Pride, Part 1

One encouraging and hopeful conclusion we can draw from all of this is that pride is not a problem for God.  God does not struggle with the character flaw of a swelled head.  God’s sense of self-worth is so finely balanced and His perspective is so true in its outward looking viewpoint that He can rise above the destructive elements of pride.  For God, puffed-up pride is an impediment…an unproductive distraction…that stands in the way of continuously active, creative thought.

But in our current fallen condition, swelled-headed pride is one of our biggest enemies.  We think we know best.  We want to do things our way.  The central theme in the biblical narrative stories of faith is that God displaces our way with His way.

Joseph tries to procure his release from Pharaoh’s prison through the butler and baker…but this fails…because God has a better way.  Joseph stays put in Pharaoh’s prison until God’s timing plays itself out perfectly.

Moses impulsively kills the Egyptian and must flee from Egypt into exile…having no concept of how God plans to liberate the growing nation of Israel in bondage in Egypt…until God’s correct timing plays itself out perfectly starting at the burning bush.

In his early military campaigns, David may optimistically think that he can quickly defeat the Philistines like he killed Goliath, and rid the nation of Israel from constant foreign threat.  But David discovers over time that God’s ways are different from his own.  David discovers that there is a definite process requiring patience, faith, and trust in God to becoming a godly king.  David realizes that he cannot lower himself to take the shortcut route of killing King Saul himself on two separate opportunities, to make himself king.  David realizes there is a right way to becoming the king of Israel, and that this right way belongs exclusively to God.

On the road to Damascus, as Jesus reveals Himself as Messiah to Saul the young Pharisee, Saul/Paul’s pride about the rightness of his own way is crucified on the cross of Christ, and a radical humility is born within Paul that will allow him to take the gospel message of grace and forgiveness…without condescension and self-righteous, judgmental pride… to the idol-worshipping, polytheistic Gentiles of the first-century Greco-Roman world.

No one likes the cross.  Jesus did not enjoy the experience of the crucifixion.  But through the cross of Christ both the Father and the Son are glorified.  Self-sacrificing love is devoid of the negative aspects of pride such as described in 1 Cor. 13:4-5: ”love…vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…seeketh not her own.”  God displacing our way with His way through the totally unconventional vehicle of a God-composed adventure of faith fundamentally cuts across the grain of our thinking that we know best.

When our cross gets heaviest, we are troubled.  We get upset and complain to God.  We want explanations and answers.  A grain of wheat dying to produce much fruit is not a part of our presumed expectation for worldly conventional normalcy.  It takes prayer and patience on our part for God to lovingly show us through the playing-out of life events what still needs to be fixed in our lives in order to bring forth much fruit.

Only the living God knows how to do the cross properly.  The cross in our lives has pinpoint accuracy.  For Jesus, the way of the cross eventually actualizes into a Roman cross on Calvary Hill.  Our crosses are something unique and individually tailored to each of us.  If the cross and the resurrection glorified Jesus and the Father (Jn. 13:31), our cross and resurrection as godly transformed new people in Christ will glorify both ourselves and God.

As Spirit-born Christians, if we are following Jesus down the road toward Calvary…if we are walking in the Spirit and God is on our side…there is nothing in all of existence that can defeat us no matter how daunting are the outward circumstances or the negative appearances of temporary failure.  This is the liberating broadness of the reality of a journey of faith that is one of the priceless things Jesus purchased for us through the cross and the resurrection.

A Journey of Faith is Larger than Temporary Adversity, Part 2

In a carefully crafted journey of faith life-script, there is room for adversity and the appearance of failures when they are designed to produce character growth and positive outcomes.  No one is closer to this reality than Jesus Christ the Son of God.

In terms of the outward appearances of worldly conventional thinking, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the most disappointing, colossal failures in human history.  The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth falls far outside of the narrowly optimistic, top-half, worldly successful expectations of the coming Son of David messiah for large numbers of Jews in Israel in the first century, and is still one of the main reasons why modern Jews reject Jesus as their messiah.

Yet the crucifixion is one of the greatest things God has ever done…maybe the greatest thing He has ever done.  Jesus Christ the divine Son of God selflessly sacrifices His own life on a humble cross forever fixed on Calvary Hill, to redeem His lost and fallen people through the unexpected offering of Himself as the payment-in-full sacrifice for mankind’s sin.  All the angelic host of heaven are watching with amazement and awe as they witness divine love in action in their revered Son of God Jesus hanging upon a lowly Roman cross of execution as the just and lawful punishment for mankind’s shortcomings.  In that crucial moment of the most awful, humiliating, and degrading of earthly circumstances the justice, love, mercy, and grace of God are blended together in an unimaginable mixture of divine character.  If we can grasp and understand the cross, then in the challenges of our own journeys of faith we can let go of the outward appearances of circumstances and trust God for the future beneficial outcome.

