Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vows are the ultimate promises. We talk about pledges and contracts as types of promises, but vows are at the top of the list. We reserve the word, "vows" for marriage ceremonies - lifelong commitments. So, a vow ought not to be made unless one is deeply serious about it. 

"Then Jacob made a vow, saying, 'If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God.' " (Genesis 28.20-21) 

A man named Jacob, who would later be renamed, "Israel", dared outline the terms of his commitment to Yahweh God. He sought God presence, provision, and protection as the conditions for his surrender. And, judging from the biblical account of his life, God did exactly that in abundance. It was a vow not made or received lightly, and it was a lifelong vow.

I vowed as a teenager that I would surrender my life in service, and I look back and see that God has done the very same for me. I've enjoyed a sense of His presence over the years. He has abundantly provided food and garments, as well as shelter. He has kept me safe from serious harm and sickness thus far. He has been far more than faithful, even though I've certainly had plenty of times of faithlessness and doubt. 

Based on the example of Jacob, it is not unreasonable to vow before God as he did. It is not unreasonable to seek His presence, guidance, provision, and protection as terms for following. And, perhaps today is the day to clearly state and pledge these same things as a renewal of commitment. Having done so, the LORD as God of your life will define and direct activity and service in ways you could not realize otherwise.

Vows should not be made or taken lightly, but Jacob's vow should be our vow, and a vow we should seriously consider this day.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jumping to conclusions can be dangerous exercise. If you land on the wrong assumption, it can be extremely hazardous to your health. For example, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' " (Psalm 14.1) How many people are willing to risk the hope of immortality in the age to come on that faulty assumption? Plenty of people that you and I know and see every day.

Perhaps we aren't guilty of denying the existence of God, but our human inclination is to live as though He did not exist: "The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one." (Psalm 14.2-3) The Psalmist doesn't cut any of us any slack! Fortunately, this commentary on humanity isn't the final word.

The apostle Paul would later quote Psalm 14.1-3 in Romans 3.10-12 and conclude, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3.23). Having been beaten down by the reality of our human condition, he would elevate us with this great hope: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6.23) We've been liberated from our deserved "paycheck" by God's free and gracious gift.

The greatest sin must surely be that of ingratitude. To take God's grace and blessings for granted is to live as though He - and His blessings - did not exist. To wallow in misery over that which is unfair or wrong is to live in denial of that which is so abundantly good. Even worse, to live an ungrateful and unproductive life is to deny the joy and power that God's Holy Spirit can bring. Such a lifestyle provides a witness to others that denies the existence of God, rather than testifying to His reality.

I know people who keep a "gratitude journal" - a daily record of specific blessings. Whether written or mental, it is a valuable exercise to carefully note God's tangible blessings that lend proof to His existence and reality. From these, joy and a deep desire to live for and serve Him through His Son, Jesus, springs up.

"God is with the righteous generation." (Psalm 14.5) May we yearn for and desire Him such that He considers us to be that righteous generation He favors.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's a story that would definitely make national and international news: "man dead four days lives again". The press would scramble for interviews, and high on the list of questions would be, "what happened when you died?" But, we're getting ahead of the story ...

John's Gospel, chapter eleven, regards the death of a man named Lazarus. Word was sent to Jesus when Lazarus fell terminally ill (John 11.3), but Jesus deliberately delayed his arrival. In advance of receiving word of his death, Jesus informs His disciples of Lazarus' impending fate: "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep." (John 11.11) Jesus' definitive statement regarding death and Lazarus' fate is misunderstood: "The disciples then said to Him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.' " (John 11.12) Both Jesus and John, the gospel writer, provide vital insight: "Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead' " (John 11.13-14)

Arriving on the scene, Jesus encounters grieving sisters and a crowd of mourners. Taken to the grave site, Jesus orders the protective stone to the burial cave removed. Following a prayer to His Father for the sake of the gathered audience, He then loudly commands, "Lazarus, come forth." (John 11.43) What follows is nothing short of miraculous and electrifying: "The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go.' " (John 11.44)

The story essentially ends here, but we can speculate that questions and interest must have abounded concerning Lazarus' death experience. And that's where the absence of information speaks volumes. There is not one word anywhere concerning his reunion with relatives and friends. Or the bliss of heavenly existence. Fact is, he probably had a difficult time reconciling four missing days from his memory, much like someone emerging from a coma. Lazarus had been dead; stone-cold out of it - devoid of memory and feelings. 

