Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Everyone needs a do-over. In golf, it's called a mulligan shot, defined as "A golf shot not tallied against the score, granted in informal play after a poor shot especially from the tee." 

It's not just golfers who need an occasional mulligan shot. We all are desperately in need of one.

"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool." (Isaiah 1:16-18)

God's "do-over", or mulligan shot, is a call to revisit attitude and behavior. Step back from disobedient and impure activity and attitudes. Practice that which is good. Defend and assist the downtrodden; orphans and widows in particular. Sit down with God and renegotiate. Reconsider His gracious offer.

A word often used in the Bible, and much neglected in emphasis, is the word, "repent". It is the quintessential "do-over" word. Rethink everything you thought you knew. In humility, consider the error of yours ways and thinking. Reorient your life and mindset around what God clearly shows you to be right. And, bear "the fruits of repentance" (Luke 3:8) - complimentary actions consistent with a change of mind and heart.

We daily need a "do-over". Bad attitudes and behavior will rear their ugly heads, no matter how we determine otherwise. We will say or do something wrong or regrettable this day, no matter how 'spiritual' we are. According to 1 John 1.9, a gracious offer is extended to us to confess and "come clean". But, verses 6-8 also implore us to be honest about our true condition, and pursue a path consistent with our profession of faith. A "do-over" is to be coupled with a true new direction.

You'll never find a better offer than what God puts on the table when He invites us to sit down and reason with Him (Isaiah 6.18). We do well to sit down and negotiate with Him, and find the liberation of forgiveness, and a Spirit-enabled new direction. 

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What storms threaten? No, we're not talking about a storm of the century, but rather those personal storms that loom large. A health, financial, marital, or family crisis. What do we do, and how do we respond?

An ancient king of Judah - Hezekiah - faced a formidable foe. The greatest menace of the day, Assyria - led by king Sennacherib - stood outside the city gates with a vast, well-armed army. Requesting terms of surrender would have seemed the logical move, but wise and spiritually-minded Hezekiah took this course of action instead:

"Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, 'O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God ... Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.' " (2 Kings 19.14-16, 19)

This man, whose life and kingdom belonged to the true and living God, spread the need and concern before Him. Hezekiah's concern was ultimately God's concern, so he took it to the true source. And, he sought victory and deliverance not for their sake, but for the sake of the LORD's reputation and name.

There are important principles here. Our battles are not truly ours, but the LORD's. Like Hezekiah, we do well to spread them out before the LORD. And, as we seek help and deliverance, it is not for us, but for His name and reputation. The help we seek is to serve the greater purpose of promoting His name and kingdom.

Hezekiah's example implores us to being our threatening battles and spread them before the LORD. Seek out His help, not selfishly, but for His great kingdom cause. Would His help and answer promote His name and cause? If we can answer a resounding, "yes!", then we ought to earnestly seek victory.

The model prayer (Matthew 6.9-13) - "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" - resonates with Hezekiah's prayer. Seeking the triumph of God's kingdom, both now and in the future, is a glorious witness and priority.

May we spread all our battles before Him Who alone can deliver, and may His victory over our battles advance His kingdom purposes.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

A recent survey indicates that a large number of professing Christians are categorized as "no" Christians. They profess personal faith, but indicate no affiliation with a particular church or denomination. Rather than seeking church affiliation to nurture their faith, they feel a need to protect their faith from the church. 

The problem with religion is that it easily establishes rigid standards that go beyond what God has established. Perhaps the "no" generation today would find the church more attractive if it more faithfully represented God and His Son. For example, consider the expectations of our Father:

"O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart" (1 Kings 8.23)

His desire is for a covenant relationship with all who are willing to enter.  He graciously extends the offer of immortality in the age to come on a renewed earth to all who will freely come. And, He actively shows lovingkindness to those "who walk before You with all their heart". He wants a  love relationship with those who will freely come; not stern, exacting compliance to a list of nearly impossible religious standards.

Religion and church sometimes allow building structures to hinder authenticity with our Father. Consider king Solomon's words on the occasion of the dedication of a temple for God:

"will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8.27)

It's much too easy for religion and churches to have an "edifice complex". It's the God-in-a-box syndrome: He only dwells in the 'sacred structures' dedicated to Him. Granted, many people have had significant encounters with God in these places. But, the danger of such moments is to believe that it is ONLY in such places that He is to be encountered. 