Jesus the Son of God sheds His life’s blood on the cross to rescue us from the penalty of rebellious sin…taking our place for wrongdoing that we rightly deserve.  The resurrection of Jesus three days later demonstrates the power of God to turn the outward appearance of humiliating defeat into overcoming triumph for all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  The new birth in the Spirit sets our feet upon a path free from the condemnation for sin that we could never procure for ourselves.

In terms of the enormous width and breadth of the span of all possible human experience, the crucifixion of the God/man Jesus Christ is both the very worst and the very best at the same time.  If Jesus had accepted the counterfeit offer from the devil to receive “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (Mt. 4:8), the narrowness of keeping up the outward appearances of worldly success solely at the positive top-half of human experience, would not have allowed Jesus to reach down so low through the rejection and humility of the cross, to grab ahold of and pull each of us out of the pit of darkness we had fallen into.  This is one explanation for how and why Jesus can rescue the perishing in whatever strata of a lost condition we are found of God, because His understanding and empathy from personal lived-experience stretches from the absolute lowest to the absolute highest throughout the full range of abject worldly failure to heavenly triumph.

The apostle Paul epitomizes the width and the depth of the Christian walk of faith experience when he says: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

A Journey of Faith is Larger than Temporary Adversity, Part 1

A God-composed journey of faith life-script is partially hidden to outsiders (2 Cor. 4:2-4; Jn. 14:17), is incomprehensible to many people (Jn. 15:19; 1 Pet. 4:4), and is contrary to the worldly goals and aspirations of horizontally conventional thinking (Rom. 12:2).  These two conflicting worldviews…a journey of faith willingly following Jesus Christ through free-will choice, and an unbelieving indifference to any knowledge of God whatsoever in our lives…could not be more different.

A large part of the program of worldly acceptable thinking is to keep up the outward appearances of success at all times.  But no one is “winning” out there in the world in a guaranteed, indefinitely sustainable, secure sense of the word.  Fortunes can disappear overnight, beauty fades away, athletic prowess wains over time, fame and the power it bestows can dissipate in a moment.

The outside world at large is mostly competitive, not supportive.  Many people work extremely hard to “keep up with the Joneses” next door, to live in the right zip code, and to be seen moving about in the highest social circles.  But the outside world coldly says: “first prove your worth, and then we will pay homage to you.”  The struggle and pressure to “keep up appearances” is in actuality a limiting reality located in the top-half of successful human experience that allows little or no room for the sometimes beneficial but worldly humiliating challenge of adversity.

God as our Creator has no such doubtful starting perception of us that requires us to first show Him our worth before He will accept us and commence a personal relationship with us.  God knows us inside and out…better than we know ourselves.  He sees our hidden talents and our future potential because He placed these things within us.  Our journeys of faith following God are courageously unbounded and conceptually unlimited because they begin within the mind of the God who knows who and want He created us to be.

This broad outlook admits the width and breadth of human experience unlimited by horizontally conventional thinking.  The narrow gate of Matthew 7:13-14 is surprisingly the gateway out into the broadest and most liberating of horizons possible, because God alone knows the optimum end-point destinations for each of our life journeys.  This narrow gate is the correct starting point for every imaginable life-plan and career path, and every conceivable Christian ministry.

When our God-composed journey of faith life-script therefore takes us through the hard terrain of difficult times, we know that we are not permanent “failures” and that the negative verdict of the world’s judgment for our temporal plight is based upon a short-sighted and uninformed assessment of our current condition.

Abraham for a time is a wealthy herdsman but disappointingly childless for the highest imaginable reason, setting up the unique scenario whereby he can demonstrably grow into becoming “the father of faith.”  Jacob for a time struggles against an unethical and miserly uncle.  Joseph’s unique “graduate course” in management takes him through the humbling social positions of being a servant-slave and an unjustly convicted prisoner.

Moses the great deliverer and prophet is assigned for a time to being a sheep herder in the quiet obscurity of the land of Midian.  David is being chased for his life by the established and recognized King Saul of Israel.  Gideon protests his calling to push back the invading Midianites by saying he is nobody important in Israel or even in his own family.

On paper, Ruth as a foreigner does not stand a chance with the wealthy and influential Boaz.  Hannah by all outward appearances will continue to be childless.  Esther is only the newly selected queen with little or no influence, and her uncle Mordecai has the deadliest enemy in the capitol city for his adversary.  The great prophet Elijah complains to God that seemingly everyone is against him.  Jeremiah protests that he is too young to be God’s mouthpiece.

