Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A man once had the choice of a life of luxury, or of unspeakable hardship. The choice would seem fairly obvious, wouldn't it? But, when faith is the key factor, it always chooses the challenge.

"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward." (Hebrews 11.24-26)

Moses, the man of privilege, forsook his status and followed his Father's leading. The choice is well summarized in these words: "choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin". This is the basic choice we all face: indulge in personal pleasure, or share in the unjust treatment of the people of God. To stand strong with the people of God is to face opposition from the system of the world, which is set in radical opposition.

It is interesting that Moses, having lived many years prior to the coming of Jesus, considered "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt". As a man of faith, with keen insight into God's plan, saw in advance the suffering Messiah. In faith, he chose to cast his lot with the Christ he had never met. 

Living two thousands years past the time of Christ, we face the same challenge. Faith leads us to forsake the 'treasures" of our age and world for the "reproach of Christ". Like Moses, we are called to lose self, and pursue the path of service and sacrifice. We choose to be inconvenienced by the needs of the people of God, and a lost world. We choose to be defined, not by vocation or social status, but by sacrificial service. 

Faith chooses the more difficult path. But, this is ultimately the path of blessing. For it is on this path that we are able to see "Him who is unseen." (Hebrews 11.27). 

May the call of our Father, and the example of His Son, place us each on the path that truly matters.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The high-ranking military officer had a problem. This man of power, influence, and respect had a humiliating condition that could not be solved. He had a dreaded skin disease called leprosy. 

The details concerning this man Naaman and his problem are recorded in 2 Kings 5. A young Jewish slave girl, familiar with the mighty deeds of God through the prophet Elisha, speaks to Naaman's wife of the possibility of a cure (2 Kings 5.3). In short order, Naaman speaks with his superiors, and his king drafts a letter to be delivered to Israel's king. Apparently unfamiliar with Elisha, the Israeli king is deeply disturbed and fears that this letter is prelude to a military conflict. Word reaches Elisha; Naaman is invited to Elisha's house; the stage is set for supernatural help. Ah, but things don't go as anticipated. Elisha delivers a message by a servant as to the divinely-prescribed cure (verses 9-10), and the mighty military man, Naaman, is outraged. Eventually counseled to do as prescribed, a miraculous cure is appropriated, and this mighty military man is absolutely convinced of the reality of the One true God.

Lessons and applications abound from this ancient story. Naaman's leprous skin condition well represents the problem we all have with sin. Dipping in the river Jordan represents baptism. The miraculous restoration of his skin to "the flesh of a little child" (verse 14) is a type of new birth through baptism. 

Perhaps the most basic lesson, however, is that of simple obedience to that which our Father commands. Naaman's servants understood what Naaman did not: Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, "My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean'?" (2 Kings 5.13) What God calls for us to do is generally basic and simple. He wants child-like obedience; something offensive to our sophisticated adult mentality. 

The Bible contains plenty to challenge the deepest of scholars in their study. But, it contains the simplest of commands that are to be readily received and unquestionably obeyed. The task before us is to respond in love to the Father who loves us, and follow in simple faith. 

What is He calling you to obey and do this day? In humility and faithfulness, respond to Him Whose plan and directive will ultimately work best.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

We've likely all heard the saying, "credit where credit is due". Proper attention for things done is right and good. And yet, there is gross neglect of this in a very important area.

"The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all it contains, You have founded them." (Psalm 89.11)

The LORD God alone has created all that exists, including you and I. But, sadly, He has been displaced from His proper position by anti-God thinking and reasoning. It is lamentable that there is a decided mindset against His existence and creative work; in spite of clear evidence:

"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." (Romans 1.20)

The natural world itself provides ample testimony to the existence and nature of its Creator. Only a fool would deny what is clearly evident.

The singular God of creation bears the name YHWH, or simply, the I AM - the self-existing One. He is absolutely matchless. None compares to His power, majesty, wisdom, and love. He alone rightly deserves full recognition for Who He Is, and what He has done. 

The Psalmist says, "I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever; To all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth." (Psalm 89 1.1). Credit where credit is due. The Psalmist was determined that his would not be the sin of omission or ingratitude. 

I know people who keep a daily "gratitude journal". Simply listing daily five things they are thankful to their Creator for is an excellent exercise. Credit where credit is due.

I thank my God today for the gift of His Son. And for the people of God. For a loving wife and family. For abundant provision. For the privilege of declaring His goodness and greatness to you through this medium. I can immediately see that my list of five could be greatly extended. 

Take time to take five today. Within five minutes you can easily list five things you're grateful to your Father for. 

