Accepting the Invitation, Part 2

“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” (Col. 2:13)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

The way of the cross in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible and in the lives of Christians “walking in the Spirit” today is not the life that we would choose on our own, because it is deeper, fuller, and overflowing with purpose and meaning beyond anything we could imagine or cause to come into reality.

An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that God does not sell the benefits of His callings to the people of faith through an upfront, give-and-take process of negotiation.  God already knows ahead of time that placing loving faith and confidence in us that conveys our priceless worth to Him as individuals will capture our devotion when it is met with a corresponding measure of faith in God on our part.

People hear God’s call, and with allowances given to their understandably human reservations about their fitness and capacity to be able to comply with the magnitude of their missions (Ex. 4:10; Jud. 6:15; 1 Sam. 10:22; 1 Ki. 3:7; Jer. 1:6; Jon. 1:3; Lk. 5:8), they take up their callings and willingly follow God.

I cannot speak for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Ruth, Hannah, Huldah, David, Elijah, or Luke the physician and the writer of the third New Testament gospel and the book of Acts, as to their personal reasons for deciding to follow God.

For me, upon hearing the gospel message for the first time and being convicted of my sin, I was amazed first that God was real and second that He knew all about me.  I was also amazed that He did not condemn me but was offering forgiveness for all of my past mistakes and wrongdoings, wrapped within a quality of encouraging, optimistic, and unconditional love I had never before encountered.  In a way I cannot adequately describe, I acutely sensed that this was my Creator speaking directly to me, showing me lovingly how and where I was coming up short in His estimation, and offering a way out of sin and a way into a new life through the cross and the resurrection of Christ.

The additional realization over time, after my conversion, that God thought enough of me to reveal to me His plan for my life, sealed my commitment to take up the cross and to follow Jesus through a mixture of respect, admiration, and a deep curiosity to see how a walk of faith with God would actually work out.

I sensed that it was not just merely okay, but was actually expected and encouraged of me, by faith to put God’s higher ways to the test.  My curiosity about the ways of God, starting out in my new walk of faith, in my case made up for the lack of natural ability or talent in godliness that I did not and do not innately possess.  Passion, talent, and creativity in my own unique journey of faith came later with time.  But everyone possesses and can begin their journey of faith exercising healthy curiosity about God.

And with my conversion experience I also felt an equally indescribable, secure and solid sense of hope that whatever God had planned for my future it would no longer be aimless and missing the mark.  The nagging sense of the empty insecurity of not knowing the right way…that something important was missing in my life…left me entirely when Jesus entered my life.  The higher ways of God are infinitely more hopeful than anything this world can invent or offer.  A God-composed journey of faith is the one and the only thing in all of reality that offers hope in this current life.

Accepting the Invitation, Part 1

“For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.” (1 Thes. 3:4)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

One of the challenges of writing a book like this is the very real obstacle of trying to “sell” the idea that the way of the cross is not something to avoid…is not a negative (1 Cor. 1:18-24).  The way of the cross is not a take-it-or-leave-it option for the true disciple of Jesus Christ, today or in the long ago past.  At issue is not some Christianized version of the worldly warped and totally inaccurate viewpoint that God wants to steal our fun by forbidding the pleasures of sin…that God is somehow a cosmic killjoy with strict rules and a bag full of “don’t do this or that.”  The way of the cross is at the highest imaginable level, the best possible path to take in life because it removes our mediocre way and replaces it with something infinitely better.

The not-so-obvious difficulty here is that taking up our cross for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mk. 8:34-35) has an unspoken, justifiably negative connotation.  Picking up our cross is not picking up our golf clubs, our bicycle, our fishing pole and tackle-box, or our slow-pitch softball gear.

Taking up our cross and heading off toward Calvary Hill means that we will be crucified.  But if the cross of Jesus Christ set us free from sin and gave us the gift of eternal life, then how can the way of the cross be a negative?

If every narrative story of faith in the Bible has God displacing our ways with His higher ways through the way of the cross, how can taking up our cross be anything other than the greatest thing that could possibly happen in the lives of born-again, Spirit-led Christians (Heb. 12:1-2)?

