Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The older I get, the more I realize how right elderly people are: life is shorter than you think. The years DO pass much more quickly than previously thought in years of youth. Years and decades eventually pass at the speed that days, weeks, and months used to. It's like someone presses the fast-forward button once we reach mid-life.

Somber and perhaps morbid thoughts, huh? But, the sooner we see life for what it really is, the better. Everything in life is a limited-time offer, so best that we should sort out which limited offers to take advantage of. And, here's one we dare not miss:

"As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children's children, To those who keep His covenant And remember His precepts to do them." (Psalm 103:15-18)

If life is limited, best that we should seize the one opportunity that can extend it. The lovingkindness of our Creator Father is the only option for us who are terminal, and it is is available to those who fear Him, and "keep His covenant And remember His precepts to do them." As mortals, it is imperative that we know the Immortal and acquire His promises.

The "big sleep" is inevitable, but the ultimate wake-up call is ours through faith and obedience. God's Son, Jesus, declared: "an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:28-29) Everyone ultimately gets a wake-up call, but I prefer one to life rather than judgment. I suspect you do too.

A clear mental grasp of the truth about the coming kingdom of God, our mortal nature, and the essential nature of God and His Son, are moot points if my priority is not to seek the hope of resurrection from the dead. And this incredible offer is available through passionate love for the Father, through His Son, expressed in awe and obedience.

The Psalmist implores the Father to "teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) Let's make them count for eternity by living according to the priorities of the Eternal One.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hats off to the boys in the band. These merry music-makers were literally instrumental (bad pun, I know) in cultivating the worship of the people of God.

"He appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel: Asaph the chief, and second to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab,Benaiah, Obed-edom and Jeiel, with musical instruments, harps, lyres; also Asaph played loud-sounding cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first assigned Asaph and his relatives to give thanks to the LORD." (1 Chronicles 16:4-7)

Few of these names are easily pronounced by English-speaking folks, but their contribution is invaluable nevertheless. Trumpeters, harpists, players of other stringed instruments, and even a loud-banging cymbal player comprised the praise band. Ultimately, one name would stand out because of his lasting contribution to praise and worship - a man named Asaph. You'll find his name associated with numerous Psalms, the worship music book of the Bible.

The praise and worship of the people of God was much too important to be left to chance: "on that day David first assigned Asaph and his relatives to give thanks to the LORD." Music and worship were assigned tasks by none other than King David himself. This man after God's own heart knew of the vital connection between authentic worship and spiritual growth and progress. Appropriate songs and music would do much to educate and enlighten the people of God in His ways.

We are reminded of the important instructional work of music and praise in Colossians 3:16 - "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Musical praise is to be designed to instruct, encourage, and correct. As well as invoking an emotional response to our Father, music and worship must train is to know Him better, even as the word of Christ richly dwells within us.

Deliberate efforts to cultivate musical and praise talents for the good of the body of Christ is a pressing priority. "Asaphs" need to be recruited and encouraged in their abilities to compose biblically-sound and musically-inspiring praise and worship music.

May heartfelt love for the Father, through His Son, invoke genuine praise from His people this day.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

I'm reflecting back on the warm nostalgia that viewing Fred Roger's classic neighborhood television show opener brought to us in church yesterday. The imaginary neighborhood portrayed in the popular children's series bore little resemblance to the harsh reality of modern-day neighborhoods. But, the intent most likely was to portray how things ultimately could be rather than how they are.

I'm intrigued by thinking of the kingdom of God as the ideal neighborhood. Zechariah the prophet portrays an idyllic existence, largely centered on the streets of Jerusalem:

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.' (Zechariah 8:4-5)

This reference to mortals, old and young, seems to indicate that the setting is the millennial kingdom, ruled by Christ and resurrected immortals (you and I). In this kingdom of God "neighborhood", mortals will learn the ways of peace and true "neighborliness" under the direct leadership and government of Christ. What a blessing to be part of a neighborhood characterized by perfect government, and true peace and prosperity! It will be even better than that land of make-believe in Mr Roger's neighborhood.

The hope of the kingdom is to be savored, but it also is to provide evangelistic fervor and motivation. As we considered yesterday, the two greatest commandments are wholehearted love for God, and for our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). To love God, who has promised us His fabulous future earthly kingdom, is to be moved with compassion for all who have opportunity to be neighbors in it.

