Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What does it take to get an invitation to a White House social event? What is the protocol? How do I behave and dress if invited? These are questions most of us don't even need to remotely consider. But, there are similar imperative questions:

"O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? (Psalm 15:1)

What does it take to be invited to the very dwelling place of our Creator Father? What is the proper protocol and dress? In essence:

"He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the Lord; He swears to his own hurt and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. (Psalm 15:2-5)

It has nothing to do with externals, like attire and social graces. It's all about inner qualities. Sincere love for God. True love for people. Integrity in speech. Wholesome conduct. In fact, it is allowing the very nature of God to be fleshed out in our lives. Those who spend time in the presence of God should increasingly resemble Him in character and conduct.

If we dare think we can reduce these key traits to a simple checklist, it won't work. Don't even go there. The religious leaders in Jesus' days on earth thought it was that simple and basic. They went through the motions, but their hearts were a far cry from where they should have been. Thus, they invoked Jesus' harsh indictment from the prophet Isaiah: "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.'" (Matthew 15:7-8) Going through the motions is no guarantee of good spiritual heart health.

What does it take to get an invitation to hang out with God? Well, we've been given one. And the protocol is clearly and succinctly outlined for us. It's a protocol of the heart, manifested in character. Whoever wants to hang out with God needs to love Him wholeheartedly, and let His character be reflected in theirs.

May our hearts yearn today for a meaningful connection with our Creator, and may our character be appealing to the One who loves us most.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's been said that God may seem slow, but He is never late.

"Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac ... Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.(Genesis 21:1-3, 5)

Well beyond child-bearing years, God fulfilled His promise to a man and woman of great faith. And it came about "at the appointed time of which God had spoken". Regardless of how we might view time, God acts according to His predetermined "appointed time".

God revealed future events to Daniel that pertained to "the appointed time of the end." (Daniel 8:19) He also revealed to Daniel that "the end is still to come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:27; cf.,verse 35) Jesus spoke of watchfulness, because "you do not know when the appointed time will come." (Mark 13:35) The writer of Hebrews tells us that "it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

God has established key appointments that will not be delayed or deterred. From our perspective, He may seem slow, but "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).

God's seeming slowness offers gracious opportunities, and opportunities for character development. Like Abraham and Sarah, promises may not be fulfilled until late in life, but they are fulfilled according to God's "appointed time".

As you consider the appointments you have today, let them stir you to wisely remember God's eternally-important appointments.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Today's missed opportunity is tomorrow's regret. Therefore, seizing the opportunity of the moment is the highest priority.

"Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:6-9)

There is never a better time to set things straight between the LORD and ourselves than the present moment. Has a sinful habit become a spiritual roadblock? Has fervor for our relationship with the LORD cooled, and the spiritual embers dimmed? Have worldly pursuits supplanted our divine relationship? This very moment is the right time for decision. The LORD is near and willing, if we are ready. He will act if we are ready to act. We must both call upon Him and be willing to forsake thoughts and actions that are displeasing to Him. If we return, He will extend compassion and mercy to us.

The enemy's great tactic is to keep us so busy that we never pause for introspection. It is only when we stop to consider our thoughts and ways, and clearly see our deficiencies, that we are able to call upon the God of mercy. And, in that moment, renewal comes with the freshness of rain on parched ground.

However things are between the LORD and ourselves at this moment, surely there is room for improvement. "Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near." The fact is, He IS near, and ready to receive and renew us. Why not take this moment to call upon Him, and experience newness and energy that will overshadow your present circumstances.

Praying that this moment will be a truly life-changing one.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Working against the plan and will of God is nothing short of insanity. Why seek to oppose and resist that which is divinely decreed? Such is the futility of working against God's plan for Jerusalem and Israel.

These words make abundantly clear God's intentions: "Thus says the LORD, 'I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.'" (Zechariah 8:3).

Verses four and five of that chapter describe the scene on the streets of Jerusalem: elderly men and women sitting, while children play - perhaps a figurative picture, or a picture of mortals in the coming millennial kingdom. Either way, God's purposes are crystal-clear - Jerusalem and Israel figure prominently in God's plans.

As a decidedly non-political person, I nearly always avoid political comments. This biblical comment, however, can easily be taken as a political one: any people or nation opposed to the Jewish nation and people have made a grave error. This isn't so much a pro-Israel statement as it is a pro-God one. Regardless of the spiritual condition of the current nation of Israel and its capital city, we know their ultimate destiny according to God's eternal covenant with them. It's unwise to mess with what God has decreed!

