The Heart of the Debate 4

As Spirit-born Christians, if we find ourselves someday soon in the midst of Daniel’s end-times tribulation period, this means God pre-destined us for these times, and this also means we have the capacity through the power of the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ to step up to the challenge at hand.  If we find ourselves in the tribulation, Jesus Christ will be there with us.

The tribulation can therefore be alternately viewed as the opportunity for the “ordinary” Christian to become a great hero of the faith.  Instead of something fearful to avoid, the Holy Spirit empowered participation for a period of time in the last great harvest of souls, amidst the tribulation, should be viewed as a privilege of inestimable value.

To be chosen and called…to “be purified, and made white, and tested” according to Daniel 12:10, is no small thing in the grand expanse of the history of the saints of God.  To experience the total abandonment of self-interest and self-preservation, lost through the loving outreach component of the power of the Holy Spirit like Stephen experienced before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15), is to become Christ-like in the penultimate demonstration of character…the sacrifice of the cross.

To overcome the “accuser of our brethren” by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of our testimony, and that we loved not our lives unto the death (Rev. 12:10-11), is something that will bring victorious closure to human redemptive history that would endure for an eternity.

For Holy Spirit filled and empowered Christians during the tribulation, “ye shall be as gods” (Gen 3:5) does actually come true for human beings, but in the narrowly right way in divine loving self-sacrifice as patterned for us by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.  This unexpected outcome is to the eternal chagrin, consternation, and judgment of Lucifer the archangel who wanted to become god for all of the wrong reasons (Isa. 14:12-17; Rev 12:12).

God is so imaginatively creative He can bring the destructive words of the temptation in the Garden of Eden back full-circle upon Lucifer’s own head.  God pouring out His divine power and grace in demonstration of self-sacrificing Christ-like love through end-times Christians would place an emphatic period at the end of the final chapter in the long story of human redemptive history.

Human efforts to create a better world are rife with failure and shortcomings.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are the only sure examples of success having eternal benefits.  When God joint-ventures with us in an adventure of faith we have the potential for large results on an unimaginable scale.

God has to initiate drastically enhanced worldwide circumstances one last time to attempt to break through the stubborn rejection of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  For many people adversity is the only thing that brings focus to our shortcomings that leads to seeking heartfelt repentance toward God.  We therefore need God to set-up the precisely targeted conditions on earth whereby the task of salvation is completed and the church becomes the light of the world.  We need God’s divine help to finish the job at the end of the ages.

The end-time great tribulation is not about what we would like or prefer.  It is about God closing out the human story of redemption in the highest and best way possible according to the extremely tight specifications of the final journey of faith patterned for us in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.  It is about Immanuel…God with us…in the penultimate resolution in the pursuit of truth designed to benefit the people of God for all eternity.

It is the closing chapter of the story beginning with Abraham so long ago, of trusting God and letting go in a set of circumstances that divide truth from error in a way that is incomprehensible to the horizontally conventional world of skeptical unbelief.

The Heart of the Debate 3

An argument can be made that Christianity itself is based upon a violent and irreconcilable difference of opinion in first-century Jerusalem regarding the nature of the messiah.  Christianity is born out of a lethally violent disagreement.  Our salvation is based upon God’s working within a massively destabilizing first-century social upheaval and religious crisis of identity, truth, and right living.

This crisis produced redemption and salvation for countless millions of new-covenant believers down through the twenty centuries leading up to our present time.  All of the first-century early church participated fully in these events, according to their individual callings, abilities, and Holy Spirit empowerment.

God has shown us in the Bible that He is able to stand alongside us in the fiery furnace, in the lion’s den, and on the challenging road to evangelizing the Mediterranean world in the first century.  As Spirit-led Christians, when faced with adversity, we do not fold up our tents and go home.  Godly men and women in the Bible, and Spirit-led Christians today, do not back down in the face of a challenge.

In Mark 4:35-41, when the disciples finally wake up the sleeping Jesus, and rather pointedly ask Him whether or not He cares if they perish in the storm at sea, Jesus counters by saying “Why are ye so fearful?  How is it that ye have no faith?”  Jesus is the Almighty God and Creator of the universe.  Jesus cannot perish in a small boat in peril of a strong storm on a lake.  The Christian church can follow Jesus anywhere, even into the dreaded tribulation for a few years if need be.

Spirit-born Christians have the Holy Spirit residing inside them.  Nothing on earth can overturn the Christian who is rooted and grounded in faith in Jesus Christ (Rev. 21:7).  Luke 21:36 can be applied to any appropriate time during the seven-year tribulation.  The fulfillment of Luke 21:36 does not have to occur before or at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period in order to be a blessing, a relief, and a hope-filled motivation for continued watchfulness.

