Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No one knows you better. From your unique smile and frown to your most private thoughts, He knows. There is not a single detail of your life that escapes His notice. He knows you better than you know you. And you will never be able to fully wrap your mind around these amazing truths.

"O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it." (Psalm 139:1-6)

He who knows cannot be avoided. Men like Jonah vainly tried to flee from His presence, but it cannot be done. "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" (Psalm 139:7) Physically and emotionally, it is not possible to be anywhere where He is not. He even has prenatal knowledge of us (verse 13).

The One who knows beyond our ability to understand is available to be known. His infinite knowledge is not critical and judgmental, but compassionate toward those who fear Him. He who knows you wants you to know Him. And, if He truly does know all and see all, doesn't it make sense to ask Him to reveal to you what He knows about you? "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way." (Psalm 139:23-24).

An old song declared, "the One who knows me best, loves me most". Indeed. Our Father does not use knowledge to leverage power over our weaknesses and failings. His vast knowledge moves Him to act compassionately toward us. Is it so much to ask that we take time from our schedule and lives to bask in the presence of this amazing One? Nothing could be more profitable this day - or any day.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I wonder how well we understand the realm of possibilities. I'm pretty sure I don't know the half of it. Or the fourth of it. Or the eighth. Or ... well; you get the idea. But, it's truly energizing to begin to imagine what God can do when I let my spiritual mind run free.

Case study in prayer and faith possibilities: a man named Nehemiah. Living during the dark days of captivity following the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the mighty Babylonian empire, Nehemiah receives a discouraging report concerning his people's plight (Nehemiah 1:1-3). His response? "When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven." (Nehemiah 1:4)

The essence of Nehemiah's heartfelt prayer is recorded in Nehemiah 1:5-11. I commend it to you for carefully study as a pattern for effective prayer. Notice how he begins:

"I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned." (Nehemiah 1:5-6)

Nehemiah acknowledged the Father's greatness, lovingkindness, and covenant faithfulness, as he appealed to God for attentiveness. And he then elaborated on the problem of sin and unfaithfulness. In fact, the majority of this recorded prayer is confession. And then, finally, Nehemiah seeks success and favor with the king whom he served as a cupbearer.

The remarkable story of Nehemiah is that, in response to prayer, he was instrumental in rebuilding the broken walls of Jerusalem and setting his people on the path to restoration and security.

So, what great things would our Father choose to do through our prayers? Perhaps the starting point is to familiarize ourselves with the covenants He has made to His people. What promises has God made that have yet to be fulfilled? You can be sure He has not forgotten, but perhaps His test of faith for us is that we know them and remind Him of them - for our benefit, not His. Heartfelt and honest confession of sin is also essential. He knows, but wants us to come in honesty before Him, without pretense.

What are the possibilities available to us? Consider the example of Nehemiah. God wants to accomplish great things for His people, for His kingdom, and His glory. Let the possibilities stir your faith, boldness, and persistent prayer.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Growing up during the era of the Vietnam war, the sentiments of this unpopular war were expressed in war protests songs that implored, "War. What is it good for?" While the value of war is always up for debate, the reality of it is pervasive in human history. We seem to have great difficulty avoiding war.

The people of God are not isolated from the reality of war. Consider these "war directives":

"When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. He shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.'" (Deuteronomy 20:1-4)

The Hebrews nation often found itself engaged in battle, and often this tiny nation faced much larger armies than theirs (even as it so often does today). But, as Moses reminded them, the LORD God was their warrior and source of victory.

The people of God today are not exempt from war. We are poignantly reminded that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12). The wars we face are not of our choosing, but the ultimate result of the allegiance we choose. Love for God is ultimately hatred of the wicked world system.

We need not live our lives in fear or alarm. Confident calm can characterize us as we trust that "the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you." Emotional and even physical harm may befall us, but none can touch us spiritually as we fully trust our Father through His Son, our Lord Jesus.

Spiritual battles inevitably come our way, but ultimate victory is ours through Him who loves us. May we draw near to the One who brings victory, and to the encouraging company of His army of people.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is my purpose in life? Why was I born? What am I here to do? Questions we all ponder from time to time, and yet the answer is far simpler than we might realize: to know the God who created us. We were created to know the Creator. And not just to know ABOUT Him, but to personally and intimately know Him. To converse and commune with Him just as we so commonly do with one another. It really is that basic.

The Psalmist declared, "For I know that the LORD is great And that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." (Psalm 135:5-6)

An old hymn implores us to "ponder anew what the Almighty can do". He who created the towering mountains and the mighty rushing waters, also creates a clean heart and a holy dwelling place in the hearts of those who humbly seek Him. That fact alone is something to "ponder anew"!

