Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Few things are more encouraging and uplifting than to be truly heard. Often the knowing nod and gentle smile is accompanied by vacant eyes - they are listening, but not truly hearing. How very reassuring when we have someone's undivided attention, and they truly are attuned to what we are saying.

"I love the LORD, because He hears My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live." (Psalm 116:1-2)

David, the Psalmist, was moved by the love of his Creator Father because of His attentive ear. The fact that the Creator of all would give His undivided attention to to a lowly creature was enough to move David to a lifetime of commitment and communion. If God was willing to listen, David was quite willing to speak, share, and also listen.

Fully confident that my Father hears, my challenge is just the opposite: to truly hear Him. The rush of random thoughts and the general noise of my brain too often precludes real listening on my part. The admonition to "be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) is often lost in practice.

One translation renders this verse, "Cease striving and know that I am God". Perhaps that best describes the dilemma: cease from turmoil and know that God is God. Simplify. As David also says, "The LORD preserves the simple" (Psalm 116:6). The divided, tumultuous person has trouble being still enough to know God, but the uncomplicated person with singleness of heart will be preserved.

I have friends who have enjoyed a weekend of silence. In a peaceful outdoor retreat - with only Bible and notebook - they testify to the renewing effect of silencing their brain noise, unwinding before the LORD, and sensing His special nearness. By the conclusion of the weekend, they have a renewed sense of presence and communion. Their testimony is compelling, and appealing.

The noise of our world is a cancer that gradually steals away the vitality of communion with our Father. What decisions do you and I need to make to return to the renewing silence? Those answers will begin to break through only when we initiate times of silence today.

May we be still enough today to truly hear and be heard.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)

Are believers responsible for an extended drought in the United States? Is the real cause of global warming the wickedness of the people of God? These are spiritually and politically charged questions. Answering them categorically would be presumptuous and irresponsible. At best, this much can be said: there are consequences for disobedience and wickedness on the part of the people of God. Their "land" (territory) will be in need of healing, but God offers rich promises based upon important conditions.

Whether the land (nation) that believers live in bears the consequences of their sin, or the "land" of the body of Christ, there is always a great need for His people to "humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways". These are three pressing priorities for His people in any land at any time.

None are immune to pride. Humble servants of God, when praised for His work in their lives, are easy prey to pride. Pride, then, must prompt humble prayer. And that prayer must be to "seek My face". We cannot literally see God's face and live (Exodus 33:20), so to seek His face is to turn our full attention to Him; to listen for what He would say, and what He would impress upon us.

We all have wicked ways to turn away from. "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8). But, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9). This is a similar promise to 2 Chronicles 7:14.

I want God to hear me from heaven. I want my sins to be forgiven through confession and obedience. I want my "land" to be healed. And I desire that for all of God's people. May we each sense a renewed calling to the conditions and promises of of this special verses, 2 Chronicles 7:14.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

We've probably all heard K.I.S.S. (no, I'm not referring to an aging rock band). It's a popular acronym for the admonition to "Keep It Simple" (I'll leave off the last word commonly used with it). It's an essential reminder to simplify when the temptation is to needlessly confuse and complicate.

The "K.I.S.S." principle is much needed when it comes to the Bible. The Bible has plenty of depth to challenge the deepest of thinkers, but it also has a profound simplicity. Jesus, for example, chose simple parables - basic stories from everyday objects and situations - to convey truth. The theologians of the day were offended by His simple stories, but those with uncomplicated humility found a treasure-trove of spiritual riches in these simple, yet in-depth stories.

The Bible is simple when we read it with an understanding of its basic tenets. A wise elderly pastor states it like this: God really is one; Jesus really is the Son of God; the dead really are dead; and heaven will be on earth, not the other way around. To those basic truths we incorporate the two great commandments, per Jesus: 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.'" (Matthew 22:37-40)

Micah 6:8 states is simply and succinctly: "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God"

Could it really be that simple? I'll dare say, "yes". This simplicity is the springboard to a lifetime of learning and growth. Reading and studying from these basic tenets, the rest of the Bible unfolds beautifully and simply.

