God is measured with meticulous law-keeping rather than heart-felt devotion.

The religious leaders, in the days of Jesus' earthly life, had digressed from sincere devotion to obligatory compliance. They had even gone so far as to create law loopholes for their own convenience! (i.e., Matthew 23:13-35). The spirit of the law was lost amidst the letter of the law.

When asked concerning the greatest commandment, Jesus succinctly replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40) A lack of wholehearted love for our Father and our neighbor renders every commandment and teaching of Scripture null and void.

Relationships are not ultimately defined by compliance to lists. Healthy marriages are characterized by unselfish acts of kindness and generosity, motivated by unconditional love. Similarly, our relationship with our Father is best served through unselfish acts of devotion, motivated by loving gratitude. Obligatory service is satisfying neither to us or our Father.

May the joy of loving and grateful devotion to your Father, through His Son, our Savior, be yours in abundance today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Knowledge ... obedience ... respect ... gratitude. These are four key essentials for living.

"Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever." (Psalm 86:11-12)

We cannot act upon that which we do not know. Knowledge opens new vistas, and enlightens our pathways. A phrase that is God's watchword is, "observe to do" (i.e, Deuteronomy 5:32). Read His word in order to heed His direction.

Knowledge must never be an end in itself. Unless knowledge leads to action, it is not truly knowledge. Truth is designed to be lived and walked - "I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father." (2 John 4).

Knowledge and obedience ultimately are designed to lead to respect for the Father who has "granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). As the Psalmist pleaded, "Unite my heart to fear Your name". Create an unwavering and undivided heart's desire within to respect our Father who has a name. Even as my earthly father has a name, I need to know my heavenly Father's name (YHWH) and reverently respect that holy name such that I am not guilty of taking it in vain (Exodus 20:7).

Knowledge of and obedience to God's word, and respect for God's holy name, ultimately lead to a life of gratitude. Wholehearted thanks springs forth from a life thus centered.

Psalm 86 wonderfully outlines for us four key essentials for living. These qualities are characteristic of citizens of the kingdom of God. As we allow God's Spirit to cultivate these essentials, we make great progress in being training to rule the world with God's Son, the Lord Jesus, when He returns.

May our growth and progress in these areas be evident today as we live faithfully.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Leadership is a two-edged sword. How it goes with leadership is how it goes with those leadership serves.

"In the twenty-third year of Joash the son of Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu became king over Israel at Samaria, and he reigned seventeen years. He did evil in the sight of the LORD, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel sin; he did not turn from them ... Nevertheless they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, with which he made Israel sin, but walked in them; and the Asherah also remained standing in Samaria." (2 Kings 13:1-2,6)

The legacy of a ruler named Jeroboam was his sinful and evil influence. Succeeding kings followed his evil ways and influenced the people of Israel to do the same. As the old saying goes, like leader, like people.

Much can be determined about a culture by examining its leaders and models. Who do young people emulate? Who do adults respect and admire? Their values and priorities are those of the culture that reveres them.

The record of Judah and Israel's kings, recorded in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, reveal how abruptly things change from one generation to the next. Of one king it is written, "he did right in the sight of the LORD", and then of his successor it is all too often written, "he did evil in the sight of the LORD". The pendulum abruptly swings away from the spiritual gains of one generation to spiritual degradation in the next.

So, the lessons of biblical and secular history are this: be careful who you follow. Charismatic and persuasive leaders exist in every generation, and have the ability to sway individuals and the masses. Wise are the people who scrutinize both the teachings and lifestyle of those who aspire to lead. Humility and a genuine servant heart must characterize those who would lead; especially those who would exert spiritual influence.

We choose who and what we follow. Persuasive leaders exert influence over those decisions, but ultimately we allow or choose to follow. For this reason, these words of the apostle Paul are important watch words for each of us: "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)

May it be recorded of this generation that we "did right in the sight of the LORD",

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

If I asked you, in five minutes, to tell me what you believe and why you believe it, could you do it? That's the question before each of us today, and every day.

"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)

I've heard of churches that regularly feature a segment in worship services called, "the witness stand", in which an individual in the congregation is asked to do just that. Not a bad idea.

The priority of first-hand truth cannot be overstated. In a moment of blunt introspection, we might discover that much too often the beliefs of others have become our unchallenged beliefs. If there is such a thing as second-hand truth we may have more of it than we can to admit.

Nothing is more revealing than having to defend your position on something. Expressing your position on a political, social, or biblical issue necessitates a thorough review of the basis and logic for that position. A flimsy and weak argument becomes apparent in such circumstances, and a personal embarrassment.

Several years ago I felt impressed to develop a series of messages on beliefs I was so firmly convicted of that I would be willing to die for. This was one of the most important exercises I have ever undertaken. I was forced to confront what i read on the pages of the Bible and assess the priority of these words and teachings. It became evident to me that key teachings were non-negotiables, and that they indeed affected how I lived.

Preachers enjoy the rare privilege of teaching and preaching their convictions. But, in over thirty years of experience, I've learned that expounded on life-changing truth is no guarantee that it will become first-hand truth in the lives of others. It is only when each individual personally accepts the challenge to discover and defend truth and why it matters to them that it becomes firsthand truth. And that's when and where the adventure of a lifetime truly begins.

