Election and Free-Will Choice

From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity (my new book coming out in about two weeks):

In reading through this book, some people at times will think I am theologically a Calvinist…and at other times I am an Arminian.

I am not a 5-point Calvinist…nor am I a thorough-going Arminian.

Both viewpoints are derived from Bible verses that seem to be in conflict…but are not…in my opinion…in the same way that Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:17 seem to be in conflict…but are not.

The first point to make here is that the scriptures that support predestination, foreordination, and election…and the scriptures that conversely support free-will choice, the universal outreach of salvation, and the numerous (13) “whosoever’s” in the New Testament…argue compellingly for a divine origin merely on the grounds that their harmonious synthesis within the biblical narrative stories of faith…is too unconventionally complex to be the imaginative invention of human literary fiction.

The fact that these seemingly conflicting concepts come together coherently in a brilliantly crafted, uniquely ingenious tension in the biblical narrative stories of faith…argues for a divine origin in the same way that the coordinated integration of the complex elements work together in the initial Big Bang creation of the universe…in the same way that the extremely fine-tuned constants of the physics, chemistry, and mathematics are balanced on a razor’s edge to enable complex life to exist (the Anthropic Principle), and in the same way that the massive amount of highly specified information content in molecular DNA (the language of life) argues for an intelligent designer God…a transcendent, independent agent God pushing out into a previously empty void of non-existent outer space…all of the physical laws, information content, raw material particles, and energy of the natural world…creating our universe ex nihilo…out of previously nothing.

The worldly unconventional plotlines of the biblical narrative stories of faith…containing the humanistically inconceivable element of God displacing our ways with His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9)…illuminates the exactness of purpose and premeditation in God-composed journey of faith life-scripts…having little or no wiggle-room for deviation…to achieve function…other than God’s allowance of grace for our flawed performances.

But on the other side of the coin…does anyone seriously doubt that Abraham fully maintained his free-will capacity for the entire duration of his called-out mission to become the “father of faith?”

Anything less than total free-will choice would reduce Abraham to an automaton…the equivalent of a mechanical robot.

Abraham’s carefully chosen words…articulated with care and respect to “the Lord” in Genesis 18:22-33 regarding the outcome of Sodom and Gomorrah…demonstrates beautifully in action this tension between God’s timeless foresight and Abraham’s free-will…in Abraham freely advocating verbally from Abraham’s viewpoint a case made to God on behalf of the few “righteous” inhabitants of these two cities.

Does anyone think that within the tightly scripted storyline of Joseph in Egypt…that Joseph did not possess complete and total free-will choice…to go forward in faith or to give up and quit?

The verbal exchange between God and Moses at the burning bush…is another example of the demonstration of biblical faith actualized through a divine mixture of God’s timeless plans and the free-will choice of Moses…spread-out over an interval of time according to the faith-program of Hebrews 11:1…from that moment at the burning bush to the final delivery of the Israelites forty years later at the doorstep into the Promised Land of Canaan…”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…spread-out over time.

Gideon’s inspired test of the fleece…to validate God’s calling of him…demonstrates free-will choice in action…the logic and rightness of this exchange between Gideon and God…not questioned or challenged by God in the slightest.

In none of the biblical narrative stories of faith do we see a robotic response to the callings of God.

In every case…free-will choice to follow the leading of God is assumed within the events and circumstances of the called-out mission…even when it is not directly expressed within the verbal exchange (audible or in the Spirit) between people and God.

As Spirit-born Christians today…we have the freedom to press forward in faith…or to give up and quit at any time.  Some Christians do give up and quit.  But as I said in the section “What is in this Book?”…earlier in this chapter…I believe in the eternal security of salvation…that we cannot lose our salvation…a viewpoint which I believe is strongly supported in scripture and absolutely essential for entering into a walk of faith with God.

God exists in a timeless reality.  Isaiah 46:9-10 reads:

9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,

10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My council shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.

In Acts 15:18…James is quoted as saying: “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”

All prophecy in the Bible implies the timeless foresight of God.  The biblical narrative stories of faith require timeless foresight.

God invented time at the first instant of the creation of the universe at the Big Bang…precisely so as to initiate the biblical faith defined in Hebrews 11:1…”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

In heaven, Jesus is the light that permeates everywhere.  In heaven, the good character of God is apparent to all…and no longer requires a journey of faith to establish (Rev. 21:23-27).

There are no journeys of faith in heaven…because time does not exist there.  The light of God exists everywhere…and is obvious to all.  Biblical faith as defined here in our present world will not be the reality in heaven.

