Author Archives: heathtaylor

Thank God for Pleasure and Pain

Consider this verse: 

 

Ephesians 5:2020 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father

in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

 

We are commanded to thank God for everything.  To me sometimes, this just simply doesn’t make sense.  Everything?  Really?  Come on.

 

But what about bad times, bad news, bad situations, bad circumstances?  Surely God doesn’t expect us to give Him thanks for those and in those does He?

 

1 Thessalonians 5:1818 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the

will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

Yes, He does.  He commands us to give Him thanks always, for everything, and in all circumstances.  For the good times and the bad times.  For the ups and downs and highs and lows.  But is this reasonable?  Can anyone be truly expected to obey this command?  Why would I thank God for the bad news, events or circumstances that come unwanted and unwelcome into my life?

 

Because He is good.  Because His steadfast and irrevocable love endures toward us forever!  Listen to the Psalmist.

 

Psalm 106:1 – 1 Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

 

Sixteen times in the Old Testament this phrase is found!  During times when Israel is being blessed, and times when they are cursed by God for their sin.  While celebrating military victories, and when being lead away into captivity.  Regardless of their situation and circumstances, Israel was called to give thanks to the Lord because He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever!

 

So it is with us today.  We are called to thank Him for His innate goodness and the steadfast love that He has placed on us for eternity.  We are called to thank Him always, for everything in all circumstances.  His goodness and loving character and disposition toward us is and unshakable reality no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.  He desires us to know this.  To seek and find comfort and refuge in this.  He means for us to look to Him and praise Him for being Him no matter what circumstance bombards us.  This means we can and should always thank Him for Him and for the way He has chosen to love us. 

 

The peace and comfort this command brings us is immeasurable.  It means that we can love and thank Him in the midst of uncertainty and insecurity, in the depths of unspeakable pain and suffering, when we feel hopeless and helpless…He is good and His steadfast love remains forever.  This reality of His character sustains us through tears, grief and unimaginable brokenness and loss.

 

God wants us to understand that while our situations and circumstances will invariably change, He will not.  He is unchanging. (James 1:17)  He is everlasting.  (Psalm 90:2 & Isaiah 26:2)  He is an impregnable fortress. (Psalm 18:2)

 

We can thank Him for the pain we’ve felt because it pushes us toward Him as the God of all comfort.  We can thank Him for hurt and betrayal we’ve experienced because it leads us to His perfect comfort and love.  We can thank Him for the bad leaders in authority over us that make us long for His perfect leadership that will ultimately reign eternal over the new heavens and the new earth. 

 

He is good.  He can be trusted!

 

It is the bad and bitter tastes of life that help us fully appreciate the sweet and savory food that comes from the hand of a good and perfect God.  It is the reality of eternal, conscience suffering in Hell that enable us to better appreciate the eternal comfort of ruling and reigning with Christ forever.  It is the sick and disgusting nature of our sin that helps us marvel at His grace that would save us from the judgment that we deserve.  The many times per day that I selfishly fail to obey God make me wonder at how Christ fully and selflessly obeyed the Father every day of His earthly life. 

 

So despite the uncertain economy, the uncertainty of your plans, the hurt, pain or betrayal you may now feel, regardless of your present circumstances … thank and praise God!  Always.  For everything.  Scripture commands it. 

 

He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever!

Justice and Mercy in the Flood

A few days ago I was reading the account of the great flood that God sent on the earth during the life of Noah.  I know the story.  It’s quite familiar.  One of those stories that you first hear via flannel graph in the 3 and 4 year old’s class in Sunday school. 

 

But in my reading the other day I stopped in my tracks and was cut quick to the heart by what I read.  The text vividly painted a picture of God’s justice and mercy.  His patience and long-suffering as well as His finality and severity in judgment.  It left me contemplating the wickedness and utter rebellious nature of my sin toward Him and His incredible kindness and compassion toward me. 

 

Read what the text says:

 

Genesis 7:21-2321 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.

 

God had been patient.  He had sent His servant Noah to preach repentance to all people. 

He had watched them mock His servant for 120 years as he obeyed God in building the ark and faithfully preaching repentance.  And when God sent Noah into the ark, He righteously judged those who were in rebellion against Him.

