Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's absolutely true; you gain through giving up. Not that this is the rationale to do so; it's just the reality. 

"everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19.29)

This is certainly my testimony. One of the hardest decisions of my life was to leave home and family at the tender age of eighteen, to attend Bible college and prepare to serve in pastoral ministry. To this day, I'm amazed I wasn't in an auto accident as I drove to college for the first time, because my vision was clouded with tears most of the way. But, this difficult journey was the beginning of an immensely rewarding one. My circle of friends and family has literally been multiplied. Having left the security of my parent's home, I've now been blessed to own four homes over the years (if having a mortgage truly equals owning a home!). I've visited and lived in places I could never have imagined. And, above all, the promise of eternal life in the age to come has never burned brighter. As testimony to the words of Jesus, I have indeed been blessed as He said.

The gospel of Mark - parallel to these words in Matthew - includes a phrase omitted in Matthew's account: "along with persecutions" (Mark 10.29). The blessings of this age, and the hope of the age to come, are not without hardship. The Christian life is hardly cake walk time; there are those radically opposed to the truth we declare and live. 

Jesus doesn't need my personal testimony to validate the truth of His teachings, but I can't help but to speak of how true His words are in my life experience. I've gained far more than I've given up. I wouldn't trade my journey thus far for anything. 

I pray that my testimony will give you cause to pause and consider how greatly your life has been enriched because of your deliberate choice to pursue the king and the kingdom. May the people of God today lift up a great collective prayer of thanks for the blessings of the journey.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What's the point in taking notes if you never look at them, or forget where you put them? I've gone from Day-timers to the myriad of today's e-reminders, and still haven't found the perfect organizational tool. I'm beginning to wonder if it's just me ...

An online course I'm taking reminds me that there are six hundred thirteen Old Testament laws. How could anyone possibly remember them all, and faithfully observe them? It's not that there hasn't been - and are today - those who have diligently tried. Truth is, it simply cannot be done. Something better is needed.


Committing six hundred and thirteen laws to memory and practice will never work, but then that has never been our Father's ultimate plan. His plan is to write on our hearts and minds that which ultimately matters, and enter into an agreement of life with us. His priority is covenant relationship, not a checklist of do's and don'ts. That which He ultimately desires, He has provided through His Son. Consider:

"you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God." (2 Corinthians 3.3-4)

Instead of learning the letter of the Law, we've been made into a letter of sorts in Christ. The living God, through His Spirit, has written on our very hearts, even as He wrote on stone tablets to give to Moses. This "heart writing" is undeniable, and a perfect constant reminder.

In my quest for organizational tools, it appears that I've finally found the perfect one. God has given me an internal tool to constantly remind me of the agreement of life He has with me. May we each find comfort and confident direction as we attune ourselves to what He has written on our hearts and minds.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Courage and boldness in the face of obstacles. It's a tall order, but it's today's order. The more difficult the challenges, the greater the need for courage and boldness.

Sounding a bit like the scrolling opening verbiage to the famous Star Wars movies, the setting is a land long ago, and the focus is on a young man facing a monumental task. Perhaps this young man might well be compared to Harry Truman, facing the sudden reality of the empty shoes of his predecessor, President Franklin Roosevelt. Regardless of the comparison, this young man - Joshua - is privileged to have an audience with Creator God at the dawning of a new chapter in his life. The dynamic leader, Moses, is dead, and Joshua finds himself facing an unfinished task and some incredibly large empty shoes. Against this backdrop, he hears these important words from His Creator Father:

"Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:5-9)

"I will be with you". Could any words be more reassuring? And, could any words better serve as a basis for strength and courage? Regardless of the obstacles and challenges, God's presence would be a constant. The task at hand was unswerving obedience to the word and Law of God, and success would follow.

The words, "I will be with you", echo down to us today. Perhaps His presence may not always seem evident, but faith takes Him at His word - "I will be with you". Whether life is lived today on the mountain or in the valley, He is with you. His unseen presence is there, and He knows and understands. Circumstances may not change because He is there, but be assured that He is the God who is in the midst of them, offering you both strength and boldness. 

Your Savior echoes these same words: "I am with you always , even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20). May these assures be your strength and boldness this day - and always.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Plan your work, and then work your plan. That's the convention wisdom, and apparently it's divine wisdom as well.

"O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness." (Isaiah 25:1) 

God has His plans, and they are perfectly and faithfully executed. Consider His plans for His Son - and us:

"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." (Galatians 4:4-5)

The Bible is a book of promises extended from our Creator to us, His people. These promises were His plan before time began, and they are - and will be - faithfully brought to fruition. For example, an important reminder much on my mind lately, is that found in Acts 3:21 - "(Jesus) 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."  God's restoration plans are as old as time itself, and are on track to be fully fulfilled by a God of perfect faithfulness. You just wait and see!

