How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 4

“Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.  For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord.”  (Prov. 8:34-35)

The higher ways of God as portrayed in the biblical journeys of faith displaces worldly conventional normalcy, with all of its self-absorbed self-focused problems, with life-script plots having purposeful suspense and drama that shifts our focus upon following God and helping others.  This ingenious paradigm shift changes people from the defensive, reactive mode to the positive, offensive mode.  Part of our eternal salvation, part of our new covenant personal relationship with God, actualizes within this insertion of a God-composed life-script into the plan of our lives.

Christian today need to step into their own biblical journeys of faith like never before, in preparation for the challenges of the upcoming end-times.  The depth of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the solid-rock foundation that will withstand the spiritual and cultural storms of deception and unbelief that will prevail on the earth in the last days.

When Abraham received his calling from God to leave Haran and to go to Canaan, Abraham left behind all of his normal Haran-based life plans and schemes.  When Paul met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul left behind his old life as a Pharisee in Jerusalem.  Both men stepped down off the thrones of their lives to make room for God at the top.  This is the simplicity of the second half of the cross as illustrated in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  Its timeless application is relevant for Christians today as much as ever.

God wants to do something radical, something extraordinary in our lives.  He wants to change us, to completely transform us from the inside out into becoming the light of the world and the glory of Jesus Christ.  The first miracle in the ministry of Jesus was to change water into wine at the marriage at Cana, in Galilee (John 2:1-11).  Jesus has been changing people from water into wine ever since.  Without stretching the analogy and typology of this miracle in Cana too far, the scripture reads that when the governor of the feast had tasted the water changed to wine, he said that the bridegroom had kept the best wine until the end (John 2:10).  At the end of the ages, in these last days, the true and faithful witness of Jesus Christ as seen in His followers may turn out to be the most important event in all of human redemptive history (Joel 2:28-29).

Whether it is parting the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites, or being our Savior at Calvary, or bringing back to life the dry bones of Ezekiel 37 in 1948 in the creation of the re-gathered nation of Israel, God is trying to make a point.  He created us, He loves us, and He has our best interests at heart.  The only way we can discover this with rock-solid assurance is to enter into a journey of faith following Jesus Christ through a God-composed life-script of events and circumstances uniquely tailored to us as individuals, with our self-in-charge natures safely buried through repentance and spiritual rebirth.  This is The Second Half of the Cross.

The hard work has already been done by Jesus on the cross.  When Jesus the Son surrendered His will to the will of God the Father, at Gethsemane and at Calvary, Jesus went through the process ahead of us.  That is why Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Our part is to be willing to take His hand and follow, and to not look back or count the cost.

 

How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 3

“The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.”  (Ps. 6:9)

The greatest compliment that a Christian can give God is out of a still and quiet spirit to yield the direction and care of our lives in faith into His hands.  When we do this, we are acknowledging that God is capable, trustworthy, and has our best interests at heart.  We are acknowledging that instead of being rebels in charge of the affairs of our lives, that Jesus Christ should take His rightful place as our Lord and King.  The “I did it my way” approach to life does not mix with the second half of the cross approach of making Jesus Christ the Lord and Master of our lives.  The first step in beginning the second half of the cross in our lives, therefore, is recognizing this fundamental difference.

In this world it is difficult to bring people to salvation.  As in the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, not that many people today want God in their lives.  And those people who do accept Jesus Christ, often only want Him in their lives on their terms.  The second half of the cross as outlined in this book is not advanced Christianity.  The second half of the cross is not radical Christianity.  Surrendering and yielding our self-wills to God so that He has the space to begin to work in our lives for our benefit, is basic Christianity.  No lasting transformation and deliverance can take place without it.

Forgiveness and cleansing of sin, and the removal of self-reliance from the thrones of our hearts, are two sides of the same gold coin-of-the-realm in the kingdom of God.  The Christian always maintains freedom of choice, but defers to the higher and better judgment of God as to how to best go about living this current life.  When the Christian elevates the participation of Jesus Christ into our lives above our own self-reliance and self-direction, we allow the supernatural part of the relationship to begin to improve how we think about our moral choices, the quality of the effort that we put into life, the standards that we expect of ourselves, and our desire to please and glorify God in all things.