 

That God so severely judged the earth served to display His holiness, righteousness and inability to tolerate continued rebellion against Him.  That He saved Noah and his sons served to display his great love and mercy toward those who would turn to Him in faith and admit their failure to completely obey Him. 

 

God is Holy.  He is not like us.  He knows no sin of His own.  Rather, He sent His son Christ to become sin for us so that the unrighteous (all mankind) could have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.  He asks that we acknowledge our sin and turn to Christ in repentance so that we can receive His great mercy and immeasurable kindness as demonstrated in saving His servant Noah.

 

God will judge the earth again.  He has promised to do so. (see Romans 1 &2 and Revelation 18-20)  He will once again and for all eternity judge the world for its sin and rebellion toward Him.  He will, as in Noah’s day, destroy all flesh blotting out every living thing that does not turn to Him for mercy and grace. 

 

Then, He will set up a new kingdom with a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21 & 22)  He will rule forever in righteousness and peace.  His kingdom and His rule will be established forever and He will never be opposed. 

 

Read the account of the flood in Genesis 6-7.  And read the final four chapters of Revelation.  If you have not yet turned to Christ in repentance, do it now, before it’s too late.  He will judge swiftly, severely and completely.  He has promised to do so and the Lord God always keeps His word. 

 

If you have already turned to Him and found the indescribable love and mercy of a good and perfect Savoir, then long with John in Revelation for Him to return soon.  And be comforted by the promise of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  In speaking of Christ’s rule on the earth he says:

 

Isaiah 9:6-7 –6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

 

Come soon Lord Jesus.  We long for You to judge sin once and for all and begin Your righteous and eternal rule!

 

 

Everybody Sins…but Jesus Saves!

How old do you need to be before you begin to share the gospel? How much of the Bible do you need to know? How well do you need to polish your presentation? Do you even have to be a Christian? I ask these questions because I think my two and a half year old daughter (Natalie) may be an evangelist.

Now I’m sure as of yet, she’s unconverted. Her sin nature still appears to dominate her daily routine. She’s not even potty trained for goodness sake! However, she seems to get the basic message of the gospel and unlike many of us regenerated Christians, she’s not to shy to share it with strangers.

A few nights ago, we had new babysitter over. It was the first time she met our girls and her first visit to our house. The girls were giving the babysitter a tour of the house pointing out the Barbie collection, snack drawer, toy baskets and Crayola supplies when our youngest got really excited and demanded that everyone stop talking so that she could speak.

Beaming with excitement she turned to face our new babysitter and proudly proclaimed the message that appeared to burn in her soul…Everybody sins, but Jesus saves!

That was it. That’s her extensive knowledge of the gospel. TULIP to her is still just a pretty flower. But she’s right. She’s got the basic gist of the gospel message. Everybody sins, but Jesus saves.

The thing that strikes me as I recall the scenario is how unapologetic and energetic she is as she makes the statement. Many Christians are simply scared to tell people about sin. Even those who share the gospel more frequently than others seem to want to minimize or bypass ‘sin’ in a hurry to get to the happy ending about how much Jesus loves us. But the gospel isn’t about you. It isn’t about me. It’s not about humanity and us at it’s center.

It’s about God. The gospel is about God.

It’s about making much of God and His greatness, His mercy, His justice, His sacrifice, His all-consuming glory! He is the one who saves. We are simply those He has saved. In sharing the gospel we must intentionally make much of Him and little of us. We’re the guilty and offending party. He is the rescuing and redeeming King.

Everybody sins…but Jesus saves!

Don’t worry. We’re not going to market her by calling up the blue haired lady on the wacky religious channel. Rather, we are going to work in our home to live out the gospel in our marriage and parenting. We’ll continue to teach her what that statement means and where it’s found in scripture. And maybe God will continue to teach us through her. Maybe He will remind me to unapologetic, energetic and unafraid when He asks me to share that statement with strangers.

Oh, and it doesn’t appear that Natalie is in the same league as Billy Graham or D.L. Moody just yet. The babysitter didn’t make a profession of faith in Christ. She just thought it was cute. Who knows though what God can do through my daughter?