Upon seeing the miraculous catch of fish, Peter in a moment of honest self-appraisal says to Jesus: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8).  Paul candidly tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:9, in terms of his social status as a missionary evangelist to the first- century Greco-Roman world: “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last…” even though Paul and the other apostles go on to write the brilliantly inspired New Testament gospels and letters to the churches that have helped untold multitudes of believers down through the centuries to our present time.  Yet in the first century, no one is naming hospitals, universities, or cathedral buildings after Saint Paul, Saint Peter, Saint John, Saint Luke, or Saint Timothy.

No Such Thing as a Small Calling

The biblical-quality journey of faith is universally accessible to all Spirit-born Christians, and is not something reserved only for the “superstars” of faith recorded in the Bible.  Certainly there are ranges of difficulty and a variety of different challenges involved within God-composed journeys of faith.  But every biblical-quality journey of faith following Jesus Christ today, no matter how simple or seemingly small-scale, is filled with the special warmth of divine love, light, and transforming power.

There is no such reality as a “small calling” in the estimation of God.  Every called-out mission, no matter how seemingly small in appearance, requires the Christian to enter into the danger zone of a journey of faith.  A “small calling” in conformity to God’s ways and perfect timing will shine brightly for all eternity, because anything accomplished having eternal spiritual value must have the involvement of the handiwork of the Holy Spirit.

If our calling is to be used of God to save even one person, through the high quality of our transformed life and testimony, this one person may turn out to be our most treasured friend and next door neighbor in heaven.  God knows this and will set up the timing of required events perfectly and beautifully, energized by the Holy Spirit, so that the two of us can rejoice together in the presence of God for all time.

A small calling is just as much a spiritual masterpiece as the large calling.  God is perfect in both the small calling and the large calling…just like He is in the creation of the galaxies and solar systems in the massive sized universe and in the brilliantly precise organization in the microscopic world of living cells.  Both the larger and the smaller are within the contemplation of God’s creative imagination and within His management skills.

The Way of the Cross

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are masterpieces of incalculable value.  Above the creativity of a Rembrandt, DiVinci, or Renoir, they are living portraits of real people engaged in the most challenging and beneficial pursuits conceived out of the very heart and mind of God.  Above the artistry of a Beethoven, Chopin, or Brahms, biblical journeys of faith combine events and circumstances into perfect harmony, pace, and rhythm to produce compositions of rare beauty and lasting interest.  The lives of the people of faith in the Bible touch us at our deepest longings for truth, virtue, and the sure peace of inner conviction, in a world where the true directional compass for the guidance of our spirit and soul is hard to find amongst a multitude of competing voices and alternative pathways to follow.

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible tell us that there can be real meaning, purpose, direction, and risk-filled adventure to our lives.  They tell us that there is a living God who wants to take an active role in the events and circumstances of our lives to help us find out who and what we were created to be.  These biblical stories describe a God of brilliantly creative imagination combined with an insightfully piercing grasp of moral and ethical standards at the peak of truthfulness, yet with the enduring patience and forbearance of a wise and loving parent (Mt. 6:9-13).  God wants to partner with us to help us find our true selves and to perfect our unique place in eternity, through what this book calls the danger zone of the Christian life.

We find common to all of the biblical narrative stories of faith a structural framework (Eph. 2:10; 4:15-16), which we can call God-composed journey of faith life-scripts.  This framework or body-plan contains a common idea that is utterly foreign to all worldly conventional thinking…that the true and living God wants to and is capable of displacing our own self-conceived life-plan with a higher, individually tailored life-plan.  Biblical-quality journeys of faith have meaning and purpose that perfectly match our abilities, talents, and oftentimes an innermost longing for godliness we previously did not know we had.  Biblical-quality journeys of faith also fulfill very specific needs at given times that fit perfectly within the events of a big-picture progression of divine revelation in human redemptive history.

What makes this common, storyline feature foreign to worldly conventional thinking is the cross of Jesus Christ.  The novel idea that the living God would ask us to willingly surrender our own way to His higher plans by mere faith and trust in Him, entailing some measure of cost to us for the sake of a larger good, bigger than ourselves, is what sets the God of the Bible and the narrative stories of faith therein, apart from all other existing realities.

This concept cuts to the heart of the human problem, but it is not universally found anywhere else in philosophy, religion, or literature outside of the Bible.  “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk 22:42) makes relevant, rational sense as the self-sacrificing model of divine love for mankind’s salvation only if there exists an Intelligent Designer God capable of crafting the perfect human life of Jesus Christ the Son of God into a full atonement for mankind’s sin, with the accompanying power to raise Jesus from the dead.  The ingeniously devised life-script for Jesus the Son of God, matching perfectly His divine nature and capacity as the Word of God (Jn 1:1-5) and uniquely as the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6), tells us that God can also craft novel and unique life-scripts to perfectly match each one of us as well.