This transformation also creates within us an unselfish attitude toward other people.  We will not only discover the mind of Christ in us, but also the heart of Christ in us.  We will discover within us a desire to share with others this same salvation that liberated us from sin, and that transformed us into new people as well.  And most importantly, because of the knowledge of the second half of the cross, and the death of self-powered and self-initiated efforts, we will discover that the words of life that we speak, and the examples of God’s love through works of kindness to others, come through the power of the Holy Spirit within us and not our own self-propelled energy.  When we ourselves are genuinely transformed into new creatures in Christ, the motivation to share the gospel will come from unselfish love from the heart, rather than through some program fueled by compulsion or a sense of duty.

The second half of the cross therefore not only includes the plan of God to get us engaged in a direction according to the will of God for our lives, but also provides the Holy Spirit power within us to transform us into the quality of people who can effectively reach out to others and share what God has and is doing in our lives.  The key is to first get self-will and self-in-charge out of the way, according to the second half of the cross, so that God can begin to interject His love, power, and grace into our lives.  This process begins the moment we become new Spirit-born Christians.

But the advanced Christianity part of a journey of faith does eventually require a complete change in our thinking.  A God-composed and guided journey of faith adds purpose, direction, and structure to our lives that displaces the otherwise conventionally normal mode of simply reacting to random chance events as they arise.  A God-composed journey of faith inserted into our lives displaces “living by our wits” in an improvisational, at-the-last-minute, reactive mode , with a new game-plan crafted out of the mind of God that has the proactive, preventive elements of a transformed character and elevated morality in operation.

God’s unshakable promise is that if we will seek Him with all of our heart, we will find Him.  This is where picking up our cross seamlessly blends with seeking God with all of our heart, which produces a bond with Holy Spirit power that cannot be broken by any force in existence.  This is the advanced part of a journey of faith involving the free-will decision-making of people to surrender our all to God, which extends all the way back to the beginning of the Bible.

How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 2

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”  (1 Pet. 1:7)

Surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ is not a cop-out on our part.  It is not choosing the easy way out of our troubles, or taking a detour around life’s problems by pushing these problems off on God.  Surrendering our lives to God and casting our cares upon Him actually allows us to honestly face-up to the issues and challenges of life head-on, with a positive and elevated attitude that eventually achieves victory.  A Holy Spirit led adventure of faith through life can only begin after we have stepped down off the throne of our lives and stopped trying to be our own god.  This is not a cop-out, but the most sensible and clear-headed realization of the reality of our spiritual condition.

Only the Creator God can compose and orchestrate a genuine walk of faith that entails all of life’s situations and circumstances leading toward a man or woman “in Christ” obtaining a mature, godly character.  People, who say that Christians are weak because they rely upon God as a crutch, could not be more misinformed.  A genuine journey of faith by definition cannot be “using God as a crutch,” because we are incapable of writing our own long-range, biblical quality life-script containing precisely coordinated and focused lessons of faith.  We cannot get outside of ourselves far enough to see, much less assume, the role of God in this particular area of composing and leading an adventure of faith.

Certainly no one today will be called by God to build an ark to save mankind, or be the father of faith, or part the Red Sea, or receive the Ten Commandments, or resist the prophets of Baal.  All of those tasks have already been completed by others.  The works that we are called to perform as modern Christians may not be as spectacular yet, but they start at the second half of the cross just the same as for the people of faith in the Bible.  It is not the magnitude of the events that occur in our lives that matters, but the quality of our ability to hear His voice in the Spirit, and our willingness to follow His leading through faith and trust like the examples of the people of faith in the Bible.  The scope and impact of what God calls us to do is in His hands.