I've found myself in the midst of overly-complicated biblical studies and debates more times than I can count. Too often they seemed like the proverbial "straining a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). The point of the intense discussion was lost on the main biblical picture.

Someone recently suggested to me that what they need to learn from every Bible discussion and study is, "How do I better love God with all my heart, and love my neighbor as myself?" Perhaps the test of these two great commandments should be applied to whatever we study and discuss.

Let's simplify. To do so will never be the end of Bible study, but ultimately the greatest beginning. Profoundly simple truth will guide us to the richest depths that will nourish our souls, and those around us.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Passion. That's the catch-word these days. Find your passion in life and pursue it, because that's where your greatest contentment and fulfillment will be found. Not that this is a bad idea, but how do we stir up passion for what we ought to pursue? How do we develop fervent passion for our Creator Father and His Son, and the priorities of the kingdom of God? We know that we NEED to have passion in this area, but it's not automatic.

King David was a man of passion. There are some glaring instances of misguided passion (which is the risk passionate people face), but he was consistently "a man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22). Time and again, that divine passion is evidenced in the Psalms. For example:

"Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, In the company of the upright and in the assembly. Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them." (Psalm 111:1-2)

Wholehearted thanks and delight in studying the words and works of God are hallmarks of a spiritually passionate person. And yet the question remains: how do I cultivate spiritual passion if it is lacking? The answers are basic, but the discipline involved is the real challenge.

Like David, we do well to journal concerning our findings in scripture and daily living. Compose love letters to our Creator Father. Record our innermost feelings and thoughts about Yahweh God.

Let the Lord Jesus serve as guide. He ultimately is revealed to us in scripture (John 5:39), and it is He who has come to reveal the Father to us (John 14:7).

Connect authentically with at least one other person who also desires spiritual passion. "Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 29:17)

Make spiritual passion a matter of prayer. My prayer this day is, "Father, stir up a burning desire to know You through Your Son. Ignite a fire of passion for You. Let my desire burn to know You through Your word, Your people, and through service. May a white-hot passion for You so permeate my life that it kindles a fire in others."

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What's high on your want and wish list just now? In a down economy, your top concern may have a real sense of urgency - a job, a financial breakthrough, a solution to your mortgage mess, etc. But, that which seems most urgent isn't always most important.

The wisest man of all time didn't get that way by chance. When given a "blank check" of options from God, he chose wisdom.

"Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of Yours?' God said to Solomon, 'Because you had this in mind, and did not ask for riches, wealth or honor, or the life of those who hate you, nor have you even asked for long life, but you have asked for yourself wisdom and knowledge that you may rule My people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge have been granted to you. And I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings who were before you has possessed nor those who will come after you.'" (2 Chronicles 1:10-12)

Solomon was divinely gifted with wisdom, but fortune and fame came as a secondary gift from the God of heaven. The results sound similar to a promise made by Jesus: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

I sometimes wonder if we really know what we need most. I've spent more than my share of time urgently seeking the secondary things that seemed so important, while being distracted from the priority of the most important. In other words, I've sought the needs of this world at the expense of seeking the kingdom first.

Who can really trust his/her wisdom? Wise Solomon would later go on to write: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) How often does life take a crooked turn as we try to figure things out ourselves? In moments of panic and desperation we take matters into our own hands, and forsake trust in God, and end up in even more desperate circumstances.

It's tough when the preacher has to practice what he preaches. These thoughts come at a moment of second-guessing God; a dangerous, but easy habit. So, these important reminders are especially personal as they go out to you as well. Challenging as personal application may be, these things are absolutely true. There is wisdom in seeking first the kingdom, and the siren call of life's practical needs will ultimately be met by the King of the kingdom.