It seems that a key priority for every disciple is to expand their view of the Father, and simplify the list of expectations. He is bigger than our building "boxes". And, He is concerned with far less than 'religion' wants to attach to Him. He wants a love covenant relationship. He wants wholehearted love (Deuteronomy 6.5), not grudging law compliance (Psalm 51.16).

May we grow today in our awe of Him, and in the joy of the covenant love relationship He truly desires.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's not a very pretty picture. It's a commentary on the penalty for disobedience and unfaithfulness.

"In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced." (2 Kings 17.6-8)

What we read is a historical narrative with "the story behind the story". And, this rather depressing narrative is recorded for a specific purpose: "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15.4). In essence, learn the lessons of history. As the saying goes, "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

The "terms of the contract" with God are fairly basic: live and walk by faith through His Son, Jesus. Surrender to the renewing work of His Spirit in your life. Cultivate spiritual fruit. Diligently study His word. Develop a passion for His truth, and His mission. Love Him wholeheartedly and, by extension, the people He has created. By contrast, avoid what displeases Him. Don't learn and practice the abhorrent ways of godless peoples and cultures. Keep yourself "unstained by the world" (James 1.27). 

Our God is not unreasonable. He extends an unceasing appeal: " 'Come now, and let us reason together,' Says the LORD, 'Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.' " (Isaiah 1.18) So long as there is life, there is opportunity to have our ways mended, and begin anew with our Father.

None of us stand before Him today with perfectly clean hands and a pure heart. There are skeletons in the closet. There are things which we have done "secretly which were not right against the LORD" (2 Kings 17.9). But, we are not hopelessly doomed to share the fate of these ancient disobedient people. 

Today offers us the perfect opportunity to "come clean" before our LORD. Grace and mercy are freely extended amidst humility and repentance. But, like any other problem, sin won't go away just because we ignore it. 

We all belong to the universal club of sinners. But, we all also have the opportunity to know His grace and mercy through His Son. May we take advantage of His gracious opportunity to "reason together" today, enjoy the liberation of forgiveness, and the reinvigorating energy of a new start with Him.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sometimes good things go horribly wrong. An example is a domesticated wild animal that suddenly turns on its master, with tragic results. Another example requires us to flash back thousands of years. 

The setting is a desert wilderness in the Middle East, and the people of God are a nomadic band moving from place to place. In their disobedience to God, a plague is unleashed, and large numbers are perishing through the lethal bite of venomous snakes. A prescribed remedy was a bronze representation of a serpent on a pole. This bronze standard, when lifted up so as to be visible to the people, provided miraculous healing as those inflicted looked to it (Number 21.8-9). This symbol, incidentally, is often utilized by the modern medical community.

Now, many years later, that same bronze image still exists, but a problem has developed. Something that was once good and, literally, therapeutic, has now become a source of horrible evil. Notice:

"He (king Hezekiah) removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan." (2 Kings 18.4)

This bronze image, a God-sanctioned object for healing and help, had become an idol; a god unto itself. The tool had become a serious stumbling block.

The point to this whole story is the danger of good things. A good thing and a good way can become the only thing and the only way. Objects can become idols. Methods can become masters. 

The inherent danger in everything pertaining to the Christian life is that anything and everything can become a dangerous idol. Bible reading plans and methods, worship practices, postures and positions, Bible translations, certain teachers and preachers - the list goes on and on of good things that have "idol potential". 

The potential problems are far easier to identify than the solutions. The challenge is to look closely enough at what we do to try and determine what is in danger of eclipsing our devotion to our Father. When the object or practice begins to displace the rightful place of our Father, the tool has turned traitor and become an idol.

A passionate love for our Father, and His Son, are the best antidote for the danger of idol worship. May our love for our Creator supersede any wrongful devotion to any of His creation.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Job listings always include qualifications and expectations. Every job requires certain knowledge and skill sets. It's to be expected.

Anyone with even a basic understanding of the Bible also knows that God has expectations. It's obvious that He requires certain behavior and attitudes of His people. The problem is, they seem far too detailed, unwavering, and impossible to meet. How can fatally flawed people ever live up to the expectations of a holy God? Consider what an ancient prophet named Micah penned under inspiration:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

The "big three" that God expects fit squarely within "the big two" that Jesus explained:

" 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

Doing justice and loving kindness relate to loving for our neighbor as ourselves. Walking humbly with our God flows from wholehearted love for Him. And so, Micah's admonition aligns perfectly with the two greatest commandments.