Understanding that death really is death, and not another form of existence, helps this important truth to shine brightly: "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?' " (John 11.25-26). Resurrection will be an event, but it is under the jurisdiction of an individual - Jesus, God's Son. "Do you believe this?" It's a personal question only you can answer. As has been said, "live once; die twice. Live twice; die once". Be born again and live again in this age, and the second death can be avoided. 

Have you been born again, and are you living in the Spirit as a born-again believer? Your answers to these questions have the greatest bearing on your fate.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's been said the future stands before us like someone with their hands behind their back; one hand holding a bouquet, and the other a brick. We can't be certain if we'll be handed the bouquet, or hit with the brick.

Sometimes life is brutal and unfair, and the Bible can never be faulted for sugarcoating that reality. Consider these words of the Psalmist:

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13.1-3)

These are the probing questions of a troubled man. Sensing he has been forsaken and forgotten by Yahweh God, he is sorrowfully left to personally reflect on his plight. He pleads for enlightenment in his present darkness lest he enter the dark night of the sleep of death. 

If this were the end of the story, it would be depressing indeed. But, for this man of God, hope and faith persevered in the darkness: "But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me." (Psalm 13.5-6)

When life hits us with a brick, we may momentarily stumble and doubt. But, the man and woman of faith will frame present troubles from the perspective of God's "big picture". We have trusted His lovingkindness in the past, and it has sustained us. The kingdom is still coming, and thus "My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation". We sing and rejoice because God's track record has been that of abundant blessings and grace.

A popular praise song these days is based on Job 1.21; declaring that the LORD gives and He takes away, but still His name is blessed. Such is the cycle of life, but the people of God remain resolutely fixed on His promises and goodness. It's a joy to sing in the sun, but praising in the pain is also His due. Regardless of the season of life today, may praise and thankfulness by your constant.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's not so much about where you can go, but what you can do where you are. For some reason, many people equate serving the Lord with serving Him somewhere else. Granted, some are called to serve as missionaries in foreign lands but, more often than not, the call to serve is to serve right where you are.

The story of a demon-possessed man in recorded in Mark 5. It's a bizarre story: a man with a "legion" of demons is exorcised by Jesus; the demons inhabit a large herd of swine; the swine stampede into the sea and are drowned. The man, "clothed and in his right mind" (Mark 5.15), is obviously extremely grateful to Jesus for this miraculous deliverance. He is ready to respond in gratitude.

"As He (Jesus) was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, 'Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.' And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed." (Mark 5.18-20)

It's commendable that the man wanted to journey with Jesus, but his realm of effectiveness was in his hometown. The impact he could have was relatively simple: just tell them what Jesus had done in his life. 

Few things are as powerful as personal testimony. There will always be those with a better mastery of Bible information, but the powerful combination of Bible truth and personal testimony is nearly irrefutable. A compelling testimony will evidence the reality of Jesus and the kingdom of God in ways that Bible information alone cannot. Others will see Jesus and the kingdom in us before they will hear it from us.

Our call and commission is the same as that of the former demon-possessed man: "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you." Begin where you are, with whom you are with, and share what the Lord has done for and in you. Couple your story with Bible truth, and your life will shine as living truth in a dark and desperate world.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blessings follow commitment. But, commitment must absolutely come first. The prize follows the price.

Abraham was promised great things -  "indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Genesis 22.17-18) Few people have been recipient of such great promises: innumerable descendants, land, and a special descendant Who would be a blessing to all. But, those promises came on the heels of the ultimate challenge and test: willingness to sacrifice his only son. 

Our Father extends phenomenal blessings and promises to us. But, like Abraham, there is key condition: "because you have obeyed My voice." The radical step of faith and commitment prefaces the flow of blessings and promises.

Radical commitment isn't a popular notion these days. Many spiritual seekers these days "church shop" for a congregation that offers the best programs and most dynamic worship. The focus is on what best meets their needs. Sadly, this mentality circumvents the priority of radical commitment. It must begin with what I what I can offer, rather than what I can get.