There cannot be an interval of time…a gap from where we are to where we need to go…in a timeless reality.  This divinely created phenomenon of the dimension of time only exists in this current reality.

A journey of faith like that of Abraham or Paul…is not possible in heaven…because time does not exist there.  The substance of things hoped for…the evidence of things not seen…as worked out within biblical narrative stories of faith to create a personal relationship with God…cannot happen in quite the same way in a timeless reality (1 Cor. 13:12).

This is one reason why the biblical narrative stories of faith are so important.  God resolves the seeming conflicts between His timeless existence, entailing the timeless features of foresight and foreknowledge…within God-composed journey of faith life-scripts that also include human free-will choice spread-out within the Hebrews 11:1 dimension of time.

God knows all about time…He created it.  God knows exactly what He wants to accomplish within journey of faith life-scripts.  This explains the precision…the lack of wiggle-room deviation…we see in the biblical narrative stories of faith.

God also knows about timeless existence…because that is the reality in which He lives.

Only God is in the unique position to functionally mix together these seemingly disparate concepts of election and free-will choice.

But God is also the only person in a position to even be able to recognize the need to resolve these issues decisively within the biblical narrative stories of faith…being the only person in existence who is fully aware of these two realities.

God pulls together the timeless foresight He alone is aware of and familiar with…and the four dimensions of space and time He invented…for the express purpose of initiating journeys of faith.

That only God could or would do this…is a commonsense apologetic evidence for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible.

We have one-hundred percent accurate and truthful scriptures coming from the viewpoint of a God who lives in a timeless reality…thus possessing the feature of timeless foresight…that would be described to actualize predestination, foreordination, and election from God’s unique and true perspective…which can unfortunately deteriorate into the incorrect concept of deterministic fatalism when viewed from the human viewpoint…within the dimension of time.

And we have one-hundred percent accurate and truthful scriptures coming from the viewpoint of a totally different reality of living within the limitations of the dimensions of space and time…lacking the all-important feature of divinely timeless foresight.

This reality would describe free-will choice, the human capacity to believe and exercise faith in God, and the universal outreach of salvation…with an unknowable outcome from the human perspective of who will believe and be saved…and who will not believe and be lost…all the way to the end-times (Dan. 12:10).

These two classic dichotomies found in scripture…election versus free-will…are not an embarrassing conflict in the Bible or in Christian theology.

This turns out to be a strong evidence of the divine origin of the Bible…and of God-composed journey of faith life-scripts…because only God could and would successfully blend these disparate components into the brilliantly conceived and actualized journeys of faith recorded in the Bible…and experienced by Christians today…including this Christian writer.

The only other option open…the imaginative contemplation of human literary invention according to philosophical naturalism…seems entirely nonsensical.

Through the biblical narrative stories of faith…God provides evidence for His existence by resolving into one what only God could resolve into one…the timeless foresight of election and the time-bound reality of human free-will choice…one of the greatest intellectual achievements in all of independent, rational thinking.

An Argument for the Ages 2

From Commonsense Christian Apologetics

At this point it should be remembered that in this story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah…to borrow the concise words of Ravi Zacharias he uses in describing this biblical scene in his public lectures…God shouts from heaven at the last moment as Abraham is raising his knife to kill Isaac his son on the altar of sacrifice: “Stop…I myself will provide.”

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews (who I believe was Paul), wrote in chapter eleven:

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

It was in part the advance preparation for Abraham…in patient waiting for the birth of Isaac…”from whence also he received him in a figure” …that enabled God to take Abraham and us up to the singularly high vantage point of being able to peer ahead into the future and see the second Person of the Trinity…Jesus the Son of God…on the cross as the sacrifice for human sins past, present, and future…and then God the Father three days later “able to raise him up, even from the dead.”

In the 8th chapter of the gospel of John…in one of His verbal exchanges with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Jesus says something enlightening on the question of what did Abraham think about God…after the events of Mount Moriah…and as he and Isaac came down from the mountain to safely return home:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (Jn. 8:56).

What makes the story of Abraham so important in human history…and a nearly irrefutable apologetic argument for the divine origin of the Bible…is that as Abraham received his calling to leave the city of Haran and go to the Promised Land of Canaan…with each step that Abraham takes God is displacing whatever normative life Abraham might have lived back in Haran…with a new life that Abraham would never have dreamed up in his wildest imagination.

No human writer using fictional imagination…working from the limited zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…could get Abraham or us up to this lofty, looking-point foreglimpse on Mount Moriah of an upcoming, eternally important epiphany…in this dress-rehearsal of the sacrifice for sin that Jesus Christ would accomplish on the cross at Calvary in the first-century of our modern era.