The Holy Spirit, living within the Christian, is not afraid of the great tribulation.  Jesus Christ securely enthroned in our hearts is not intimidated by Lucifer or the Antichrist.  The Bible tells us from beginning to end that God has complete mastery over spiritual opposition.  This is an extremely important concept to grasp as we approach the upcoming end-times events.

Some Final Thoughts

                If God tells Paul what great things he must suffer for Jesus and the gospel (Acts 9:16), and this results in one of the great adventures of faith of all time…one that we celebrate today…which culminates in the planting of new Christian churches throughout the Greco-Roman world and the inspired New Testament letters that are part of the foundation of our Christian faith and experience today, what if Jesus says to every Spirit-born, end-times Christian on the earth: “For I will show them how great things they must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16)? Will we view this as a blessed opportunity and a privileged calling?  Is this the final opportunity for the “small” Christian through the Holy Spirit “latter rain” to shine “as the brightness of the firmament” and as “stars for ever and ever” by turning many to righteousness (Dan. 12:3)?

If Paul sacrifices the comforts of a normal retirement in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11), and completes his missionary career in custody as a prisoner, to testify for Christ to those in Rome, to complete his New Testament “pastoral” epistles, and to suffer final martyrdom…what if God calls the last-days Christian church to a similar challenge?  What if the biblical-quality adventure of faith is a drama and a saga that soars far above worldly conventional normalcy into the danger zone of faith in God, which only intensifies within the events and circumstances of the final closing chapter of human redemptive history?

Finally, God-composed life-scripts are so creatively imaginative that God managed to write a life-script for the divine Son of God Jesus, on earth in a human body, which challenged His own divine character capacity.  This is sublime on a divine level that is ingenious.  Although already briefly covered in previous chapters, it merits one last final look in more detail.

In taking upon Himself in the form of the Second Person of the Trinity the mass of sin accumulated by mankind, Jesus the Son of God is pushed to the novel, unprecedented, and at least from our viewpoint the unpredicted limits of His own divine capacity (if this is theoretically possible).  In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prays saying: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” and returns to pray in agony more earnestly, here the narrative story surely breaks from the creative capacity of human literary imagination.

A perfect God who can compose a life-script for Himself that challenges His own capacity to the limits…precisely at the exact point where we need the most help in picking up our cross in total surrender to God’s higher ways…is incredibly and unimaginably insightful in its pinpoint accuracy and sharp-edged truthfulness at the height of creative, inventive reality.  That God Himself can relate to us at this critical juncture of surrendering our way to a larger plan…a larger cause having eternal benefits to ourselves and to others…is again sublime at the highest level of creativity, thought, and moral reasoning.

If Jesus had difficulty in this area of the way of the cross, then so will we.  That Jesus is an overcomer who triumphed over all of this spiritual opposition, endured the cross, and defeated death by being raised from the dead…qualifies Jesus Christ to be our King, our Ruler, our Savior and Redeemer, and our God.

But if God is this good at leadership and management theory, this good at the top-down insertion of information-rich body plans of the creatures of the Cambrian Explosion, this good in the complex and specified information contained in DNA, RNA, and proteins in the microscopic world of living cells, then we can be confident that our God-composed journeys of faith will be equally well-crafted.

If God is this artistically creative in having built-in instructions in place during embryonic cell division, telling each cell where to go and what function to perform in all living body-plans, and is at this high level of precision in the insertion of all of the required information within the first split-seconds of the Big Bang to enable complex life to emerge billions of years later, then we can with confidence release our faith and trust in Him.

If God is this morally and philosophically creative in the brilliantly crafted life-script journeys of faith found in the narrative stories in the Bible…then Christians today can confidently follow Jesus Christ up into the highest mountaintops and down into the lowest valleys of the upcoming great tribulation, and then out into the secure restfulness of eternal life in heaven…the final, brave new world without end.

This is the picture I believe will come into clearer focus as people begin to understand the privileged and unparalleled value of an adventure-of-faith journey into The Christian Life in the Danger Zone.

Paul’s Private Discourse with Felix

During Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, Acts 24:24-25 reads: “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.  And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”

Over the years I have wondered about the exact words and the power of Paul’s speech that made Felix…a Roman ruler…a powerful and worldly successful man…tremble during this very private interview of Paul and “the faith in Christ.”  Paul was reasoning out of the natural moral law combined with the gospel message of salvation through Christ and the cross, in an elevated manner and through personal conviction that is not attainable by human intellect alone.