Luke 18:16-17 (ESV) 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Keep Lottery Winnings Out of the Church!

True North Community Church in Port Jefferson, New York had a difficult decision to make this week.  Unfortunately, they chose poorly.  The Long Island place of worship is a young and growing church that found itself cramped in its present facilities.  A few weeks ago the Lead Pastor stated that if anybody in the congregation had a couple of million extra dollars lying around they should make an appointment to see him.  He told them God could work a miracle and provide the money if He wanted to.  Then it happened.  A parishioner presented the church with a winning lottery ticket worth more than three million dollars and the pastors had to respond.   

 

Should they (or we for that matter) accept money from gambling winnings?  Why not, you may ask?  Is gambling a sin?  What about accepting the profits of gambling if in fact you or I did not participate in said gambling?  While there is no verse in the Bible that reads, ‘don’t gamble because it is a sin’, there are multiple verses that tell us to avoid ill-gotten gain, greed, slothfulness and poor stewardship. 

 

Further, consider the evils of the gambling industry for a moment.  Gaming institutions encourage people to come and have fun while they take money from men who should be feeding their families.  They sell themselves as entertainment venues that are fueled by the discretionary income of normal Americans.  However, they are fueled by habitual gamblers that spend wealth until it’s gone and incur debts most simply can never repay.  This leads to the ruin of individuals, the break-ups of marriages, the abandonment of children,  dependence upon drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms and the ultimate destruction of many families just to name a few of the social strains and ramifications. 

 

The gaming industry in this country is evil and the church has no business benefiting from it!  You may argue that the church could take this ill-gotten money and use it for good.  We could be the ‘good stewards’ of this improbable windfall.  But if we do so we fuel the industry and become the ultimate beneficiaries of this great sin. 

 

Playing the lottery and visiting gaming institutions equates to stealing from the poor and enslaving them rather than helping, feeding or serving them as God commands!  I am convinced that Jesus would have us serve those who suffer from bondage to this sin rather than to further take advantage of them. 

 

As a pastor, I feel a responsibility to refuse such an offering of a winning lottery ticket the same way I would refuse money from a recently converted drug lord or the wealth of newly saved former pornographer.  Rather than soil God’s coffers with dirty money gained in the destruction of the lives of countless men and women I would offer counsel better suited to advance the Kingdom of God and redemption of mankind.  My pastoral advice to the lottery winner, drug-runner or sex-industry kingpin would be to use the money gained in sinful allegiance to the god of this world to love, minister to and reclaim the lives that are being ruined from these practices.

 

Non-profit, para-church ministries could be formed with this money to help strippers and prostitutes find a noble and honorable profession that restores their ingrained dignity as image-bearers of God.  It could be used to give drug addicts a place to recover and find deliverance through Jesus Christ.  It could enable credit-ruined gambling addicts to abandon chance in favor of embracing the sovereignty of God.  There are thousands of ways to redeem this wealth while maintaining the purity of the Bride of Christ, His beautiful church.  

 

My prayer is that True North Community Church sees the error of their decision to accept a winning lottery ticket and repents of benefiting from ill-gotten gain. 

 

[Proverbs 1:19 Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it.   Proverbs 10:2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.   Proverbs 28:16 & 1916 A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment, but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life…19 He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.]

 

May you and I pursue the purity of the church at all costs and support her by being good stewards of that which God has entrusted us.  And may many trapped in the sex, drug and gambling industries find deliverance through Jesus Christ and repent and serve others to the praise of His glorious grace!

What’s wrong with your church? (Part 1)

I have a question for you. What’s wrong with your church? Don’t say nothing. Sure it sounds pious and may make you appear spiritually mature…but you’re lying. No one attends a perfect church. So sound off. Let’s hear it. What’s wrong with your church?

Maybe I can help us get started. Is it the pastor? Might as well go for the jugular. Maybe he’s the problem. (if you said that she’s the problem we have a whole ‘nother set of difficulties to deal with first!) Is he too short or too tall? Maybe he’s too long-winded. Maybe he can’t keep your attention for more than ten minutes. Is he too dominant or too passive? Too emotional or not merciful enough? An out in front leader, or reclusive reader? Surely he’s got his problems. But maybe you love and support him anyway.

