Purpose and the Cross 6

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”  (Ps. 121:1-2)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

As King Saul’s deadly pursuit of David is on several occasions within a hair’s breadth of succeeding, David must think to himself whether God’s promise to him through the prophet Samuel will ever come true.  Joseph’s own attempt to get Pharaoh’s butler and baker to speak well of Joseph to Pharaoh and hopefully procure his exoneration and release from prison, falls flat.

When the Israelites are trapped up against the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian chariot army in deadly pursuit, it never entered the minds of the Israelites as a plausible solution that God could open up the Red Sea.  If the Red Sea bordered on a forest, some small number of people might have used drift wood as floatation devices to swim safely on top of the surface of the water to the opposite shore.  But this body of water was in the middle of a desert…there were no trees or driftwood.  Some daring people might have considered attempting to swim across the entire width of the Red Sea.  Opening up a dry land passage through the midst of the waters was something that only God could even imagine, much less actually accomplish.

Upon first hearing God’s plan to successfully defeat the opposing army, we can imagine Gideon asking God “Did I hear you correctly…you want us to do what?”  Esther throws all personal caution to the wind in seeking an uninvited audience with the king, in an extremely tight set of deadly circumstances forced upon her by the expediency of the crisis, not at all of her making.

Even on Resurrection Day, as the two disciples are walking toward Emmaus and speaking with the as-yet unrecognized Jesus, after some of the disciples had already reported discovering the empty tomb, they still did not understand the magnitude of the power of the resurrection.  They say about Jesus that He was “a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19), and that “we hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They did not realize that Jesus, a “prophet mighty in deed and word,” had that very day conquered the great final enemy of death and hell for them, through His divinely empowered resurrection from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.

Most of us did not fully understand the second half of the cross…the surrender of the sovereignty of sitting atop the thrones of our lives as self-autonomous kings…when we experienced believer’s water baptism.  When we were submerged briefly below the surface of the water, and then assisted up into a vertical standing position representing resurrection into new life, we grasped the basic outlines of the cross and the resurrection.  Only after some length of time in our journey of faith do we begin to comprehend in some measure the depth of God’s purposes, patterned for us in the narrative examples of faith recorded in the Bible.  This concept of placing our personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice so that God can insert His higher ways into our lives, will crystalize into a major theme for Christians as we enter the last-days to close out the long redemptive history of mankind.  This is another key to our success as the Christian church in the last-days.

Just as the cross and the resurrection conquered death in a way that was beyond our capacity to accomplish for ourselves, the second half of the cross is a divine creation beyond human imagination or creative literary invention.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible, and our own personal experience of salvation and a journey of faith following Jesus Christ, will be a calm harbor of refuge and a sturdy anchor of protection through whatever worldwide turbulence lies ahead.

A journey of faith through the second half of the cross is at the pinnacle of divinely inspired and revealed orthodoxy, as orthodox as orthodox can be.  This is the part of the message of the Bible that is designed to illustrate the Spirit-born transformation that takes place within a person, from having merely an impersonal knowledge about God, to a personal, purpose-filled, new covenant adventure of faith following Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Purpose and the Cross 5

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  (Rom. 8:35)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

At the advanced Christian end of the spectrum of purpose and meaning in life, God will ask us to place our own personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice.  Isaac is not just Abraham’s son.  Isaac is the son of promise.  Wrapped up in Isaac are all of Abraham’s commendable hopes, dreams, love, and care.  Isaac does not represent some bad character trait or secret sin that Abraham must surrender to God.  If the purpose and meaning of life were just about smooth sailing through calm seas, then Abraham and Sarah could have started a large family upon correctly obeying God to leave Haran and journey to Canaan.  But Abraham and Sarah wait for Isaac, and Abraham is maneuvered by God through long-range circumstances to this pivotal moment on Mount Moriah, for a monumental reason.

The lesson for the “father of faith” (and all of us) is that he must completely and totally rely upon God and give up any remaining residue of self-reliance.  This is one part of the Bible that cannot be manufactured by man through conventional thinking.  This was the God-manufactured reality in Abraham’s life that qualified him to be called the “father of faith,” initiating a new, higher way of life with God.  As Abraham lifts his knife up to thrust it down into his beloved son Isaac, Hebrews 11:19 reads that Abraham accounted “…that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which also he received him in a figure.”