Living in the future kingdom of God neighborhood is a matter of personal choice, but it is imperative that everyone clearly have opportunity to make that choice. "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" (Romans 10:14-15). The "neighborly" thing is respond to God's call to be sent to them, so that they can have opportunity to hear and believe.

Frankly, I'm a fairly reluctant messenger. Striking up life-changing conversations is not my strong suit. But, a burden for such opportunities - prompted by prayer - will place others in our path who will essentially ask us to share the gospel we have embraced. Of course, that presupposed that we've done our homework and know enough about "the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus" (Acts 8:12; 28:23,31) to share it!I

May we impact the kingdom of God neighborhood today in sharing good news with those who would be our neighbors in it.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reluctance to be decisive can be disastrous. Granted, we can rashly act and determine the wrong course of action. But, so-called "fence-sitting" rarely results in anything beneficial.

"I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me ... He who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me." (Psalm 101:3-4,6)

King David's decisiveness with evil is clearly evident. No doubt his earlier reluctance to resist temptation - which resulted in a sordid affair with a married woman and the murder of her husband - factored in to the conviction expressed in this Psalm. Since sin so often begins with the eyes, David resolved to carefully screen that which he saw. Those caught in the grips of apostasy (a falling away from biblical truth) were abhorrent to him, so he also resolved to not let this plight fasten its grip on him. And, he resolved to be counseled and mentored only by those whose lifestyle was not open to accusation.

From the perspective of years, David more clearly saw the distinctive line between right and wrong. From his vantage point, he could see less gray and more black and white. Life is less about multiple choice, and more about true or false. Things help or they hinder; clearly one or the other.

Someone has said that our world is colored gray. Distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil, are blurred into a wide band of gray. Evil can easily be rationalized and situationalized, whereas good is strictly a matter of opinion and perspective.

The need of the hour is for decisiveness, and a clear perspective. Jesus said, "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Matthew 5:29) If a suggestive image on your computer screen, television, or a magazine, causes your eye to linger and your thoughts to imagine sinful things, deal decisively. Removing the temptation is less painful than eye surgery! And, unrighteous counsel from someone close to you, whose life is open to accusation, is dangerous; close out their words.

Several years ago the "WWJD" (what would Jesus do?) bracelets were popular. Perhaps something with the inscription, "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes", is needed today.

May we be a people who live with a decisive resolve to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)


©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Current news focuses on the end of a tyrannical dictator's reign of over forty years. An oppressed people celebrate in the streets as justice appears to finally be served in their land. Whether in the course of events in this fallen world, justice IS ultimately served.

1 Chronicles ten records the tragic death of King Saul and his three sons. It's not a pretty picture; his three are struck down in battle first. Then, Saul is mortally wounded by enemy archers (1 Chronicles 10:3). Mortally wounded, Saul calls upon his armor bearer to finish him off. Unwilling to do so, Saul ends his own life by falling on his sword (verse 4). But, even in his death, Saul was not ultimately master of his own destiny, for we read:

"So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep ; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son ofJesse." (1 Chronicles 10:13-14)

The topic of God's justice is not nearly as popular in modern preaching and teaching as is His love. All too often, God is portrayed as a kindly, white-haired, grandfatherly being who wouldn't harm a flea. And, indeed, God is in essence love. But, He is also a God of holiness and justice, and He cannot violate His own character. Because He is who He is, judgement is certain. Whether prince or pauper, all will give an account of their lives before the Judge and Creator (Revelation 20:11-15).

Belligerent dictators and rebellious people have unceasingly sought to defy the rule and justice of their Creator."Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 'Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!'" (Psalm 2:1-3)

No one shakes a defiant fist at God and "His Anointed" (His Son, our Savior - Jesus, Yeshua) and ultimately gets away with it. Inevitably, there will be a day of reckoning.

I'm often reminded that the coming judgement and the end-time upheaval in the world preceding it calls for a certain lifestyle: "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:11-12). A life of service, sacrifice, and sanctity is not too high a price to pay for the privilege of life in the age to come. God's gracious offer of the life of the age to come through His Son, Jesus, precedes the demand for perfect justice and judgement. How thankful I am to know His grace, and respond in gratitude through lifestyle. I pray that all who are saved by grace will live and serve gratefully today, with an eye on coming judgement as added incentive to live God-pleasing lives.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

A book about prayer has really been speaking to me. The concept of making it a priority to seek God's face more than His hand is helping to rekindle a passion for prayer that has been somewhat dormant for some time. Prayer easily becomes a perfunctory exercise in bringing our wants and needs before the Creator without a real focus on who He is and what He really desires for us.