It is a well-deserved title that Abraham should be called the father of the faithful. His radical commitment to faith and sacrifice distinguish him from all others. We are recipients of blessings because of him, but these blessings should never blind us to the priority of our personal commitment. 

What is your radical commitment? What steps of faith and commitment have you made, and are you making today? What is it about your commitment that distinguishes you from others? These are important questions for each of us to consider concerning what it is, and Who it is, that matters most. May our commitment be wholehearted and resolute, paving the way for God's fullest blessings in our lives.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's a troubling, seemingly rhetorical question - "If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11.3) The anticipated answer is basically little, or nothing. When the bedrock of values of a society or community are systematically and deliberately destroyed, the righteous are left to ponder a course of action. 

Little needs to be said about the destruction of foundational values in our times. The evidence abounds. Sanctioning of same-sex marriage by a growing number of states in this country is simply the latest "sledgehammer" attack on society's foundation. It is deeply lamentable and regrettable, but "what can the righteous do?" 

It seems that the Psalmist deliberately followed the rhetorical question of verse 3 with an important declaration of truth: "The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD'S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men." (Psalm 11.4) No matter whether man's efforts are gradual or aggressive in destroying the foundations, their activity does not escape the notice of Yahweh God. The motives of all are seen and tested by their Creator.

It is a given that the foundations will be destroyed. The apostle Paul clearly spoke, under inspiration of Holy Spirit, that "the last days" would be characterized by ungodly lifestyle (2 Timothy 3.1-5). As such, his challenge to a young man, Timothy, was to "preach the word" (2 Timothy 4.2). Amidst the destruction of the foundations, clear and bold proclamation of "the word" (Acts 8.12) is an urgent priority. Through consistent lifestyle and deep compassion, the biblical gospel shines out especially bright in the days of the destruction of the foundations.

The destruction of a society's foundation need not be the destruction of personal foundation. Jesus clearly challenged each individual hearer to both listen to and apply His words (Matthew 7.24-27). Total lifestyle integration of the word of truth is a priority in any age, regardless of a society's foundation. May our lives be firmly established on the true foundation, as we assist others in doing the same.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I knew someone who once walked on water. It was impressive to those who weren't able to see the submerged bedsprings he walked on in a shallow lake. Far more impressive is the story of a man who actually did step out of a boat and walk on the surface of a lake - at least for a while. 

"Immediately He (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side,while He sent the crowds away ... But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, 'It is a ghost!' And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.'Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' And He said,'Come!' And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?' " (Matthew 14.23,24-31) 

The whole story is remarkable on many levels. That Jesus could navigate a great distance atop water in stormy weather is compelling evidence that He is God's Son. The audacious faith of a man named Peter is initially impressive. But, his faith is quickly and literally swallowed up by the reality of his circumstances. 

Someone I know is well known for his emphatic application of this story - "get out of your stinking boat!" The boat in the story represents our comfort zone, and it is only when we step out in faith that Jesus can direct us to walk safely through the storms of life. But, like Peter, it is far too easy to look at circumstances rather than the Savior, and sink in unbelief. 

This amazing story begs us to consider: what safe circumstances might Jesus be calling us away from? Where does He wish to lead us, even amidst a life storm? How can we best stay focused on Him, to avoid sinking in unbelief amidst circumstances? 

The Savior is amidst the storm, and He calls us to walk in faith. May this story encourage and challenge you to focus on faith, and bravely walk with unblinking sight toward your Savior.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Promises aren't what they used to be. Once upon a time, legal transactions were made with a word and a handshake. Now they involve signing a ream of papers. But, even these lengthy measures don't always prevent the unscrupulous from finding a way out.

There is one promise, or should I say, "Promiser" (if there is such a word), that you can still count on. These promises are the most binding of all; so much so that the special word, "covenant", is used for them.

"I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." (Genesis 17.6-8)

Yahweh God meant what He said when He made the promise and established the specifics of the covenant with Abraham so long ago. Although Abraham is now long dead, the terms of the covenant are still in force with his descendants. And, we are numbered among his descendants through Christ (Galatians 3.29). As such, as someone once said, we get the land. God has placed a stake for us in a piece of Middle East real estate called Israel. But, it's much more than that - "the meek will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5.5). 