Live hopefully, and faithfully, seeking the wisdom from above to guide in all that happens today on earth.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

There once was a movie about a fictitious character named Doctor Doolittle, who could talk to animals. Conversing with animals, as we do with one another, has long been a dream of many people. But, there once was an incident involving clear communication between man and animal. It was hardly the realization of a dream; it was more of a nightmare.

Numbers 22 recounts an appeal by a king named Balak to a prophet named Balaam. Balak, king of Moab, had witnessed the deliverance of the people of Israel from Israel, and their increasing numbers and might. He feared for his kingdom and position, and settled on a solution: enlist a prophet of God to pronounce a curse on them. A simple solution ... in theory.

"Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed." (Numbers 22:6)

God initially made it abundantly clear to Balaam that cursing the Israelites was unthinkable, for they were blessed of God: God said to Balaam, 'Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.'" (Numbers 22:12)

That should have been the end of the matters, but king Balak was persuasive, and Balaam eventually consented to mount his faithful donkey and journey to Moab. And that's when things got interesting. An angel of the LORD appeared along the way, unseen by Balaam. But, not to his donkey. Three times the donkey diverted course when confronted by the angel, only adding to growing irritation by Balaam. Each time, Balaam struck his reluctant donkey with a stick. But, the next series of events are the real shocker: the angel of the LORD spoke directly through the donkey. Verses 28-33 record the interesting exchange between donkey (angel) and Balaam. Through these conversations, Balaam comes to realize the danger and futility of cursing that which God has blessed (verses 34=35).

A song written a few years ago about this story states that the lesson is that God does the choosing, and could have used the dog next door if He'd been so inclined. Good point, but perhaps not the main point. The real lesson seems to be that what God has blessed will not be cursed. And, that applies to us, His people. As we continue to live in obedience, we enjoy His blessings. No matter who or what may try to curse us, God's favor remains.

We live in a world system set in radical opposition to the kingdom of God and the people of God. Make no mistake; it's all-out war - "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19) But, the curse that the world and the enemy would seek to leverage against us will not and cannot work, because the curse has been removed through a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. Thus, we are enabled to "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28)

As his blessed ones, let's seek to be a blessing to all we encounter today - whether they curse or bless us.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's the ultimate summary. If you are looking for the Cliff Notes, this is it. Nowhere will you find a better summary of the entire plot and plan.

"The Lord says to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.'" (Psalm 110:1)

That's it; short and sweet. From Genesis to Revelation, this is the ultimate plan and message. The LORD Yahweh, our Creator Father, planned before He created anything to place all enemies under the feet of David's Lord (Jesus, Yeshua) while seated at His right hand. That process continues to this day, destined to one day be completed when the final enemy, death, is defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26).

This summary verse is so important that it is the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament. Important as John 3:16 is, Psalm 110:1 is the verse that truly gives it meaning. Every believer who has memorized John 3:16 should also commit Psalm 110:1 to memory because of its importance.

This verse is also important: "Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power " (Psalm 110:3) We will freely enlist on the day Christ begins to administer the new government of God at His return. When Jesus begins the challenging task of managing an imperfect planet, ravaged by Armageddon, His faithful resurrected followers will gladly step forward for various positions of service.

The obvious lesson and application is this: why wait? Why not participate today in the plan to defeat the enemies of God and Christ, and the coming government? Why not pray the model prayer, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven"? Why not serve as ambassadors to the people of this nation? (2 Corinthians 5:20) Why not recruit fellow citizens for the coming kingdom?

To "volunteer freely" is just as applicable today as on the day when Christ returns. May we yield this day to every opportunity to serve the King and the Kingdom.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I thought I was a homeowner, but it turns out I am a tenant. A tenant - a renter - doesn't lay claim to the place of residence; he is merely a temporary occupant.