May today be an important step in this life-changing discovery.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In God we trust. This phrase is well known to Americans who are reminded of it regularly as they exchange currency in business transactions. It's also part of the nation's pledge of allegiance: "one nation, under God ...". But, increasingly, the question begs to be asked: which God? Is He the traditional three-in-one God? The muslim God? the nebulous god of pantheism? The God of Judaism?

The God of the Bible admonished His people to "Let there be no strange god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god. I, the LORD, am your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Psalm 81:9-10)

The God of the Bible has zero tolerance for substitute gods. He insists that He alone is God, and that no other god is to substitute for Him: "You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:3). So God, whoever you perceive Him to be, just doesn't cut it. If He alone is God, and allows no room for substitute gods, it is imperative that we specifically and personally know who He is.

Most English Bible translators have placed an obstacle in our path by substituting a name for a title. Time and again, we read "LORD" when "Jehovah", or "Yahweh", should be used. This is the God whom we know to be Father through Jesus His Son. And this God Yahweh can only be known and approached through His exalted, created Son: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6).

It's hard for me to imagine Judgement Day involving an extensive essay exam in which pass or fail is determined by how accurately we describe the facts about God. Rather, intimate, first-hand knowledge will be the true test: "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

"Let there be no strange god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god." Per the Father's own words, we have the great privilege and responsibility of accurately and personally knowing who He is. May today be an incredibly fulfilling experience in knowing Yahweh God, who is our Father, through His beloved Son, Jesus.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It ranks up there with pigs flying. Iron doesn't float on water, except that it once did.

"But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, 'Alas, my master! For it was borrowed.' Then the man of God said, 'Where did it fall?' And when he showed him the place,he cut off a stick and threw it in there, and made the iron float. He said, 'Take it up for yourself.' So he put out his hand and took it." (2 Kings 6:5-7)

Now, if we get hung up on the specifics of what it was that made a borrowed axe head float on water, we miss the main point. Bottom line is, things are not as they seem in the spiritual realm.

Consider what we read further in 2 Kings six. Elisha the prophet and his attendant were surrounded by a large army, bent on their destruction (2 Kings 6:14). Elisha's servant was rightly alarmed. But, Elisha stated confidently, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." (2 Kings 6:16). These were not the words of some starry-eyed dreamer, completely detached from reality. No, this man of God provided his attendant with overwhelming proof of his confidence: "Then Elisha prayed and said, 'O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' And the LORD opened the servant's eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." (2 Kings 6:17)

Faith works this way. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1). Faith makes the invisible visible. Eyes of faith bring into focus the unseen reality that changes everything.

Jesus saw the kingdom of God in the everyday. A majority of His parables begin with the phrase, "The kingdom of God is like ...". He saw the kingdom in mustard seeds, yeast, buried treasures, pearls, and fishing nets. As the ultimate person of faith, He saw the kingdom to come existing already in the present.

It's not really about iron floating on water, or vast armies hidden on hillsides. It's about resolute faith in the One true God who is the God of all possibilities. His Son came to be a living demonstration of the reality of the One who is invisible to the human eye. In Jesus we see faith most fully expressed, and made available to us.

Reality is not as it seems. Insurmountable debt, irreconcilable differences in marriage, and intense frustration at work seem like harsh reality. But, there is One who offers the ultimate reality of victory over obstacles.

"Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." May our eyes be opened to see the greater reality, and may we live confidently and victoriously in that which we see.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

There is nothing quite so refreshing as a cool dip in dirty water. This statement probably makes little sense to most of us, but it did to a man named Naaman.

"Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected , because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper." (2 Kings 5:1)

Naaman was a powerful and important man with an embarrassing problem: leprosy. Leprosy was a skin disease for which there was no cure. Those who contracted this dreaded disease were most often relegated to leper colonies, away from contact with other people. The contagious, unclean nature of the disease necessitated that they loudly declare, "unclean!", when others approached.

2 Kings five details how Elisha the prophet came to be involved with Naaman and his leprous condition. With great fanfare, Naaman arrived at the house of Elisha, only to be greeted by his servant and given these simple instructions: "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean." (2 Kings 5:10).

How could a muddy river possibly cleanse this important man? The whole idea was offensive, but this reluctant military man eventually heeded the advice of his servants, and found ultimate cleansing for his condition.

Naaman's cleansing is a picture of baptism, an equally absurd practice. How is it possible that physical water - regardless of how clean or unclean - could cleanse the soul? Like Naaman's cleansing, we do well to not focus on the mechanics of it, because it will never make sense. This one verse clarifies it best: "baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him." (1 Peter 31:21-22)

Far more than a ritual washing, baptism is simply an appeal, based on faith, for Christ's cleansing work to reach into the depths of our being. This simple act is essential if we hope to enter the coming kingdom of God: "Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5).

Have you, like Naaman, taken this simple but important faith step? If not, why not? If so, are you faithfully living according to this commitment?

God's gracious offer is freely given, but not forever offered. So long as we have life, and/or until the day of Christ's return, the offer is available. But, don't let delay become denial. Choose wisely in the moment you have.

©Steve Taylor, 2011