May thankfulness this day be the great source of abundant blessings for you, and a renewed connection with the One true God, your Father.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One of the healthier fast-food restaurants has a saying displayed prominently: "Food is essential to life. Therefore, make it good". What is true in the physical real is also true in the spiritual realm: Spiritual food is essential to spiritual life. Therefore, make it good.

"Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts." (Jeremiah 15:16)

Nothing can substitute for the spiritual nutrition that God's word brings. And, developing a healthy appetite for it is absolutely essential. Sadly, there are many people of faith whose main spiritual diet consists of man-made devotional guides, or the lessons and sermons of favorite teachers and preachers. These may well serve as good supplements, but they dare never be substitutes for God's word. Of themselves, they are like a diet consisting exclusively of dessert.

The most common challenge most of us face in studying and "ingesting" God's word is that there are plenty of passages we don't understand. Honestly, I bog down in Leviticus as I read God's various and sundry laws pertaining to cleansing, mold, and infectious skin diseases. But, there is a larger purpose for such passages, and these need to be read in faith as being beneficial. Reading them is a bit like understanding the process of digestion: we don't have to fully understand it to be nourished.

Asking two simple questions any time we read and study the Bible helps greatly in understanding: (1) What does it say?; (2) What does it say for me to do? Also, another essential to understanding is group Bible study. No one has "cornered the market" on understanding (2 Peter 1.20), so there is great benefit in studying together and learning from other diligent truth seekers.

Loving the truth of God's word is the only "deception prevention" (2 Thessalonians 2.10), and this in itself should be sufficient incentive to diligently study. Beyond that, the peace and direction that can only come from God's communication through His word is valuable beyond measure.

We really are what you eat - physically, mentally, and spiritually. A variety of Bible passages remind us to carefully select the food we serve our mind, and nothing is more important than choosing the best nutrition of all: God's word, the Bible.

May you find joy and nourishment through rich feasting on His word today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

In a time of historic heat waves and record drought, this promise seems inaccurate:

"You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth. You water its furrows abundantly, You settle its ridges, You soften it with showers, You bless its growth. You have crowned the year with Your bounty, And Your paths drip with fatness." (Psalm 65:9-11)

The picture portrayed by the Psalmist seems to transcend time, as he uses such phrases as, "The stream of God is full of water". I immediately think of the beautiful description in Revelation 22 of the river that flows from the throne of God in the perfect age to come. The refreshing stream of God satisfies today, but ultimately satisfies in the truest sense in the coming kingdom.

The stream of God also brings to mind the "times of refreshing" that comes to all who repent and return (Acts 3.19). The refreshing of His Holy Spirit revives both land and people.

Whatever form the refreshing takes from the stream of God, this much is certain: His supply is never lacking. Our Father is immune to budget cuts and supply restrictions. His provision is aptly described with such words as "overflow", "full", "abundantly", "bounty", and "fatness".

The stream of God refreshes in this age, but ultimately it restores in the age to come (Acts 3.21). The true abundance God promises is not for now, but later. And, in faith and hope, we anticipate that fulfillment. This is the view we have as we pray the model prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread." Many scholars understand the truer meaning of Jesus' words to be, "feed us today of the bread of tomorrow." Nourish and strengthen us today with that which ultimately satisfies in the age to come.

Our Father is the God Who Provides. Will the One who promises immortality and the fullest possible life in the kingdom age to come neglect to provide for our needs today? Surely not. 

May we live today in the full confidence of His provision - now and in the future.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Everyone needs a do-over. Our accumulated record of mistakes and missteps becomes much too burdensome to carry forever. We desperately need the liberation of forgiveness.

"Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love." (Micah 7.18)

These words spoken by Micah the prophet were uttered during a dark time for the nation of Judah. The people of God had forsaken their God and turned to a multitude a false gods and idols. Their stubborn disobedience had incurred the wrath of God, expressed through the ruthlessness of an evil empire that defeated and oppressed them. But, God's wrath was not final, not was His love abated. Amidst these dark times, Micah reminded the people of God of their God who "pardons iniquity", and "does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love." While they had been unfaithful to their covenant with Yahweh God, He would forever remain faithful and merciful.

While our specific disobedience may not be the same as the ancient people of God, in principle it is. Our idols are more in the form of technological ones. Our passionate devotion to our Father - like these Jews of old - easily cools into indifference. Lip service replaces heartfelt devotion (Isaiah 29.13)

I'm longing for a do-over. It's not just that I want the slate swept clean (I already have that in Christ - Romans 8.10); I want the passion and fire to return. I want true devotion to supplant mere duty. The glimmer and glow of today's modern idols appeal far too much. What I want is to rekindle the holy romance; to eagerly long for times to slip away with His word for intimate conversation in the quietness. 