No ordinary person conquers death.  Through the incarnation, cross, and resurrection, Jesus conquered death…our last great enemy.  We are raised to new life in Christ because Jesus was raised from the tomb by God the Father.  This is the central message of the Bible.  God can and will do for us in a better and much higher way what we cannot possibly even imagine for ourselves.  The most painfully difficult, yet liberating, faith-producing events in our lives are when God maneuvers our circumstances to the point where we willingly make the decision to let go of our own plans, schemes, self-efforts, and even our personal hopes and dreams in a particular area.  As God shouts to Abraham “Stop!” as he is about to plunge his knife down into Isaac, Abraham has totally let go of all self-generated assistance regarding helping God out toward the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

God would not and never has unjustly asked anyone to take the life of someone else.  The sacrifice on Mount Moriah was a foreglimpse, a “type” of the real sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hill two thousand years later that would go forward to full consummation in the death of God’s own beloved Son.  The foundational example of a biblical journey of faith, starting with Abraham, begins with Abraham placing his Isaac on the altar of sacrifice…and God taking this unconditional faith and trust and literally turning it around into life from the dead.

Like all Christians, I have experienced trials, tragedies, and heartbreaks in my life.  Although excruciatingly painful at the time, I would not trade these experiences for anything.  When shaped, orchestrated, and moderated by God, they make me into a better person.  Could one of the things that conventional, worldly thinking chokes on and stumbles over so badly…the presence of suffering and periods of hardship in this life…be an important ingredient that produces the continue-on-at-all-costs, come-what-may, get-up-and-carry-on resiliency of character that can overcome any life-challenge that comes our way?  I cannot discover the inspirations to write this book unless I allow God to lead me through a personal guided tour of life’s valleys and mountaintops to demonstrate to me His faithfulness and His management skills.  The partially hypocritical “do-as-I-say” moves closer to the absolute ideal of “do-as-I-do” when divinely-guided purpose is actualized within a God-composed journey of faith.

Purpose and meaning are inextricably connected with this concept of Jesus walking alongside us through the most challenging of life’s circumstances.  The purpose in the cross is all over this encouraging reality of a journey of faith following Jesus Christ through the hills and valleys of life, ironically fulfilling in the most commendable God-scripted way the tempting seduction of Lucifer in the Garden: “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Purpose and the Cross 4

“The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”  (Jer. 31:3)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

The best example to illustrate the perfection of the purposes of God is the life-script of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.  What is seamlessly perfect about the divinely composed life-plan of Jesus is that it is absolutely unselfish.  Jesus is not leisurely sailing the Mediterranean Sea with people waiting upon Him to satisfy His every need.  Everything that Jesus does is for us.  Even though the suffering of the cross adds a new perspective to God’s reality that He never experienced before (Hebrews 5:7-9), there is no redemptive value for Jesus Christ on the cross, because Jesus does not need redemption from sin.  Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The sacrifice on the cross is for us.

What is astounding is that God is so brilliantly creative that He can compose a life-script for the perfect Son of God Jesus Christ, which actually contains an element of challenging difficulty.  God knew that we would have difficulty with the second half of the cross that requires our self-in-charge nature to be set aside so that God can effectively work with us.  Jesus  says in Luke 12:50 “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am straightened till it be accomplished!” (KJV), not because, like us, Jesus is in need of character growth through adversity.  Jesus is already divinely perfect.

In Luke 22:44, it is recorded that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane went back a second time to “pray more earnestly.”  This is beyond our comprehension.  We would normally assume that everything Jesus did, especially prayer, was perfect the first time.  In Luke 22:42 Jesus prays “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”  How can God be so brilliantly creative to be able to write into the earthly experience of the divine Son of God Jesus, the element of difficult challenge which is totally foreign to the perfect nature of God, just so He could tell us He personally understands our own difficulty in picking up our cross in order to follow God?  Even within the absolute perfection of the ways and purposes of God, the life-script of Jesus manages to contain God-challenging elements of difficulty written-in for our future consolation and encouragement.  This touches me at the capacity of my intellect and the depth of my heart.