The older I get, the more I clearly see that the priority is to get with "the plan". God's restoration project is the only priority that matters. His ultimate plan is to make all things new. That's our hope through resurrection. That's the destiny of planet earth. That's His desire for our lifestyle, and our relationships with one another. That's what we seek when we pray the model prayer, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven"

Let's all get with the great plan. Our faithful Father desires that, and is fully on track to fulfill it. He would like nothing better than to have you and I on board with it. What better praise and thanks to offer Him than to join Him in His plans.

Seeking to participate in the plan today,

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Living large in the land. That's the plan and the promise. But there are obstacles in the way. 

"Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the LORD has given them? This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the sons of Israel so that they did not go into the land which the LORD had given them." (Numbers 32:7-9)

God gave the people of Israel the land of promise. Victory was assured; they merely had to go and take possession of it. But doubt and fear detoured faith and victory. They were consigned to forty years of meaningless wandering. Only two men exhibited God-pleasing faith, and they saw the land of promise:

"None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; for they did not follow Me fully, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the LORD fully." (Numbers 32:11-12)

There are important lessons tucked away inside this ancient story. We've been given a land of promise too; it's called the kingdom of God. It's land that can only be possessed by faith and following the LORD fully. We can partially step foot in it now, but we won't live in it fully until THE day. For now, we can wander aimlessly through life, or we can walk meaningfully in faith, with the ultimate reality of the coming age in view. I choose the faith that produces sight. Through faith, I see the new world and its possibilities. And, the reality to come courses backwards to today and infuses it with life and purpose. 

Living large in the land. Faith sees what will be, and partially creates that future reality in our existence today. The new earth overshadows a decaying and damaged present one. Immortality through resurrection overarches today's frailty and pain. Faith sees the land, and allows us to live as through we were in it now. May nothing deter you today from the coming reality that is yours through faith.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Is anybody listening these days? The noise and commotion of our modern lifestyle is a major deterrent to the fine art of truly listening. Paid professional counselors seem like the only ones who will really listen to us; but then, that's their job. And yet, we are not without an attentive, listening ear:

"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)

The Psalmist recounts for us God's deliverance in life-threatening circumstances. God's attentiveness and deliverance were unmistakeable; ample evidence for a lifetime of trust and faith. 

Carefully recounting God's specific acts of help and deliverance are vitally important in our own lives. These serve as basis for a lifetime of thankfulness, and the calm assurance that God is always there, and hears.

One of the great gifts we can offer to someone is that of attentive listening, and unqualified acceptance. This is one of the great gifts our Father offers to us. As such, our response ought to be the same as that of the Psalmist: "What shall I render to the LORD For all His benefits toward me?" (Psalm 116:12) 

In grateful appreciation to my ever-listening Father, what is my reasonable response to Him? Each of our responses may differ, but nothing can be more important than considering this question. What is your response to it today?

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who hasn't cried out to God amidst despair? Never is prayer more real and intense than when we cry out in the agony of our human suffering. And, we can appreciate the honesty of of others who have prayed similarly. Consider:

"Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O LORD -how long? ... I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief" (Psalm 6:2-3,6-7)

The raw agony and pain expressed in this prayer leap from the pages of Scripture and into our hearts and minds. If not now, at least in the past, we have been kindred spirits. Serious illness, loss of a loved one, bitter disappointment - each of us have been touched by life's pain. But, is our consolation in commiserating with those who have similar experiences? Thankfully not. For the Psalmist, despair - as raw and real as it was - was not the ultimate reality. Eyes of faith and hope saw the eventual deliverance and triumph:

"For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. The LORD has heard my supplication, The LORD receives my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed." (Psalm 6:8-10)

God has heard, and He will act. If this is a season of trouble for you, know that this is true. The silence, as has been said, may be deafening, but His silence is not neglect. And, He will ultimately act. Not necessarily as we wish or think, but as He wisely determines. 

God's specialty is of repairing that which is broken. His kingdom project is ultimately that of restoring a broken world to its original perfection (Acts 3:21). Along the way, His plan is to repair broken people. Be assured His knows and hears, and is on track to ultimately restore you through resurrection and immortality in the coming age. May you experience a portion of that restoration power today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's commonly called the "prosperity gospel". The gist of it, as often declared by televangelists, is that God loves you and wants to prosper you. Believe, and you'll be rich!

More often than not, those who have "signed on" to this gospel have found that the prosperity largely extends to those who are declaring it. But, there is evidence that God indeed desires to prosper us. Consider:

'If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land." (Leviticus 26:3-5)

As is consistently the case, God extends promises based on key conditions. Obedience is prerequisite to blessings. And, in the case of the Israelites, these conditional blessings were prosperity - abundant produce, rain, and bountiful food. 