Remembering the promises makes a huge difference in life perspective. Nearly every war and act of aggression is over territory; land. The frenetic pace of daily business is largely about acquiring land and influence. And yet, when all is said and done, God will simply give all the hard-fought earth to His children through His Son. That which many people have worn themselves out over, and violently taken by force, is a gift from our Father to us. 

The One who promises remains faithful, and that which He promises remains secure. The inevitable outcome does not give us license for laziness, but rather calm confidence amidst the upheaval of restless humanity. As those destined to one day receive the earth, we view today - and every day - as an opportunity to be trained to wisely rule the world with Christ. 

May the solid promises through His covenant with you be both reassuring and motivating today.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Some things just seem too good to be true. For example, the lure of the lottery. Phenomenal wealth can be yours if your have the winning ticket. What gets far less press are the chances of winning - it's more likely you'll be struck by lightning, or the earth will be hit be a meteorite, than that you'll win big.

Here's a promise that seems too good to be true: "And He took him outside and said, 'Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.' " (Genesis 15:5)

It must have been a touching scene. I picture the LORD God taking Abraham outside, like a father taking his young son, with an arm around his shoulders. Together gazing up at the night sky, God points up at the stars, and challenges Abraham to try and count them. Driving home the point, God emphatically states that Abraham's descendants will be equally vast. A phenomenal promise, except for one little detail: this old man was childless. But, instead of ridicule and unbelief, Abraham's response is almost unbelievable to us:

"Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)

A far easier response would have been skepticism and cynicism at the absurdity of the details. Post-menopausal women don't bear children; especially women in their nineties. But, the quality that distinguishes Abraham even to this day was his simple, uncomplicated response: he chose to believe that God meant what He said, and was able to do what He promised.

The benchmark of faith, set by Abraham, is that nothing is outside the realm of faith. Abraham's example beckons us to consider: "If God could do that for Abraham and Sarah, then He could certainly do ...(fill in the blank with your seemingly impossible situation). 

Seemingly impossible circumstances are often cleverly disguised opportunities for childlike faith. As with Abraham, God often would have us assess His promises as well as the obstacles, and then face them down with the simple, innocent faith of a child who trusts implicitly in his/her Father. 

Here's an adventure in faith today: dig in to your Bible to discover specific promises God has made to His children (this can take some time!). One by one, determine to claim each one through simple faith. And then let the God Who alone can work out the seemingly impossible details do just that. Walk in the confidence of this faith He so highly values.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Vindication and justice - qualities in short supply in our world. The wealthy and powerful are often ruthless and arrogant; exploiting and defrauding the weak and powerless. Such realities necessitate an important reminder, and plea:

"The wicked will return to Sheol, Even all the nations who forget God. For the needy will not always be forgotten, Nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever. Arise, O LORD, do not let man prevail; Let the nations be judged before You. Put them in fear, O LORD; Let the nations know that they are but men." (Psalm 9.17-19)

Wicked abusers will be punished, as well as ungodly nations. The underprivileged and the suffering will be vindicated. Such is the ultimate reality to come. Little wonder, then, that the Psalmist would plea, "Arise, O LORD, do not let man prevail; Let the nations be judged before You. Put them in fear, O LORD; Let the nations know that they are but men." Bring justice soon. Instill fear of future judgment. Humble arrogant nations.

None are unscathed in a fallen world. Each of us can tell our story of unjust treatment and suffering. But, our example is that of the Psalmist who penned the words of Psalm 9. It is a Psalm of thanksgiving for God's justice. Although often elusive in his mortal circumstances, he was fully confident of future justice, and thankful for instances of justice. Such is the ideal perspective. Fixation on present injustice leads only to bitterness and disillusionment. There are rays of hope where justice shines through; foreshadowing kingdom vindication to come. This is our encouragement today.

The phrase our Lord Jesus taught us to pray - "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6.10) - is rich with meaning on so many levels. It is the only possible heartfelt response to extreme injustice, tragedy, and suffering on the part of believers. It as an appeal for the ultimate justice of the kingdom. It is an expression of commitment to participate in the kingdom plan that is the perfect remedy for all that is wrong. 

May the injustice and suffering that pervades our daily lives prompt us, not to bitterness, but to greater resolve for kingdom work.

©Steve Taylor, 2013