People in our modern culture are conditioned to expect concepts like a biblical adventure of faith to be broken down for them into easy-to-follow 3-step or 5-step plans.  But a personal journey of faith with the God who created the universe is not that simplistic.  I am not capable of composing and orchestrating my own journey of faith, much less suggesting life-script callings for other people through a simplified 5-step plan.

This is one of the underlying messages of this book.  A biblical journey of faith is not an imaginary thing, invented out of our own minds and then projected on to a god that we create.  The narrative stories of the people of faith in the Bible are above human invention.  If we play throw-and-catch with a baseball with the one true living God, He will catch the ball and throw it back.  The God of the Bible exists in reality.  Jesus Christ is risen and alive today.  Jesus is perfectly capable of leading and guiding us through an unimaginably inventive and fulfilling adventure of faith because He created us.

The reader at this point might ask: “To have a journey of faith do I have to go somewhere?  Do I need to sell my house and move my family to Tibet, or to Africa, or to the Amazon rainforest?  Should I purchase a megaphone and stand on a city street corner and preach the message of repentance like the prophet Jonah or John the Baptist?”

The answer is that we do not have to physically go anywhere.  We are already “there.”  God already has this fallen world perfectly engineered to produce sons and daughters of light with transformed characters capable of possessing a “knowledge of good and evil” while freely choosing righteousness over rebellious self-autonomy.  If we are in Haran and God wants us to go to Canaan, He will tell us.  If we are in Canaan and God wants to craft us into becoming the governor of Egypt during a great famine like Joseph, God will engineer the circumstances to accomplish this.

How then do we as Christians yield and surrender our self-in-charge nature to the Lordship of Christ where it rightfully belongs, and begin living according to the second half of the cross?  This starts by praying to God to accept our self-will and begin revealing to us His will for our lives.  To honestly and genuinely ask God to crucify our self-wills in favor of His plan for our lives takes commitment and courage.  God hears our prayers.  God knows our hearts.  God knows whether or not we are serious.  He knows whether we have the patience, faith, and trust to see it through to the end like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul.  He knows whether we will accept by faith His power to energize our walk with Him through life.

If we are Spirit-born Christians, we are already on the positive side of the pre-destination issue.  The mystery of how God specifically speaks to and calls each person is beyond the scope of this book.  We can draw our own conclusions as to the mechanics of God’s enlisting of the people of faith from the narrative stories of the people of faith recorded in the Bible.  But it is no small or casual thing to genuinely pray this simple prayer of surrendering ourselves to God.  God will hear us, recognize our sincerity, begin to reveal His will to us, and our self-will at some point in time has to fall away in part or in whole to make room for His plan to proceed.  This is part of what it means to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus.

How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 1

“That ye put off concerning the former manner of life the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts, And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  (Eph. 4:22-24)

The second half of the cross is not that foreign to everyday life experiences.  We were created with the innate capacity to experience the second half of the cross, and we see this demonstrated across the spectrum of normal life activities.  New parents that bring home their firstborn child learn quickly that their self-will is now secondary to the needs of the baby.  The new father, who must still get up for work at 5 o’clock in the morning, must also now take his turns rocking the baby back to sleep every few hours in the middle of the night.  Older people at work may knowingly smile in sympathy at the bloodshot eyes of the new father, but no one feels seriously sorry for the plight of the new parents because everyone accepts caring for the baby at all hours of the night as part of the experience of becoming new parents.

The “soccer mom” who sacrifices many hours each day shuttling various children back-and-forth to school and to after-school activities, has for this time-period in her life, her self-will crucified for the development and growth of her children.  The young man who goes to a military boot camp gives up all rights to his self-direction and self-management for the time period that he is in basic training, with the goal that after completing this training he will be broken down and remolded into a “lean and mean” fighting soldier.  The young man who decides to become a medical doctor, for the period of years from his late teens to his middle twenties, sacrifices most of his social life to studying hard in college and medical school in order to realize this career choice.  All of these examples are every day, common occurrences of people making personal sacrifices for clearly defined future goals.  These types of experiences everyone can relate to, and are not that far away from the second half of the cross.  They demonstrate our created capacity for self-in-charge to give way to higher and more important priorities.