We easily have our own ideas as to what God's prosperity ought to look like. Perhaps we think of it as winning the lottery - suddenly we're fabulously wealthy because we've been unfailingly faithful. This may be the experience of a few, but most of us find our material resources are as limited (maybe more so) as those outside the household of faith. And yet, are we lacking completely? Has God ever utterly failed to provide the essentials? You know the answer.

Of all that God promises His people, this is top of the list: "So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you." (Leviticus 26:9) We enjoy His attention ("I will turn toward you"). We have been made fruitful and have been multiplied (carefully consider what these mean in the truest spiritual sense). And, He continually confirms the covenant of life He has made with us through His Son, to give us the gift of immortality in the age to come.

The gospel IS one of prosperity, but don't confuse it with the fleeting prosperity of the world. He has given us something far greater. Savor the promise, life, and prosperity this day.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

We value that which costs us something. Our deliberate choice to invest hard-earned money in something indicates that we see it as something of value. As such, we have an attachment to that which we've invested in.

"He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God." (Psalm 50:23)

Thankfulness hardly seems to fit in the category of sacrifice and and investment. But, perhaps this only seems so because we have already made the choice to invest in thankfulness. Human tendency is to focus on self, but born again, spiritual people are drawn to look outside themselves to the God who abundantly provides and blesses. The "sacrifice" is to diminish self and see the Father who is there, and Who provides. 

Much is said and written about "the attitude of gratitude". I've lately heard of the challenge to keep a daily "gratitude journal", listing 5-10 things daily to be thankful for. It takes time and effort to do so - sacrifice - but the benefits abundantly outweigh any cost. Specifically recounting causes to be thankful for is liberating and life-changing. 

Coupling this "attitude of gratitude" with a firm commitment to "order aright" our ways places us in a position to see the salvation of God. In essence, our Father is pleased to save those who are grateful and obedient in lifestyle. 

Far too many people have been robbed of the joy of salvation because of grudgingly following a "religious checklist". Sure, God specifies "do's and don'ts", but making these our focus is missing the point. God has designed us for a love relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus (Yeshua). Gratitude is the foundation of this relationship. We honor Him as we cultivate this important mindset, and our relationship is one of joy and fulfillment.

The path to the kingdom of God is the highest privilege. We don't deserve to be on it but, by His grace, we are. If you need a place to begin your "gratitude journal", this is an excellent start. I'm grateful for the path toward the kingdom that brings purpose and fulfillment today, as I long for its ultimate consummation. And, as an unworthy sinner, I'm tremendously grateful to be on this wonderful path that I don't deserve to be on.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Imagine going to the service desk of a store to pick up a long-anticipated order, and then not waiting around to receive it. Could anything be more ludicrous? And yet we may do this very thing more often than we realize.

"In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch." (Psalm 5:3)

It's commendable to form the habit of morning prayer time, but it's less effective if we don't - as someone has called it - "practice the presence of the LORD". The ideal, as the Psalmist says, is "I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch." A morning prayer watch is not an end in itself, but rather something that sets to the tone for our day. It helps heighten our awareness of our Father, and prepares us to be attuned to His presence and activity throughout our day.

Few things are more challenging. Who doesn't live their life at a frenetic pace, pulled in a multitude of directions? Urgent tasks scream like sirens, while God's still small voice is all but silenced. How is it even remotely possible to "eagerly watch" for God in our lives amidst such a backdrop?

The solution may well seem evasive, but the priority is not. Unless we find ways to "practice the presence of the LORD", our activities and lifestyle are destined to digress into meaninglessness. His presence alone infuses life with purpose and fulfillment.

A vital step in cultivating God's presence in the everyday is a committed lifestyle. He draws near to those who cultivate His godly character, and repels those who do evil. "For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit. But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, At Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You" (Psalm 5:4-7).

May we "eagerly watch" and find our Father's presence as we live and serve today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Few things seem as absurd as idol worship. Why bow down to a wooden, stone, or metal object and declare it to be your superior? And yet God's people seem to have a chronic propensity to do exactly that. Take for example, the infamous story of the golden calf. Moses ascended Mt Sinai to encounter the living God, and receive His commandments. His prolonged absence from the people of God became their license to indulge in idolatry.

"Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, 'Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' Aaron said to them, 'Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.' Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.'" (Exodus 32:1-4)

This perverted worship invoked the wrath of God, and would have resulted in their utter destruction were it not for the covenant agreement God had made with them ( "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.' " - Exodus 32:13)

The very people who saw the greatest demonstration of the power and presence of the LORD quickly stooped to idol worship. And, in my righteous indignation, I level an accusing finger. But, just as quickly, I realize there are idols in my midst as well. Sure, I'm far too sophisticated to bow down to a stone, wood, or metal idol. But, when I consider that an idol is anything that takes the rightful place of my Creator, I immediately see that I too bow down where I ought not. My idol worship takes the form of entertainment, comfort, and complacency. That which diminishes my first love (Matthew 22:36-40) is my idol. 

Idol worship is absurd, but I'm not immune to it. Nor are you. Therefore, some "worship introspection" is in order. "Father, what gods have taken Your rightful place in my life?" Are we prepared to hear His response?

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, May 07, 2012

Someone has aptly summarized it in saying, "the only thing certain in life is change". Life is seasonal; marked by times of loss and gain, joy and grief. But, more certain than life's changes is the constant that God is there, and is our strength and help.

"God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea" (Psalm 46:1-2)

We live in a world rocked by change. The daily news brings information of some new tragedy or setback. In fact, the news industry would not have a job were it not for change. But, the truest reality is not change, but the God who does not change, and Who is our strength amidst troubling changes. Not even cataclysmic natural upheaval is cause for fear for those who trust in the LORD.

Troubling circumstances often bring troubling thoughts. Who hasn't had at least one sleepless night when trouble preoccupies our minds? But, the God Who is our refuge and strength urges us to "Cease striving and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). If our focus is on our trouble, we will only be troubled further. But, if we make the mental choice to "cease striving" within ourselves, we uniquely have the opportunity to know the presence and reality of our Creator.

The Psalmist reminds us of God's ultimate triumph: "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10) Though evil and trouble appear to triumph today, our Father will ultimately prevail. And, we who are His will share in the inevitable victory.

Ours is anything by a trouble-free existence. You need not be reminded of your anxiety-producing circumstances. But, lift your eyes above present circumstances. and see the greater reality of the big picture of God's "present help" and coming victory. The kingdom of God is coming; and in part now is. Nothing will prevent or deter that which God has decreed. And, nothing and no one will triumph over those who are His.

Live confidently and victoriously amidst life's changing circumstances today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Add on to the house; the family's getting bigger. At least, that's how it used to work. In a bygone era, the home place was enlarged to accommodate a newly-married son or daughter, and eventually, their offspring. 

"Enlarge the place of your tent; Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; Lengthen your cords And strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations And will resettle the desolate cities." (Isaiah 54:2-3)

God's message to His people, Israel - through the prophet Isaiah - was that the family would be getting larger. It was their destiny to be a numerous people who would "possess nations". Through the blessings of God, these chosen people will ultimately triumph.

You and I are among the members of this large family - "if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:29) God's chosen people are the children of faith - Jew and Gentile alike - who have come to new life through faith in Abraham's descendant, Jesus Messiah. This is the family destined to possess nations; to inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Growing up, I enjoyed the life of a large extended family. Family get-togethers were loud, joyous events, surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and plenty of cousins. The family of God offers even greater joy and satisfaction, as we encourage and equip one another for our great date with destiny:  to rule the world together with our Lord Jesus. 

Choose today to connect in a greater way with at least one member of this amazing family.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The story is different, but the message is the same. It's about another people in another time, but it's really about you and me.

Thousands of years ago, God's chosen people were oppressed and in bondage in a foreign land. The burden they bore was great; their suffering intense. They desperately cried out for deliverance, and that deliverance eventually came.

"I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.' " (Exodus 13:5-8)

The story is about the oppressed Israelites, and their deliverance by God through Moses, but the message is for us today. We were in bondage - not in Egypt, but to sin. But, God has established a covenant of life through His Son, and He remembers it. So, He has brought us out from the bondage of sin, and redeemed us with an outstretched arm. He has made us His people, and enlightened as to the truth that He is Yahweh God. And He promises to "bring us to the land" - the kingdom on earth that His Son will rule at His return.

This ancient story is today's reality for us, His people. He is actively delivering us from the destructive power of our human nature, by His Spirit and power. He daily is reminding us that we are His people, and continually forming us as family. He has set our feet on the pathway to the coming kingdom.

The Israelites didn't lead a rebellion and deliver themselves from bondage; they were led through it all by God's man, Moses. God has raised up a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) to deliver us. His name is Jesus (Yeshua), and we need only to follow His lead. Step by step, He faithfully guides those who trust in Him. The pathway is disciplined, but not difficult. It will cost you everything even as you gain everything. 

May you find great joy, peace, and contentment as God's Deliverer leads you from bondage to the rich land of the kingdom of God.

©Steve Taylor, 2012