But here the chaos and confusion of sin, and the rebellious nature of self-sovereignty enter in to spoil the picture.  There is an old adage that says: “a camel is a horse designed by committee.”  The composer of uniquely singular life-plans that will lead and guide us into the “all truth” of John 16:13, designed to set us free to be able to experience joy and peace for an eternity, has to be God alone.  The one and only correct route walks straight through the “narrow gate” of Matthew 7:13-14…a tightly scripted journey of faith composed by God through which our worldly aspirations, dreams, and desires in-line with conventional normalcy will not fit.  The intelligently designed, unconventionally higher ways of God (Isa. 55:8-9) will get us into slim-and-trim spiritual shape, free of all of the excess baggage of unfruitful desires, to be able to walk through this narrow gate and out into the adventure of a journey of faith with the committed resolve to overcome any and all obstacles in our unique callings.

Pastors of churches who pour out themselves in service and in prayer for their congregations every day (Col. 1:9) without any expectation of outside recognition or acclaim…people who willingly leave everything behind to go out into the foreign missionary field despite the confusion and lack of understanding from family and friends (1 Pet. 4:4)…and people involved in all types of Christian ministries (1 Cor. 12:28), know first-hand about the self-sacrificing costs of taking up their cross for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.

Isn’t this the attitude that is integrally part of the complex storylines of the lives of the people of faith recorded in the Bible?  Isn’t this what every Spirit-born Christian knows instinctively and intuitively, that if they fall upon this stone that is Jesus Christ, they will indeed be broken but in the most positive, fulfilling, and satisfying way beyond worldly conventional, human imagination (Lk. 20:17-18)?

The Callings of God in the End-Times, Part 3

An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that every single one without exception has nothing to do with achieving success in a worldly sense.  There is not a single storyline in a God-composed life-script that chronicles a pathway, no matter how admirable and commendable in keeping with the “Protestant work ethic,” to worldly success, wealth, personal renown, and comfortable security (Lk. 12:16-21).

On the contrary, every biblical narrative story of faith is located at the elevated level of an adventure of faith far above the conventionally normative plans of everyday life.  It is not that God dismisses these aspirations and responsibilities as unimportant…”your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” (Lk. 12:30).  It is simply that in a totally committed adventure of faith God has all of the practical necessities of life factored into the equation that will produce a divinely elevated outcome (Phil. 4:13).  This applies equally to Christian medical missionary doctors in the Amazon rainforest, Christian CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, highly paid professional athletes, and to the elementary school janitor with a wife and two kids struggling to make ends meet.

Jesus did not die on the cross to give us lives of horizontally conventional normalcy (Rom. 6:3-4).  The biblical narrative stories of faith are anything but conventionally normal.  Jesus died on the cross, and rose the third day, to procure for us an adventure of faith.  Jesus died for us that we might live a life divinely guided by purpose, meaning, and love for God and for one another.

That every single biblical narrative story of faith soars far above worldly conventional normalcy is a key to placing the highest value upon journeys of faith that Jesus purchased with His own blood on the cross of Calvary to actualize for each one of us.  As blood-bought and Spirit-born Christians today we should not allow any of the cultural challenges of radically skeptical unbelief discussed in the following chapters to undercut or diminish in any way this priceless heritage of our journey of faith following Jesus Christ.

The Callings of God in the End-Times, Part 2

Jesus instructs the rich young ruler of Mark 10:17-27 to sell all that he has, distribute his wealth to the poor, take up his cross, and to follow Him, with the sole positive aim to replace what this rich young ruler currently has with something infinitely more valuable…a divinely composed adventure of faith and treasure in heaven.  If this young ruler could have answered this singular call of Jesus to follow Him, like the personal calling of Matthew the publican tax collector or Peter the fisherman, he would have been mentioned in the gospels and in the book of Acts by name as a person “coming in and going out” with the disciples as a leader in the early church.

This rich young ruler would be a familiar and treasured name known to us down through the succeeding centuries.  The adventures and exploits in his God-composed journey of faith life-script would have been included within the priceless space of the Word of God in the New Testament, possibly standing alongside Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-22), accompanying Peter to speak to Cornelius and the Gentiles in Acts 10, or going with Barnabas to Tarsus in search of Saul/Paul (Acts 11:25-26) to join them at Antioch as a teaching prophet.

But sadly the “trust in riches” of this world, at the high-end of conventional normalcy, proved to be too much for this rich young ruler, and he passes out of history as the one and only person who declined the personal offer of Jesus to follow Him.  Unlike every person of faith recorded in the Bible, this rich young ruler could not let go of a lower mindset anchored in the secure familiarity of going our own way, and to instead grab ahold of the higher ways of God through self-abandoned faith in the way of the cross.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33), does not say “and all these things shall be withheld from you.”  Paul says in Philippians 4:11 “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Peter expresses this well in the closing to his first epistle: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet. 5:10).