Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I came of age during the tumultuous sixties and seventies. Amidst a very unpopular war, peace and protest songs found voice. One in particular stated, "Now I've been happy lately Thinking about the good things to come And I believe it could be ..."

Eventually, the unpopular war ended, the peace movement diminished, and such songs faded into history. And yet, these lyrics reflect something greater. There are "good things to come"; in fact, GREAT things to come.

"On that day the deaf will hear words of a book, And out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the LORD, And the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 29.18-19)

There is a peace movement underway, and it's more than just a response to a particular war. It is God's ultimate answer to all things wrong and broken. And, it's already begun for "the deaf" who hear His words of life, and for the "blind" who see His truth. Those who are afflicted (that's pretty much all of us!) find increased gladness in the LORD that defies our human condition.

The world of Isaiah the prophet in the eighth century B.C. was a far cry from the world of today. But, the timeless message of coming kingdom hope resonates with us today as it did with the people of his day. And, when understood in the true light of God's coming kingdom, yesterday's peace songs offer hope as well: "I've been happy lately Thinking about the good things to come".

Kingdom hope and expectation isn't cause for inactivity and irresponsibility, but rather the source of confident optimism amidst even our most challenging times. Nothing and no one are irreparably broken from the perspective of the coming age of restoration (Acts 3.21). 

Lets be up and about this good news. One of the greatest ways to truly believe it is to share it. Remind your brothers and sisters in Christ of its central importance and reality. Share it with those who are badly broken in this present evil age. Look up and look forward. The kingdom is partially here, and it is fully coming. Live in it today as you look for it to come in fullness. What will your life look like today if you believe it passionately?

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Prayer and pain. They often go hand in hand. The worse the pain, the more heartfelt the prayer. In times of greatest anguish, verbal prayer is often superfluous. 

Consider the example of a young woman named Hannah. Her story is recorded in 1 Samuel one. Her agony was that she was childless. Those who have never been in this situation will have trouble relating to her agony. Over the years, I've known couples who desperately wanted a child of their own and were unable. The raw pain is especially evident with would-be mothers. 

Difficult as this is for us to relate to in our contemporary society, Hannah was in a polygamist marriage, and her husband's other wife had several children. The pain of childlessness was especially evident when the family made their annual pilgrimage to the temple of God to offer sacrifices. Even worse, Hannah was taunted unmercifully by her rival wife (1 Samuel 1.6). 

In her extreme distress, Hannah made a vow to the LORD to offer a son to His service if He would allow her to bear a child (1 Samuel 1.10-11). At this time, a temple priest named Eli observes Hannah praying before the LORD:

"Now it came about, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Then Eli said to her, 'How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.' But Hannah replied, 'No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the LORD." (1 Samuel 1.12-15)

Heartfelt prayer amidst personal pain was mistaken as drunken utterance. Perhaps this description helps us wrap our minds around Hannah's agony, and frame our own times of suffering. In our darkest hours, verbiage is transcended by the depths of our emotions. And, that which cannot be communicated in words is indeed heard: "the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8.26). 

Whether amidst pain or peace, the most honest prayers supersede words. Take time to pray today. If necessary, use words.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, June 25, 2012

We've probably all heard the phrase, "the apple of the eye". It's a reference to our eye's pupil - the dark opening at its center; the "lens of the camera", so to speak. More than that, it represents extreme favor. The favored child of a parent is "the apple of his/her eye". And, we are that child.

"For the LORD'S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil (apple) of His eye." (Deuteronomy 32.9-10)

Your name may not be Jacob, but you assuredly are God's people and inheritance. Through faith in Christ and conversion, you and I have become sons and daughters of Abraham (Galatians 3.29) and Jacob (Israel). God found us in a proverbial "desert land" - a barren, hopeless place. Left to our own resources, we would surely have died there in that harsh environment of sin. But, God has tenderly encircled us; provided shade, water, and nourishment. He has shown us favor and protection as "the apple of His eye".

In my lifetime, I've known plenty of people who didn't feel very good about themselves. Many of these have been badly damaged by toxic friendships and destructive relationships. Sadly, they would have trouble identifying even one person who would consider them "the apple of their eye". If only they could truly know their status with their Father! 

Perhaps a Monday is the best day of the week to consider your Father's estimation of you. As you do so, battle with every fiber of your being the temptation to allow disappointing friendships and relationships to overshadow this precious truth. God sees us far differently than others do. If we could only see ourselves as our Father sees us.

I would love to place a gift in your hands this day. It's colorfully wrapped, with a big, beautiful bow. As you tear into the wrapping, and open the treasure inside, you discover - to your absolute amazement - that it is the gift of God's estimation of you. 

