Thursday, November 29, 2012

What is your greatest regret in life? Likely we all could compile a list, with several competing for the top spot. For one man, there was an incident that clearly was top of the list. It happened one night while standing around a fire.

"Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, 'You are not also one of His disciples, are you?' He denied it, and said, 'I am not.' One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, 'Did I not see you in the garden with Him?' Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed." (John 18.25-27)

Not once, but three times, this outspoken disciple renounced Him whom he vowed to stand with through thick or thin. In Jesus' dark hour, Peter sank to a previously unthinkable depth. But, once and for all, this despicable chapter in his life cured his pride and self-determination. In an abundantly gracious gesture, Jesus offered Peter the opportunity to erase his three denials with three affirmations (John 21.15-17). Later, Peter would be mightily used of Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost to boldly declare the Christ he had so vehemently denied (Acts 2).

Maybe our denials aren't as blatant as those of Peter, but we are guilty nonetheless. Perhaps we've "conveniently" omitted Christ from a conversation. Maybe we've relied on our "silent witness" when words could have been life-changing. Denials take many forms.

Past regrets can be needlessly paralyzing. The gracious Lord who reinstated His denying disciple extends the same offer to us. And, like Peter, once humbled and purged of pride and self-sufficiency, we are ready to be mightily used through Holy Spirit as well. 

We likely all have long lists of past regrets. But, what's been done has been done. Today is the day to respond to His offer to be reinstated and renewed. Today is the day to humbly accept forgiveness and Spirit-empowering, and to walk faithfully. In this moment, regret and guilt can be released, and refreshing renewal can set us resolutely on the path to the kingdom. May that release and renewal be yours in abundance today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We lament poor government administration, but vary in our estimation of what makes for good government. Political parties, as well as cabinet and judicial appointments, really have little to do with it. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, there is no solution, because the solution is beyond human capability. Every experiment in human government is a mere band-aid fix for something that requires a radical reformation. Only one government and leader offers what's truly needed.

"And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:3-9)

God's Son - king of His kingdom - is uniquely qualified to offer the world a government with a lasting solution to all its problems and challenges. He alone will provide a perfect system of equity because He alone can judge beyond the "skin deep". He is armed with sufficient power to quell rebellion and anarchy. So sufficient is His leadership capability that it will even affect the natural instincts of the animal kingdom. Ultimately, His leadership will result in worldwide saturation with the true knowledge of Yahweh His God. 

When we view Isaiah's portrait of perfect government, and the changes it will enact, we easily see how woefully inadequate human government at its best is. And, with renewed passion and focus, we more fervently pray the model prayer: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6.10).

The world deserves a better deal than it is getting from any human government. Our mission in the world today - and every day - is to proclaim and advance the perfect government to come. With singular heart, mind, and voice, may we clearly do so.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It was an unforgettable sight. Standing in a Florida parking lot, a mere ten miles from the Kennedy Space Center, the countdown on the NASA public address system could be heard even at that distance. At liftoff, the brilliance of the Space Shuttle's main engines turned the night sky into dawn as it roared from its launch pad. It truly lit up the night.

"The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them." (Isaiah 9:2)

The tiny nation of Israel, so often the area of conflict and war, saw an incredible brightness over two thousand years ago. Fulfilling these words of Isaiah the prophet, Jesus emphatically declared, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) The light switched on, and has been burning ever brighter since.

A pervading darkness looms as we march towards the end of this present evil age. Middle East conflict simmers and flares, and threatens to draw the rest of the world into its volatile vortex. This, coupled with environmental and economic upheaval, add to the menacing darkness.

"Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Undue attention to the darkness leaves us cynical and pessimistic. Not unaware of the present darkness, the people of God instead see it as an opportunity to "light the candle" of kingdom good news. We take up the flickering flame of Jesus' declaration and demonstration, and hold it high to brighten our dark world with this brightness of the coming age.

People groping in the darkness of today's world are looking for that which is authentic and real. As recipients of "the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8.12), we have the brightest and most authentic light of all. 

One of my favorite contemporary songs challenges us to "Carry your candle, run to the darkness Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn Hold out your candle for all to see it Take your candle, and go light your world". 

May the light that has shone so brightly in our lives shine out as a beacon of hope in the darkness of today's world.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Some people like us because ... well; they just like us. For whatever reason, they have a "soft spot" for us, no matter how flawed or fickle we are.