It is the precise and intricate ways and purposes of God that enlists our own in-built facility for purpose, which can be integrated by God into any set of current life circumstances and events.  Whether we are a heart surgeon, congresswoman, appellate court judge, school teacher, auto mechanic, pastor of a small-town church, writer of Christian books, or housewife raising children, God can overlay and integrate His higher ways and purposes into our lives if we will surrender and yield our self-wills to Him in faith and trust.  The deliverance and salvation of God within the challenges of life, expressed so beautifully throughout the Psalms, takes place within the plans of God, and not our own.  Innate purpose translates into reality at the highest most glorious level when orchestrated and directed within the framework of a God-composed journey of faith.

Sometimes purpose and worldly conventional normalcy do not mix.  Sometimes we cannot have both the risk-filled pursuit of truth and the security of conventional normalcy simultaneously within the dynamics of this broken world.  Jesus, the Lamb-of-God sacrifice for the sins of the world can only die and be resurrected if His generation rejects and crucifies Him.  Only God can knit together a meaningful and purposeful tapestry of the commendable aspects of the Protestant work ethic with the worldly incomprehensible, biblical journey of faith through the cross of Calvary.

All of the people of faith in the Bible gave up some measure of worldly conventional normalcy in following God’s life-script for them.  This separates out and elevates the quality of purpose and meaning into a higher zone that only God can orchestrate.  This highlights the wisdom of God in the area of purpose, and like the scriptural example of God composing a life-script for Jesus that contained challenging difficulty for our consolation, it reveals an imaginative creativity that is at the edge of perfection regarding brilliantly directed purpose.  If even our hardships work an eternal glory in us that we cannot fully understand in the present moment, orchestrated, managed, and moderated by a loving and brilliantly wise God at the limits of perfection, this should bolster our faith and confidence when outward appearances seem close to hopeless.

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible tell us that God knows precisely what He is doing, dovetailed perfectly with the type and measure of purpose He has placed within us.  Laws, rules, precepts, psalms of praise and encouragement, prophetic warnings, and historical events all occupy their place in the revelation of God to man.  But the biblical narrative stories of faith demonstrate in action the will and ways of God within life-events to reveal His craftsmanship in the management of our journeys of faith and discovery.

Purpose and the Cross 3

During the ten plagues in Egypt, Moses is in the center of the most extreme opposing forces working themselves out within the most horizontal of worldly conventional realities.  Moses is in the middle between the earthly ruler Pharaoh intent upon keeping the Israelites within the borders of Egypt as economically and socially valuable slaves, and the supernatural God intent upon physically and spiritually liberating the Israelites entirely out of the country of Egypt to create the new nation of Israel.

The lesson here for all Christians is that the plans and purposes of God are located way over at the far extreme, risked-filled, totally committed faith end of the purpose-spectrum that we cannot possibly reach through our own efforts, or even conceive of in our wildest imagination.  Moses does not deliver the Israelites through some exceptional gift for oratorical persuasion or appeal to enlightened reason in the presence of Pharaoh, according to some humanistic construction.  The deliverance of the Israelites is not the result of a win-win compromise based upon mutual benefits to both parties obtained through expert worldly diplomacy.  The successful deliverance of the Israelites occurs in a zone of reality that is not only entirely supernatural but beyond our capacity to inventively imagine.

The capacity of in-built purpose in Moses is stretched to its fullest through active faith, bonded with the higher ways and purposes of God to produce this incredibly brilliant outcome of the birth of the nation of Israel.  This in turn produces all of the benefits of the Old Testament events leading up to the eventual redemption through Jesus Christ our Savior at Calvary, which will endure for all eternity.  God accomplishes all of this in the middle of the most daunting and discouraging worldly conventional circumstances imaginable.

Some Christians would like me to put forward in this book the typically modern 3-step or 5-step program to begin to apply a biblical quality journey of faith to our Christian lives.  But the biblical message of the narrative stories of faith tell us that only God Himself has the step-by-step life-plans of carefully designed events and circumstances to connect with the element of purpose He has placed within us.  This is part of the journey of faith that authenticates and validates the competence of the one true living God as King and Ruler of the realm.  Only God Himself can be the competent administrator of this life-purpose program.

The reason that the experience of Moses with God in the midst of the plagues in Egypt is an interactive joint-venture effort between an ordinary man engaged in a committed adventure of faith, and the Almighty God, is that Moses could not possibly self-produce the supernatural ten plagues in Egypt or the parting of the Red Sea.  The absolutely perfect plans of God integrate seamlessly with our innate sense of purpose in a way that is unattainable when we are stuck in the humanly limited position of self-in-charge.  Moses experienced the high privilege of daily walking within the tightest and narrowest of life-and-death circumstances in Egypt to discover the absolute perfection of God’s ways and purposes in the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites.