Seeking God's face is, I'm sure, a metaphor for seeking to know Him personally. We are clearly told that "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" (Exodus 33:20). And yet, we are implored to "Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually." (Psalm 105:4)

This seeking of God's face must absolutely be coupled with His word and His Spirit. How will we ever know our Creator Father apart from Him word? And how will we ever truly pray unless we learn of His desires for us through the Bible? But, His word alone is not sufficient, because "we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26)

I recall a night years ago that to date has been my most incredible prayer experience. I was a young pastor struggling with some personal issues. Following a church meeting, moved with deep emotion, I went to the church auditorium to pray. I fell face down on the platform near the pulpit. For an hour or more I shed more tears than I probably ever have in my life, and poured out my deepest thoughts and feelings to my Father. Others were present during this time, and later reported a deep sense of awareness of God's Spirit during my time of emotional prayer.

While many other details of that night are vague this many years later, I recall later returning home with a compelling conviction to read His word that evening. I remember that my mind was flooded with insights and understandings that I had not had before, and I regret even today that I did not record what I saw then.

That evening was the most powerful combination in my life of Spirit and truth worship and prayer that I have known. And now, some thirty years later, a book on prayer stirs those long-dormant memories. Can such a passion in prayer be rekindled? Does God still desire this same intimacy with Him? Indeed He does!

My deep desire in writing these thoughts today is that a fresh passion for biblical and Spirit-led prayer will awaken in each of us. We live in a world of chaos, headed for its appointed end-time calamity, and the need for the people of God who love truth is to find fresh vigor and energy through renewing prayer. May a spark be fanned into a flame today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Songwriting is on par with rocket science, in my estimation. How anyone can arrange notes to form chords, melodies, and harmonies, is beyond my ability to comprehend. Even more astonishing is how anyone can compose a new song. Over the thousands of years of human history, hasn't every imaginable song arrangement been composed?

Psalm 96 admonishes us to "Sing to the LORD a new song" (Psalm 96:1). If this means what I think it means, God is sure to be disappointed. Any song composition I bring before Him will likely resonate with discord rather than well-arranged chords. The Bachs and Beethovens in the crowd will have to offer the compositions, because I am sure to fail.

But, what exactly constitutes new? Does God seek original compositions from His children? Or, perhaps what He seeks is something fresh; something new to our experience.

I've arranged more congregational worship services than I can count. Typically, planning involves looking over a list of familiar songs and hymns and selecting those which are most appropriate to a particular theme. Often, just the right song isn't there to choose from. How wonderful it would have been, on those occasions, to have been inspired to compose that perfect song.

I wonder if rote singing of well-written songs doesn't border on blasphemous plagiarism. Unless the song is truly ours, it hardly qualifies as "singing a new song". In other words, until we take ownership of the meaning of a song through our own personal worship experience, it's just another song. When a song is infused with personal meaning through the dynamic of our experience with our Creator, it then becomes our new song.

The Psalmist further appeals to us to "Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength." (Psalm 96:1-7)

Our song is a new song when active expression is our passion. A heartfelt desire to sing, proclaim, tell, praise, and ascribe constitutes a new song, regardless of the melody and harmony.

And one other very important consideration: a passion for truly knowing this magnificent God that we praise is foremost. As we are reminded, "all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens." This LORD is Yahweh our Father, and eternal life is inseparably linked to a knowledge - intellectual and experiential - of Him, and our Savior, Jesus, who makes Him know to us (John 17:3)

May your song today have a newness that truly pleases the Father.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Everyone enjoys a sumptuous feast, but someone has to do the cooking and cleanup. These mundane tasks are rarely celebrated, but they are absolutely essential. Similarly, there are less-than-glamorous roles in the spiritual realm, but these also are vital. Consider this list of labor:

These were the gatekeepers for the camp of the sons of Levi ... the Korahites, were over the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent; and their fathers had been over the camp of the LORD, keepers of the entrance ... Now some of them had charge of the utensils of service, for they counted them when they brought them in and when they took them out. Some of them also were appointed over the furniture and over all the utensils of the sanctuary and over the fine flour and the wine and the oil and the frankincense and the spices. Some of the sons of the priests prepared the mixing of the spices. Mattithiah, one of the Levites ... had the responsibility over the things which were baked in pans." (1 Chronicles 9:18,19,28,29,30,31)

Countless numbers of people were enlisted and involved in the service of the temple of God. The essential task was offering various sacrifices in the worship of God under the old Law system. Highly visible were the priests who administered the sacrifices and led in the system of worship then. But, none of this would have taken place were it not for the vital, unseen tasks performed in the background.