The awesome LORD God, who is above all gods, is impossible to approach and know except through His sinless Son - "no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) And, through our Lord Jesus Christ, we are made to be "A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

I'm savoring my status as I share these words today. But, I'm also reminded that my privileged position also involved a powerful purpose - to "proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light". Praise and proclamation to others is our vital mission.

Could it be as simple as knowing God and sharing His excellencies with others? It would seem. But, we must not let the simplicity of our purpose minimize its importance. That which is easiest to understand can be the most challenging to practice. The proof is in the practice.

May we each savor our privileged status, and freely share with all who are willing to hear and receive.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A political mandate to build a house of worship. It either sounds like something from a radical Islamic country and culture, or from a bygone era in a western country. But, from all we know, it was an order given by a ruler who truly recognized the one true God and responded to His prompting.

The modern-day irony is that this political ruler had jurisdiction over the present-day region of Iran (ponder that one for a moment!). Further, another Iranian (Persian) ruler supported and implemented the previous edict to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. Ezra six records these historic events:

"Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives , where the treasures were stored in Babylon. In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found and there was written in it as follows: 'Memorandum - In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: 'Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained ..." (Ezra 6:1-3)

Now, history may not be your great interest, but this much likely is: the one true God is well able to accomplish exactly what He desires, and that can involve using unlikely means and people. Time and again, godless rulers have served the purpose of God's will.

The model prayer is encouraging and comforting concerning this - "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." This prayer is not mere idealistic thinking; it is a declaration of ultimate truth: God's perfect rule is destined to be established over all the earth. No kingdom or country will ultimately stand against it or in place of it. Daniel 2:44 is our great reminder of this fact: "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."

The encouragement for us this day is in knowing that God's governmental plan is fully on track. No political or financial crisis will disrupt or usurp it. The tide of popularity is no threat to it. It is revolution-proof and corruption-proof. It will come about exactly as planned and according to schedule.

A popular "Occupy" movement is afoot today to enact government and financial change and reform. Perhaps it's time for the people of God to launch an "Occupy the Kingdom" movement to remind ourselves and others of the inevitable triumph of God's coming age.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

"I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." (Deuteronomy 18:18)

One of the most definitive statements about God's Son, the Christ, is this pronouncement uttered by Moses. He would be born of the Jews, and He would be given the very words of the LORD God to speak. You can take it to the bank: when Jesus speaks, He speaks with the full authority of God our Father.

I, for one, am extremely grateful to understand this great truth. The Jewish humanity of Jesus, coupled with His God-given authority, makes Him a believable Savior for me. He is human enough to be one of us, but uniquely authoritative as God's spokesman to be credible. This truth breathes life into a familiar New Testament verse - "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5)

Is there anything we more desperately need than someone who understands our human nature, and brings to bear the authoritative word of God from that vantage point? As such, He is a victorious friend who helps me understand a perfect Father in ways I would not otherwise understand. He puts a visible face on the Invisible One, and brings the Father's full resources to bear on my human frailty. What a Savior!

This side of the kingdom, I'll probably not fully understand the relationship between My Father and My Savior. But, I know it is the closest possible relationship, and they want you and I united with them in this relationship ("that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me." John 17:21)

My simple desire and prayer today is that each of us might be in absolute awe and delight of the relationship we have with our Father, our Savior, and one another. May we find tremendous comfort and encouragement as we savor the privilege we enjoy.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Promises are best not made if they cannot be kept. I've broken far too many in the past, so I'm very selective in the ones I make. Many that I've broken were innocent enough; I simply forgot! Fortunately, we have a heavenly Father who has a perfect track record. And His list of promises throughout the ages is far longer than all I've ever made.

Consider this one: "The LORD has sworn to David A truth from which He will not turn back : 'Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.'" (Psalm 132:11) That sounds like an absolute promise. God has solemnly declared and irrevocably promised that a biological descendant of David would sit upon his throne.

Fast forward to the Day of Pentecost, some fifty days after Jesus was resurrected from the dead. "And so, because he (David) was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses." (Acts 2:30-32)

Nothing could be clearer: the apostle Peter boldly declared that day that Jesus is the Christ, the promised descendant of David - destined to sit upon his throne. This should come as no surprise, because this very pronouncement was made by angels announcing to Mary the upcoming birth of her child: " "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,and His kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:32-33)

It was necessary for Jesus to have a biological, human connection with David - "the fruit of your body" - in order for God to be a God of promise and truth. Thus it is important that we clearly understand that Jesus uniquely is Son of God and Son of man - a truth often obscured and neglected.

God is a faithful God of promise. What He said He would do, He has done - and will yet do. Of the lengthy list of promises - some thousands of years old - all are destined to be fulfilled through His Son, "whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time." (Acts 3:21) We can "go to the bank" on His faithful promises, and we can live in faith and absolute confidence today in that truth.