As best as I know how, I'm placing that gift in your hands today. Open it ... savor its contents ... and live life today in wonderment of it.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm concerned about good people. Good people live decent lives, devoid of the serious missteps that characterize "bad" people. They don't drink, chew, or go out with women who do. They are neighborly, hard-working, and honest. And, they dare believe their "goodness" will some day grant them favor before God in judgment. No assumption is more dangerous.

Basic goodness without faith amounts to nothing. The one quality that God most highly prizes is that of faith - "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11.6). And that's the fundamental problem with "good people": nothing can make up for the absence of faith. Besides, our 'goodness' isn't really all that good: "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isaiah 64.6).

"What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone" (Romans 9.30-32)

I'm currently taking an online course, taught by a Jewish professor. He states that the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Judaism is focused on sanctification, whereas Christianity focuses on salvation. That's the essence of Paul's statements in Romans 9: Israel has pursued works, whereas non-Jewish believers have come in faith. And faith wins the day, because God treasures faith enough to provide righteousness that cannot be found through jealous works; 'goodness'. Stated another way, goodness follows faith, but can never substitute for it.

There are 'good' people in church every Sunday. Some are there enjoying the goodness that comes through faith and conversion. Others are there thinking that the 'goodness' of their church attendance earns them favor with God. One is an attempt at works; the other is a grateful response to salvation through faith.

Make certain that the 'goodness' you stand in today comes through humble faith. This writer urgently desire to talk with any who are unsure of the 'goodness' they base their hope in.

May you enjoy peace today as you walk by faith with the God Who provides all goodness through His Son, Jesus Messiah.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

No country would boast of a three hundred man army. Especially when there are countries capable of raising up a three hundred million man army. But, in the divine scheme of things, three hundred easily outweighs three hundred million. 

Judges seven records a historic battle between the army of Israel, under the leadership of Gideon, and a vast army of Midianites. Three hundred men defeated a large army (verses 22-25). End of story. Except, there was a great reason why a three hundred man army marched into battle instead of a thirty-two thousand-man army:

"The LORD said to Gideon, 'The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me.'" (Judges 7.2)

The key lesson is succinctly summarized in this verse, written many years after the Gideon story: "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong" (1 Corinthians 1.27). God specializes in the absurd.

The tiny nation of Israel is the world's great enigma. There is every reason why this minuscule nation and people should no longer exist, and yet it does. Their heritage is that they have been chosen as a covenant people by God. "How odd of God to choose the Jews", the saying goes.

But, we - the people of faith through Jesus and Abraham (Galatians 3.29) - are chosen as well. We are the rag-tag band of misfits destined to one day rule the world with Christ. How absurd! The nothings and nobodies of the present world are members of THE royal family. 

The odds are stacked against us as we face life today. The world's system is a large, well-equipped army in the spiritual battle we face. We are David standing against a giant Goliath. All bets are on our opponent. But, God desires to bring victory that can only be attributed to Him. So, we face the battle with faith and humility.

Relish the absurdity of your situation today. Your Father stands ready to bring overwhelming victory in the face of incredible odds. Behold His mighty hand as you live for Him today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, June 18, 2012

Few things are as humiliating as being overlooked. During my grade school years, I sometimes felt like the invisible boy, whose comments in groups often seemed ignored. I felt a certain affinity with the woodwork in a room, amidst my more popular or talkative classmates. But, whether ignored by teachers or classmates, I clearly see that i've never been truly overlooked.

"He does not remove His gaze from the righteous, but He seats them forever with enthroned kings, and they are exalted." (Job 36.7 Holman)

Whether wallflowers or social butterflies, we do not escape the notice of our Father. We are keenly observed, and highly prized; we share in the ranks of royalty. No monarch or aristocrat has anything over on us. As humble servants of the King, we've been lifted up to high places in His great government. We're the ultimate rags to riches story.

Great as all this sounds, it's difficult to wrap our minds around the true reality. His prince or princess feels more like a pauper in this age. Citizens and rulers of the age to come are overlooked by the powerful and influential today. Even worse, we face oppression and opposition. The exalted ones of the age to come share a kindred spirit with those in the hall of fame of the faithful - "men (and women) of whom the world was not worthy" (Hebrews 11.38).

Look up, kingdom citizen. You are not, and will not be, overlooked. Your Father looks upon you with unflinching eyes. He neither blinks nor is distracted. And, that puts life's experiences is a fresh perspective. Seeming setbacks are not accidents that occurred when He wasn't looking. He is keenly aware of all circumstances, and stands ready - so much as we are wiling to participate - to weave them into the fabric of kingdom character in our lives. 