The lessons and parallels are obvious: every person serving according to their capacity is essential for the church, the body of Christ, to function today. It is so well described in 1 Corinthians twelve through the analogy of the human body. Various parts with vastly different function contribute to the common good of the Body.

Whether your role is gatekeeper (greeter?), keeper of utensils, manager of flour and wine, or overseer of the baking pans, that role contributes ultimately to the worship of our Father. Serve well today, kingdom brothers and sisters.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

It sounds like a horrible pun, but it really is true: hell is a hot topic these days. A well-known pastor of a large evangelical church dared assert that the wicked will be consumed in hell fire rather than being tormented endlessly as is commonly taught. This sparked a firestorm of controversy and debate that continues to rage. Another well-known pastor responded with a book which takes a sensitive and compassionate view of this oft-neglected subject. His main premise is that this subject is not so much about doctrine as it is about destiny. If hell is a real, literal place, and thousands - if not millions - are destined to go there, the writer asserts that we cannot afford to be wrong on this. Amen.

The common understanding of judgement hell has more in common with Dante's Inferno than the teaching of the Bible. As is often the case, mythology has formed the basis for belief that many adhere to. Hell is a clearly a key biblical topic, and we cannot afford to be wrong on this. If hell fire truly is the destiny of the wicked, then this is far more than a doctrinal distinctive. While I strongly believe that the weight of scripture lies with an annihilating hell (i.e, Malachi 4:4; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7, etc), the key issue is that it is the ultimate destiny of unbelievers. And, it is totally avoidable. There is absolutely no reason why hell has to be the fate of anyone.

I have to confess that I've grown somewhat oblivious to the fact there are people I see every day who are destined for hell. Of course, I don't know exactly how God will deal in judgement (thankfully). But, the fact that there will be a literal hell, and that it is the fate of many, is more than enough reason to have a deep burden to prevent as many from going there as possible. The saving message of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus (Acts 8:12) is the only way out. Neglecting to make others aware of this precious message places you and I in personal peril.

We can erase hell from our conscience, but we cannot erase it from God's reality. Passages such as Matthew 7:13-23, John 5:28-29, and Revelation 20:11-15 need to be carefully studied. Again, it's not so much a doctrinal study as it is one about destiny. People we know and love are destined for this fate unless they too repent and come to faith in Christ.

Hell is an inconvenient truth to ponder on a Monday - or any other day, for that matter. But, it is truth. May the awful reality of the truth about hell stir us to compassionately seek to prevent it from being the fate of those around us.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I'm wondering where the idea of "restrained worship" came from. Perhaps the admonition to do things "properly and in an orderly manner" (1 Corinthians 14:40) has been a bit overdone. The Psalms, in contrast, seem to indicate that worship should have more in common with sporting event frenzy.

"O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms" (Psalm 95:1-2)

In two verses "joy" is mentioned three times. Joy is associated with exuberance and energy; unbridled enthusiasm. But, joy cannot be conjured. I've sat in worship services where the primary role of the worship leader or team seemed to be that of spiritual cheer leader. Admonishing the congregation to "sing like they mean it" seemed unnecessary, in that they truly were!

Joy is evidence of the work and presence of Holy Spirit ("the fruit of the Spirit is .. joy - Galatians 5:22). Fruit can't be forced. In due course of watering, fertilizing, and sunshine, fruit eventually comes. Similarly, joy results as Holy Spirit within brings it forth in its season.

Singing with joy to God our Father, and shouting joyfully to Him can be artificially stimulated, but it will lack authenticity. When we have cultivated a deep, personal relationship with Him through His Son, our Savior Yeshua, joy springs forth as naturally as fruit on a tree. Thanksgiving and praise are as natural as breathing when Spirit-inspired.

It is interesting that the Psalmist admonishes "us" to come before Him with joy and thanksgiving. Joy, worship, and praise originate individually, but they are to be expressed collectively. Personal praise is important, but corporate praise is a priority.

Coming before our Father in joyful praise and thanksgiving is the ideal. But, if joy is lacking, it likely has less to do with worship song selection, and more to do with personal spiritual vitality.

Corporate worship gatherings provide excellent opportunities to evaluate personal praise. Is group worship a time to make up for what is lacking personally, or a forum for expressing the abundance of personal praise?