God is not unprepared for or surprised by the everyday circumstances of life we find ourselves in.  It is not some big mistake that is contrary to God’s will that we go to work, buy groceries, pay bills, get married, and raise families.  Common everyday events do not prevent us from becoming more holy than we otherwise might become if we did not have all of these seeming distractions.  For the Christian believer who has all of their heart, mind, and self-will surrendered to God, and is walking with God through life, God is able to fashion and orchestrate all of life’s events into a cohesive and purposeful direction.

For example, a young Christian wife today who is raising three children, while managing a home and maintaining a marriage, through the daily lessons of the Holy Spirit can learn just as much about love, human nature, and life as the apostle Paul himself.  A young man or women that feels that God has given them the ability and desire to become a college professor in a particular subject, but does not have the financial means in their family to realize this dream, can discover through faith that God can make a way through college and graduate school where there seems to be no way, just like the experience of God opening up the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites.  Through God and the Holy Spirit we have access to the same faith and trust in God that led to the spectacular life stories in the Bible.

That Not of Yourselves 4

“It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.  He maketh my feet like hind’s feet, and sitteth me upon high places.”  (Ps. 18:32-33)

From The Second Half of the Cross

When we are spiritually “born again” through repentance and faith in Christ, we take on the nature of God.  An animal that is newly born takes on the nature and character of its parents.  A baby whale stays close to its mother, copying the mother’s every move.  The young elephant takes on the nature of an elephant, observing and learning from every member of the elephant herd.

A journey of faith is the relational vehicle that God created for us to begin to relate to and become more like Him.  Picking up our cross daily is the effective means created by God to remove the stubborn, rebel-nature we inherited through our fall into sin.  Being born-again is the first step in beginning a new life taking on and exhibiting our new natures “in Christ.”  The Holy Spirit is the seal that we are born-again because he lives within us to help us grow daily toward becoming more like God.

My greatest desire in my own journey of faith is that God will prove Himself to be brilliant and insightful beyond my imagination.  That God can set up a program and capably manage it toward an eternally beneficial outcome fulfills the deepest in-built need we have for purpose and meaning in this short life.

Once a new Spirit-born Christian realizes that Jesus Christ is alive today and that He is Savior and King, the next step is to get to know Jesus personally and to discover what God is really like.  This requires a God-composed journey of faith life-script, and like salvation, this requires a work of God.  This is what separates Christianity from all other religions and philosophies.  By God’s design and intention, this is one element of our Christian experience that validates and authenticates the God of the Bible, because it cannot be duplicated or counterfeited through horizontally conventional, worldly thinking.

“As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12).  God gives the Spirit-born Christian the power to become a son of God.  Becoming a son of God occurs after Spirit-born salvation, and is energized by God.  This is why a God-composed and orchestrated, biblical-quality journey of faith erases merit and self-generated works from the spiritual equation.

A journey of faith through the second half of the cross, as described in this book, should never be confused with the notion of salvation by works.  Earning or maintaining our salvation through works has no place in biblical Christianity (John 5:24).  “It is of faith that it might be by grace” permeates the true Christian experience from beginning to end.  The outcome of discovering God’s nature and true motivations drives the entire experience.  God is love, and He wants to get us rightly connected to Him so He can share His love with us in a positive relationship for all eternity.  This is the biblical record from beginning to end.

Salvation through a Messiah who dies on a Roman cross as the penalty paid in full for the shortfall and deficit of our sins, a scenario that we could never invent and that was missed ahead of time by absolutely everyone living in first-century Israel, validates and authenticates the God of the Bible as the one true living God for our eternal benefit.  A new-covenant journey of faith following Jesus Christ in our own lives as Spirit-born and Spirit-led Christians, in life-scripts we could not possibly imagine or orchestrate on our own, is in complete harmony with the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

“That not of yourselves” is the well-intentioned, love-filled theme that runs throughout the Bible from beginning to end both in our salvation and in our journeys of faith.  It defines the second half of the cross in the highest moral and spiritual way.  It is a vital and key ingredient in the preparation of end-times Christians for the challenging times ahead (Matthew 24:44).