Purpose and the Cross 2

“And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”  (Isa. 46:4

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

One of the themes of this post is that it takes the cross of Jesus Christ applied to our lives, actualized through the spiritual rebirth described in the gospel of John chapter three and symbolized in believer’s water baptism, to effectively remove the debilitating aspects of our self-in-charge natures.  This creates the space for God to insert His higher ways into our lives.

When we allow God to displace our plans with His life-script for us, even though our performance may be flawed at times, the game-plan itself is absolutely perfect.  When we willingly submit to the God-inspired destiny for our lives, we embark upon a journey having the tightest specifications crafted exclusively to match our created abilities, talents, and purpose.  A God-composed journey of faith provides structure, direction, and momentum to the element of purpose we already have designed within us.  A biblical quality journey of faith through the cross enlists and connects to purpose at the fundamental core of its meaning.

The beauty of this is that the cross element in the biblical narrative stories of faith is as orthodox as orthodox can get.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are just as authoritative as the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.  If we can clearly see the cross within the God-composed life-scripts of the great men and women of faith in the Bible, then we are viewing the precise handiwork of God perfectly integrated to the facility for purpose He placed within each of us.

For example, when Moses is in the middle of the ten miraculous plagues in Egypt designed to procure the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage as slaves, Moses is walking through the narrowest of circumstances having little or no wiggle-room (Matthew 7:13-14).  Each morning that Moses wakes up, he listens to God in the Spirit and desperately seeks God’s new and unique solution for that day to persuade the despotic Pharaoh to release the Israelites.  In the middle of any of the ten plagues, Moses is engaged within the tightest life-and-death scenario of events designed to progress toward a positive outcome that by all outward appearances in the present moment borders on the edge of being hopeless.

As one miraculous plague after another fails to move Pharaoh off of his stubbornly entrenched position, the faith and trust of Moses in the character and ability of God to come through with the next brilliant step is daily put to the test.  Today we miss much of the in-the-moment suspense and drama when looking back in hindsight at the entire story, because we already know the positive ending to the story.

Purpose and the Cross 1

“I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”                       (John 8:12)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

No writer in the history of literature has ever attempted to create a fictional character absolutely devoid of purpose.  Like reaching absolute zero temperature, creating an absolute vacuum, or producing the conditions for motion having zero friction, humans cannot conceive of a literary character having absolute zero purpose.  A person without purpose is a fiction beyond our imagination.  Every human being on the planet cares about someone or something, to some extent.  This aspect of our world, in which every person has some measure of purpose, whatever its direction or quality, should come as a surprise to us. But this is another of the many features of our present reality that we just accept and take totally for granted.

This reality regarding purpose can be used as an apologetic argument for the existence of God.  Acknowledge even the smallest quantity of purpose in the recipe for meaningful human life, and this then requires a reasonably plausible explanation for where purpose comes from.  This is one of the philosophical inconsistencies inherent in skeptical unbelief.

But purpose and meaning in life go much deeper than this.  The old proverb “Do as I say, not as I do” reveals an inconsistency in all human behavior.  A common notion among many people is that we typically live around 75 or 80 years, then die, are buried, and this covers all there is to reality.  But if this were true in a purely absolute sense, if taken to its logical extreme, then people would live in total detachment and disinterest about anyone or anything.  If we are made up solely of atoms, molecules, and quantum energy, then existence should be a cold, empty, emotionless, absolute zero-purpose reality having no caring, no passion, and no meaning.

The one thing that is absolutely consistent about the application of purpose in our lives is that none of us are absolutely consistent.  Christians are criticized by the skeptical world of unbelief for not living up to the high standards of Christ.  Admittedly, Christians do not practice what they preach perfectly.  But neither does anyone else.  Some people say they do not believe in God, and do not believe in anything transcendent beyond this present life in the here and now.  But the inconsistency of their verbally stated belief system is betrayed by their fully engaged and sometimes active passion for social and political reforms, their insistence upon personal integrity in their lives, their solid endorsement of the standards and laws that govern society, and their unabashed enthusiasm for the welfare of their children and grandchildren.