Saul (Paul) the young Pharisee speaking to Felix or someone like Felix decades earlier, about his zeal and enthusiasm for the religion of Judaism, would have produced genuine respect and admiration for Saul’s religious beliefs and erudition, but would never have brought Felix under Holy Spirit conviction for sin that an anointed discourse on righteousness, temperance, and judgment-to-come would produce in a politically powerful, worldly successful Roman governor.

The difference between Saul the young Pharisee and Paul the seasoned Christian missionary evangelist is that on the road to Damascus, God found Paul and Paul found God.  Saul the young Pharisee knew about God…Paul the apostle of the faith knows God personally.  Paul was able to draw out from his own adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, the living words of truth that cut through the hard outer shell of the practical worldly thinking of a man like Felix, to reach his inner conscience.

The difference in Paul was produced through an adventure of faith following Jesus Christ in the danger zone of self-abandoned faith….according to a God-composed life-script of such original creativity that it was previously unimaginable to Saul (Paul) or anyone else at the time, before his conversion.

It was a God-composed adventure of faith life-script to be a missionary evangelist to the Greco-Roman world of the first-century that enabled Paul to write to the Corinthians:

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,                                                                                                         Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;                                                                                        Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;                                                                                              Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all           things.                                                                                  Love never faileth…                                               (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

It is my guess that some of these timeless truths entered into the discussion of Paul with Felix so many years ago.  Only in heaven will we know whether Felix eventually made the decision for Christ that would determine his eternal future.

In this discourse between Paul and Felix, Felix knows that Paul is a prisoner, knows all about the recent furor in Jerusalem involving Paul, and is fully aware that Paul has been rejected by the ruling Jews of Jerusalem.  Yet Felix initiates this private interview with Paul, making a point of including his wife Drusilla the Jewess as well.

The Christian church in the last days, if not raptured pretribulation, may be in a similar worldly disadvantaged condition like Paul in relation to Felix and the world at large (Mt. 24:9), yet likewise be filled with Holy Spirit wisdom, self-composure, grace, confidence in Christ, and divinely empowered love that will draw people to us to hear the gospel message.

In the heat of the end-times environment, only the polarized contrast of a journey-of-faith and a journey-of-self, may exist as options.  Multitudes of people disenchanted with the conventional worldly option will become interested in hearing the gospel message…really listening for the first time.  The piercing truth of the gospel message spoken through an anointed and inspired discourse will cause people to tremble over conviction of sin as Felix trembled at the words of Paul so many years ago.

Christians today must rise above being merely “church Christians” where the sole experience of our faith occurs only within the four walls of our church building.  Our testimony must have more depth than merely telling people “how great” is our church service, our pastor, the worship music, and the youth program, without ever mentioning what Jesus Christ means to us.  Our lives and our testimony must begin to approximate and become in-line with what we read in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, based upon our own biblical-quality adventure of faith.  This is not only achievable, but is the special work God intends to do through the new covenant relationship with all believers who exercise faith in Christ.

Everyone Missed the Cross, Part 2

Returning to the analogy of the small construction company caught unprepared in the middle of rapid business growth, the last-days radical change in the world environment will force upon everyone on the earth the corresponding need for “managerial” character growth that is not obtainable through the horizontally conventional, worldly mindset of self-reliance alone.  The stakes will be so high and the conditions so dire that only a secure hope in the salvation of God through a future eternal life in heaven will overcome the utter despair at the loss of the supposed “right” to the temporal dreams, hopes, and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 12:11).  The heat of persecution will purify the gold of faith and remove the dross of empty, worldly acceptance and short-term ambitions.

The “small” Christian energized by the latter rain of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the earth, transforming people now quietly going about their Christian lives into future roaring lions of the faith courageously proclaiming the gospel message of salvation and deliverance, will epitomize for one last final time the ability of God to reach in and rescue success from the apparent jaws of defeat.

This is the God of the Bible, and there is no other like Him.  To experience this power, grace, and divine love to the fullest maximum extent, at the close of time itself…come what may no matter how high the cost…is the controlling theme of liberated self-sacrifice I see over and over again in the biblical narrative stories of faith and in the history of the church leading up to today (Est. 4:16).

The concept of people starting out thinking they are not up to the task, yet nonetheless rising to the occasion and overcoming triumphantly in the most difficult of circumstances, through the supernatural insertion of God-composed, ingeniously crafted life-scripts having top-down, information-rich plotlines ready to step courageously into from the outset, is unique to the Bible.  It is not only part of the key to understanding the upcoming end-times challenge, but part of the key to understanding all of the timeless reality of life itself.