So much as it depends on us, we will never be fully faithful. But, the God of covenant "delights in unchanging love." To "come clean" before Him - without pretense - is to be given a new heart, and a willing spirit. 

"Father, remove the heart of stone, and give us a new heart - ready and willing to obey fully; passionate for the God of delightful and unchanged love."

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No one is immune to burnout. Whether secular work or spiritual service, exhaustion and discouragement sometimes leave us defeated. For this reason, the story of a burned-out prophet of God offers perspective and refreshing.

Elijah was the mightiest of prophets. Among his greatest feats was a showdown with four hundred and fifty false prophets, in which Elijah called down the fire of God as convincing evidence of Yahweh's reality (1 Kings 18). Ah, but so often defeat waits in the wings of success. As 1 Kings 19 opens, a threat from the queen sends the prophet of God running; this man who had bravely confronted an army of false prophets shortly before (1 Kings 19.1-2). What follows is a classic case of burnout and depression. He leaves his servant behind (verse 3), and travels alone for a day. Exhausted, he sits down under a tree, and is there confronted by God Himself. His depression is clearly evident in his words:  "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers." (1 Kings 19.4).

Harboring suicidal thoughts amidst physical and emotional exhaustion, God tenderly restores this mighty man of God. He supernaturally provides him with food and drink (verses 5-7) while Elijah catches up on some much-needed rest. Once rested and fed, this man of God begins a forty-day trek that brings him into the restoring presence of his Father and Creator. His sense of isolation and discouragement (verse 10) are met with the a meaningful assignment (verses 15-17), and the revelation that a significant number of godly people are partnered with him in following and serving the Father.

The lessons from this ancient story are practical and relevant. Significant accomplishments and achievements often pave the way for burnout. Hunger and lack of sleep - deprivation of physical needs - distort perspective. As someone has said, sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap! 

Amidst discouragement and depleted energy, the priority is the same as Elijah's. Begin an intense quest for your Father. Devote concentrated time to His word, and to prayer. Search for the meaningful assignment He has for you. Reconnect with His people who diligently live and serve. Partner with an "Elisha" (vss.19-21). 

No one is immune to burnout. If this is the season of your life, seek rest, refreshing, and reconnection. Your Father stands ready to restore those who are His.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, July 09, 2012

Need I remind you that we live in an incredibly noisy world? Amidst the din, countless voices and messages compete to be heard. So deafening is the noise, the worthwhile is easily lost amidst the worthless. If only we could turn down the volume and listen to that which truly matters!

"My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken." (Psalm 62.1-2)

I have some friends who regularly participate in a weekend of silence. No cellphones or modern electronic devices are allowed. In an outdoor retreat setting, time is devoted to reading and studying the word of God, and attuning themselves to His presence in the silence. Their testimony is that such experiences are truly life-changing.

My morning quiet times are generally anything but. Like the Psalmist, my goal is to wait in silence "for God only", but the rush of random thoughts easily distracts. I wonder how much time I truly need to deprogram enough to truly listen?

A couple of summers ago a group met on Wednesday nights to devote an hour to listening in the silence. At first, silence seemed awkward. Over a period of weeks, however, a sense of our Father' presence permeated the room as we prolonged our time of waiting. 

We are reminded in Psalm 46:10 to "Cease striving (be still) and know that I am God". In our noisy world, an hour or even an entire weekend are probably insufficient to truly become silent enough to hear. But, such times of silence are imperative; in them we are reminded, like the Psalmist, that "From Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken." Our focus and confidence are not what they could be without such silence.

The challenge before us this day is to devote a period of time to silence - to better know our Father, and His salvation. May we be refreshed and encouraged in the silence.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Religion and politics. These are the two big taboos. The surest way to create instant controversy and conflict is to introduce either or both topics into a conversation. So, what happens when THE key religious figure is drawn into the sticky topic of politics? Things get interesting.

Confronted by the religious leaders, ever intent on trapping Him in his words, Jesus is challenged by this question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (Matthew 22.17). What transpires next is brilliant: "But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, 'Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the tax.' So they brought Him a denarius. 'Whose image and inscription is this?' He asked them. 'Caesar's,' they said to Him. Then He said to them, 'Therefore, give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'" (Matthew 22.18-21)

Avoiding a carefully-laid trap, Jesus left us with an important principle of which specific details are difficult to hammer out. Bottom line: there are obligations to both God and country. But, just what those are has been the subject of widespread debate and controversy. 