A man named David understood that. For reasons he likely never fully knew, his God felt the same way about him.

"Now, therefore, thus shall you say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a name like the name of the great ones who are in the earth.' " (1 Chronicles 17.7-8)

David was as flawed as any man who ever lived. Words like "murderer" and "adulterer" aptly describe him. But, God "took a liking to him" because of a more important quality: he was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13.22). Misguided as his passion often was, he had an abiding passion for his Father that drew his Father to him.

Character counts. God desires a holy lifestyle, to be sure. But, attention to discipline and behavior at the expense of true passion for our Father is pointless. He wants our heart before He wants our behavior (Matthew 22.36-40). As such, there is no more stinging indictment than that which God leveled at His people through Isaiah the prophet: "this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote" (Isaiah 29.13).

The remedy for ritual is fresh romance with the Father. The need of the hour may not be service or sacrifice so much as simply spending time in heart to heart sharing. When was the last time you had a truly heartfelt conversation with your Father? If the answer is elusive, then the need is pressing. Clear some calendar time. Get away to a quiet place. Turn off the technology. Open your heart, and share deeply. Listen intently. Rekindle the flame. 

May passion for the One who is truly passionate about you draw you into a life-changing experience today.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wars and rumors of war. It's not like we should be surprised, since Jesus told us ahead of time to expect them (Matthew 24.6). The vast majority of human history has been characterized by war rather than peace, no matter how much we've yearned for peace.

The present Middle East hostilities have our attention, and many are wondering if it's headed toward a truce or Armageddon. Regardless of the immediate outcome, it's safe to say this is one more of a long line of conflicts destined to culminate in the ultimate conflict. In spite of humanity's hopes, lasting peace will always be elusive. As Jeremiah the prophet declared, "They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6.14) A band-aid approach to human brokenness will only produce temporary peace at best.

It is inevitable that people who are at war with God will ultimately war with one another. James reminds us: "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask." (James 4.1-2) As long as there is even one person who is not under the absolute control of Holy Spirit, there will be human aggression, fighting, and war. 

The root cause of all war is conflict with our Creator. Until there is perfect peace within that relationship, there will never be true world peace. This truth alone ought to fuel fervent evangelistic and missional effort. The agony of the most recent outbreak of hostilities painfully reminds the people of God that the message and mission are far from fruition.

We are a good news people. While we are well aware of the prospects and reality of approaching Armageddon, we declare - against that backdrop - that peace with God through Christ is not only possible, but imperative. Except one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3.3) - the true realm of peace on earth.  

War reminds us how much was lost in the garden paradise, but also reminds us what is to be gained in the coming earthly paradise at the return of Christ. Meanwhile, the imperative of peace with God and peace with one another (Matthew 22.36-40) are the marching orders for the people of God today. May we live in peace in the truest sense, and serve as ambassadors of peace as our Father has designed.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We live in what is aptly called the age of anxiety. From natural disasters to economic uncertainty, there is plenty to induce anxiety. But, the fickle trends of the times ought not greatly disturb the people of God. 

"the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:26-27)

Stressed-out, anxious people did not learn such through God's Spirit, because God's instructive Spirit produces peace, not panic. The main mission of Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (John 15:13), is to thoroughly instruct us and remind us of the teachings of Jesus. That knowledge liberates us from the anxiety and trouble characteristic of this age.

Perhaps no Scripture is more pertinent to our present time than John 14:26-27. While many people are greatly unsettled and concerned, the people of God have a great opportunity to witness through their abiding peace. While as much affected by current events, God's people potentially have a perspective that makes all the difference. People of faith find peace through never losing sight of "the end game".

I've known job loss and strained resources over the years. Like many people, I focused far too much on the current crisis than the instructive teaching of Holy Spirit. Stress and anxiety compounded and supplanted peace and serenity. Yet, during a particularly stressful and anxious time, Holy Spirit instructed me at a deeper personal level with the truth of John 14:26 - "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." This truth produced in indescribably peace during those dark days.

None of us are immune to trouble and anxiety, but the instructive work of Holy Spirit leads us progressively in the paths of peace. Submit to the Teacher today as you devote yourself to study of Scripture and experience the peace that passes all understanding. That peace can be a powerful witness to your stressed coworkers, neighbors, and family members.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Several years ago I went through an intense week of technical training on a commercial telephone system. My bewilderment was especially obvious to the instructor one day, who requested that I stay after class. I was hearing and seeing, but not comprehending. 