"For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope." (1 Chronicles 29:15)

These words are part of the recorded prayer of King David, near the end of his life, when offerings were made for the great temple that his son, Solomon, would build. As David considered the immense greatness of Yahweh God, and the temple to be built for His worship and glory, he considered the lowly condition of himself and his people. In contrast to the Almighty, we His creation are mere travelers; temporary residents in this present age. The sum of our lives is "like a shadow", and there is no hope of avoiding the end of our days. A rather dismal picture, huh?

David's words, rather than reflecting a pessimistic outlook on life, reflect a realism necessary for true living. The sooner we see how temporary we really are, the more urgently we seek the eternal. There is nothing "business-as-usual" about living; each passing moment is indeed rare and fleeting. As tenants, we temporarily reside in this world as we await the world to come. And, as tenants, we do well to give all respect and honor to the true homeowner, as David did:

"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name." (1 Chronicles 29:11-13).

As a tenant in God's house, I am moved by David's words of praise. Heartfelt appreciation and awe are reflected by David as he pondered God's greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty. He saw the true ownership that God uniquely has, and willingly expressed his gratitude to the One who is truly source of all. May we join this day in similar praise and gratitude: "Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name."

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Potential or problems? Obstacles or opportunities? Half full or half empty? Depending on our perspective, we're considered to be generally optimistic or pessimistic.

A recent readings from Number 13 reminded me of the tremendous difference outlook can make. The people of Israel had been led out of Egyptian captivity, and they stood poised to enter the land which God had promised to them. A delegation of twelve spies had been selected, one from each of the twelve tribes. Their mission: To scout out the land - its people, cities, and produce. A realistic assessment was needed in order to develop a conquest strategy. The mission was about "how", not "if", because God has already declared: "the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel" (Numbers 13:2).

Ten spies return with a negative report; all they could see were the obstacles: "the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large ... We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us ... The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size ... and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."(Numbers 13:28,31-33).

But, two men saw the opportunities rather than the obstacles: "We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it." (Numbers 13:30) Sadly, their report was negated by the nay-sayers, and the people of Israel were consigned to forty years of futile wandering away from this land of promise.

Twelve men all witnessed the same things, but the assessment of ten was drastically different than the assessment of two. Faith in God's statement and promise by the two men made all the difference.

We are all contemporaries who live in the same world. We generally receive the same news and information about the world we live in. How we assess that information, however, can be radically different. Some will proclaim in despair, "what is this world coming to?", while others will state, "We know what's coming to the world!" We either believe God's word about "the promised land" (coming kingdom), and we despair at the problems that loom large.

Realistically, there are major obstacles to be faced in living, and the prospect of increased hardship as this age comes to a close. But, as surely as Yahweh God is God, His kingdom promise and the return of His Son to rule it are absolute sureties you can take to the bank. What He promises will come to pass, regardless of the challenges along the way. "Your kingdom come. You will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

May the absolute reality of tomorrow pervade all of today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Thursday, September 08, 2011

We can't cherry-pick the promises and neglect the requirements. In an age of "easy-believism", it's done much too often. Promises are always inseparably attached to key requirements. Consider these words from Jesus:

"Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:13-14)

This important prayer promise is firmly embedded in a love condition: obedience to His commandments. The promise applies to those whose love is exhibited by faithful obedience.

He further states, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him ... If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him." (John 14:21,23)

The promise of an intimate relationship with Jesus our Lord, and God our Father, is appealing. But, this promise is attached to the condition that we keep His word and commandments.

Let's be clear: no one will earn a place in the coming kingdom. Jesus has done what we could never do for ourselves, and God has validated this work by raising Him from the dead. But, passive faith is not saving faith. The Book of James clearly reminds us that saving faith is evidenced by faithful activity. As has been tritely stated, the faith that saves is the faith that works.

It is a gross inconsistency to claim allegiance to Christ while being ignorant of His requirements and teachings. Heartfelt gratitude for His saving work on our behalf manifests itself in passionate pursuit of His word and teachings.