A biblical-quality journey of faith following Jesus Christ, within the current context of this broken world environment, resides at the upper limits of all human pursuits and endeavors, because the creative heart and mind of God resides at the pinnacle of the natural moral law for all right thoughts, behavior, and actions.  It is here and here only that Holy Ghost fire energizes and purifies all things (Heb. 12:29).

In the light of these foregoing arguments, is it likely that the last-days Christian church will be raptured pretribulation before all of these critical issues can be played-out to their fullest?  Is it more likely that God has an end-times script already composed for the entire human race, involving the Christian church in the most determined and desperate struggle, against seemingly impossible outward appearances, to gather in the last remaining lost sheep at the last final moment for all time?

I cannot dogmatically say one way or the other.  If God does rapture the Christian church pretribulation, then like all of the works of God, this will be perfect in its outreach, message, and outcome.  But I hope people reading this book will include the worldview concept of the way of the cross into their biblical, end-times eschatological calculus from this time forward.

Everyone Missed the Cross, Part 1

Listen to what people said about Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection:

“Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?  But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?  Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is” (Jn. 7:25-27).

“And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” (Jn. 7:31).

“Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.  Others said, This is the Christ.  But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?  Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?  So there was a division among the people because of him” (Jn. 7:40-43).

At the time, everyone intellectually missed the cross and the resurrection.  The disciples scatter for fear of their lives at the arrest of Jesus, not realizing that Jesus alone was the sole target.  Peter weeps bitterly at his failure not to courageously stand alongside Jesus during the ordeal of His night trial, not realizing that in a few short days the blessed redemption and salvation of millions upon millions of current and future believers would be fully and forever procured through the cross and the resurrection.

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus wrap the dead body of Jesus in linen clothes with myrrh and aloes according to the Jewish practices for permanent burial.  Mary Magdalene and the other women come to the sepulcher early Sunday morning to also prepare the body of Jesus for permanent burial…being totally surprised to discover an empty tomb.  The two disciples walking towards the nearby city of Emmaus reveal their complete non-understanding of the cross and the resurrection foretold by Jesus.

Why did everyone at the time miss the cross and the resurrection?  Because the God-composed journey of faith life-script for Jesus Christ the Son of God, like all other biblical-quality journeys of faith, was so far above ordinary conventional wisdom that no one understood or accepted ahead of time what was to occur.

Like the complex information of the workings of the Big Bang, or the unimaginable complexity of DNA and molecular machines within living cells, discovered within the last 100 years of modern scientific research, Christians also may not be able to decipher all of the details of the upcoming end-times events far in advance of their occurrence. Even though, like the Jews in first-century Israel, we have prophetic scriptures, and the clear promise that we will not walk in darkness (1 Th. 5:4-11), much of our understanding of the end-times scenario may come at the last minute by revelation through the prophecies of Joel 2:28-32.  Much of our understanding of the great end-times issues may become clear by personal revelation and illumination in the midst of the events and circumstances themselves as they occur.

I see a brief last-days period of time…however all of the fine details of the eschatological pieces fit together…of “small” Christians around the globe being filled with Holy Ghost fire, preaching the gospel and sharing their faith courageously in arenas and environments which would currently be considered out of the question.  Christians standing up in their workplaces, their families, their neighborhoods, in universities, in schools, on street corners, and yes…in spiritually dead churches…with Holy Ghost power boldly preaching the everlasting gospel message for the sake of the one, two, or three out of ten who have ears to hear and hearts to respond positively.

I see a correspondingly ferocious opposition of hostility, rejection, and undisguised hatred by worldly people towards those who have this liberated outreach of Christian evangelism that is the antithesis of their skeptical, anti-god worldview beliefs, reinforced somehow and at some point in time by the presence of the dark personage of the “son of perdition” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and alluded to in Daniel 7:20-25, 8:23-25, and 12:10.

I also see the dissolution of a comfortable middle-ground of fence-sitting indifference, when the heat of the conflict between self-sacrificing divine love exhibited in the last-days outreach message of Spirit-filled Christians, and the venomously hostile rejection of Christians by hate-filled skeptical unbelievers (Mt. 24:9), produces an environment too hot for compromise to persist any longer in the middle-ground of uncommitted indecision (Acts 6:9-15; 7:51-59; 2 Th. 2:3).

What Might the End-Times Look Like?