May His rich promises to us, His people, be an encouragement and strength today as we live for Him.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

Deception. The problem with it is that it is so subtle. It's like a counterfeit painting: it looks convincing, but something isn't quite right. Careful examination is necessary to realize that a shortcut was taken, or inferior materials used.

That's the problem with truth deception. Rarely is it glaring enough to sound an alarm; it's usually something that's not exactly spot-on.

"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known ) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

Signs and wonders are the ultimate avenue of deception. I've talked to individuals who were sufficiently wowed by the miraculous so as to be anesthetized to the message. The miraculous overshadowed discernment, to their detriment.

Apparently, according to this passage in Deuteronomy 13, God Himself works through miracle-working deceivers, as part of the refining process of His people. He's a proverbial pitcher who occasionally throws a curve ball, to see if we'll swing at it. Amidst truth, there is a cleverly-disguised fake, to see if His people are discerning enough to reject it.

I've heard of preachers who deliberately include a blatant non-truth just to see if the congregation is truly listening and discerning. Such tactics are ill-advised; especially since the messenger himself is not immune to deception. Best that we leave that task to God Himself.

There is a prevailing spirit of accommodation that cuts people a lot of slack with God's truth. The reasoning goes that God is wide with mercy, and that He will surely be extremely tolerant in judgement when the time comes. That's a risky gamble with the prospect of eternal life. Living loose with truth seems far more perilous than making earnest effort to diligently learn and live it.

The danger of deception is very real and ever-present. Passionate love for knowing and living truth is the only true safeguard. And this must be a personal exercise; not reliance on a knowing teacher, preacher, friend, or family member.

May we love truth enough to diligently search and live it, so as to withstand the deception enticement that will surely come this day, and every day.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Picture the Great Wall of China. It resembles the type of wall that would surround an ancient city. Imagine a stone tower on the wall, with an opening for a watchman to survey the landscape below. It is a dark, starless night, and a vigilant watchman trains his eye on the terrain below, looking for movement that would indicate the aggressive threat of an enemy.

The stress of the watchman's nighttime vigilance begins to take its toll, and he eagerly waits for the slight yellowish-orange tint in the east that precedes the morning sunrise. As late night gives ways to early morning, he longs for the rays of the sun that will illuminate the potentially treacherous nighttime landscape.

"I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning." (Psalm 130:5-6)

Is our passion for our Father as urgent as that of a night watchman looking for the morning? Must we find Him in His word and through prayer at all costs, or is our pursuit leisurely and passive? "you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Deuteronomy 4:29)

The siren call of life activities easily diminishes passionate pursuit of our Father through His word and prayer. And yet, the more time we yield to Him, the more the urgency of seeking Him grows.

May a passion be kindled in our hearts today for the God who has promised us future immortality, and a life of abundance and fulfillment with Him on a renewed earth. May future kingdom life break through today as we personally and deeply experience relationship with our Father through His Son.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The head of the government was a wicked eight-year-old boy. He was quickly replaced by a twenty-one year old arrogant and evil ruler. From there, things only got worse. Such was the plight, not of a malevolent ungodly regime, but of the nation of God's people.

We read in 2 Chronicles 36 of the ultimate demise of the nation of Israel during the days of Jeremiah the prophet. The tragic sequence of events is well summarized in these verses:

"The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy." (2 Chronicles 36:15-16)

The most chilling words in these verses are the last: "until there was no remedy." The compassion and merciful God repeatedly sent messengers to His people to appeal for repentance and responsiveness. Blatant disregard for the message and messenger added to God's growing wrath until the tipping point was reached; the point of no return.

Incredibly, God's mercy prevailed over His judgment - seventy years later He would allow His dispersed people to return to the land, and renew their walk with Him.

Two mistaken extremes often characterize people's views of God our Father. The one extreme is that He is an uncaring and exacting God who metes out punishment at the slightest infraction of His law. The other is that He so benevolent and sentimental that He would never harm the hair of one of His creatures. Until we see that He is both compassionate and exacting in His holy nature, we have not truly known our Father.

The tipping point for this present world is already past; we live in the time in which "there was (is) no remedy." We live in a proverbial Sodom and Gomorrah, and judgment is inevitable. As the people of God, we are the messengers sent to rescue the responsive. That is, so long as we don't succumb to the allure of the "Babylon" we live in. Should that happen, we become a tragic casualty of spiritual war, and lose the ability to be savory salt and illuminating light (Matthew 5:13-16) in a world desperately in need of both.

Wisdom is knowing the true fate of the present world system, and our role in it. It is a Titanic, headed inexorably down, and we are to be those who sound a clarion call for the safety of the lifeboat of the gospel of the kingdom and the name of Jesus (Acts 8:12).