Isaiah the prophet had a whole roomful of students like myself: "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 "Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.' " (Isaiah 6.9-10)

While these words may sound like it was Isaiah's mission to "dumb down" his audience so that they could not comprehend what they were hearing, the people had already made that choice. Their callousness to sin had already dimmed their eyesight, and dulled their hearing. As such, Isaiah's inspired words sounded like utter nonsense.

Many years later, Jesus would refer to these very words regarding those who stubbornly refused to comprehend His main message regarding the kingdom of God (Matthew 13.11-15). According to Jesus, based on Isaiah's words, to refuse to understand what Jesus meant when He spoke of the kingdom is to consign oneself to a lifetime of ignorance to the true meaning of all the Bible. Please re-read that last sentence, and carefully consider it, to avoid the curse of Isaiah's words.

The "die was cast", so to speak, with the people of God in Isaiah's day. Their callousness was destined to lead to their loss (Isaiah 6.11-12). But, all would not be lost: "As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump." (Isaiah 6.13) Amidst the seeds of destruction was the seed of hope. Thorough as God's deserved judgment was upon a stubborn and disobedient people, He did not - and never has - left His people without hope. The "holy seed" in the "stump" was the promised Messiah - the hope of all who come in faith. 

God's unfolding story ultimately has a happy ending. It is the kingdom of God: the triumph of His government upon a renewed earth. It's citizens will be those blessed with the gift of immortality and resurrection at the return of Christ. The challenge, then, is to avoid the curse of Isaiah's word by being responsive and humble; to be those who are always teachable. Earnestly seek to grasp the meaning and priority of Jesus' kingdom message, while living as overcomers in a fallen and wicked world. 

May "the holy seed" by the source of hope and help in a special way this day.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Imagine that the only thing you were known for was a prayer you prayed. It would certainly help focus the content of that prayer. Would it be for something selfish, like wealth or fame? Would it be for a special need of an individual, or group of people? Would it be about missions and evangelism?

Consider this prayer of a man named Jabez, of which about the only thing we know about him is his prayer:

"Now Jabez called on the God of Israel,saying, 'Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!' And God granted him what he requested." (1 Chronicles 4:10)

In clear, concise words, Jabez requested three things: (1) an enlarged border; (2) God's presence; (3) freedom from harm. What's outstanding about his prayer is not what he asked, but the fact that God granted that which he requested. Somehow his requests found favor with his Father.

I'm a bit puzzled about Jabez's "enlarged border". I suspect it was more about noble things like godly influence and service than property fences, because James reminds us that "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." (James 4:3) If Jabez simply wanted more land, his request would not have fit this important criteria.

Perhaps the thing that strikes me most about Jabez's prayer is that he received because he asked: "You do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:2) I'm wondering what good things have not been received simply because I have not sought from my Father?

To seek his Father's hand to be upon him seems to imply something about Jabez: that he had a true heart's desire to seek Him. God's abiding presence is not with those who half-heartedly seek Him, but with those whose hearts are fully set on Him. God's ear is inclined to those who diligently seek Him, as is His hand upon them. 

If our territory is truly God's territory, then we ought to boldly ask God to "enlarge" the border of that territory. Why wouldn't God want to increase kingdom effectiveness? Why wouldn't He want to enlarge our service and ministry for Him? Why wouldn't He want others to find salvation through His Son? These are all things He is eager to do if we would be faithfully and humbly ask.

What would happen if the people of God collectively prayed Jabez' prayer as we met together for prayer? What might God impress upon us as we sought this request? The possibilities are greater and more exciting that we can imagine!

May the blessings, presence, and protection of God be yours in abundance, even as He enlarges your borders.

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The scene is that of lore and mythology: a wise old, white-haired, white-bearded bearded man dwelling atop a high mountain, ready to dispense wisdom to the seeker. Perhaps the basis for this scene is found in a vision of a literal coming reality:

"In the last days the mountain of the Lord's house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it, and many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about His ways so that we may walk in His paths.' For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will not take up the sword against  nations, and they will never again train for war." (Isaiah 2.2-4)

The government of God, under the direct leadership of His Son, is destined to be headquartered in a high place in Jerusalem. Unlike today's nations that are bent on aggression and oppression, there will be a universal desire to truly learn the ways of our Father. The desire will be to know so as to live. 