No human writer could or would invent this life-script story having a tightly specified, advance preparation that encompassed a brilliantly conceived message wrapped within another message (a nested hierarchy)…that had as its targeted end-point the utter unconventionality of a supernatural finale…a humanistically unimaginable final chapter ending that was non-natural…of a ram caught in a thicket to symbolize Jesus on the cross as the substitute for mankind…in this case Isaac (Gen. 22:13).

No human writer could or would compose narrow, highly specific, complex scenarios of advance preparation that lead to goals, outcomes, callings, and promises of God that are unreachable by human abilities or intellect…that is universal in the biblical narrative stories of faith.

Abraham can no more make himself the “father of faith” through his own imagination or actions…any more than you or I could make ourselves the “father of faith” through self-contrivance.

But that is the point.  A novel and creatively unconventional amount of storyline information enters into human experience in the ancient time of Abraham…which is as profoundly innovative and complex as any in all of history…at the very start of the biblical record.

The life-script of Abraham…from beginning to end…has premeditated foresight and prophetic “far”-sight written all over it…that is so deep…so forward looking…so ingeniously creative…and so thoroughly outside of the aspirations and expectations of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…that to categorize this opening story of Abraham in the Bible as fiction…as a humanistic production of mythological literature…to this Christian writer seems to be simplistically nonsensical.

How and why would any human literary genius create such a fictional worldview?

All such literary fictional attempts would traditionally and historically be grounded in a projection…a reflection…of ourselves, coming exclusively from the self-autonomous and pride-filled zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…where self-reliance rules and reigns…and where displacement of our ways with God’s higher ways is unthinkably non-existent.

How would over 40 different authors, spanning 1,500 years…artistically create the varied books of the Bible…all consistently and coherently having this unconventional message of the cross of Christ that displaces our ways with God’s higher ways and thoughts.

The ingeniously innovative, advance, upfront preparation for Abraham matches perfectly the final, later test on Mount Moriah…perfect and complete right out of the box the first time…no assembly instructions needed…and no time spent on Darwinian evolutionary development.

This is precisely what we also see in the advance preparation for Joseph to become governor of Egypt, Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage as slaves and lead them to the Promised Land, David to become king of Israel despite being the youngest and least valued son of Jesse, Peter the common fisherman learning the humility of walking and listening in the Spirit to become the leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem, and Paul the persecutor of the early Christian church experiencing the grace of divine forgiveness that he can then take with him to give to the polytheistic, idol-worshipping Gentiles…in becoming the premier missionary evangelist to the first-century Greco-Roman world.

If the complex storyline of Abraham…having the element of displacement, an advance upfront period of highly specified preparation, and a nested hierarchy of a supernatural message wrapped up within an unconventional life-script plotline that Abraham could not self-compose, contrive, or self-orchestrate into a positive outcome using human abilities and intellect…then the obvious remaining conclusion is that God is actively participating in the lives of those people who will place their faith and trust in Him.

This is one of the most important facts in all of human history…one of the most important developments in all of human civilization.

Purpose and the Cross 3

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

It is the precise and intricate ways and purposes of God that enlists our own in-built facility for purpose, which can be integrated by God into any set of current life circumstances and events.  Whether we are a heart surgeon, congresswoman, appellate court judge, school teacher, auto mechanic, pastor of a small-town church, writer of Christian books, or housewife raising children, God can overlay and integrate His higher ways and purposes into our lives if we will surrender and yield our self-wills to Him in faith and trust.  The deliverance and salvation of God within the challenges of life, expressed so beautifully throughout the Psalms, takes place within the plans of God, and not our own.

Innate purpose translates into reality at the highest most glorious level when orchestrated and directed within the framework of a God-composed journey of faith.

Sometimes purpose and worldly conventional normalcy do not mix.  Sometimes we cannot have both the risk-filled pursuit of truth and the security of conventional normalcy simultaneously within the dynamics of this broken world.  Jesus, the Lamb-of-God sacrifice for the sins of the world can only die and be resurrected if His generation rejects and crucifies Him.  Only God can knit together a meaningful and purposeful tapestry of the commendable aspects of the Protestant work ethic with the worldly incomprehensible, biblical journey of faith through the cross of Calvary.

