Wednesday, March 27, 2013

While some Presidents and government leaders are musicians, few - if any - have written praise songs to the One true God. There is one who did a long time ago. The tune is now long lost long, but the lyrics remain. Perhaps a catchy tune will stick in your head as you read the lyrics:

"O LORD, in Your strength the king will be glad, And in Your salvation how greatly he will rejoice! You have given him his heart's desire, And You have not withheld the request of his lips. For You meet him with the blessings of good things; You set a crown of fine gold on his head. He asked life of You, You gave it to him, Length of days forever and ever. His glory is great through Your salvation, Splendor and majesty You place upon him. For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence. For the king trusts in the LORD, And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken. " (Psalm 21:1-7)

Many government leader appeal to the religious vote with God talk, but this was the real deal. King David offered an honest, humble tribute to his Father Who had given him everything. 

An old hymn appeals to us to count our many blessings and "name them one by one". Such is the content of King David's song of praise: he enumerates God's blessings of strength, salvation, his heart's desire, his crown, length of life, and joy. He sums it up well by stating his resolute trust: "For the king trusts in Yahweh". God's past blessings are not forgotten but instead are the basis for present and future trust.

A mighty king's song of praise is to his Father should serve as our song of praise as well. Carefully recalling and listing specific blessings is an excellent place to begin. These serve as the basis for our song, poem, story, or testimony. And they serve as the foundation for unceasing trust and faith.

How about taking a few moments today to specifically list a few of the vast blessings you've received. Who knows; maybe there is a beautiful song in there somewhere!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Restoration is the process of returning something to its original condition. For example, I once restored an antique furniture piece. It was a painstaking process of stripping off the old finish, sanding, and carefully refinishing it. The objective was to return it to the condition it was in when it was new.

Two men once provided a compelling illustration of restoration through a miraculous deed in another man's life: "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple." (Acts 3.1-2)

A man, lame from birth - expecting to receive a handout from Peter and John - received something far greater than he could have imagined that day: "Peter said, 'I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name ofJesus Christ the Nazarene - walk!' And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God." (Acts 3.6-8)

Explaining the miracle to the flash mob that quickly assembled, Peter clarified that this miracle was a mere precedent for a much bigger plan. All who would "repent and return" (Acts 3.19) could anticipate "that He (God) may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time." (Acts 3.20-21)

God's restoration plan is the repeated theme of the Bible. Prophet after prophet has announced the divine intention to repair and restore all that is so badly broken. Planet earth, and God's people, are destined to be restored to their original state of perfection. The earth will be cleansed and purified; God's people given immortality through resurrection.

If God is in the restoration business, then so ought His people to be. As His agents, empowered by Holy Spirit, evangelism and reconciliation are driven by the goal of restoration. Lost people can be found and restored. Broken relationships can be healed and restored. Wholeness can come from brokenness.

God's great restoration plan provides power and motivation for living like nothing else can. May you experience it in abundance today, even as He uses you as an agent of reconciliation in the world where He has placed you.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Legacy. The older we get, the more the priority it is. Mortality drives the desire for something of us to live on after our lives are ended. The big question is, what will be the legacy? What will future generations remember of us after we are gone?

"He (Jacob) blessed Joseph, and said, 'The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; And may my name live on in them, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (Genesis 48.15-16)

An elderly man named Jacob (Israel) lay on his deathbed. Before him is a favorite son, and two grandsons. In the waning moments of his life, he lays hands on the two young grandsons and extends both his testimony and his blessings. It is a solemn moment of transferring the legacy of faith in the living God. 

Each generation must freely choose whether to embrace of reject the faith handed down. As with Jacob, a blessing can be transferred, but it is ultimately for the descendants to choose whom they will serve. And, their choice will be much influenced by what they have seen in the lives of those closest to them.

What of your legacy? Do you assume certain traits and qualities will be evident and transferred to your children and grandchildren? Are you hoping a good legacy will be transferred, or are you deliberately discipling and training the next generation?

The priority of faith and truth legacy has become especially clear in recent times. Churches concerned about perpetuating biblical truth and faith make solid and deliberate effort to disciple their youth. It cannot be left to chance that they will somehow "get it"; they must be the focus of concentrated training and mentoring. To be negligent in this area is to greatly hinder the propagation of God's truth and work.

Legacy is about much more than deathbed blessings. It is the deliberate transference of the vitality of faith and truth in our lives to our descendants. It's never too soon - or too late - the concern ourselves with this important priority of legacy.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A reunion with a relative long considered dead; a son, no less. Few of us can imagine the overwhelming joy as we read these words:

"Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. Then Israel said to Joseph, 'Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.' " (Genesis 46.29-30)

Jacob (Israel) had mourned the loss of his son, Joseph, for many years. Joseph, however, was not only alive, but God had been meticulously working out His plan for His chosen people through the events of his life. At precisely the right moment, this father and son reunion took place.

We never know just how and when God's plans are fully ready to burst on to the scene of our lives. What appears to be a sudden, dramatic breakthrough has been years in the making. And suddenly, that breakthrough changes everything.