Micah's "checklist" is not so much a duty to be performed as a witness to be shared. They demonstrate the qualities of the coming government of God; the kingdom of God. This age, characterized by perfect justice, genuine love, and kindness, can be glimpsed by the world through a manifestation of these qualities in the lives of His people today. 

God's expectations are profoundly simple yet radically life-altering. They cannot be met except through a total transformation of mind and attitude. The sacrifice and active work of Jesus is the sole means of that essential transformation and renewal of mind (Romans 12:1-2). Personal resolve and strength are inadequate but, through surrender, "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13).

Do justice. Practice fairness and equality in all your dealings with others. Love mercy. Develop a passion for assisting the underprivileged. Walk humbly with you God. "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4.6) 

We live according to "the constitution of the kingdom of God" when we practice Micah's priorities. May other see the King and the kingdom in and through us as we practice these key qualities through the enabling of the Spirit of God.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Business used to be transacted with a promise and a handshake, or so I'm told. In my lifetime I've known nothing other than binding written contracts, replete with undecipherable legalese. I recall a realtor once suggesting, at a  house closing, that each page of the ream of documents to be signed probably represented a lawsuit. 

Whether a verbal or written agreement, a contract is designed to be binding. It is a sacred trust and promise, not always easy to live by. Marriage is the ultimate contract, or covenant. Inherent to the "for-better-or-worse" vow is the recognition that the promise will not always be easy to keep.

God is the God of contract, or covenant. From His perspective, it is at least as binding as marriage or a mortgage agreement. Unlike those who enter contracts or covenants with a view of minimum-standard loopholes or escape clauses, God views it as absolutely, eternally binding. Consider:

"But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now." (2 Kings 13.23)

Destroying, or disinheriting, a disobedient people would have been the easiest thing of all. But, God never loses sight of His original covenant with Abraham in dealing with his descendants. It reminds me of His dealings with us through His Son, Jesus the Christ: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." (2 Timothy 2.13). From His perspective, the covenant is binding and irrevocable.

We live in an age of rampant foreclosures (although numbers are declining). Financially-strapped homeowners have become seriously delinquent with monthly payments, and financial institutions have proceeded with the provisions of the contract. Similarly, God has a covenant with His people in which He is comparable to the lending institution. When we fail to uphold our part of the contract, He has every right to take action against us. But, He holds out a "return clause" in which we can return and resume, without penalty, if we return in humility and sincerity. 

I've failed Him far more times than I can ever count. Every day is an adventure into some form of unfaithfulness. But, He continues to hold out His "return clause" to me. It's far more humbling than I can begin to describe, and deeply appealing. I want a fresh start - today; right now.

If you are a blood-bought believer, and Abraham's descendant (Galatians 3.29), this moment can be a repent-and-return moment. Seek out your Father, the God of covenant, and begin afresh. He's waiting to resume His life-giving covenant if we've strayed from it. Repent, and return.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"You'll never guess what happened to me while I was out of town!" Such could have been the statement of a man who had an extraordinary experience. Blinded by an incredible noontime light ... too stunned to eat or drink for three days ... sight miraculously restored through the touch of a man ... truly, it was the experience of a lifetime.

Acts nine records the dramatic conversion of a man named Saul, who was radically opposed to Jesus and His followers. Bent on their persecution, he was literally stopped in his tracks one day. This man, fully convinced that his was a mission for and from God, found himself running counter to God's very own Son -  "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9.5) He would go on to become one of His most faithful servants - instrumental in the establishment of numerous churches, and human author of approximately two-thirds of the Bible's New Testament. All this from a man seriously misguided at the start.

I've known numerous people over the years who have been envious of Paul's dramatic conversion (I include myself in that group). Sure, if we had a similar conversion, we'd go out and turn the world upside down with our faith too. Or would we?

Most of us can more accurately relate to another man whose conversion was less dramatic -  "I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well." (2 Timothy 1.5) Less dramatic than Paul's conversion, Timothy basically "grew up" in the faith, as many of us have.