All of the people of faith in the Bible gave up some measure of worldly conventional normalcy in following God’s life-script for them.  This separates out and elevates the quality of purpose and meaning into a higher zone that only God can orchestrate.  This highlights the wisdom of God in the area of purpose, and like the scriptural example of God composing a life-script for Jesus that contained challenging difficulty for our consolation, it reveals an imaginative creativity that is at the edge of perfection regarding brilliantly directed purpose.  If even our hardships work an eternal glory in us that we cannot fully understand in the present moment, orchestrated, managed, and moderated by a loving and brilliantly wise God at the limits of perfection, this should bolster our faith and confidence when outward appearances seem close to hopeless.

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible tell us that God knows precisely what He is doing, dovetailed perfectly with the type and measure of purpose He has placed within us.  Laws, rules, precepts, psalms of praise and encouragement, prophetic warnings, and historical events all occupy their place in the revelation of God to man.  But the biblical narrative stories of faith demonstrate in action the will and ways of God within life-events to reveal His craftsmanship in the management of our journeys of faith and discovery.

At the advanced Christian end of the spectrum of purpose and meaning in life, God will ask us to place our own personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice.  Isaac is not just Abraham’s son.  Isaac is the son of promise.  Wrapped up in Isaac are all of Abraham’s commendable hopes, dreams, love, and care.  Isaac does not represent some bad character trait or secret sin that Abraham must surrender to God.

If the purpose and meaning of life were just about smooth sailing through calm seas, then Abraham and Sarah could have started a large family upon correctly obeying God to leave Haran and journey to Canaan.  But Abraham and Sarah wait for Isaac, and Abraham is maneuvered by God through long-range circumstances to this pivotal moment on Mount Moriah, for a monumental reason.

The lesson for the “father of faith” (and all of us) is that he must completely and totally rely upon God and give up any remaining residue of self-reliance.  This is one part of the Bible that cannot be manufactured by man through conventional thinking.  This was the God-manufactured reality in Abraham’s life that qualified him to be called the “father of faith,” initiating a new, higher way of life with God.  As Abraham lifts his knife up to thrust it down into his beloved son Isaac, Hebrews 11:19 reads that Abraham accounted “…that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which also he received him in a figure.”

No ordinary person conquers death.  Through the incarnation, cross, and resurrection, Jesus conquered death…our last great enemy.  We are raised to new life in Christ because Jesus was raised from the tomb by God the Father.  This is the central message of the Bible.  God can and will do for us in a better and much higher way what we cannot possibly even imagine for ourselves.

The most painfully difficult, yet liberating, faith-producing events in our lives are when God maneuvers our circumstances to the point where we willingly make the decision to let go of our own plans, schemes, self-efforts, and even our personal hopes and dreams in a particular area.  As God shouts to Abraham “Stop!” as he is about to plunge his knife down into Isaac, Abraham has totally let go of all self-generated assistance regarding helping God out toward the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

God would not and never has unjustly asked anyone to take the life of someone else.  The sacrifice on Mount Moriah was a foreglimpse, a “type” of the real sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hill two thousand years later that would go forward to full consummation in the death of God’s own beloved Son.  The foundational example of a biblical journey of faith, starting with Abraham, begins with Abraham placing his Isaac on the altar of sacrifice…and God taking this unconditional faith and trust and literally turning it around into life from the dead.

Like all Christians, I have experienced trials, tragedies, and heartbreaks in my life.  Although excruciatingly painful at the time, I would not trade these experiences for anything.  When shaped, orchestrated, and moderated by God, they make me into a better person.  Could one of the things that conventional, worldly thinking chokes on and stumbles over so badly…the presence of suffering and periods of hardship in this life…be an important ingredient that produces the continue-on-at-all-costs, come-what-may, get-up-and-carry-on resiliency of character that can overcome any life-challenge that comes our way?

I cannot discover the inspirations to write this book unless I allow God to lead me through a personal guided tour of life’s valleys and mountaintops to demonstrate to me His faithfulness and His management skills.  The partially hypocritical “do-as-I-say”…moves closer to the absolute ideal of “do-as-I-do”…when divinely-guided purpose is actualized within a God-composed journey of faith.

Purpose and meaning are inextricably connected with this concept of Jesus walking alongside us through the most challenging of life’s circumstances.  The purpose in the cross is all over this encouraging reality of a journey of faith following Jesus Christ through the hills and valleys of life, ironically fulfilling in the most commendable God-scripted way the tempting seduction of Lucifer in the Garden: “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

As King Saul’s deadly pursuit of David is on several occasions within a hair’s breadth of succeeding, David must think to himself whether God’s promise to him through the prophet Samuel will ever come true.  Joseph’s own attempt to get Pharaoh’s butler and baker to speak well of Joseph to Pharaoh and hopefully procure his exoneration and release from prison, falls flat.