Knowledge of this plan gives perspective to personal conduct: "'These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,' declares the LORD ... so love truth and peace.'" (Zechariah 8:16-17, 19)

I am absolutely convinced that God has reserved one final major movement for the last days: the spiritual renewal of the Jewish people. Romans 11:25-26, in particular, state such. This is the clear plan and will of God. To resist it is madness; to participate with it is supremely wise. Live lives of integrity, and participate with God in the spiritual awakening of His Jewish covenant people.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No matter what we've done wrong, it could be worse. Sure, we've all succumbed to temptation and sin, but God has graciously spared us from ultimate disaster.

A man once took another man's wife, innocently thinking it was his sister. The man was a king named Abimelech, and Sarah - wife of Abraham - was the woman he innocently took with sexual intention. But, God spared this unknowing king.

"God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, 'You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.'" (Genesis 20:3).

Abimelech declared his innocence (verse 5), and God reveals a fascinating truth: "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her." (Genesis 20:6).

This verse and truth indicates there is precedent for God intervening to spare people from grievous downfalls because of sin. We might wonder why He didn't spare king David from his sordid affair with Bathsheba. Amidst David's willful sin, God's grace prevented even worse things for this man after God's own heart.

Truth be told, you and I know we've been spared by God from worse things. With very little introspection, we can identify circumstances when temptation to sin was strong, and yet we did not yield. Sure, we painfully recall times when we did yield, but even then His grace spared us from something worse.

We know little about a king named Abimelech; far less than we know about Abraham and Sarah. But, there must have been something in his heart for God that God would spare him from grievous sin. As those whose hearts are set upon God our Father, through Jesus our Lord, we can live with confidence that He is actively at work, sparing us from greater disasters in our conduct.

Jesus' model prayer takes on special significance this day, in light of the lessons of Abimelech: "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil".

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

It was nothing more than science fiction, but the opening scene with that haunting voiceover - "Space ... the final frontier" - always drew me in. What's really out there? How big is the universe? What exciting discoveries are there to be made?

Psalm 19:1-2 tell us, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge."

Earth-bound inhabitants can discover at least as much as space-faring astronauts. It doesn't take going "out there" to get it; attuning our senses here and now will yield phenomenal discoveries. As the Psalmist reminds us, space continually transmits data regarding God's glory and works.

People of a certain age recall the deeply moving reading of Genesis one from the far side of the moon as astronauts first saw an "earth rise". The familiar scene of the earth hanging in space against the stark backdrop of the eternal darkness of space speaks volumes as to the glory and majesty of our Creator.

Romans 1:20 contains a similar message to Psalm 19:

"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

Our Father has provided ample evidence for His existence to those intuitive enough to see and understand. The skeptic ignores the clear evidence to his or her eternal peril.

The heavens ARE declaring the glory of God, and what an amazing message it is. It's considered that there are over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone, and our galaxy is only one of billions in the universe. It is estimated that we travel at 900 miles per hour on the earth as we orbit around Sun. It takes several minutes for sunlight to reach us traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). As we look up at the stars at night, that starlight has traveled considerable distances for many years to reach our eyes at the exact time that we look at them. The closest star to us - Alpha Centauri - is 4.4 light years away, which means that the light from that star which reaches our eye (although it cannot be seen with the naked eye) began it's journey 4.4 years ago.

SO ... if the universe is this large, expansive, and delicately balanced, imagine the God who created it all! It gives a fresh perspective to our estimation of an infinite Creator. But also consider: the One who created billions and billions of stars and galaxies and placed them at impossible distances from one another knew you before you were born and even knows the very number of the hairs on your head. Nothing is too large or small for our Father.

Pondering the Creator and the creation can lead to only one response: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's the doing that is the determining factor. Sitting in your car in the driveway, with every intention of taking a trip somewhere, doesn't really translate into anything until you start the motor, put the car in gear, and begin the journey. Intention is only good when it becomes action.

"faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself ... For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." (James 2:17,26)

What we do is proof of the reality of what we believe. Abrahams' faith was evidenced by the action of offering his son on the altar of sacrifice (James 2:21). Belief gave rise to behavior.

Now, it's easy to have a mistaken notion of doing and believing. Some have placed the proverbial cart ahead of the horse. Church attendance, financial giving, charitable deeds, and service are easily viewed as the MEANS to justification. In other words, God must be pleased by all that I do. But, if action doesn't spring from faith, it can easily be misguided. Our good actions aren't the MEANS for justification, but rather the RESULT. Real belief acts. Belief that never acts isn't truly belief, pure and simple.