Of course Abraham the wealthy herdsman, recently relocated to the land of Canaan…the “land of Promise” inaugurating the first biblical journey of faith…wants a large family of sons and daughters…a tent full of laughter, joy, and fulfillment.  But God reshapes the normal aspirations of Abraham into something much larger and grander in becoming the “father of faith” that fathers millions upon millions…like the number of stars visible in the night sky…of direct and indirect descendants of faith that will each shine in the glory of their own journeys of faith, like starlight for all eternity.  But the cost involved in Abraham’s beautifully crafted, purpose-filled walk of faith is to let go of his own way…by faith…to create the space for challenging trust and patience in God’s higher ways to be put into action.

As a teenager growing up in Canaan, Joseph is bursting with the knowledge that he has innate leadership abilities.  But only God can set up a tightly focused training regime and an unimaginably improbable scenario of events that leads not to Joseph capably managing the family sheep herding enterprise in Canaan according to horizontally conventional expectations, but instead managing the entire nation of Egypt as ruling governor during a crisis having a divine trajectory and eternal implications.  At the time only God had the prophetic foresight to see all of this.

Certainly Moses wants to engineer the deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt.  This imperative is an innate, conscious calling for Moses from childbirth (Ex. 2:10; Acts 7:25).  But there is no plausible, worldly conventional scenario whereby Moses can achieve this goal.  Moses cannot raise a foreign army strong enough to militarily defeat Pharaoh’s army and set the Israelites free.  Moses cannot devise an effective program of non-violent protest combined with elegantly persuasive speech to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians to “let my people go.”  The only force on earth strong enough to liberate the Jewish people from bondage as slaves in Egypt is the living God.  The God-composed life-script for Moses “the deliverer” and for the divinely created nation of Israel is beyond human invention…far above anything Moses or the Israelites could imagine or actualize.

The Christian Life in the Danger Zone, Part 3

“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for he is faithful that promised).”  (Heb. 10:23)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

When Joseph stands before Pharaoh in Egypt, interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and presenting the God-inspired plan to manage the upcoming great famine, Joseph has no worldly-based grounds for an optimistic presumption that Pharaoh would stoop low enough to choose him as a non-Egyptian to run the entire operation (Gen. 41:33).  Joseph’s thinking at that moment probably only goes far enough to hope that Pharaoh will be grateful to the point of granting Joseph’s release from prison.

But to Joseph’s utter surprise and amazement, Pharaoh then wisely proceeds to make Joseph “ruler over all the land of Egypt” and to put on Joseph’s hand his own ring as a sign of the authority Pharaoh was transferring to Joseph (Gen. 41:38-44).  Joseph is now solely in charge of managing the collection of the vast food supplies needed in Egypt in preparation for the great famine ahead.  This sets up in the very near future the reality of the events and circumstances for the fulfillment of the two prophetic dreams given to Joseph several years before in Canaan (Gen. 37:5-11).

But the point here, in terms of the danger zone of a journey of faith, is that Joseph has paid the price in advance of this totally unexpected and unimaginable event, to instantly step-up into becoming an effective leader of the nation of Egypt in a crisis, through a brilliantly imaginative, God-composed apprenticeship in management, leadership, and humility in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s prison.  Joseph is fully prepared and ready for his unique destiny through a divinely composed and revealed game-plan having far-reaching implications extending thousands of years into the future (Gen. 12:2; 15:13-15) which he could never have engineered through human imagination or contrivance.

A God-composed journey of faith life-script asks us to give our all through the unfolding over time of a risk-filled scheme not of our own creation, not only to fulfill our own destiny but also to help other people through our self-sacrifice.

This concept of the giving up of some portion of our claim to worldly conventional normalcy, which is interwoven into the fabric of our journey of faith, in the end gives back far more, through selfless service to other people and to ourselves, than we could ever have imagined.  This is a central theme portrayed in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.  This is a part of what motivates people of faith to willingly choose to live out a God-composed life-plan according to a higher calling, sometimes with huge risks and at great personal cost, come-what-may.

The Christian Life in the Danger Zone, Part 2

“And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.” (Acts 3:11)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

The forward-looking progression of the final events of Peter’s early discipleship phase, in the denial of Christ in the courtyard (Lk. 22:61-62), his personal interview with the risen Jesus on resurrection morning (Lk 24:34), to “I go a fishing” (Jn. 21:3) and “Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:16), the command to wait in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4), and the stupendous breakthrough on Pentecost (Acts 2), is the story of a God-made man.

Only God can create a God-made man.  No humanistic program on earth can do this.  But it took guts, courage, resilience, and faith for Peter to follow Jesus.