When the Israelites are trapped up against the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian chariot army in deadly pursuit, it never entered the minds of the Israelites as a plausible solution that God could open up the Red Sea.  If the Red Sea bordered on a forest, some small number of people might have used drift wood as floatation devices to swim safely on top of the surface of the water to the opposite shore.  But this body of water was in the middle of a desert…there were no trees or driftwood.  Some daring people might have considered attempting to swim across the entire width of the Red Sea.  Opening up a dry land passage through the midst of the waters was something that only God could even imagine, much less actually accomplish.

Upon first hearing God’s plan to successfully defeat the opposing army, we can imagine Gideon asking God “Did I hear you correctly…you want us to do what?”  Esther throws all personal caution to the wind in seeking an uninvited audience with the king, in an extremely tight set of deadly circumstances forced upon her by the expediency of the crisis, not at all of her making.

Even on Resurrection Day, as the two disciples are walking toward Emmaus and speaking with the as-yet unrecognized Jesus, after some of the disciples had already reported discovering the empty tomb, they still did not understand the magnitude of the power of the resurrection.  They say about Jesus that He was “a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk. 24:19), and that “we hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel” (Lk. 24:21).  They did not realize that Jesus, a “prophet mighty in deed and word,” had that very day conquered the great final enemy of death and hell for them, through His divinely empowered resurrection from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.

Most of us did not fully understand the second half of the cross…the surrender of the sovereignty of sitting atop the thrones of our lives as self-autonomous kings…when we experienced believer’s water baptism.  When we were submerged briefly below the surface of the water, and then assisted up into a vertical standing position representing resurrection into new life, we grasped the basic outlines of the cross and the resurrection.

Only after some length of time in our journey of faith do we begin to comprehend in some measure the depth of God’s purposes, patterned for us in the narrative examples of faith recorded in the Bible.  This concept of placing our personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice so that God can insert His higher ways into our lives, will crystalize into a major theme for Christians as we enter the last-days to close out the long redemptive history of mankind.  This is another key to our success as the Christian church in the last-days.

Just as the cross and the resurrection conquered death in a way that was beyond our capacity to accomplish for ourselves, the second half of the cross is a divine creation beyond human imagination or creative literary invention.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible, and our own personal experience of salvation and a journey of faith following Jesus Christ, will be a calm harbor of refuge and a sturdy anchor of protection through whatever worldwide turbulence lies ahead.

A journey of faith through the second half of the cross is at the pinnacle of divinely inspired and revealed orthodoxy, as orthodox as orthodox can be.  This is the part of the message of the Bible that is designed to illustrate the Spirit-born transformation that takes place within a person, from having merely an impersonal knowledge about God, to a personal, purpose-filled, new covenant adventure of faith following Jesus Christ (Jer. 31:31-34).

Purpose and the Cross 2

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

For example, when Moses is in the middle of the ten miraculous plagues in Egypt designed to procure the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage as slaves, Moses is walking through the narrowest of circumstances having little or no wiggle-room (Mt. 7:13-14).  Each morning that Moses wakes up, he listens to God in the Spirit and desperately seeks God’s new and unique solution for that day to persuade the despotic Pharaoh to release the Israelites.  In the middle of any of the ten plagues, Moses is engaged within the tightest life-and-death scenario of events designed to progress toward a positive outcome that by all outward appearances in the present moment borders on the edge of being hopeless.

As one miraculous plague after another fails to move Pharaoh off of his stubbornly entrenched position, the faith and trust of Moses in the character and ability of God to come through with the next brilliant step is daily put to the test.  Today we miss much of the in-the-moment suspense and drama when looking back in hindsight at the entire story, because we already know the positive ending to the story.

During the ten plagues in Egypt, Moses is in the center of the most extreme opposing forces working themselves out within the most horizontal of worldly conventional realities.  Moses is in the middle between the earthly ruler Pharaoh intent upon keeping the Israelites within the borders of Egypt as economically and socially valuable slaves, and the supernatural God intent upon physically and spiritually liberating the Israelites entirely out of the country of Egypt to create the new nation of Israel.

The lesson here for all Christians is that the plans and purposes of God are located way over at the far extreme, risked-filled, totally committed faith end of the purpose-spectrum that we cannot possibly reach through our own efforts, or even conceive of in our wildest imagination.  Moses does not deliver the Israelites through some exceptional gift for oratorical persuasion or appeal to enlightened reason in the presence of Pharaoh, according to some humanistic construction.  The deliverance of the Israelites is not the result of a win-win compromise based upon mutual benefits to both parties obtained through expert worldly diplomacy.  The successful deliverance of the Israelites occurs in a zone of reality that is not only entirely supernatural but beyond our capacity to inventively imagine.

