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*Special thanks to Shila and Pragna for their encouragement and inspiration*

Live And Learn

Jesus and I have a long history together complete with lots of bumps and bruises along the way as part of the journey. My Shepherd has had to rescue, coax, and prod me forward into His plan for my life. I believe I know better than most just how amazingly sufficient His grace is!

As is so often the case in life, I had to live and learn as I awkwardly attempted to embrace the foreign dynamic of trusting in someone I couldn’t see. In those early days, I was too innocently dismissive of the difficulty factor of being a disciple. I guess you can only know what you know when you know it, and at the time, I didn’t know very much! But I had a start and a God, who I would discover could be trusted through it all. That’s hindsight speaking! Experience covered by the grace of Jesus is a wonderful teacher folks!

Through It All

It’s hard not to be amazed at our Lord’s loving faithfulness. When we’re not, He is! When we don’t trust, He just keeps working on our behalf. He loved and drew us to Himself before we even acknowledged His existence. His promised commitment to finishing “the good thing” He started in our lives is overwhelming to say the least. Our Lord’s no-quit attitude towards us has no rational explanation but when thought through, neither is His love rational. Rational doesn’t apply to anything regarding Jesus! Radical? Absolutely! The bible describes His love for us and investment in us as “None Greater”. He stands alone and unequalled as the lover of our souls!

Fair Weather Or All Weather

We as humans tend to see everything through the “filter” of “ourselves”. We don’t like to turn the tables voluntarily and adopt a two-way perspective to life’s questions. Subliminal, internal suggestions that God needs to prove to us His worthiness to be trusted, can linger in the grey areas and dark shadows of our minds. Just saying that out loud sends a chill down my spiritual spine, but I do think it happens far more often than we’re aware of. My educated guess is that it’s more sub-conscious than conscious and likely something that gets established early on but doesn’t get corrected over time.

I wonder if there’s the possibility that every day we put God on trial in the courtrooms of our hearts, using the circumstances of our lives as evidence?

As new followers of Jesus that mindset while being wrong, is somewhat understandable, but as the journey lengthens and our experience grows, does there not have to come a moment when the question sounds more like this: Can Jesus trust me to trust Him regardless of the weather?

Fair weather or all weather fan, is a very serious decision we all have to make as we relationship with Jesus. Although advertised as such on occasion, Jesus is not a “sugar daddy” and we’re not in a frivolous silly religious game, as is verified in scripture. Multiple thousands of our historied brethren who made Christ “Lord” in their lives, lost their lives defending this amazing faith we now profess in the safe confines of the free world. Dying for what you believe is as serious as it gets folks!

An emphatic denying of one’s self interest in favor of embracing God’s pre-destined will and plan for our lives, must eventually become unshakeably foundational in our walk. Without total trust in the Creator of the plan, that’s impossible. Jesus has declared: I am all-in, all-ways. The un-changeable One now asks me to reciprocate likewise. He’s never been a “fair weather” fan of me. Had he chosen to take that approach, He’d be “no fan” at all by now!

Everything we insist He be, we must insist of ourselves to be! I simply call that fair. I also call it “relationship”! He’s been my closest friend down through the years. Should I now not be His! I’m thinking true friends trust each other no matter what! They don’t spend their time looking for reasons not to. My truest friend hung on a cross for me two thousand years ago. Does that not seal the deal once and for all?

John 15 - 13: “Greater love has no one than this: To lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.

Sometimes You Die!

By now you good folks must be sick of me regurgitating my admiration of Stephen and his story. With apologises for my repetitiveness, I find myself humbled over and over again as I peruse his short life through the filter of my desire to know and live the “true gospel” of Jesus.

I’m not afraid of the “Real Gospel” regardless of its content, but I am truly scared to death of its variations being offered! I admit, it’s a very heart felt personal thing with me. Being fully aware that I owe Him everything, which in my life is so very MUCH, makes it pretty well impossible for me to comfortably wear, “it’s all about me”, Christianity. Frankly, I find that thought distasteful in my spirit and not one I can navigate around with success.

To be clear: It’s not about paying Jesus back, but rather loving him back, in a manner fitting of the immeasurable love He has lavished on me! Grace is grace thus a gift, and never should be seen as earned or earnable. But that can’t mean I shouldn’t feel the need to respond to grace, graciously and reciprocally.