Joy is not synonymous with happiness, nor is it necessarily equated with worship energy. But, it is the optimistic quality of victory as seen through kingdom eyes that ideally should permeate every group gathering. May that spirit of optimism abundantly overcome any and all challenges in your life today, such that you have ample reason for great joy in your next group worship gathering.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

We know little about him other than a prayer that he prayed, but that prayer was a life-changer.

"Now Jabez called on the God of Israel,saying, 'Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!' And God granted him what he requested." (1 Chronicles 4:10)

Jabez was clear and concise in his prayer, and God granted him the specifics that he sought - blessings, presence, territory, and safety. It all leads me to reconsider this prayer statement: "You do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:2) What do I not have because I simply have not sought it from my Father?

Jabez' requests were unselfish. James indicates in chapter four that God does not answer our prayers such as to indulge our selfish desires - "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." (James 4:3). The "border" Jabez sought to have enlarged must have had more to do with influence and service than property fences.

To seek the blessings of our Father God, and for His hand to be upon us, is a worthy prayer request. When we enjoy His special, supernatural presence and blessings, we can anticipate that He will enlarge our borders. Is that not essentially what we pray when we recite the model prayer - "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven"? We are asking that God will enlarge His kingdom borders, and work through us to do so.

What would happen through the people of God if they focused regularly on Jabez' prayer when they meet together for prayer? What might God impress upon His people as they sought this request? Perhaps a great prayer exercise, individually and collectively, would be to pray this prayer and be sensitive to that which God impresses upon His people.

May the blessings, presence, and protection of God be yours in abundance, even as He enlarges your borders.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, August 08, 2011

Hope in uncertain times. Hope is always vital, but especially in the times we live in. A perfect storm of unprecedented events has prophetic implications that leave us unsettled at best. Apocalypic-type flooding, drought, heat, tornadoes - added to economic and worldwide political turmoil - place us in new, uncharted territory. A pervading anxiety over the uncertainty of our times characterizes the emotional climate of our world today.

Christian hope is never diminished, but it's brightness is less apparent in times of security and affluence. When the world's provisions are threatened and shaken, people of faith look to their hope with renewed fervor. Hope shines brightest when the darkest clouds of a fallen world roll in.

Hope is not easily obtained. It is the end result of the tempering experiences of life's trials and challenges: "tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)

Novices to tribulation develop perseverance - a resolute determination to stay the course. But, it is only those who have graduated cum laude from the school of tribulation who ultimately develop hope through proven character.

Diploma mills grant prestigious degrees to those willing to fork over the funds to buy them. But, this short-cut to credentials circumvents the process of education that adds true value to the degree. Such as it is with hope - the "school of tribulation" is that which adds value to the hope which is attained as a result. Hope that is not forged in the crucible of tribulation is really no hope at all.

The prized acquisition of hope is worth all the trials of the school of tribulation; "hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Hope is invigorated through the comforting love of God conveyed to us through Holy Spirit.

Rare is the individual who embraces trials, in spite of the biblical admonition to do so ("Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials - James 1:2). And yet, it is only through the refining process that trials bring that hope can truly be acquired.

The challenges of our uncertain times offer us unprecedented opportunity to cultivate true hope. Rather than lamenting the losses, may we rejoice in the gains that these character-shaping times afford us.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Life is limited. Need we be reminded? Nearly everyone struggles to stretch their strained budget. Finances are limited. But, so are the days of our lives.

"As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:10,12)

Life expectancy is longer now than at any other time in history. Advances in health care have factored in to people living ninety and even one hundred years plus. But, natural immortality is elusive and always will be. God has set limits that cannot be exceeded.

Like money, time must be budgeted. I often lament areas of life that I neglect, but little will change until my time management habits do. Better budgeting is key.

Wisdom appeals to us to "teach us to number our days" (train us to make them count). Each day and moment is a rare and precious gem, never to be seen or experienced again. It is a gift of opportunity and potential that can be invested or squandered.

The apostle Paul admonishes us to "be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16). A foolish person devalues the day through laziness and pointless pursuits; a wise person invests in people and the things of eternity.

This moment is the only moment we can say with certainty that we have. It is wisely invested if we use it to know our Creator better through His word, and cultivate greater intimacy with His Son and our Savior. This moment will be wisely spent if we use it to convey our feelings to someone we cherish who has made a difference in our lives, or if we reach out in compassion to someone who is hurting.