Honestly, I don't think it's as much about our past conversion experience as it is about our present spiritual vitality. A 'Paul' convert can easily "rest on his/her laurels" and be unproductive in their faith. A 'Timothy' convert can make steady, faithful, and fruitful progress. So, where we've been isn't nearly as important as where we are. 

Where do things stand between you and the Lord Jesus today? Have you been like Paul - working in opposition to Him? Or, have you had a life-changing encounter that has set you on the road to faithful living and service? Are you passively resting on your past conversion, or actively living out truth and faith today? 

As someone has said, "the journey IS the destination". May we be faithful travelers today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

God is an easy target for blame. In the absence of a definitive, verbal voice, all the great disasters and misfortunes are easily laid at His feet. You've heard the reasoning (maybe even uttered it yourself): "If there is a God, why didn't He prevent so-and-so from dying? If there is a God, why didn't He prevent the earthquake / tornado / fire /etc ?"

So, is there any record whatsoever of God actually responding to such false allegations? You bet there is.

"Then the LORD said to Job, 'Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.' " (Job 40.1-2)

Thousands of years ago, a legendary man named Job endured unprecedented suffering and misfortune. Amidst it all, his faith remained resolute. But, apparently he was not totally blameless in his heart before God. God directly challenged his attitude with probing questions: 'Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? (verse 2) ...  "Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?" (verse 8).

What follows in Job 40 and 41 is a "dressing down" of Job by Almighty God. God challenges Job to match Him in strength, wisdom, and insight. Of course it's about as lopsided as a professional football player arm wrestling a ninety-year-old lady. As such, Job concedes in humility that "I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42.6)

We may have some inner doubts about God, His fairness, and His action or inaction. A little bit of Job may lurk in the recesses of our brains. A fresh revelation of our Father will remedy such things. A dynamic encounter will bring such issues to light. 

I recommend a careful study of Isaiah 40 as one such way to deal with the "Job issues" within. This passage, coupled with fresh insight through His Spirit. will remedy doubt and false assumptions, and bring us humbly in faith before Him. 

Those who point a cynical and accusing finger at the God Who often is silent will one day be forced to counter their charges in His presence. It will be anything but pleasant. Better that we should openly challenge these inner thoughts and doubts in the light of His presence and glory today. Such is the opportunity before us today.

May His overwhelming glory and majesty satisfy your doubts and concerns today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If God were to directly speak to you today, what would He say? Would they be words of reassurance, or words of warning? Perhaps His words to one man might serve as a pattern for what He would say to us.

"Now it came about when Solomon had finished building the house of the LORD, and the king's house, and all that Solomon desired to do, that the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as He had appeared to him at Gibeon." (1 Kings 9.1-2)

The setting is the conclusion of king Solomon's work in building a magnificent temple for worship, as well as other initiatives on his heart and mind. Against that backdrop, Yahweh God communicates this message:

"I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually .As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, 'You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.' " (1 Kings 9.3-5)

God was pleased with the temple Solomon has had built, and looked at it with special favor. As for Solomon, he could anticipate God's special covenant blessings if he walked in faithfulness and integrity. But, a solemn warning is also issued: unfaithfulness will result in judgment and destruction (vss.6-9).

A special relationship with the Father is a type of two-edged sword: immense blessings and favor, but harsh judgment if there is blatant disregard and unfaithfulness. It's much like a marriage relationship. 

So, what would God say to you today? He would be pleased with your initiatives for Him. He would remind you of the blessings of faithfulness to His covenant. But, He would also warn you of the consequences of unfaithfulness to Him. This is His timeless message to all His people.

Today is the day to continue with our godly initiatives. His blessings will rest upon such work in the form of His empowering Spirit to accomplish what we desire. Within His grace through His Son, Jesus, we are reminded of His promises. The kingdom is coming. The gift of resurrection and immortality is promised. But, should we reject His grace, a fearful prospect awaits. 

So, let's be up and about with that which He has placed on our hearts. Remember judgment, but dwell on grace and promises. Live joyfully and confidently in His favor.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

If a prophet were to show up today, how would you know? What would he look and sound like? Could you sort out a genuine message from a counterfeit one? 

"Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' " (Matthew 3.1-2)

A wild-looking survivalist man took center stage over two thousand years ago. His mission had clearly been foretold several hundred years earlier: "For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, 'THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!' " (Matthew 3.3). 