That Not of Yourselves 3

“The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.”  (Ps. 18:46)

From The Second Half of the Cross

The second half of the cross, in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible, is as orthodox as orthodoxy can get for the highest reasons.  Immanuel…”God with us”…cannot get any more orthodox than as portrayed in the biblical stories of God personally and intimately enlisting people into their callings of destiny.  The biblical narrative stories of faith point out the right road of eternal life in harmony with God, with ourselves, and with others, which repeatedly and consistently begins each journey of faith at the foot of the cross.

Again, if our salvation is a probation conditionally based upon our performance, then we could not confidently surrender all to Jesus and follow Him up into the highest mountaintops or down into the darkest valleys.  Without knowing beforehand I am saved for all eternity, I cannot confidently take the risk to follow Jesus to places I do not necessarily want to go, or in directions I do not initially fully understand.  Without being eternally secure in my salvation, I cannot in confidence hand over the control of my life to Jesus to lead me into the sometimes challenging, difficult, and character-stretching life-lessons that inform the writing of this book.

Without being confident in my eternal salvation, how can I honestly and openly share my natural doubts and frustrations with God in prayer?   When I am figuratively in Pharaoh’s prison like Joseph, or have a King Saul chasing after my life like David, or am in the process of getting up to carry on after being nearly stoned to death like Paul, how can I take my honest, questioning complaint to God if my salvation is unsecure and constantly in doubt?  How can I cry out to God in desperate need of help if by doing so I am acknowledging my shortcoming in keeping up my end of the “bargain” in a merit-based salvation program dependent upon self-generated works, at the edge of “losing” my salvation?

One critical aspect of a walk of faith elevated above worldly conventional thinking is the absolute certainty that along the narrow way, God’s life-script calling for me will produce profound questions regarding truth, self-sacrifice, and the need to pay my dues in purchasing some measure of divine character, at the outer boundary of my capacity to be Christ-like (Luke 22:42; 23:34).

Jesus purchased us with His own blood on the cross.  The seal of the Holy Spirit through being born-again is the legal evidence…the proof of purchase of ownership.  We start out as “fixer-uppers” with a lot of repair and renovation work needed in our characters.  But the security of eternal salvation liberates us from falling back under the law and into condemnation once again (Hebrews 9:12).

The substitute of no less than the life of Jesus the Son of God on the cross as payment for the penalty of our sin removes the believer from under the curse of the law and places us under grace.  We are therefore dead to the law.  For the saved person to become lost would require him to come once again under the law.  But we cannot undo or reverse the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  No human has the capacity to nullify the salvation that comes from being redeemed, regardless of past, present, or even future shortcomings and failures (John 10:28).  Once we are in the palm of God’s hand, we are saved for evermore.  We do not possess the power to independently jump out of the palm of God’s hand.  This doctrine and teaching is essential to a journey of faith, and is one of the most important biblical truths of our times.

It is irrelevant and inconsequential in terms of evaluating another person’s salvation, if in our limited judgment some saved Christians appear to become “back-sliden” in unbelief.  Discerning whether or not a person is living a Christian life is entirely different from judging whether that person is saved or not.  Scripture says that man looks at the outer appearance but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 1:7).  Man’s judgment regarding another person’s salvation is inadequate and unqualified, and should never be the basis for the teaching of a doctrine that says saved people can become lost.

The high value of a voluntary journey of faith according to a God-composed life-script is so important to us that not only did Jesus die on the cross to procure this perfect redemption for us, but encompasses also the forbearance and patience of God in crafting the bare minimum life-lessons for those saved people who, for whatever reason, do not appear to us to enter into the fullness of a biblical walk of faith.