If we could see Jesus present and looking on at the scene of Peter and John courageously defending the new gospel message before the Sanhedrin, we would see Him off to one side at “stage right” with the unmistakable look of loving pride and satisfaction on His face at the progress in character these two young men, starting out as mere fishermen, had made in so short a time.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John were stepping up into the role Jesus had trained them for, and the world would never be the same again.  This is what a biblical-quality journey of faith is designed to accomplish.  This is what The Christian Life in the Danger Zone can achieve, in world-shaking, overturning, non-conformity in contrast to the horizontally leveling expectations of worldly conventional mediocrity (Rom. 12:2; Acts 17:6).

A biblical-quality journey of faith life-script creates a challenging yet hope-filled reality of events and circumstances that we could not possibly self-manufacture, because the unconventionality of the cross of Jesus Christ, skillfully interwoven into every storyline, transcends worldly conventional wisdom.

The Christian Life in the Danger Zone, Part 1

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

It takes guts and courage to be a Christian.

Like the first-century dispute answered well by Jesus about the resurrection of the dead (Mk. 12:26-27), found in the discourse between God and Moses at the burning bush familiar to every Jew in that day (Ex. 3:6), this simple truth about Christian guts and courage is hiding right there for us in plain sight in the scriptures.  Conventional wisdom would council Jesus to stay away from Jerusalem for several months or even years for His own safety (Jn. 11:8).

But Jesus is not living His life according to conventional wisdom.  Jesus is perfectly living a God-composed walk of faith as the Lamb of God Savior for mankind (Jn. 5:30).

Jesus goes back to Jerusalem the week of that fateful Passover, is crucified on Friday, and rises from the tomb on Sunday morning to become the author of salvation to all those who will place their faith in Him.

There is an exceedingly rare and unique storyline going on here, soaring out of sight above horizontally conventional thinking (1 Cor. 1:25).  The life of Jesus, especially concerning the dramatic events leading up to Calvary, is as far removed from the expectations and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy as is possible.  It took the most unconventionally sublime guts and courage to be Jesus Christ.  It takes guts and courage to be a disciple and a follower of Jesus Christ.

Listen to the brilliantly concise and courageously liberated words spoken by Peter before the Sanhedrin council recorded in Acts 4:8-12:

8 Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,

9 If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made well;

10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

11 This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

The underlying context supporting these powerful words regarding the Person and resurrection of Jesus Christ was created through the supernatural works of God alone.  The events of the rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection that Peter is speaking about are divinely crafted and shaped by God (Isa. 53:3; Ps. 22:16; Ps. 16:10).  The entire scenario of the crippled man healed at the gate of the temple, leading to this momentous confrontation between the old and the new at the beginning of the new covenant Christian church in Jerusalem is totally engineered by God.  Peter is not testifying here about anything that he has done, using worldly wisdom or cleverly persuasive oratory.  The boldness and clarity by which Peter speaks is energized by the Holy Spirit.

David, Part 3

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor. 4:17)

From The Second Half of the Cross

The Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes of Jesus day were no longer the spiritual children of Abraham, because they held on to their self-will instead of submitting it to God. Like people of our own culture, they were afraid of the uncertainty of relinquishing their hold over the destiny of their lives into the trust of God’s care.  Instead these Jerusalem leaders created their own form of religion based upon rules, regulations, and the performance of self-works rituals that replaced the living but more risky faith of submitting their lives to God.  We see this pattern throughout history in all man-invented, perfunctory religious experience. People will do almost anything to avoid having to give up their self-will to God, because deep down inside they are afraid. People are afraid to take the risk that God’s way might actually be better, because of the element of uncertainty of what God might do with their lives.

There is security in staying with what we know, rather than venturing out into a perilous journey of faith with Jesus Christ into the unknown. There is a sense of security in not letting go of the power we have over our own lives.  This is the case, even when the recipient of this letting go of the power of self-sovereignty…Jesus Christ our Creator God…will lovingly re-direct this self-same power back down towards us in a more intelligently designed and beneficially purposed adventure-of-faith life-plan.

This is why many people have to reach the bottom depths of failure and suffering, to have nothing left to lose and nowhere else to go, before they will turn to God for His help. Sadly, Jesus Christ is often the last resort when He should be the first and most sensible beginning option in discovering our true purpose in life.  That many people stubbornly hang on to their own self-in-control natures, to the ruin of themselves and often those around them, is one of the central, core problems with the human race.

