Pride, Part 3

“And having spoiled Principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”  (Co. 2:15)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

One of the great ironies in all of human experience is that the way of the cross actually opens up a pathway to a breadth and a quality of freedom that is completely unknown to worldly conventional thinking (1 Cor. 1:18).  This is what we see in all of the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.

By an incredible show of courage, character, and grit, God earns our respect and gratitude by personally stepping into this broken world and participating alongside us, through a divinely composed, daring and risk-filled strategy that against all worldly conventional odds procures for us an honorable exit out of the bondage to sin.  Like the serpent on a pole raised up in the Exodus wilderness (Num. 21:8-9), Jesus Christ amazingly became a “curse on a tree” for us that we might be delivered from the curse of sin.  If we as Spirit-born Christians are likewise to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29), then some portion of this reality must be a part of the danger zone of picking up our own cross and following after Jesus down the road toward Calvary Hill.

The question God asks each of us as we enter into the upcoming last days is: “will you go out on the edge for Me and for the sake of the gospel, through a daring, challenging, and risk-filled life-script I have individually composed just for you?  If I give you My Spirit and the grace you will need, will you allow Me to live My plans through you to fulfill your highest purpose and to be a blessing to others?”  Isn’t this what is portrayed in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible…sacrificing some portion of conventional normalcy for the sake of a cause larger than ourselves, even when this results in a misunderstood and worldly unpopular journey of faith following God?

Numbers 21:16-18 briefly tells the story of the discovery of a hidden stream of water, running just below the surface of the burning sands of the desert during the Israelite’s long trek through the wilderness.  At God’s direction, Moses instructed the people to use their staves to dig through the surface of the sand, singing while working “Spring up, O well, sing ye unto it.”  Water soon appeared, bubbling out of the ground.  The Israelites had discovered a hidden stream of water…water translating into life in the middle of a barren desert…buried out of sight for time beyond knowing.

Our God-composed journeys of faith are that close to each of us…right beneath our feet.  Repentance, reading and studying the Bible, prayer, and listening in the Spirit to God’s voice, enables today’s Spirit-born Christian to enter into the destiny of an adventure of faith beyond anything we can imagine.  This is The Christian Life in the Danger Zone…the theme of this book.

Pride, Part 2

“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Lk. 22:43-44)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

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…”vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:4-5).  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 the self-centered and self-expectant worldly program of 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, 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.

Pride, Part 1

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. (Tit. 2:11-12)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

One 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.

But in our current fallen condition 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.

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.

John 12:24 reads: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”  A few verses later Jesus then says: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say?  Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour” (Jn. 12:27).

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

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

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

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

A God-composed journey of faith life-script is partially hidden to outsiders (2 Cor. 4:4), is incomprehensible to many people (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 the fullest or truest sense of the word.  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 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 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 limiting initial 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 what 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 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 disdain of the world’s judgment for our temporal plight is based upon a shallow and misinformed 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 the obscurity of being a sheep herder in 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, or Saint Luke.

No Such Thing as a Small Calling

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)

From The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

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 Callings of God in the End-Times, Part 5

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Eph. 1:4)

The Christian Life in the Danger Zone

Hebrews 12:2 reads: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  God the Father, Jesus the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, together as a team, took the painfully difficult but necessary route of atoning salvation for our benefit.  The incarnation, life, temptation in the wilderness, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were the diametric opposite of worldly conventional normalcy, all for our eternal welfare.

The life of Jesus was not a life of self-indulgent ease.  Mark 10:45 reads: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Jesus refers to Himself as the “bread of God,” giving life unto the world (Jn. 6:32-35).  Isaiah 53:5 reads: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

This giving over of our will and way to submit ourselves to a higher game-plan of God, which costs us something…our claim to worldly conventional normalcy…in sacrifice for the benefit of others, is the opposite of the universally stereotypical mindset of first looking after the interests of “me, myself, and I.”  A God-composed journey of faith life-script takes us into the danger zone of liberated, self-sacrificing love where the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ resides.

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.  I have old friends who I would willingly give up my life for, if need be, if this would procure for them a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the everlasting life they could enjoy for all eternity.

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)?