God's government will be perfectly fair and adept at resolving conflict; so much so that militaries will voluntarily turn weapons of war into instruments of agriculture. They will be so confident in the government of God that they will even shut down military training academies.

It's mind-boggling to try and wrap our minds around this future reality. Today's nations arrogantly assert themselves; each believing their system of government to be superior to all others. What will bring about such drastic change? Perhaps a great last-days cataclysm that will ultimately convince humanity that it is incapable of solving its own problems. Perhaps Armageddon will finally and fully break human arrogance, and prepare the way for what God has desired all along.

The ultimate triumph of God's government gives confidence and peace today. Nurturing a desire for HIm to "teach us about His ways so that we may walk in His paths" is an important personal priority. Providing instruction of His ways to the teachable today is consistent with His coming government. Serving as agents of reconciliation is an important role.

There is but one government that offers change you can truly believe in. God's people do well to pledge allegiance to this true and lasting government, and serve it faithfully and wholeheartedly. Your kingdom come!

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

It's the news no one wants to hear. Things are much worse than imagined; you've only a short time to live. And that's not just the doctor's prognosis; it's God's - "Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.' " (2 Kings 20.1) It doesn't get any more definite than that.

King Hezekiah, recipient of this bad news, reacted as anyone would have: " 'Please Lord, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly and have done what is good in Your sight.' And Hezekiah wept bitterly." (2 Kings 20:3) We all love life, and the prospect of life's end is cause for sorrow. But, the end of this story is not the end of King Hezekiah's life.

"Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 'Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, 'I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David's sake.' " (2 Kings 20.4-6)

God granted this godly king a fifteen-year life extension. During that time it appears that he was industrious and productive (verse 20), as anyone would be under similar circumstances. But, I suspect this life extension was a type of two-edged sword: he savored the privilege of a life extension but, at the same time, lived under its sentence. He lived with a fifteen year date with death.

Whether we've been given a specific prognosis or not, we're all terminal. Fifteen years, months, weeks, days, hours, or seconds - none of us knows for sure. Life is more fleeting than we know, and this moment more precious than we realize. What is it that our Father has placed on our hearts this moment? A relationship to be mended? A friendship to be rekindled? A spiritual conversation to be initiated? This burden is His plan for action.

Life is best lived from the end backwards - "Lord, reveal to me the end of my life and the number of my days. Let me know how transitory I am." (Psalm 39.4) Such perspective is not morbid or pessimistic, but realistic. The sooner we truly face our mortality, the sooner we frame life's great priorities. 

Today is a Matthew 6.33 and Matthew 6.10 day (carefully read these if the references aren't readily clear to you). These priorities are the greatest safeguard against regrets you'll ever have - whether you have fifteen years or fifteen seconds of life to live. Maybe a motto for your bathroom mirror, office at work, or locker at school is in order: "make it count for the kingdom"

©Steve Taylor, 2012

Monday, November 05, 2012

It's ultimately a matter of heart. No, not heart-healthy food, or exercise (good as these are). It's about heart in the sense of passion. Consider this passionate prayer of Solomon, the wisest man to ever live:

"Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant. May the LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers. And may these words of mine, with which I have made supplication before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that He may maintain the cause of His servant and the cause of His people Israel, as each day requires, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else." (1 Kings 8.56-60)

Several things are worth noting about genuine passion for the true and living God. First of all, genuine passion recognizes His faithfulness and unfailing promises. As Solomon prayed, "not one word has failed of all His good promise". 

Secondly, genuine passion recognizes our utter dependence upon Him for passion for Him: "may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances". True love and devotion to our Father cannot be humanly produced; it requires His presence and work. If we are to walk in His ways and obey His commands, it requires His Spirit. 

True passion is concerned, not for ourself and our reputation, but for Him: "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else." Nothing matters more than that Yahweh God be known by every person on earth, and that every person know of His kingdom plan through His Son, Jesus. 

A heart examination is in order today, and it involves key questions that arise from Solomon's great prayer. Do I recognize God's unfailing faithfulness and promises? In order to do so, I need to look at His past work in my life, from the record of the Bible, and the promises abundantly listed there. Secondly, do I recognize my utter dependence on Him to have a heart from Him and obedience to Him? Thirdly, is my true passion for all people to know Him? 

A "heart check" in these areas will be valuable in cultivating the passion that our Father so eagerly desires - and deserves - from us.

©Steve Taylor, 2012