Ok, what about the music. Too loud? Too repetitive? Too many hymns? To contemporary? Do the drums annoy you or do you find a dark desire buried way down deep to take and axe to that old-fashioned organ? Which is more distracting the gray-haired choir in light blue robes or the twenty something with messy hair and piercings jumping around with the red electric guitar? Don’t tell me you like the worship music at your church too! (You’re awfully close to being a content Christian. Can’t have too many of those!)

How do you feel about the facilities? Are they clean enough? Nice enough? Comfortable enough? Big enough? Does the color scheme appeal to you? Are they kid-friendly or too adult-oriented. Are they located in the right zip code or do you secretly hope to re-locate so you won’t have to drive through ‘that’ neighborhood?

Do the programs work? Are there enough programs? Too many programs? Age-appropriate programs? Are there enough volunteers? Please tell me your church has enough volunteers. If not, they may ask you to volunteer thus revealing their utter incompetence because everyone knows that you are a leader and not a mere servant.

I wonder if I’ve hit on your complaint yet? We could keep going but even Olympic Softball implements a ten run mercy rule. So after the airing of our grievances against our local church let me ask another question.

What are you doing to help?

Sorry, offering ‘constructive criticism’ isn’t really a verifiable spiritual gift. I don’t need to know the name of your church or a list of its strengths and weaknesses to know that they need your help. The Apostle’s Peter & Paul tell me this. (Eph. 4:11-16, 1 Pet. 4:7-11, Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor. 12:4-27) Consider the admonishment of Peter in 1 Pet. 4:10, ‘Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.’

What will you do? Consider what Korah did (Numbers 16) and what Nehemiah did (Nehemiah 1-5) when faced with problems. Pick one of them to emulate. Oh, and be prepared for the consequences.

‘Sneaky Sin’

Recently my two and half year old (Natalie) reminded me about the ‘sneakiness’ of sin.  Sin is sneaky isn’t it?  It begins so subtly.  A desire arises within me.  I allow it to linger.  It presents a case.  The desire matures to the status of a need like a tadpole making its transition to a frog.  Having refused to kill the desire in my mind it begins to make demands.  I move into the realm of rationalization.  I should be given this thing, this want…No, I DESERVE it!  Who cares about my diet, my health or my conscience…I DESERVE a chocolate covered donut!  Might as well throw on the sprinkles.  Why not make it a baker’s dozen while I’m at it?  I slump out of Dunkin Donuts defeated, in shame and with more sticky on my buns then when I entered. 

 

Sin is sneaky.  You see this pattern over and over in scripture.  Consider David in 2 Samuel 11.  He sees Bathsheba bathing in the second verse and desire was aroused.  Rather than killing the desire he sent and inquired about the woman in verse three.  In the next verse he takes and lay with her.  The transition in these three verses is rapid.  David then spends the next 23 verses (and the rest of the chapter) trying to cover up his sin.

 

The sin of Achan takes a similar trajectory.  Achan took some of the plunder of Jericho when God said it was all to be put into the treasury of the Lord.  When explaining his sin in Joshua 7:20 he said that he saw silver, gold and a beautiful robe; he coveted them; he took them; and he hid them in his tent. 

 

Sin is sneaky.  It always takes us farther than we are willing to go and costs more than we are willing to pay.  God told Cain that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  (Gen. 4:7)  Good advice from a merciful God.  We must master our sin.  This means that we must be aware of our desires and kill them before they develop and mature into full-scaled rebellion against God.  

 

Natalie is fully aware of her desires.  She prefers ‘junk-snacks’ to healthy ones.  (The ones her mom gives her.)  She also knows where we keep the Nesquik.  I assume her desire for chocolate led her to the pantry.  She saw the bunny.  She coveted the Quik.  She took it.  She devoured it.  She hid under the table.  She made a mess!

 

By the way, though God is merciful, He still judges sin.  David’s son died.  Achan and his entire family were stoned.  Natalie’s life was spared, but she was punished nevertheless.  We decided to … well, I’ll just let you guess.