The capacity of in-built purpose in Moses is stretched to its fullest through active faith, bonded with the higher ways and purposes of God to produce this incredibly brilliant outcome of the birth of the nation of Israel.  This in turn produces all of the benefits of the Old Testament events leading up to the eventual redemption through Jesus Christ our Savior at Calvary, which will endure for all eternity.  God accomplishes all of this in the middle of the most daunting and discouraging worldly conventional circumstances imaginable.

Some Christians would like me to put forward in this book the typically modern 3-step or 5-step program to begin to apply a biblical quality journey of faith to our Christian lives.  But the biblical message of the narrative stories of faith tell us that only God Himself has the step-by-step life-plans of carefully designed events and circumstances to connect with the element of purpose He has placed within us.  This is part of the journey of faith that authenticates and validates the competence of the one true living God as King and Ruler of the realm.  Only God Himself can be the competent administrator of this life-purpose program.

The reason that the experience of Moses with God in the midst of the plagues in Egypt is an interactive joint-venture effort between an ordinary man engaged in a committed adventure of faith, and the Almighty God, is that Moses could not possibly self-produce the supernatural ten plagues in Egypt or the parting of the Red Sea.

The absolutely perfect plans of God integrate seamlessly with our innate sense of purpose in a way that is unattainable when we are stuck in the humanly limited position of self-in-charge.  Moses experienced the high privilege of daily walking within the tightest and narrowest of life-and-death circumstances in Egypt to discover the absolute perfection of God’s ways and purposes in the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites.

The best example to illustrate the perfection of the purposes of God is the life-script of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.  What is seamlessly perfect about the divinely composed life-plan of Jesus is that it is absolutely unselfish.  Jesus is not leisurely sailing the Mediterranean Sea with people waiting upon Him to satisfy His every need.  Everything that Jesus does is for us.  Even though the suffering of the cross adds a new perspective to God’s reality that He never experienced before (Heb. 5:7-9), there is no redemptive value for Jesus Christ on the cross, because Jesus does not need redemption from sin.  Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The sacrifice on the cross is for us.

What is astounding is that God is so brilliantly creative that He can compose a life-script for the perfect Son of God Jesus Christ, which actually contains an element of challenging difficulty.  God knew that we would have difficulty with the second half of the cross that requires our self-in-charge nature to be set aside so that God can effectively work with us.  Jesus says in Luke 12:50 “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am straightened till it be accomplished!”…not because, like us, Jesus is in need of character growth through adversity…Jesus is already divinely perfect.

In Luke 22:44, it is recorded that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane went back a second time to “pray more earnestly.”  This is beyond our comprehension.  We would normally assume that everything Jesus did, especially prayer, was perfect the first time.  In Luke 22:42 Jesus prays “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”  How can God be so brilliantly creative to be able to write into the earthly experience of the divine Son of God Jesus, the element of difficult challenge which is totally foreign to the perfect nature of God, just so He could tell us He personally understands our own difficulty in picking up our cross in order to follow God?

Even within the absolute perfection of the ways and purposes of God, the life-script of Jesus manages to contain God-challenging elements of difficulty written-in for our future consolation and encouragement.  This touches me at the capacity of my intellect and the depth of my heart.

The Angle of Our Vision 4

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

Why did the world reject Jesus during His first advent as Messiah?  One basic answer is that the religious leadership in Jerusalem and a large portion of the populace had their vision focused horizontally.  Some portion of the populace followed Jesus because they wanted a free meal (Jn. 6:26) and to witness the novelty of miracles (Lk. 23:8).

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes thought that the removal of Jesus of Nazareth, who showed no signs of leading a successful Jewish military revolt against the Roman occupation of their country according to their expectations, was best achieved through the ignominious death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.  They had no concept of the mission of the messiah as outlined in Isaiah 61:1-2 and no desire for a new covenant gospel message of hope and peace that would offer genuine freedom to the entire world.  This was above their temporal and worldly comprehension.

The disciples, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the horizontally flat vision- spectrum.  Their individual hopes and plans are crushed by the trial, death, and burial of the one they believed to be the long-promised Messiah for Israel.  They wondered if they had somehow made a mistake in following Jesus.  It is probably not fair to say that the disciples should have known better.  God arranged events with such precision that the hopes and dreams of the disciples were dependent upon the miracle of a resurrection of Jesus that was not even within their contemplation.