David has to face Goliath in a life-and-death struggle at the beginning of David’s career, not because God sets up these types of contests for His own enjoyment, but because we must learn real faith and trust in God to see us through challenges when failure and falsification of God’s character are live possibilities. In a biblical quality journey of faith we sometimes barely make it through the tightest of choreographed and integrated circumstances because this is one way amongst several ways that God uses to authenticate His direct participation in our lives.

Miraculous or near-miraculous deliverance through supernaturally choreographed events is one tool in God’s tool-kit to separate His ways above worldly conventional normalcy. We see this repeated throughout the narrative stories of the Bible for an eternally valid reason.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) because without a context of circumstances requiring committed faith in the face of discouraging appearances, God cannot reveal to us His very real presence in our lives in stark contrast to the subjective, humanistically generated false experience of self-works “religion.”

The story of David’s anointing by Samuel, and his calling, exploits, and tribulations in route to the kingship of Israel is not a man-invented myth because the component of the active participation of God in David’s story in beyond the reach of the creative imagination and invention of human writers. An adventure of faith like David’s is unique to the Bible.

David can write the 23rd Psalm because he actually followed God through the valley of the shadow of death.  David learned first-hand that he did not have to fear evil, when God was with him.  Five of the most important words ever recorded in all of literature are: “for thou art with me” (Psalms 23:4).  The contrast between the God-composed life of David, living on the knife’s edge of danger in faith and trust in God, and the self-led life in pursuit of security and self-preservation that will not venture out into the risky territory of faith in God, could not be greater.  The reward for David’s faith and trust is that he became Israel’s greatest king and fulfilled the purpose of his life (Psalms 139:14-18), and in doing so he came to personally know his Creator God.

David, Part 2

“For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16)

From The Second Half of the Cross

The worldly, self-directed approach is to “get ahead” and stay ahead of life’s adversities through education, hard work, strength of personality, family wealth, and any other method at our disposal.  The goal is to achieve the “good life” as defined by worldly horizontal thinking…through material wealth, security, and self-validation.  In actuality this life approach is based in part upon this broken world’s fear of the uncertainty regarding our self-worth and the whims of chance.  The go-it-on-our-own, self-validation approach to life is based upon the need to avoid the outward appearance of negative failure.

The love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God through Christ sets up a new life reality and context, whereby the Spirit-born Christian is free to enter into the risky venture of a journey of faith following God wherever He leads…even into the valley of the shadow of death like David.  The adventure of faith component in David’s life refutes the modern cultural misconception that real men do not rely upon God as a “crutch.”

The limited mindset of worldly horizontal thinking, stuck in the self-on-the-throne mentality, makes it difficult for God to break into our lives and straighten us out using a better life-script.  The self-directed life is Lucifer’s subtly deceptive counterfeit to the more daring release-of-faith “narrow way” that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-14).  Seeking material wealth and personal acclaim as the means to validate our self-worth is the inverse opposite of “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).  If we mistakenly think we have everything perfectly arranged financially and socially, we will also mistakenly think we have no need for God.  An autonomous journey-of-self automatically pushes aside a journey of faith in fellowship with God, because we cannot live two opposing lives at the same time.

Is entirely self-controlling our destiny the underlying purpose of life? How is it that we would even independently know the real purpose of this short-in-length life for us?  Is it written in stone somewhere?  Is the purpose of life capably passed down to us from our parents and grandparents?  Are we born into a world where the life-examples of the experienced adults around us clearly demonstrate the best approach to life (1 Peter 1:18)?  Judging by the chaotic, universally repetitive trial-and-error world around us, mankind in general has no idea what is the true purpose of our being here.  One of the basic questions, which people pause to think about during some period in their busy lives, even people with economic and social stability, is: “why am I here?”

Absent specific knowledge of our purpose in life, people in our modern culture who do not personally know God through an intimate walk of faith, vote with their self-will and their pocketbooks to choose the default, conventional, pleasure-driven, self-centered, spiritually risk-averse, and worldly predictable road. How many people do we personally know, or read about in fiction novels, or watch in movies, who listen to God in the Spirit, subordinate their self-wills, and follow the life-plan that God could and would reveal to them as the optimum course of action?  This approach does not exist in our popular culture because it involves surrendering all to Jesus Christ, because it involves the second half of the cross.

The worldly conventional life-approach has no faith or trust in God, but instead has faith and trust in ourselves. The type of risk, danger, and adventure that comes from faith and trust in the living God, who can compose and orchestrate a brilliantly creative life like David’s divinely planned and executed ascent to the kingship of Israel, does not exist in a God-less cultural environment.