That Not of Yourselves 2

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”  (Prov. 3:5-6)

From The Second Half of the Cross

We need to stop thinking of the life-stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Hannah, Esther, Elijah, Daniel, Peter, James, and Paul as if their human frailties rendered partially ineffective the creative genius of God.  God is working with fallen creatures prone to make mistakes and fall short of absolute perfection.  But this reality does not take away from the imaginative capacity of God to compose life-scripts that individually match each of us perfectly, thoughtfully incorporating and channeling even our failures into lesson-plans yielding beneficial character transformation that will last an eternity (Roman 8:29-30).

A journey of faith is also therefore “that not of yourselves.”  This is one element in the Bible that stands out from and above humanistic creative imagination.  “That not of yourselves” applied to our lives in harmony with the biblical examples of the positive characters in the Bible runs outside of human contemplation or contrivance.  Like salvation, stepping into a journey of faith following Jesus Christ is putting into action the scripture “the just shall live by faith.”  “That not of yourselves” in the area of a journey of faith erases self-works or salvation through merit or performance.  It excludes self-righteousness, boasting, or worldly standing.  It makes a journey of faith universally accessible to every Spirit-born Christian (John 10:27-29).

Because by definition a God-composed life-script contains the element “that not of yourselves,” no one has to possess an advanced degree in theology to be able to walk through a journey of faith following Jesus.  In the perfect plans of God, Mary Magdelene can be privileged to be the first person to discover the empty tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea on Resurrection morning.

The security of knowing that Spirit-born Christians are eternally saved enables us to confidently listen in the Spirit, begin to obey God in small things to build trust, and to venture out into our first steps in a walk of faith.  If our salvation is in the slightest doubt, based upon our performance, then no one would summon the courage to risk entering into an uncertain biblical quality journey of faith in the first place.  No one would assume the eternal peril of losing our salvation inherent in the inevitability of challenges to our faith contained within a God-composed adventure of faith.  If continued salvation is based upon our merit and performance, then no one would exercise the freedom to honestly question God’s leadership as the spiritual journey gets steeper, tighter, and more costly (Jeremiah 12:1).

But if we start out knowing upfront that God has already taken into account our weaknesses, which can have no effect upon the security of our salvation, then we are liberated to go out into an adventure of faith relying and leaning totally upon God.

If our salvation is insecure and partially dependent upon the quality of our performance and merit, this places people in the murky gray-area of human judgment and self-evaluation in the exclusively divine area of spiritual salvation.  Paul judged not himself (1 Corinthians 4:3).  Salvation by grace through faith opens the door through the cross and the resurrection, free of vain imaginings and doubtful judgments as we listen to Jesus, study the Bible, walk in the Spirit, and discover God’s higher ways.

This is one of the secondary themes of this book.  As Abraham walks from Haran to Canaan, God is displacing whatever horizontally conventional plans Abraham had according to the norms of the cities of Haran and Ur, with God’s unimaginatively higher destiny that God had planned for Abraham.  A journey of faith involves risk of failure.  But God would not ask us to place our eternal salvation at risk by entering into a journey of faith following Him, if by doing so that journey of faith could in any way jeopardize that salvation.  Placing our salvation at risk by entering into a journey of faith would call into question the character of God at the most fundamental level.  God invites us to pick up our cross and to follow Him precisely because the Spirit-born Christian now possesses eternal salvation.

This is part of the loving outreach of God through the Bible to us.  A risk-filled adventure of faith leading to the discovery of “all truth,” and the great biblical salvation doctrines of the grace and mercies of God, are integrally linked together.

Every positive character in the Bible follows a God-composed life-script they could not possibly imagine or self-generate on their own.  This bears constant repeating because this is a feature of the Bible that withstands the corrosive cynicism of radical skeptical unbelief in our modern culture.  My contention in this book is that a biblical, God-composed journey of faith through the second half of the cross is so outside of and contrary to horizontal, worldly conventional thinking that it can only originate from a supernatural Author God.

If Jesus therefore is “for us” within a God-composed journey of faith through all of the circumstances and events of life, divinely tailored for us according to a formula that will mold and craft us into a blessing to ourselves and to others, then who or what can be against us?