Without question, we are to obey and pray for those in governmental leadership (1 Peter 2.13-14; Romans 13.1-7; 1 Timothy 2.1-2). Beyond that, Jesus' words are a bit more challenging to apply. Do we vote? Do we seek to enact change and reform? Is our role different in a democracy than in a totalitarian regime, such as existed when Jesus and Paul spoke? 

This much is certain: there is only one government that will truly last. Jesus admonishes us to seek it first and foremost (Matthew 6.33). We are specifically called to be its ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5.20). All earthly nations and governments are in radical opposition to it, and are under the jurisdiction of the enemy of God (1 John 5.19).

The call to serve the kingdom of God easily encompasses our entire being and energy. I, for one, find service to this government immensely satisfying and worthwhile. There is no other government that offers both societal and personal change and reform. And, there is no other government immune to decay and corruption.

May your service to the king and the kingdom be gratifying and fulfilling this day.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Ever wonder what God's voice would sound like? I imagine His voice would be a deep, rich, James Earl Jones-type bass; reverberating and commanding attention: "H-e-l-l-o-o-o, this is God". Probably Hollywood has had a greater impact in forming this image than biblical truth has. 

More importantly, if God were to audibly speak, what would He say? The account of a young boy hearing His audible words is very instructive.

"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent" (1 Samuel 3.1)

The backdrop for this life-changing encounter with the living God is bleak at best. An elderly temple priest named Eli and his immoral sons typify the spiritual climate of the day. While the temple rituals continued day after day, the God they were designed to serve had withdrawn into silence. The storm clouds of judgement had gathered on the eve of God's encounter with a boy named Samuel.

One fateful night, God broke through to this young boy. Twice confusing God's voice with Eli's (1 Samuel 3.2-6), Samuel was finally instructed by the elderly Eli to listen carefully as God spoke. What he heard was monumentally important, and deeply disturbing:

"I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder. On that day I will carry out against Eli everything I said about his family, from beginning to end." (1 Samuel 3.11-12)

In a single day, judgment would come to a blatantly wicked man and his family, but God would faithfully continue His work through an obedient young man, and all who were responsive. 

So, what's the take-away for us today from this ancient story? Perhaps simply that we be attuned to the voice of the LORD in the various forms it might take. Sometimes His voice is conveyed through a chosen messenger, as it was with a man of God send to Eli (1 Samuel 2.27-36). In rare instances, it may indeed by an audible voice, as it was with Samuel. Ultimately, His voice will always be heard in the record of the Bible. And it is here that we should concentrate our most intense effort to truly hear what He has to say.

I'm finding that whatever God has to say, He says it through His Son (Hebrews 1.1-2). My objective in life is to know Him, and to listen as He clarifies what the Father speaks. This is a source of great joy, as well as a remedy to any confusion about the voice of God. 

May we each be attuned to God's Son as He instructs us in the will and word of our Father.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012

Legacy becomes a priority as we age. What will the next generation remember about us when we are gone? What values and priorities will our younger family and friends associate with us? These questions and issues come to mind as I read the "legacy words" of an elderly man:

"O God, You have taught me from my youth, And I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come." (Psalm 71.17-18)

The Psalmist was a man with a mission: to declare the Father's strength and power to the next generation while he still had life. In his waning years, he clearly saw the priority of "passing the baton". It was unthinkable that he should keep to himself the multitude of stories of God's protection and provision. These true life stories of the work of God in his life would be compelling reason for the next generation to know and love the One true God as well.

Lest we think the Psalmist' legacy was of a life of ease and abundance, the reality check is in these words: "You who have shown me many troubles and distresses Will revive me again, And will bring me up again from the depths of the earth." (Psalm 71.20) Protection and power was always evident, but they were so amidst an abundance of adversity. 

Note well that the Psalmist had resolute faith in a future resurrection. He firmly believed that God would "bring me up again from the depths of the earth." Abundant as the Father's display of power was in his life, the greatest manifestation of power was yet to come: in the final resurrection of all believers.

Whatever our age, legacy needs to be a priority. What are communicating to the next generation of the power and presence of our Father? What stories of faith and hope will they remember us by? Of course, this all presupposes that our experience now is authentic and real. So, how are things today between you and your Father, as well as His Son? Legacy can only be build on the reality of today's experience.

The God Who shows us "many troubles and distresses" is faithful to deliver and empower. May our experience be genuine today, and the basis for compelling testimony to the generation(s) to come.

©Steve Taylor, 2012