The people of God live life expectantly. A relationship considered long dead might be ready to emerge with new life today. An alienated friend or family member has been undergoing the shaping influence of our Father, and is ready today to be reconciled. Or, a burden that has weighed heavily on you for far too long is about to be lifted today, according to His divine plan. His solution and resolution, possibly years in the making, just might be ready to break through into your life today.

The adventure of faith is one of expecting divine breakthroughs that absolutely surprise us with joy, like the reunion of Israel and Joseph. And, these breakthroughs give us a foretaste of the ultimate breakthrough of joy, the coming kingdom, and the return of Jesus. 

May He surprise you today with the joy of a sudden breakthrough, possibly years in the making, according to His plan.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

To miss the main thing is to miss everything. And it is amazing how many have missed this main thing. If you don't know the message, then you don't really know the Man.

"To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3). 

Those with only the most basic knowledge of the Bible have heard of the resurrection of Jesus. But, if you ask many active church members what the main message of Jesus was, you can expect a blank stare. Few seem to understand that that it was this topic that He concentrated His last forty days on earth on: the kingdom of God. A question raised by His disciples gives at least some insight into what this message was: "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1.6) The kingdom has something to do with a restoration plan for the nation of Israel, but it involves more, according to Jesus:

"It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1.7-8)

The kingdom is about God's great restoration plan for planet earth, but it is also about empowered witness. His people, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, would radically impact the lives of people worldwide with the life-changing kingdom message. As Jesus had previously said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24.14)

The mission of the people of God is to give witness to a resurrected Christ, and to proclaim the kingdom restoration plan (see also Acts 3.20-21). The energy for our mission is both the empowering Holy Spirit, and the anticipated return of Christ:  "Men of Galilee,why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." (Acts 1.11)

It is our mission to live and proclaim a risen and returning Christ, whose mission and message is and was the kingdom of God. This message about Christ and the kingdom constitutes the gospel (Acts 8.12; 28.23,31). Anything else, or less, is not truly the gospel (good news).

This very brief summary of the message and mission of Jesus - the gospel - has far more power and potential than you and I can realize. We are entrusted with living and proclaiming it, and our Father will produce results from and through it than will exceed anything we can imagine. So, I challenge you to become a lifelong student of the Man and the message, faithfully living and sharing this amazing gospel that turned the first century world upside down. It just might do the same thing to our world today.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's the event that changed everything. Not surprisingly, more effort has been exerted to discredit this amazing event than any other event in human history. If it could be proven false, then everything you and I believe and understand disintegrates around us. It all rises and falls on the resurrection of Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, chapter twenty, the events of that world-changing day are recorded. A woman named Mary discovers, early in the morning, that the gravesite has been tampered with. A large, sealed stone has somehow been moved. Two disciples - Peter and John - race to the site. The truth of the event begins to become evident to them, and then they leave. Mary remains, and is the first individual to encounter the risen Christ. A record of His appearances to the other disciples is listed in this chapter; including His appearance to the proverbial "doubting Thomas". And then we are told the purpose for this amazing chronology of events:

"Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20.30-31)

A well-preserved record has been handed down through the ages for the express purpose of confronting you with evidence as a basis for faith. And that faith is foundational for true life - life with purpose and meaning today, as it points you toward the prospect of the gift of immortality in the age to come.

The historic precedent has been set: if God could resurrect His Son from the dead and grant Him immortality, then the same possibility exists for you and me. As is so well stated in the resurrection chapter of the Bible, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." (1 Corinthians 15.20). That chapter also states the key motivation the great fact of Christ's resurrection should bring to our lives: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15.58)

Life matters. Faith matters. Hope is real. Service is valuable. Christ's resurrection frames purpose and service, and powerfully motivates living, love, and faith. Because of it, we have everything; without it we are nothing. It's that important.

May resurrection power overwhelm you today, and infuse you with purpose, zeal, and true life.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Somewhere in my upbringing I came to understand that not everyone has my best interests in mind. There are those who would exploit for their personal gain. And, there are those with malicious intent. Little wonder that Jesus taught us to pray, "deliver us from evil" Matthew 6.13). This model prayer sounds very much one of many found in the Psalms:

"Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings From the wicked who despoil me, My deadly enemies who surround me." (Psalm 17.8-9)

David often faced deadly opposition in his life. This just and godly man faced the raw hatred of wicked and evil people. It wasn't that he had crossed them through a corrupt business deal, or maligned them in a judicial hearing. A godly man simply faced the wrath of the wicked because he was a godly man. And such will be our lot in life as we seek to live a righteous life: some will hate us because of who - and Whose - we are. God's Son, Jesus, summarized it well:

"I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one." (John 17.14-15)

A fixation on evil around us is surely a recipe for madness and depression. Sure, government is often misguided, and business is corrupt. The rich and powerful will - as they always have - seek to control and suppress the masses. Such is the direction of this age, and it will increase as we race to the climax of this evil age (Matthew 24.12). Amidst such evil times, the world desperately needs ambassadors of hope who live confidently "in the shadow of (His) wings".