Time can sift through our hands like sand, or we can grasp the granules and value their purpose and meaning. That's the opportunity of the moment.

If these thoughts have helped you in some way value the day and moment more than before, then I have wisely budgeted my time and efforts in this moment. I pray that it is so.

Carpe diem. Seize the day.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The tragedy of precious, broken things. In a fallen world, things of great value are often severely damaged. The loss is beyond calculation when the things broken are the possessions of God.

The record of 2 Kings 25 recounts the terrible defeat and destruction of Jerusalem. As the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler, destroyed the city and dispersed its inhabitants, we read this concerning the instruments of worship and service in the temple of God:

"Now the bronze pillars which were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea which were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon. They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the spoons, and all the bronze vessels which were used in temple service. The captain of the guard also took away the firepans and the basins, what was fine gold and what was fine silver. The two pillars, the one sea, and the stands which Solomon had made for the house of the LORD - the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight." (2 Kings 25:13-16)

Meticulously-crafted items devoted to the worship and service of Father God were destroyed and carried away for secular and sinful purposes. The Book of Daniel records how a wicked king would later use some of these precious, sacred instruments at a personal party characterized by drunkenness and debauchery. The sacred would become victim to the sinful.

Tragic as these circumstances are, a greater tragedy is when God's precious people are broken in a fallen world. Made in the image of God, we were designed for praise, worship, and service. And yet there is an enemy whose sole agenda is to break and destroy God's precious people (1 Peter 5:8). Tragically, in this age, the enemy succeeds all too often.

Much of what was lost in the Garden of Eden was our perception of who we are in the eyes of our Father. A horrible sense of wrong, symbolically covered by fig leaves, was the first result of original sin. From there, faulty perception skewed decisions, which have led us further away from the worship and obedience the Father desires. Were it not for the timely arrival of His Son, the brokenness would have been irreparable.

Precious lives are still broken today. The enemy infiltrates the lives of the people of God, and is all too effective with his evil schemes. And yet, there is no brokenness that is irreparable in the plan of God. Repentance and restoration are constant options so long as there is life in this age. This side of the kingdom, the mending and repair will look flawed and imperfect, but the kingdom hope offers the fullest possible restoration.

God's precious possessions are not immune to brokenness in a fallen world. But, the hope believers must never lose sight of is this: "I am making all things new." (Revelation 21:5). May we be faithful and hopeful as we await the newness that only the Father can bring to restore brokenness. And, may we experience a portion of that newness in our lives today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, August 01, 2011

The inability of two political parties to reach agreement on significant financial matters has shaken the confidence of many people in this country. Even as an eleventh hour solution is brokered, the fickleness and stubbornness of human leadership is all too apparent.

I personally believe that people get the leadership they deserve - good or bad. Judah and Israel's history is punctuated with such descriptive phrases as, "He did evil in the sight of the LORD ... Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD ... he did what was right in the sight of the LORD" ... etc. Leaders rose to power who was were consistent with the spiritual climate of the day. Like people, like leadership. Like leadership, like people.

Someone has said that the lessons from history are that we don't learn from history. Inevitably, every experiment in human government has ultimately failed. Whether malevolent dictatorship or benevolent democracy, each system is ultimately short-lived. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the vivid image ancient king Nebuchadnezzar saw in a nighttime dream (Daniel 2). The metallic and mud image of a man, as Daniel revealed to him through inspiration of God's Spirit, represented the major governmental powers of human history. Most significant is the end result: "In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever." (Daniel 2:44).

Investing in lost causes is unwise. Why would anyone continue to pour money into company stock that continues to devalue? And yet, if we pledge undue allegiance to any human government we have done just that. An ambitious experiment in political reform by evangelical Christians - the Religious Right - is now a footnote in history. But, those who clearly see their biblical responsibility to government continue to pray for their leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4), pay taxes (Romans 13:6), and submit to its authority (Romans 13:1).

Investment in government that will last is of utmost priority to the follower of Christ. For this reason, Jesus appeals to His followers to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). That kingdom and work is all-encompassing, and provides abundant opportunity for our best efforts. This foremost pursuit leaves little, if any, time for secondary pursuits. And, nothing provides greater fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy than kingdom pursuit,

We are reminded that "No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier." (2 Timothy 2:4) Our "marching orders" are abundantly clear. May we be wholeheartedly focused today - and always - on our highest calling and priority.

©Steve Taylor, 2011