Perhaps, as strange as this may sound, “grace”, as it is with “trust”, can also be perceived by me as two-way in content. “God, I grant you the “grace” to do with my life as You choose. I will not evaluate You based on circumstances but I will trust You through circumstances. I will choose to make “them” a non-factor in our relationship. Folks, it doesn’t get more real or rare than that!

Doesn’t that sound magnificently reflective of a time two thousand years ago when Jesus faced horrific circumstances and yet chose to trust His heavenly Father through them.

We are the benefactors of that trust. I often wonder, who will benefit from our self-less trust?

Can’t you just hear and feel the divinely transcendent beauty of His mindset in the Garden Of Gethsemane: “Thy will is My will Father, regardless of what Thy will entails”! On that day our Lord, knowing what His Father’s will included, set the standard very high for us to emulate! A selflessness that has “no self-imposed terms” as to its usability. Again: These are the biblical realities that haunt, humble, and challenge me to the core of my being. I don’t know how to avoid their inclusion in “my gospel” and sleep at night.

I don’t want to be “the sheep” that needs a constant infusion of sugary treats to stay faithful to my Lord. “What have You done for me lately”, as a determining factor to my trust, cannot play any part in my commitment to Him. He never applies that mindset to me, I will not apply it to Him!

Back to Stephen: He was a young man with a bright future. He was educated more than most. He was rail- roaded into his confrontation with the Sanhedrin. Trumped up charges found him and his bright future in serious jeopardy as he stood before his accusers who had the authority to end his life and desired to do so.

Our modern day version of Stephen’s story would sound something like this:

Stephen, under the power of the Holy Spirit, spoke the truth boldly to these men, and without exception, they all instantly fell on their knees and sincerely repented of their wrong doing and were converted to Jesus followers. The temple was transformed into a house of worship to the King Of Kings and their now revealed Messiah. Stephen then became their Pastor and everyone amazingly lived happily ever after!

Well, we know that’s not what ended up happening. Stephen would be dragged out of the city and stoned to death. That ending makes us feel rather queasy and doesn’t fit very well with our doctrinal pre-conceived formulas complete with appropriately comfortable happy endings.

According to us something went wrong. Our brother Stephen is supposed to be rescued in the story! What about Daniel and the three Hebrew children of biblical fame. They all got rescued in the most dramatic of ways. Where was the “fourth man in the fire” for Stephen? Too busy perhaps? Maybe Stephen didn’t have enough faith? Well, we know those two thoughts are ridiculous, so let’s consider a third.

To do that we have to go back to those three Hebrew children and their statement of trusted faith in God’s ultimate will for their lives when challenged by King Nebuchadnezzar. “Our God will rescue us, BUT if He doesn’t, we still won’t worship your idle”. We have no doubt He can, but whether He does or not is His choice.

“But if He doesn’t”, interpreted as their mindset, means: We believe that either way “Our God’s Will”, will still be perfectly accomplished in the end and THAT, not being rescued, is our desired result! I short: Whatever glorifies Him the most is what we desire!

Folks, it’s moments like these that I realize why the word “WOW” was invented! What a reality these young men had to have been living in!

Back to Stephen once more. Can you imagine the volume of the enemy’s voice screaming in his ears as the stones bounced off his body: “Where’s your Jesus now? It would seem He’s forsaken you in your moment of greatest need! You spoke up for Him and He’s abandoned you! Look at the mess you’re in because of Him!”

And Stephen would have looked up and said: “Can’t you see Him? I can! He is standing at the right hand of God preparing to welcome me home! I know what it looks like but I have been given a very different visual of my true reality! This is His will for my life, and I’m perfectly fine with that”! One more time: “WOW”!

A question I would love us all to ask of ourselves: Who killed Stephen? Do we surmise it was the “Saul” led group that threw the stones? On the surface we very easily could conclude a yes and move on but if it were that obvious I wouldn’t have asked the question.

Even though he was a young man, Stephen had died long before a single stone hit him. Long before he was brought before the Sanhedrin to be interrogated, “Stephen’s well-being” as a determining factor in his relationship with, or trust in Jesus, had already been removed from the story and seen by him as insignificant. He had died to self, long before he actually left the planet! He spoke boldly and left gloriously because you cannot intimidate nor kill a dead man!