His purpose and message was clear: to call people to repentance in light of the coming kingdom of God, and to prepare the way for its king - Jesus Messiah. He insisted that the repentant "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3.8). In other words, a genuine change of heart and mind characterized by lifestyle change; not mere words and tears. 

So, a genuine prophet will announce the coming kingdom of God, and call for lifestyle repentance. He will point to Jesus as the Messiah, king of the kingdom (Matthew 3.11-12). He will prepare the way for His coming.

We are those modern-day prophets. The call of God is upon the people of God to "make ready the way of the Lord"; to prepare for Jesus' return to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are those entrusted with the message about the kingdom of God (Acts 8.12), and the call for repentance and preparation in light of this fact. 

This call probably does not necessitate that we retreat to the wilderness, clothe ourselves with animal skins, and feed on a truly all-natural diet. But, it does mean that we see the mission and the message with clarity. And call for a heartfelt response. And clearly point others to Jesus and His coming.

Our task may not be that of street preacher, but it is an urgent task to impact the lives of those around us through the clarion call of the king and the kingdom. If He is coming, then that means there is urgency. There may not be a tomorrow. And, if today is all there is, then it cannot be frittered away on secondary issues. It's about time, eternity, and decision. 

May we be faithful in serving today as His prophets in this eleventh hour of history.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, October 08, 2012

It's always advantageous for political candidates to talk about their faith, but how do we separate rhetorical from reality? It's hard to know who "talks the talk", and who really "walks the walk". Make no mistake; these words by a government leader were the real deal, because they had been learned the hard way:

"His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' ... Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride." (Daniel 4.34-35, 37)

A powerful king lived as a wild madman for seven years because of his arrogant pride. Through Yahweh God's direct intervention, Nebuchadnezzar learned what many people - great and small - have stubbornly resisted. Because of his extraordinary experience, his testimony about The Most High God was absolutely reality-based. No political rhetoric here. For him, there was an inescapable truth: there is a Creator God, superior to all so-called gods. He is absolutely supreme, and His authority supersedes that of even the most powerful ruler. A wise ruler will "praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven".

Per this great confession, and what is revealed in symbolic form in a dream (Daniel 2) about the great governments of human history, we learn that it's all downhill from Nebuchadnezzar and his confession. No government leader has ever uttered such an honest and true assessment of his position in relation to  His Creator. Many have politely acknowledged our Father, but none have ever equalled or surpassed Nebuchadnezzar's honest appraisal. 

What Nebuchadnezzar learned and confessed is not just confined to the realm of government leaders. It is imperative for everyone to come to the same realization: there is a Sovereign God Who deserves praise and honor. And, that needs to be heartfelt praise and honor; borne from personal experience with Him. No mere lip syncing to songs of praise that have a nice sound, but rather expressions from the heart; forged in the furnace of our times with our Creator.

May we each know deep in our hearts and minds that which Nebuchadnezzar freely confessed before all peoples and all times.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Famous last words. Well, some of them aren't so famous, even't if those who uttered them were ("put out the light" - Theodore Roosevelt).

These last words of a famous man truly are worth considering: "Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, The man who was raised on high declares, The anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet psalmist of Israel, The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue." (2 Samuel 23.1-2)

What greater privilege can anyone enjoy than to be raised up and anointed by God, and to have Him speak through them? With life's final moments at hand, this "sweet psalmist of Israel" was savoring His Father's grace to him. 

Hopefully no one reading these words is living in their final hours, but we each do well to live life from that perspective. There is wisdom in considering life's conclusion, and working back to the present. To finish well, we need to be on target in living today. Live life with a view of legacy. 

It may be a bit morbid to think about what we want written on our gravestone, but it would be hard to improve on David's epitaph: "The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue." Better yet, if friends and family were asked to provide a phrase, that it would be something very similar to this one. He/she was a conduit through whom God spoke. 

So, if this is our desired epitaph, then today's priority is to cultivate that reality. How might I best surrender myself to God's Spirit? How can I best be used as His spokesperson? Addressing these questions today puts us in a better position to be characterized as David was at the end of his days.

Our words are either life or death to other people. We either vent negativism from our natural humanity, or we uplift and encourage through God's Spirit. 

We are called to be "good news people" in every sense of the word. The two-fold gospel (Acts 8.12) is our mantra for living and speaking. Kingdom faith, hope, and love resonate from the depths of our being, and bless those around us. 