We can live in fear at the prospect of facing a crazed gunman, or of evil government repression. Or, we can choose confidence through a resolute faith in our God who sees us as "the apple of the eye". 

An awareness of the nature of the evil we face is important, but a great awareness of the God who protects in this age and promises the gift of immortality in the age to come is even more important. May basking in the warmth of His love today overshadow fear of the evil around you.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

We desperately need a solution to a major problem. We're talking life and death stuff - literally. Without the solution, there simply is no way out. Fortunately, there is a solution, and it's reason to shout and rejoice this day.

"You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay." (Psalm 16.10)

The Psalmist was confident that he would not be forever consigned to the grave after his life was ended. That confidence was based on Yahweh God's plan for His "Holy One". The apostle Paul, many years later, would reference this Holy One as Jesus, God's Son (Acts 13.35). Because God would not allow His Son to decay in the grave following His death, the Psalmist could then confidently assert that he would not be abandoned there either.

You and I are in a precarious position. It is abundantly clear that nothing will preempt our journey to the grave. Whether sooner or later, that is our fate. And, if that is our ultimate fate, it casts a very large and depressing shadow over life now. But, our confidence is based on that fact that God did not allow His "Holy One to undergo decay." 

The solution to our desperate problem calls for some serious shouting and rejoicing! Taking our cue from the Psalmist, we can also declare, "I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely ... You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16.8-9,11)

Resurrection hope filters down into resurrection living today. Because the grave need not be our final destiny, we are set free to live life to the fullest in gratitude to the One Who did not allow His Holy One to decay there. With the shadow of unending death removed from life, we can truly live today. 

Let's be abundantly clear on this fact: it's not automatic that everyone will one day be rescued from the grave. The choice in the matter is simple, but monumentally important. A decision of faith and commitment determines destiny. And, for something this important, make certain concerning the choice. Let the shadow of unending death be lifted from life today, and make that decision certain today. This writer, for one, is concerned and available to help.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The scene was a courtyard outside a judicial building. A man stood warming himself near a fire on a cold night. One could hardly find fault with someone for doing that. But, the problem was in what was said, and someone who stood nearby. For the man by the fire, it was truly the darkest night of his life.

"Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself ... 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 18.18, 25-27)

Once by a door, and twice by a campfire, the apostle Peter denied any association with Jesus. This from a man who swore most vehemently that he would stand by Jesus through thick or thin. His self-determination evaporated into pitiful denial when the hour of crisis came.

Rather than being an object of blame, Peter serves as a lamentable example of the danger of human confidence. Our loud assertions can just as easily be blatant denials. Our commitment can melt in the face of adversity just as easily if it is backed only by self-will.

Peter who denied who later become a spiritual dynamo on the Day of Pentecost. The difference between the denial and the dynamo would be deep remorse, and Spirit enabling. He who denied would weep bitterly, and regret deeply. Jesus Himself would allow Peter three affirmations of commitment to eradicate his denials. Sufficiently humbled and redirected, he went on to walk the life of the Spirit provided by the exalted Christ.

Our denials may not take the same form as Peter's. Our more subtle "silent witness" may be comparable to Peter's vehement verbal denial. Whatever form they take, we too can be reinstated through remorse and recommitment. Humbly acknowledging our shaky commitment sets us on the path of Spirit empowering, and victory. 

My prayer for us today is that we stand and serve, not in self-determination, but in the might of God's Spirit.

©Steve Taylor, 2013

Monday, March 04, 2013

Certain places have special significance. A camp where a spiritual breakthrough occurred. A baptistry where new life began. A church pew where worship became real. A particular place where God's voice and presence seemed almost audible and visible .

Abraham's grandson, Jacob, had a life-changing experience in a place he named Bethel, and he felt a need to return there to renew that encounter: "let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." (Genesis 35.3)

My home church is a type of Bethel to me. Living at a distance from it now, my visits there are infrequent. But, whenever I return, my mind is flooded with memories and experiences of my spiritual formation years there. I am forever linked to this place where God and His Son, Jesus, first became real to me. In order to better understand where I am in my journey now, I know that I need to return to this place of spiritual birth from time to time. As with Jacob's Bethel, I know that from this place God "has been with me wherever I have gone."

Likely you have a type of Bethel too. Perhaps it is easier for you to reconnect with it than it is for me. Maybe you a living within it if it is a church you serve in presently. Whether near or far, it is important to reconnect as you are able to better understand your spiritual pilgrimage.

Jacob returned to his Bethel and again encountered the truly and living God. In that place, God renamed him, "Israel" (Genesis 35.10), and revealed to him that "I am God Almighty" (El Shaddai) (Genesis 35.11). Jacob was given a new beginning, with fresh insight concerning God Almighty. Among the plethora of the world's so-called gods, the LORD Yahweh uniquely revealed Himself to this man of destiny.

Perhaps you cannot return to your Bethel today any more than I can, but the God of our Bethel is where we are, and ready to reveal Himself in a fresh way. He would have you know that He is El-Shaddai - God Almighty - and well able to strengthen you to face today's obstacles, and empower you to serve Him effectively. 

May He bless you today with a special Bethel moment.

©Steve Taylor, 2013