A friend once told the story of his decision to serve in pastoral ministry. He stated the Jesus became so real to him that he knew he had to do something. He sold his business and his house, and relocated for training and preparation to serve.

Faith doesn't give rise to the same action in every life. Faith plays out every day in a myriad of choices and steps. Decisions to read and study the Bible. To pray. To dare share your faith with an unbeliever. To stand for morality and decency, regardless of popular opinion. To help the helpless. To encourage the discouraged.

Faith that never acts isn't really faith. But, faith that is real bears fruit through deeds done. May there be "faith fruit" in abundance in our lives today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

If I recall correctly, it was an old newspaper slogan: "The difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer". The truth of such a statement is worth challenging. From God's perspective, however, this statement is an understatement.

An angelic messenger delivers an unlikely prophetic statement to an elderly couple named Abraham and Sarah: "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son." (Genesis 18:10)

Given the fact that Sarah was well past her childbearing years, her reaction is not surprising: "Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'" (Genesis 18:12).

The seemingly impossible is put in proper perspective by the angel's response: "Is anything too difficult (or wonderful) for the LORD?" (Genesis 18:14)

Many impossibilities are self-imposed. Past experience serves as a fair indicator, from a human perspective, of what can and cannot happen. Women, for example, are biologically limited as to their childbearing years. But, God does not always operate per the so-called "norm". As the One who has established the "norm", He is also fully capable of defying it.

Faith is the force that sees the possibility of the impossible. Many are very familiar with the Bible's working definition of faith: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1). Faith sees the possibility of the impossible because it is focused on the God of all possibilities.

It's been said that life is filled with clever challenges called "impossibilities". But, who are we to call things impossible when we serve the God of the possible? May we face the seemingly-impossible today with the force of faith. Through it, we see the true invisible reality that is the realm of our great God and Father.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's comparable to rocket science, from my perspective. Composing original music seems like the ultimate impossible task. My painfully limited understanding of it leads me to believe that every possible arrangement of notes and chords has already been exhausted. Surely there are no more new songs to be written.

"Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth." (Psalm 96:1)

If composing new music is prerequisite I, for one, am excluded from worship. Unless the new song we are implored to sing is something other than an original musical composition. And, I suspect it is. The "newness" of our song likely has more to do with fresh insight, perspective, and experience than it does musical notes and chords. A fresh, new perspective of our Father's power and might, wisdom and knowledge, compassion and care, provide impetus for our "new song". The adventure of discovery in our daily walk with our Creator gives rise to a new song. And, what we share with others concerning what we have experienced firsthand further enhances the new song:

"Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples." (Psalm 96:2-3)

Nothing more powerfully reinforces what we have learned and experienced than sharing those things with others.

Relationships quickly become dull and uninteresting when we learn nothing new. When was the last time you discovered something you didn't know about your spouse? Or your best friend? Or children or parents? We can be sure that there is that which we don't know about those closest to us, but complacency and routine keep us from discovering those things.

What about God your Father? And, Jesus your Savior? When was the last time you discovered something new about them? Has Scripture recently broken through with some new insight? Are you eagerly seeking to learn something new?

I'll confess: I'm easily complacent. I have some basic understanding of God my Father. I'm becoming aware, even as I write these words, that my assumption that I know what I need to know is nothing short of utter arrogance. If my limited understanding of the Unlimited One satisfies me, what do I truly know about Him in the first place? I've made God in my own image, and that is a far cry from the reality of who He truly is.

The challenge before us this day is to learn something new of our infinite Father that gives rise to a new song of praise in our hearts and testimony. May the discovery truly be life-changing.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

You receive a passing grade when you fail the test. What school, you probably are asking, has that kind of rule? Sign me up!

Absurd as this "test rule" may sound, it's God's rule. The "test" is the Law, and failing it places us right where He wants us to be.

"For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe ... Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:21-22,24)

It's only in failing the test of the Law that we are in a position to "pass" through faith. Sadly, there have been - and are today - many who try with all their might to keep God's Law, not realizing that its ultimate purpose is to be our "tutor" and lead us to faith in Christ. As such, the Law has value, and should not be neglected. But, trying to keep it is a recipe for frustration and futility.

With renewed appreciation for faith, and hope through promise, we are reminded: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:26-29)

Savor the promise, hope, and the reality we enjoy through faith.

©Steve Taylor, 2012