The Callings of God in the End-Times, Part 4

“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” (Eph. 1:19)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

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.

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

“But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt. 6:20-21)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

Another 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).

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 blog posts 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

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

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…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).

The Callings of God in the End-Times, Part 1

“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ. That in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you.  (1 Cor. 1:4-6)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

In Paul’s message to the many Christian converts in the churches he founded across the Greco-Roman world in the first century, nowhere and at no time does Paul instruct these Christians to “pull up stakes,” gather up their belongings, and to “hit the road” as missionary evangelists in imitation of his own unique calling of God.  Except for those very few who were called-out to join Paul for some portion of his missionary travels, and those in the future who might be called to the mission field, it was expected that these Christians in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica would carry on in their professions and trades in the commendable “occupy til I come” mode.

The fruits of the Spirit as enumerated by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…have no connection to some special once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to a sacred mountain or some holy shrine.  They are obtained by Christians through daily walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).  This we can do right where we find ourselves, through prayer, Bible study, listening to God, and stepping out in obedience to His voice…none of which necessarily requires going anywhere special or doing anything grandiose through self-energized good works.

In other words, we do not have to have a spectacular calling and a renowned ministry to please God.  All of the things that are typically considered commendable and admirable…financially supporting our families, performing at our best at work, investing time in our marriages, raising our children with wisdom, love, and patience, being a good friend, and setting an example to the world of what a Christian man or woman of God ought to be, amongst several other similar things, are all endeavors which without question or controversy please God and make Him proud of us.

Having that said, the biblical reality is that Jesus rejected the subtly counterfeit offer tendered by Satan of all of the kingdoms, wealth, and glory of the world, in the temptation in the wilderness, because these things already belonged to Jesus.  Jesus is the singularly unique “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The prince of Peace”…of Isaiah 9:6, even though He is found in the form of a humble carpenter from Nazareth without any world-sanctioned pedigree to His credit.  The life-script composed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for Jesus to be the humble Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world is so far above the inconsequential offer of Satan to try to tempt Jesus with the temporary allure of the riches of this world, that if this offer was not presented with the intention of such universal collateral damage to the human race in mind, fueled by the most deadly malice, it would be almost laughable.

Accepting the Invitation, Part 5

“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  (1 Cor. 2:2)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

An insightful theological lesson for Christians today looking back in hindsight is that God takes the complexity and the depth of the issues of carnal mindedness and worldly conventional thinking and condenses the rejection of Jesus Christ into the simplicity of the cross.  The message of taking up our cross, of entering in at the narrow gate, and of walking in the Spirit according to a God-composed journey of faith (Rom. 12:2), is too complicated to take out into the first-century Greco-Roman world and too complicated for our modern culture today.  But when expressed in terms of the simplicity of the cross and the resurrection, all of the issues involved in the wide gulf between being carnally minded and being spiritually minded coalesce into the easily understandable gospel message built upon faith, belief, salvation, and hope (Rom. 6:4).

Acts 13:27 reads: “For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.”  Their vision was so horizontally focused and directed they could not recognize the limitless potential of the divinity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth for their own lives and for the nation of Israel (1 Cor. 2:6-8).

This is why in the area of motivation it is imperative that Spirit-born Christians take up their cross and “enter in at the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13) of our God-composed adventure of faith.  Every Spirit-born Christian is in the narrow gate and no longer on the broad road to destruction.  The new covenant promise of God is that all believers will know Him from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:31-34).  The way of the cross in a journey of faith is the God ordained route to rise above worldly conventional thinking and into the realm where all things are possible with God.

Accepting the Invitation, Part 4

“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:23-24)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

When Jesus stands before Caiaphas and the religious leaders at His night trial, the basic culminating question at issue about the ministry of Jesus is: “whom makest thou thyself?” (Jn. 8:53).  The cross had not happened yet.  Jesus was being judged solely by His works and His teaching.  The wide gulf between “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33) and “what do you plan to do about the Roman occupation of our nation Israel?”…is on trial.

The main point here is expressed by Paul in Romans 8:6-7…”For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

Jesus was considered a failure and was crucified, by the religious leaders and a portion of the general populace because He was operating far above the realm of worldly conventional thinking and living.  An elevated journey of faith composed by God, and carnally-minded conventional thinking, are incompatible at a lethal level when expressed through Jesus Christ the Son of God walking through this broken world lost in sin.

If the life of Abraham was about fulfilling horizontally conventional normalcy he would have stayed in Haran.  Abraham journeys out into an adventure of faith following God into the Promised Land.  The cross not only epitomizes the rejection of Jesus Christ, but also a rejection of Abraham.

When Abraham walked the earth he was not only the father of faith but also the entirety of the Jewish nation.  When the leaders in Jerusalem rejected Jesus in favor of the concerns of worldly conventional normalcy, when they rejected an adventure of faith patterned after Abraham, they were in the most profound and concrete way being un-Jewish (Rom. 9:6-7).  The rejection of Jesus as messiah is an endorsement of worldly horizontal, conventional normalcy because it is a rejection of the bold and uninhibited adventures of faith starting with Abraham.

Accepting the Invitation, Part 3

“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:  In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:12-14)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

An equally important factor in “selling” the positives features of taking up our cross to follow Jesus is that in our journey of faith, no matter how challenging in the present moment, we have the very real sense that we do not walk alone.  Not only are we “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), but we also carry within us the very real and tangible peace of God which comes with having Jesus with us and inside us at each step of the way.  No matter how challenging the temporary circumstances of the present journey, if we can get quiet and still in our “prayer closet” before God, we sense the uplifting encouragement that Jesus knows the one right way to go.

I would like to make one final point before moving on, and it is a critical point in understanding this area of our motivation to take up the cross.

Jesus could not possibly succeed and win over the religious and political leadership in Jerusalem in the first century because the gulf between worldly conventional thinking and a God-composed journey of faith is too wide to bridge.  The leaders in Jerusalem fulfilled the messianic prophecies of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 in crucifying Jesus precisely because of this wide gulf.  They could do no other than to reject the lowly yet miracle-working Jesus of Nazareth because they were stuck in the horizontally conventional realm of worldly expectations, exercising faith in themselves and self-reliance alone.

In Luke 10:17 the story is told of the returning seventy disciples sent out to minister two-by-two: “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name.”  The disciples are excited and overjoyed at the possibilities in this new elevated realm of faith in God and service to mankind.

But the leading Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers in Israel in the first century couldn’t care less about the teaching or the miracles of Jesus.  They did not care about healing the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, and those afflicted with leprosy.  They wanted to know from Jesus: “what are you going to do about the Romans occupying our country?” and “what are you going to do about our economy…about improving trade and business…and especially about peace and an eternal kingdom in Jerusalem?”  These religious leaders basically said through their words and their actions throughout the four New Testament gospels: “we do not care about your Sermon on the Mount or raising Lazarus from the dead.”  A God-composed journey of faith life-script, following God by faith according to the tradition of Abraham, was the furthest thing from their minds (Jn. 8:23).