In my opinion, the tumultuous and chaotic end-times period prophesied in the Bible is the era in Christianity of the triumph of the “small” person on a universal scale.  There will of course be individual Christians who are larger-than-life characters, gifted movers-and-shakers…Spirit-filled prophets of God leading the way through a danger zone of faith characterized in Matthew 24:21 as being like no other in history.

But at the end of human redemptive history, when the dawn of eternal destinies awaits billions of people on earth, it is incumbent upon God to hold nothing back in His loving outreach to mankind.  With an end-point of time in sight, worldly conventional normalcy no longer has relevance.  Making long-range plans becomes an “exercise in futility.”  “Occupy till I come” (Lk. 19:13) has run out of time.  For believers and non-believers alike, God’s task of closing out human redemptive history reaches a final crescendo.  Only God knows the time of the end.  Only God knows the magnitude of the shake-up that will be required.

Joel 2:28-29 reads: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”

In Genesis 17:18 Abraham says to God: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” revealing that Abraham, after such a long wait in time, is on the verge of quitting on the promise of God.  In Genesis 40:14-15 Joseph attempts, quite understandably, to procure his own release from Pharaoh’s prison by an appeal to the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, revealing that Joseph was at the edge of giving up on his two divinely inspired dreams received years ago as a young man at home in Canaan.

Moses, at the burning bush, protests to God to find someone else for the daunting task of delivering the Israelites from Egypt (Ex. 3:11; 4:1, 10, 13).  Towards the end of the 40-year period of being a herdsman in the land of Midian, Moses as an older man probably gave up on the absurdity of the idea of himself still being the called-out person to deliver his people from bondage in Egypt, now seemingly a distant, long past, impossible reality.

God says to Joshua and to Israel: “Be strong and of good courage” (Dt. 31:6), and personally visits Joshua before the decisive battle to take the city of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15).  The walls of Jericho seemed too high and too strong for any hope of success through a conventional, frontal assault.

Gideon protests to God that he is a “nobody” in Israel and even within his own family (Jud. 6:15), and therefore requires a supernatural sign from God to authenticate his calling against seemingly insurmountable odds (Jud. 6:17).

Elijah complained to God that the evil opposition of Ahab the king and Jezebel the queen in Israel was too strong for him (1 Ki. 19:10).  Jeremiah protested to God that he was too young in age to become an effective prophet to Israel…to be taken seriously by the leaders in Jerusalem (Jer. 1:6).

Peter said to Jesus: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” not seeing his future potential as a bold speaker and leader through the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 5:8).  Paul confesses that he is the chief of sinners, yet God crafts him into the finest and most accurate spokesman for the gospel message of forgiveness, grace, and redemption, to initially lost and misguided persons like himself, that the world has ever known (1 Tim. 1:15).

All of these people of faith recorded in the Bible, along with many more, are examples of a reality that could not have come solely from the horizontally conventional thinking of gifted and talented people carving out their own fame and fortune through self-directed efforts.  All of these people reached a point in time in their God-composed journey of faith life-scripts where a positive fulfillment of their mission seemed on the surface to be nearly hopeless.  Their faith in God and in themselves reached the end-point of the despair of the outward appearance of seeming impossibility in obtaining success in their life’s calling.

When all seems lost, futile, and hopeless, it is here that God steps in and says: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27).  No one could make this up.  It is beyond humanistic or naturalistic invention.  It requires the actual presence and participation of the living God who created the heavens and the earth.

What is a miracle from God’s perspective?  It is a transformed life that comes up to the potential that God created within a person (Jn. 4:23).  It is the fulfillment of a joint-venture of faith which at times faces challenges that seem on the surface to be insurmountable.  It is the free-will response of people of faith to take up their cross and to follow God when the way ahead appears narrow and difficult.  It is people of faith who allow God through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to love lost and broken people in the world through us…especially when this means the sacrificing of our supposed right to enjoy normalcy according to worldly conventional thinking.

There is no getting around this component of the biblical narrative stories of faith.  God authenticates His rightful authority to rule and to reign as a brilliant, loving, and righteous King for all time, through journeys of faith that reveal his unmistakable, overcoming presence when all hope and human confidence is lost.

Jesus says at the Last Supper: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Lk. 22:20).  The seeming finality of Jesus’ death on the cross is an inseparable component of the hope-dashing despair of the disciple’s experience, despite Jesus foretelling of His death and resurrection to these disciples only days and weeks before.  Peter’s future eternal destiny, along with the destinies of all of the other disciples, rests in this improbable and almost unimaginable resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet. 1:3).