This clear and unwavering preference for high standards and commendable outcomes in life has no place in a world having zero purpose or meaning.  Actions here shout louder than words, and in everyday practice self-refute the theoretical foundation for the purely absolute, naturalistic worldview.

If all we do is live, die, and are buried, then why care deeply and passionately about anyone or anything?  What would be the point?  Is someone keeping score?  Doing the right thing and caring about others becomes absolutely meaningless.  Making our mark in life and leaving behind us a better world for posterity becomes absolutely meaningless.  Things like friendship, loyalty, honor, character, and self-sacrifice not only become meaningless…they do not even exist.  Even caring only about ourselves becomes meaningless in a world having no real purpose beyond atoms and molecules.

In my view, some people incorrectly use the argument that evil exists in the world, which greatly disrupts our good order and well-being, as evidence that God does not exist.  The presumption here is that a wise and caring God would not create such a beautiful and orderly world as this, yet allow evil to mar its existence.  But we have to search in an entirely different area than purpose for an explanation for the existence of evil in our world.    If a brilliant craftsman God did not create within us this facility for purpose and meaning in life, then no one would care about the issue of the existence of evil in the first place.  We would not possess the capacity to care about anything.  The inability to be absolutely detached and disinterested in terms of purpose and meaning in life to the point of not even being able to imagine such an extreme purposeless condition devoid of any appreciation of justice, fairness, and equity, severely undermines a materialistic explanation of reality based solely on atoms, electrons, and the physical elements.

Every single human being is covered by the broad brush-stroke of hypocritical inconsistency in this area of the gap between what we say verbally and what we actually do in practice.  Christians and non-Christians alike are merely at different points on the same spectrum graph-line of purpose in life.  No one escapes this issue of hypocritical inconsistency.  Christians aspire to moral perfection, but don’t quite get there.  Skeptical unbelievers aspire to a totally rational and intellectual existence consistent with a materialistic worldview, devoid of any transcendent purpose or meaning, but don’t quite get there.  Although everyone has purpose of one sort or another, everyone falls short of absolute purity in the application of their particular worldview.

The Natural Moral Law 6

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”  (Prov. 18:10)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

Whether we consciously know it or not, when we place our trust completely in Jesus Christ through a God-composed journey of faith, we are subscribing wholeheartedly to the natural moral law.  A personalized adventure of faith patterned for us after the lives of faith portrayed in the Bible, is God’s ingenious method of establishing a relationship with us based upon mutual love.  This love will capture our voluntary willingness to climb any mountain, cross any sea, and bear any burden in response to the living God who loves us and cares for us.  This explains why Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Jeremiah, Elijah, Daniel, Peter, and Paul stay with God’s program through thick and thin.  They recognized God’s confident love for them and responded with fidelity and loyalty to God’s higher ways and plans.  This is the elevated, higher character realm of the natural moral law where God resides.

Princess Anne and Joe Bradley unintentionally fall in love as a result of their shared Roman Holiday experience, combined with their physical attraction and growing affection for each other.  This was not a consciously intellectual choice on their part, conferring merit on their creative wisdom to set all of this up in advance.  We simply have the God-given, innate capacity for experiencing love that will alter our lives for the better.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

One theme of this book is that God sets up unimaginable life-scripts for us to walk in, individually tailored to His intentions when He originally created each of us.  Love will motivate people to voluntarily choose high moral actions in a truly genuine and fulfilling way.  Divine love is the dynamic force that energizes the journeys of faith recorded in the Bible.  The “that not of yourselves” part involves picking up our cross, listening in the Spirit, and following Jesus.  It is the love of God that actively intervenes in our lives that is the key for individual Christians and the Christian church in the last-days.

This is the part of the Christian experience that is infused with the most unselfish, loving intentions of God toward us, creating the space for God to insert a biblical version “Roman Holiday” of unique situations and circumstances into our lives.

The secondary theme of this wonderful movie Roman Holiday, where the cost of duty and honor is commendably chosen over the short-term gain of personal preference, is something that Christians can anticipate becoming more clearly defined in our journeys of faith as the last–days approach.  Love that produces and exhibits self-sacrifice is one of the basic spiritual realities of the Christian life.  It is one of the fundamental aspects of this natural moral law that is a part of the Almighty God that we worship and follow.  Amazingly, this natural moral law even shows up as a main theme in a classic movie produced out of Hollywood in 1953.