We are not overlooked, but instead are prized and exalted by the King. Celebrate your status, and live victoriously for Him today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I just don't have the heart for it. Try as I might, I can't make myself do what I ought to do. And that becomes the source of never-ending guilt.

Sound familiar? That's the dilemma of anyone who tries to take seriously the requirements of God. Little wonder that many people just give up and turn their back on the whole thing. An impossible God with impossible standards. 

No one truly has the heart for it, but that need not be a bad thing. Consider:

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." (Ezekiel 36.26-27)

The cynic gives up on God and His ways when his/her best efforts fail. Of course, that's never what God intended. The One who gave the pathway also gives the power. It's a bit like the teacher who gives both the test and the answers. It's not nearly as difficult as many imagine.

I marvel at the realm of Spirit life. The God of creation places the very Spirit that created all things within the heart of the believer. This creates what we might call "holy passion" - a burning desire to walk in His ways, and away from sin and wickedness. So, it's not about trying harder, but yielding more.

Romans twelve, verses one and two outline a fundamental choice we all face every day: conformity to the mindset of the world, or transformation through a renewed mindset by the power of Holy Spirit. We choose daily to conform, or be transformed. It is a mental choice, and a mental battleground. How we think and feel is how we live. 

I don't have the heart for it. But, I rejoice that I serve a Father who gives me the heart and mind to live for Him. 

May your walk in the Spirit today be God-pleasing and productive for the kingdom.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What is it about the past that looks so good? We often refer to the past as "the good old days", and more so as we age. But, memory is selective; time has a way of filtering out the nastiness of the past, and primarily remembering the good. Nevertheless, the past looks especially good amidst present-time crisis and challenge.

"The angel of the LORD appeared to him (Gideon) and said to him, 'The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.' Then Gideon said to him, 'O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why  then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian." (Judges 6.12-13)

Little did Gideon know, when visited by an angel, that one of the greatest chapters in Israel's history was about to unfold through him. Instead, he saw a bleak present-day reality against the backdrop of God's mighty works in Israel's past.

The present almost always pales in comparison to the past, which is why we are told that it is unwise to make the comparison (Ecclesiastes 7.10). What we so easily miss is the potential of the present for the future. Would Gideon have asked the angel such a question if he knew what was about to unfold? Surely not.

What opportunities and breakthroughs do we stand on the threshold of? What are we in the midst of today that is pregnant with possibilities? What amazing thing is our Father about lead us into in our journey of faith? Bleak as today's prospects may appear to be, they may be cleverly disguised as faith opportunities.

Gideon was the least likely candidate for great things: "He said to Him, 'O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house.'"(Judges 6.15) Quite often, God uses the least and the weakest to accomplish His great purposes. His work isn't based on ABILITY, but AVAILABILITY. As such, the key factor is, "Surely I will be with you" (Judges 6.16)

What will our great God accomplish through us today, as we are available to Him? 

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Monday, June 11, 2012

There is no getting around aging. In spite of the proliferation of beauty and anti-aging products, none truly work. Sure, they might provide a temporary reprieve but, inevitably, age had its effect on us all. Everyone except ...

"Even to your old age I will be the same" (Isaiah 46.4)

Thankfully, the one true constant is the Ageless One, and He is not only there; it is He who ultimately cares for us.

"You who have been borne by Me from birth And have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you." (Isaiah 46.3-4)

From cradle to grave, the people of God are carried and delivered by their faithful God. Such knowledge should invoke the greatest of awe and appreciation.

"To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike? ... For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure' ... Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it." (Isaiah 46.5, 9, 10, 11)

We serve an Incomparable God, Who alone is worthy of praise and admiration. No other god knows the end from the beginning, as does our Father. None other speaks of what He will do, and truly does it. Such is God our Father.

For all that He has done for us, there is so little that our Father truly asks of us. But, what He desires should be our great desire. To know that He is incomparable. To know that He is changeless, and our true caregiver from cradle to grave. To acknowledge that He alone knows the end from the beginning. To know that what He decrees He is faithful to do.

This day will be a completely ordinary day, devoid of true meaning, unless we devote time and energy to considering the greatness of the God Who made us. Don't let this day pass without pausing to ponder your amazing Father.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

One step from death. We've likely all been there at least once. I most remember the time, on an icy highway, when I lost control of my car as I was trying to pass a semi-trailer. To this day, I don't know how I avoided being crushed by the truck, or slamming into a concrete culvert to the left of the highway. I literally can say, like the Psalmist, "You have rescued my soul from death" (Psalm 116.8). I should have been dead or seriously injured, but I was spared.

"Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate. The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me. Return to your rest, O my soul, For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For You have rescued my soul from death, My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the LORD In the land of the living." (Psalm 116.5-9)

From the vantage point of advancing years, I see more clearly that however God spares us in this age, it's a very temporary fix. What is truly amazing is that He spares us to "walk before the LORD In the land of the living." I take that to mean that His ultimate help is to renew us through resurrection so that we can walk before Him in the kingdom age to come. 

King David's life was filled with countless instances of God's intervention and rescue. But, ultimately, he fell asleep in death, as is destined for all. God's greatest work of deliverance is yet future for him - and us. Meanwhile, however, we can say as he did: that He has rescued "My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling." Sorrow and grief touched David, as it does us, but God is the God who "will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 21.4). And, He keeps our feet from stumbling; i.e., prevents us from tripping away from the true life to be given in the kingdom age.

Whatever disadvantages or setbacks we may be facing in life today, we are still here! We are living and breathing; blessed far beyond what we think or imagine. Whatever tears we have or will shed, they will ultimately be dried. However badly we've stumbled, restoration is still a real possibility. Today is ripe with positive possibilities through the God Who delivers!

May you enjoy a refreshing and restoring walk with our gracious Father today.

©Steve Taylor, 2011

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The war was waged with trumpets and loud shouting. This hardly seems like brilliant battle strategy, but it actually worked. 

Joshua six records the famous story of the battle of Jericho. Anyone who has ever attended Sunday School as a child learned how "Joshua 'fit' the battle of Jericho ... Jericho ...". But there is a lot more here than just an interesting children's Sunday School lesson.

God had promised the Israelites the land of Canaan, modern-day Israel. It was an inhabited land, and priority number one was to defeat and drive out the inhabitants. Unfair as this might sound, the land was filled with people steeped in idol worship who had earned God's wrath. And so, the task at hand was to inhabit the promised land and rid it of its idol-worshipping occupants.

Here's where the story gets very real and personal: the promised land represents the territory of the kingdom of God - land we will possess, and possess now in part. There are "enemy fortresses" (2 Corinthians 10.4) in the midst that must be defeated. These represent anything in opposition to the king and the kingdom - habits, unholy practices, evil thoughts, etc. And, these cannot be destroyed or conquered by conventional weapons. Carving out impure mental thoughts from your brain would be ... well, suicide - and highly ineffective. Thus, the truth of 2 Corinthians 10.4 comes to bear: "for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses." We fight the war much as Joshua did at Jericho - with "divinely powerful" unconventional weapons. 

Challenging as this may be, the priority today is to "map out the lay of the land" of our lives. What activities comprise my life? What am I doing with my discretionary time? What are my hobbies? How am I spending discretionary money? What "fortresses" have I allowed to be built? What stands in radical opposition to the principles and priorities of the kingdom? 

Having identified any and all strongholds, it's time for a mental and spiritual "Jericho march". Circle the enemy strongholds in your mind. Shout the walls down in faith. Drive out the inhabitants. Reclaim the land, and institute a new habit and discipline that serves the kingdom.

May your day be gloriously victorious.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, June 04, 2012

Few people approach Mondays with enthusiasm. Our bodies strongly resist the much-too-early siren sound of the alarm clock. And, the demands of a new week seem to weigh heaviest on the first day into it. Lord, give me strength!

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary." (Isaiah 40:28-31)

We serve a God whose strength is unabated. As a limitless source of strength, He strengthens the weary, and increases the power of the weak. Those who are diligent to wait upon Him will find new strength. Pretty reassuring promises for a Monday!

I'm often reminded of the important condition of WAITING. God is not a cosmic vending machine, giving answers to prayer, and help in crisis, on an on-demand basis. As the old saying goes, "good things come to those who wait". God supplies in His good time, but what He wants is an encounter with us. It's not ultimately about what He supplies, but rather Himself; time in His presence. To wait upon Him - to abide in Him - is to take on something of His very character. And, what we truly need is not His case-by-case answer and help, but His very nature that provides ongoing strength and help. We need His answers but, more importantly, we need HIM.

Today's challenge is to take a period of time for solitude with your Father. Whether it be fifteen minutes, a half hour, or an hour, carve out time in your schedule to sit in silence, alone with your Father and His word. Perhaps, in preparation, you might want to think about the words to an old hymn, "Sweet Hour of Prayer". Consider the author's experience and testimony, and let his words draw you into a refreshing experience with your Father. He's waiting for you to wait for Him.

©Steve Taylor, 2012