In nearly thirty-five years of marriage, I've sought to understand and know my wonderful wife, whom God has joined me to. Love has been the motivating factor. Similarly, I've been in relationship with my heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus, since 1973. I've sought to grow in understanding and obedience, not because I have to, but because I want to. I cannot imagine being content with what I know and obey; my desire is to grow, as with my marriage.

May profound gratitude and love motivate growth in knowledge and obedience in us today - and always.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

You've probably heard the mythical story of the frog in the kettle. As the story goes, a frog dropped into a hot kettle of water will jump out, but one dropped into a warm kettle will remain there as the heat is turned up until it boils to death. Whether or not the story is true, it serves as a fair illustration of the situation most of us are in. Increasingly, the heat is turned up and the stress of life multiplies. Pay cuts or pay freezes come as inflation increases. Less hiring at the workplace means more job responsibilities for those who remain. Greater time demands add stress to already full calendars. Could the scriptural statement - "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come" (2 Timothy 3:1) - be any more descriptive of our times?

So, what are stressed-out people and families to do? Keep on repeating the chorus to the song. What?

Psalm 107 - initially a song, with only the lyrics now preserved in our Bibles - has a repetitive chorus: "Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses." (Psalm 107, 6, 13, 19, 28) A reading of the entire Psalm catalogues the variety of troubles people find themselves in (you can probably identify with a majority of them). But, the repetitive chorus is a hopeful reminder that our Father Creator delivers from trouble and distress.

You may not consider yourself a songwriter, but you can likely compose your own verses to this song. "I lost my job in the economic downturn ... things at home really took a turn for the worse when trouble with the children brought trouble to our marriage ... in spite of everything I tried, I continued to spiral into the black hole of depression ... I tried to cope, but drugs and alcohol seemed to be my only escape ... etc". Same song, different verse.

The lessons of Psalm 107 are that it's not the verse that matters; it's the chorus: "Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses."

God's ways of delivering from distress and trouble never cease to amaze. His solutions are not one-size-fits-all; they vary from person to person, and situation to situation. The particulars aren't nearly as important as the fact that He DOES deliver. Maybe not the way you and I expect or wish. Much to our personal dislike, sometimes deliverance is strength IN it rather than a pathway out or around it. But, He is still the God of deliverance.

Whatever your verse to the song is today, keep repeating the chorus.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

He was the wrong man with the right idea. But, the right idea came to fruition at the right time by the right man.

King David had a heart's desire to build a temple of worship for Almighty God. And, while he was a man after God's own heart, he was a warrior who had shed too much blood to be the man to build God's house. "But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me." (1 Chronicles 22:8)

So, this important task fell to his son, Solomon, a man of peace. "Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the LORD God" (2 Chronicles 22:19).

These two men were instrumental in the construction of a great temple of worship. But, the lessons for us aren't so much about building a temple as being one. "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5) With this important clarification as to what the temple of God really is, we can readily apply David's words to Solomon: "Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the LORD God". One minor clarification: it is not for us to actually build the temple but, as Peter reminds us, to be built into a temple. We are the stones and wood being crafted into a temple fit for Him.

Few stones are naturally ready for use in construction. In ancient times, rocks and stones had to be carefully hewn to specific dimensions for use in a building. If we are the living stones being built into God's temple, the same is necessary for us. I, for one, have plenty of rough edges He has been chipping at and shaping for quite a few years. And there is still plenty of work to be done on this rock to make me fit well in His temple along with the other rocks and stones. The fit isn't an easy one. We're formed together into a temple, so there is chipping and shaping to be done on each of us so that we can fit together. That means some give and take among us; work that allow us to conform to one another even as we conform to our Father.

Today is a stone-shaping experience for each of us. Don't resist what He is doing, but instead rejoice that the shaping work done in your life allows you to better fit in to His temple, for His glory and honor.

©Steve Taylor, 2011