The eternal salvation for mankind and the disappointing heartbreak of the disciples were both contained within the exact same cross and resurrection events.  God had to raise their vision above the horizontal, and it took the most sublimely brilliant, imaginative action composed and orchestrated by God that also contained a painful separation of the disciples from their own mindset, their self-will, and way they expected things to turn out.

In short, the divine love that is contained within the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ extends into our daily lives through a God-composed journey of faith far above the horizontally conventional.  This is a truth of such monumental importance and application that it must not be surrendered, misplaced, set aside, lost, or become partially out of focus for the Christian in the last days.

Someone may ask at this point, how do the narrative stories and examples in the Bible relate to me, and to the modern-day Christian church?  I get up in the morning, go to work, and come home to my wife and children each day, so how do the inspirational stories of the biblical superstars of the faith relate to me in my desire to obtain vertical vision as a Christian?  How can God integrate His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9) into the ordinary conventional routine of my daily life?

The answer is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, learning to listen in the Spirit, studying the Bible daily, and a willingness to follow the leadership of Jesus within the events and circumstances of our uniquely individual lives.  Like the example of playing catch with a baseball, we get better with practice.  But unless we are throwing the ball straight up and catching it by ourselves when it comes back down, we need a minimum of two people for a game of catch.

To enter into a biblical style journey of faith having vertical vision, this requires the unmistakably supernatural participation of the living God.  This is the reality for new covenant, Spirit-born Christians that is promised through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13).

The solutions to the challenges facing Christians and the Christian church in the last days are found in raising our vision upward toward Jesus Christ in faith and trust.  The answers to the upcoming challenges of the end-times are found in the fully committed approach taken by the three young Hebrews confronted with the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:18), Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:22), and Esther in attempting to be the instrument of God to save her people (Est. 4:16).

These are not ancient myths.  This is not man-invented folklore.  The opportunity to likewise exercise our faith, to walk in the Spirit, and to be “in Christ” in this broken world in the middle of the unprecedented world-shaking events of the last days, is a privilege, a calling, and an honor beyond reckoning.  The theme of this book is to illuminate and clarify this vision of seeing above the horizontal through faith in Christ.  An understanding of the role of a collective adventure of faith through the cross for the entire Christian church as a group, composed and orchestrated by God in a way that is above and beyond human invention, is another key truth leading to our success as overcomers in the upcoming end-times events.

The Angle of Our Vision 3

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter strongly voices his objection to the idea that Jesus might fall into the wrong hands and suffer personal injury.  This would otherwise normally be an admirable and commendable reaction from the worldly horizontal viewpoint.  But in this one singularly unique instance, Peter’s proposed physical protection for Jesus is about as far off-target as is humanly possible.

The upcoming event of the crucifixion of Jesus for the redemption of mankind was planned from the foundation of the world.  Peter’s spiritual vision, along with the vision of everyone else at that time, was horizontally flat regarding the impending trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Peter goes out and weeps bitterly after failing so miserably in the courtyard of Caiaphas, revealing his total lack of understanding regarding the big-picture direction of events that must occur, culminating in the resurrection that forever defeats death and hell (Rev. 1:18).

Likewise, the other disciples scatter for safety at the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane.  This also reveals a horizontal misunderstanding of the temporary safety of their position as mere disciples.  The security of this position is based in the historic miscalculation by the religious authorities that focusing exclusively upon the removal of the leader Jesus would quickly stamp out His movement.  Because of the conventional thinking of the religious leaders, the disciples had little to fear for their safety during the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

The horizontally flat vision of not understanding the true situation is also clearly evidenced by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus by the wrapping of the body of Jesus with linen strips of cloth according to Jewish customs for permanent burial.  This is evidenced a second time by the women coming early Sunday morning to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices, again in anticipation of permanent interment and not at all in expectation of an imminent bodily resurrection.

A large enough group of people heard and understood the sayings by Jesus that He would rise the third day, to the point of motivating the chief priests and Pharisees to take the extraordinary step of coming to Pilate the day after the crucifixion saying: “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again” (Mt. 27:63).  They then asked permission to place a group of guards and to seal the stone at the tomb of Jesus.  It is ironic that the deadly opponents of Jesus are the one group that expresses the possibility of Jesus rising from the tomb.

Albeit, in this case, their thinking is not based upon faith in Jesus but on the totally cynical notion that the disciples would attempt to steal the dead body of Jesus, and then falsely claim He rose from the dead.  Their vision is about as worldly horizontal as can be.  This explains their nervous precaution of placing a group of guards at the tomb to prevent the removal of the body.