 

May you master the sin that crouches at your door as you pursue God this week.  May His Spirit empower you to victory.  May you experience holiness in Christ, with which the pleasure of sin simply can’t compete. Natalie and I will be praying for you.

 

Do Your Axe Heads Float?

Do your axe heads float? I have found that many of mine don’t. Before you get too confused or frustrated to continue reading, I should tell you that I was reading through the ministry of the prophet Elisha recently. (1 Kings 19 – 2 Kings 13) He did some pretty strange stuff. I mean, he does the kinds of things that if you don’t believe Genesis 1:1, they’ll make you think that the Bible is just ancient Jewish folklore.

He really is quite an amazing prophet. After the spectacular departure of his master Elijah (2 Kings 2) he goes on to perform stunning miracles. Consider this…early in his ministry he made water rush into and fill a dry creek bed to water the armies of three kings. Next he took up the cause of a widow who was about to be sold into slavery along with her son and caused her single small jar of oil to fill enough jars to pay off their creditors completely. Then there’s the Shunammite woman’s son. He literally lies down on top of the dead boy and the child comes back to life! He goes on to purify a pot of deadly stew so the sons of the prophets can eat during a famine and he healed Naaman from leprosy.

It’s among these amazing, almost outlandish miracles that I came across one that made me stop and think. (as if the others didn’t spin the wheels a turnin’ in my mind) It’s found in 2 Kings 6. The sons of the prophets go down to the Jordan River to cut down trees and built a place to live. Elisha goes with them. While cutting down the trees one of the men looses an axe head that he borrowed for the task. The man tells Elisa who cuts off a stick, throws it in the water and makes the iron axe head float to the surface. The man who lost it reached out his hand and picked it up.

This is what I don’t understand. It was just an axe head. Okay, it was borrowed. So just replace it. Now I know that it required perhaps more money than the man had but there was a company of prophets there. Surely among all of them they could find the funds necessary to replace the borrowed axe head. It just doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me. Not exactly in line with watering three armies from a dry creek bed, saving a widow and her son from slavery, raising a child back to life and curing a Syrian commander of leprosy. This floating axe head feels out of place here. It’s just not important enough. That’s what caught me off guard with this story.

I think that far too many times in my life I fail to take the little things that stress, worry, concern or bother me to God because I imagine that they are too small and I don’t want to ‘inconvenience’ God with my unimportant matters. But if they’re unimportant, why do they stress me? And if they bother me, why wouldn’t I take them to God?

Isn’t God busy being concerned with the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the sex-slave traffic in Asia, the persecution of Christians around the world, the plight of the gospel among unreached people groups, wars, famine and injustice around the globe? You know, the important things that are happening every second on the planet? The things He had Elisha engaging in during his brief ministry?

I mean, it’s not like my child is dying, or I am suffering from a life-threatening disease or my family is going to be sold into slavery. It’s more like…we need a building for our church…I need to get a project done for work and the pieces aren’t falling into place…I’m overcommitted but I need to honor my word.

These are the little ‘axe heads’ in my life. And rather than taking them to God, I just often just let them sit there at the bottom of the river and try to figure out how I’m going to replace them. Meanwhile, God is sitting firmly on His throne. And yes He is engaged in the AIDS epidemic and everything else mentioned above. But He is not ‘busy’. Not like we, or at least I, sometimes think.

While He is present and actively engaged in all of those things He is also present and engaged with you and me. He’s watching as our axe heads fly out of control toward the river. He’s waiting for us to take our problems and concerns to Him. He’s wondering why we go out and busy ourselves trying to replace them. He’s wishing that we would just turn and release all of our cares and concerns to him. (Phil. 4:6-7)

So many of my axe heads lie lifelessly at the bottom of the river. All the while God stands ready to throw a stick into the water and make iron float. He wants me to marvel at His power over the physical laws of nature. To wonder like David did that the God of the universe knows my name. To experience His peace that surpasses all of my pitiful understanding. To experience Him as He provides for my simple needs.

You’re axe heads can float. So can mine. Just like the son of the prophet in 2 Kings 6. This week, give them all to God. Ask and allow Him provide for you. Worship Him as He meets with you. He is worthy! He is waiting!