The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue." May all who know us best offer a hearty, "amen!" were we to speak these words about ourselves.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A phrase I often hear on a Christian radio station is "intentional living". It stands in sharp contrast to haphazard living, which might well describe how many people live - without plan or purpose. Intentional living implies direction; a purpose-driven life - another phrase used much these days.

A wise sage said, "the unexamined life isn't worth living". Our Father has worded it another way:  "Consider your ways!" (Haggai 1.5,7). Think about the direction of your life. Consider your priorities. Evaluate lifestyle.

In the case of God's message to His people through Haggai the prophet, they had placed high priority on their own comfort and ease. They were enjoying leisure at home while God's house lay in ruins (Haggai 1.4). So, His challenge was this:  " 'Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,' says the LORD." (Haggai 1.8). 

Lest we conclude that God's words are a mandate to start a church building program, we do well to first clarify what He means by "temple". While brick and mortar was once the place where God met with man, the plan is different these days. His temple is flesh and bone; blood-bought people (i.e., 1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19). So, if He calls us to consider our ways regarding His temple, we intentionally give thought to our personal lifestyle, and our connection with the people of God.

Someone recently commented about a greater awareness of the need for genuine connections among the people of God. That sounds spot-on with God's words through Haggai. Consider your relationship with the "temple", the body of Christ. How genuine are your connections? Mere pleasantries on Sunday morning? Or, heartfelt sharing and prayer beyond the regular "services"? Are you actively encouraging the discouraged, and challenging the wayward? 

I'm an eternal advocate of small groups; preferably home groups. We're never more of a kindred spirit with the original church than when we participate in authentic home groups, because that's what the first church was. The church that turned the world upside down didn't have brick and mortar meeting places; those came several hundred years later. At the start, the people of God devoted themselves to scripture, prayer, communion, meals - community life; all in home settings. 

Intentional, purpose-driven living is about investing in the temple, the people of God. We start with Spirit-enabled living (Galatians 6.22-23), and then devote ourselves to one another. And, it's win-win: we get to know our Father better, and His Son; and we are enriched through our true family connections.

It's cliche' from an old commercial, but also a biblical mandate: reach out and touch someone. Connect with at least one other member of the body of Christ today, and be blessed as you are a blessing to them. Having done so, you will have taken an important step in intentional living for the king and kingdom.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, October 01, 2012

Ever had one of those "haven't-I-heard-that-somewhere-else" moments? Likely we've all had plenty of them. Something stated another time and place is later repeated, and grabs our attention. And that's the point: repetition strongly reinforces. Our Father is a master of such.

"It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain And brings forth the wind from His storehouses." (Jeremiah 51.15-16)

If you looked back in Jeremiah 10.12-13, you would find the exact words. In fact, if you compared Jeremiah 10.14-15 with 51.17-18, you will find nearly identical words concerning idols. So, apparently God wants to reinforce through repetition these important truths. I'd suggest that the point of this repetition is this: make it a priority to know your Father best as you can, as a safeguard against abominable idol worship.

I've lately been reading a book about modern idols, and I'm discovering they are more pervasive than I realized. I don't have my household gods of wood or metal figures, but they exist in other forms. Like creature comforts. Technology. Ambition. Indifference. That which supplants my Father from His rightful place is an idol.

The best way to avoid worshipping at the wrong throne is to make sure to spend lots of time at the right one. In other words, make sure to spend plenty of time with the Father. That can best be done though scripture and prayer. 

This may inflict some pain, but let's be honest: just how much time do we REALLY devote to our Father? Sure, we can say we're in a prayerful mood at work or school, or we pray commuting to and from work. But, how much time do we spend doing nothing else but reading His word and praying? Probably much less than we give ourselves credit for. Not that the entire measure is time spent alone with Him. I can devote an hour to prayer and sleep through most of it, or allow my mind to wander. Quantity is no guarantee of quality, but it is an important precursor. 

Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6.21) Money is treasure, but so is time. Wherever i have invested time, money, and energy, my true devotion will be found there also. So, the question of the hour is: based on this criteria, where is my heart? Hopefully right where it ought to be. But, if not, this is the hour when an important readjustment can be made. 

May our Father be pleased to see us as individuals truly devoted to Him. 

©Steve Taylor, 2012