May we live wisely today in a doomed world, and urgently serve as gospel messengers to those willing to be saved.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

God must surely be the most misunderstood Father. His angry outbursts and exacting punishments lead many to think of Him as an unforgiving taskmaster. His impossible standards and our human failings are considered to be a sure recipe for our ultimate annihilation. But, we grossly misunderstand our Father if we miss His mercy.

"Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Ultimately, He wants our whole heart, not our detached and mindless obedience. And, the obedience He desires is not for His vain personal gratification, but "for your good". Time and again, His commandments have been proven to be beneficial. Obedience to His commandments reap personal benefits.

We cannot read these words from Deuteronomy 10 without thinking of the timeless truth found in Micah 6:8 - "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?" Practice godly justice. Passionately embrace kindness toward others. Humbly cultivate a vital relationship with your Father through His Son.

To be sure, God's holiness demands ultimate justice and judgment. It is perilous to minimize or dismiss coming judgment on the disobedient, but we are remiss if we let hellfire judgment overshadow His grace and mercy. Annihilation in the lake of fire is completely avoidable; those consigned to it can only blame themselves, not the God of mercy who patiently and richly offers an alternative.

My favorite passage concerning God's true feelings toward is is Psalm 103:8-11 - "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him."

May we be comforted and encouraged by these great words today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Pulling a load of bricks on a pallet up an incline would be stupid if a forklift was available. The timeless wisdom - work smarter, not harder - would definitely apply here. It is pointless to expend energy when work can be done easier.

"Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep." (Psalm 127:1-2)

We've not been promised a walk on easy street as the people of God, but we easily work too hard when we choose our own pathways and projects. The all-too-common approach is to develop our plan, take action, and then ask God's blessings on our project. Problem is, what we devise can easily be something that isn't even on our Father's radar. As a Christian writer popularly stated a few years ago, the ideal is to diligently seek out where God is already at work, and partner with Him there.

I've hatched more than my share of plans and ideas that I thought would be good for the progress of the kingdom of God. Sincere as I was in planning, I now more clearly see the arrogance of presuming that God needed me to develop plans on His behalf. As such, many of these "houses" were vain labor. They were little more than the meaningless slave labor task of digging a hole, and then filling it back in later in the day. Work expended on personal plans is futile labor unless the project is God's initiative.

I'm participating in some extended prayer and meditation time these days. What I'm beginning to discover is that I'm not a very good listener. My own plans and ideas easily shove their way to the forefront when I'm trying to be still and know that God is God. I'm piling up bricks for houses God doesn't intend to build. So, I'm slowly learning to quietly humble myself - without presumption and plans - so that I can get on board with His projects.

What are you trying to do today by your own effort that is your plan, and not His? What are you trying to guard and build that is unproductive? Let's pull our personal blueprints off the table, and replace them with His. Let's participate in His projects and plans, and enjoy the benefits and results that truly advance the kingdom of God. Time and energy are too precious to waste on personal pursuits.

Seeking a day of productivity for us all, participating in His plans with His power.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Fear factor. It's far more than a reality television program; it's our reality. We've catalogued our fears using Greek terminology.Acrophobia (fear of heights).Claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces). Dentophobia (fear of dentists). Even Ecclesiophobia (fear of church). As one compiler of an extensive list of phobias says, "If you're looking for a phobia name that's not on the list....I'm AFRAID I don't have it." (so, what would that phobia be?)

Fear was the original negative emotion (Genesis 3:10), but far be it that it should be the defining emotion of the children of God. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." (1 John 4:18)

Apparently, a godly king named Hezekiah well understood the victory over fear available through the God of love:

"Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed ... for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." (2 Chronicles 32:7-8)

In the face of an overwhelmingly powerful army - when fear would be the more natural reaction - Hezekiah's unwavering faith and confidence in God is clearly evident. His words of confidence to his people were not without basis, because the God of the universe indeed brought miraculous victory (2 Chronicles 32:20-22).

While strength and courage in our Father is the ideal, it is not always the reality. Fear easily creeps in like icy cold on a winter day, robbing us of the warmth of faith and assurance. Much as we desire to live by faith, fear factor becomes the reality.

Thankfulness generated by reflection on past victories of faith is perhaps the best antidote to present fear. God's impeccable record of provision and deliverance in our lives provides basis for dominate faith that overcomes fear. Honestly, has He ever failed you - even once?

"Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed ... for the one with us is greater than the one with him." Whatever we are up against has no true basis to instill fear. Life's fear factor are based on human frailty, whereas our strength is based in our Father who is greater. "with us is the LORD (Yahweh) our God to help us and to fight our battles." Let's live this day in the power and victory of faith through our mighty empowering God.

©Steve Taylor, 2011