When we think back to Jesus teaching the parameters around following Him He made it clear, that denying of one’s “self” was not negotiable but rather a necessity. We could query: Was He being ridiculously demanding? Those who were in attendance thought so. They left with their opinion of: “This is too hard” in tow. They had been fed and healed. That’s why they were there and that was their perception of being a follower of Christ. They had absolutely zero interest in anything else. They were consumers of the provision but not consumed by the Provider nor did they want to be. My guess is that once their needs were met they stopped listening entirely to whatever else was being said. I’m thinking their need to listen was based solely on their need to get!

So why did Jesus decide the record needed to be set straight. Well, He knew their hearts were wrong but He also knew what their reaction would be. So why didn’t He just play along to keep the crowds following, perhaps thinking that “one day” they might come around to seeing things His way? Even the disciples were a little befuddled at the approach Jesus took. A little harsh in their opinion.

Within the context of this story we see a Jesus that isn’t looking for quantity but rather quality. People who will say “use me in any way you so choose”. The life You give me, I give it back to you for your use without a single term or condition attached other than this: Glorify yourself in it and if that’s through my death, Stephen would say, “So be it”!

True Story

A true story to leave you with for your consideration, that Louie Giglio shared recently in one of his messages.

Louie and some members of his team visited a young ten year old boy in the hospital not long ago. It sounded like the young fellow enjoyed being at the Passion City Conferences but wasn’t going to be able to make it this time around. It had been discovered the little guy had a tumour behind one of his eyes and surgically removing it was necessary.

Louie, having heard the news, put together some folks including a few from the worship team, and down to the hospital they trekked to pay a visit after the conference had concluded for that day. Can I just pause to say “I like Louie a lot”!

Well, they spent some time worshipping and sharing in the boys room and as Louie described: This young fellow had something special going on in his life that defied his age!

As their time together came to a close Louie commented: “We have all come in faith to pray for you. What is the one thing you would like God to do for you the most”?

With Louie already having assumed the likely response of: “That He would heal my tumor”, this is what his ears hear in a heartbeat: “Pray that Jesus would be seen through all of this. That is what I want the most!”

It would seem that dying to “self” has no age restrictions folks so there goes all my excuses, not that I had any that would be considered seriously legitimate. My concern at the ripe old age of sixty nine is that it also has no “automatic” age adherence. Thus a person can actually never do it! That scares me and has caused me to put its relevance at the very top of my priority list!

Care to join me? Jesus said it’s a necessary ingredient to being used. I believe Him! I want to be used by Him to the maximum in whatever fashion He so chooses. If He’s going to trust me then I need to be trustworthy. He’s already more than established His trustworthiness. It’s my turn!

My Ministry Into Our Ministry

Mark 6 - 38 & 41: “How many loaves do you have He asked?” “Go and see”. When they found out they said, “Five and two fish”. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to His disciples to DISTRIBUTE to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all”. ( Five thousand plus, were fed that day! )

In the biblical story of the “fishes and loaves”, I so clearly see three dynamics in play to achieve the desired completion of the heavenly orchestrated equation. The young boy GAVE what little he had, our Lord then MULTIPLIED it, and the disciples then DISTRIBUTED it.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus, after the multiplying didn’t say, “Come and get it”. What He did say was, “Everyone find a place to sit on the grass and I’ll bring it to you, through my own”. Folks, He loves to involve us. He loves to make us matter! We are blessed beyond measure to be written into, His stories! Just imagine: Invited by Him to participate in His plans for others!

From the inception of the idea of writing books to be made available to “all freely”, there has never been a moment when I haven’t been aware of its ministry context. I could easily be seen as the “young boy” in the story. Jesus has most certainly multiplied my meager offering to Him.

So may I invite and encourage you to be a distributor of that which He has multiplied, thereby elevating “My Ministry” into “Our Ministry”, thus completing “His Ministry”. There’s something about that idea that sounds “perfect” to my heart!

We all have friends, family, work mates, school mates, etc. I’ve included a simple directional on “how to find” the “fishes and loaves”. Please feel free to share “what you eat” with others. You have no idea where it could lead to! That young boy’s mother could never have dreamed, what that little lunch she had prepared for her son on that fateful morning, would produce!

Thanks in advance. Bill Taylor

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