The actions taken by everyone involved in the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection betrays their horizontal mindset.  Peter, the other disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus, the women at the tomb, and the opponents of Jesus all are stuck in the understandably commonplace notion that people simply do not raise themselves from the dead.  It takes the one-time, supernatural intervention of God the Father to raise Jesus the Son of God from these seemingly impossible circumstances, validating and establishing Jesus as Savior.

That God the Father supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead is the fuel that propels forward the world-changing gospel message and testimony of the early church, and is the foundation for the Christian church to this day.

In this critical area of biblical lessons demonstrating God’s attempt to raise our vision upward toward Him, one of the highest illustrative examples is the redemptive reach of the cross of Jesus Christ.  How could anyone, including the apostles, grasp ahead of time the enormous idea that one person could die on the cross as satisfaction for all of mankind’s sin?  The atonement for the mass of sin accumulated by every single person from the beginning of human history, redeemed through the sacrifice of one man Jesus Christ, was in-the-moment simply too much to contemplate.

Even someone like Jesus, who is restoring sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, healing cripples, casting out demons, multiplying fish and bread to feed thousands, walking on water, instantly calming a raging storm at sea, and raising the dead, still does not bridge the conceptual gap ahead of time that one person could single-handedly absorb the enormous quantity of mankind’s sins and offences.

People see Jesus raise the widow’s son from the dead in the city of Nain, but they ascribe to this obviously divine miracle the arrival in Israel of a great prophet only.  This is as high as their spiritual vision will allow them to go (Lk. 7:16).  Witnessing this miracle did not connect them with the idea of the Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  Making atonement for mankind’s sin is a totally different matter.  Though Jesus actually told the disciples ahead of time about His impending crucifixion and resurrection (Mk. 8:31), even they did not get it.  It was spiritually above their still worldly horizontal comprehension.

Only after the resurrection did they finally understand.  They personally saw and spoke with the resurrected Jesus in His newly restored body, still having the nail-pierced scars on his hands and feet, affirming the divine capacity of the blemish-free Lamb of God Jesus to indeed take away the sins of the world.  The perfection of Jesus as the sinless, spotless Lamb of God atonement for mankind’s sin would only make full sense after seeing Jesus visibly raised from the dead.

The powerful testimony of Jesus through the words and deeds of His ministry, combined with all of the Old Testament messianic backstory, only comes into clear focus for the disciples after the resurrection.  In the glorious new world the disciples awoke to on that fateful Sunday morning, where Jesus is now bodily risen from the dead, the upper boundary line of what was previously possible was completely shattered.

This unanticipated action by God liberated the disciples up above the conventionally horizontal into the realm where all things are possible (Acts 3:6; 4:8).  The example of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands at the pinnacle of God’s divinely composed outreach to mankind, in a previously unthinkable and unimaginable way, to come upward in our spiritual vision of what God can and will accomplish in our lives if we will place our trust in Him.  One man can take upon Himself the sins of the world, if He is the Son of God.

If absolutely everyone in-the-moment is not comprehending the upcoming resurrection of Jesus Christ prior to and shortly after His crucifixion, and all of the details surrounding their actions and reactions are embarrassing to the apostles of the early church, are we to plausibly believe that these same apostles or someone else subsequently invented this brilliantly imaginative scenario as literary fiction from a detached, mezzanine viewpoint?

What would be the origin or frame of reference to explain the unique originality of this creative inspiration if the gospels themselves admit that no one at the time anticipated God the Father raising Jesus from the dead?  Why would the gospel writers admit and accurately record this fundamental shortcoming of not grasping the upcoming resurrection, then describe it all with such detail?  And who amongst the followers of Jesus would possess this world-class literary creativity if it were all pure fiction?

Encapsulated within the account itself is the important revelation that the ordinary, naturalistic capacity of our human intellect is not up to the task of comprehending the higher ways and works of God.  God had to arrange the cross and the resurrection in such a heart-breaking and disappointing fashion in order to bring everyone to the endpoint of their own self-reliant thinking, plans, and vision.

The cross and the resurrection of Jesus forced everyone to squarely face the limited reach of their own horizontal thinking.  The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s most powerful, drastic, and love-filled means to get people to raise our vision higher.  The unsurpassed quality and singular originality of the story validates the divinity of its authorship.

This is a reality common to all of the positive journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, and a foreglimpse of the upcoming issues for individual Christians and the Christian church on a colossal scale in the end-times.  In a biblical journey of faith, God takes people through tightly crafted and divinely guided circumstances beyond the point where they can depend upon their own self-reliance.  This is the surest way…maybe the only way…that God can demonstrate His faithfulness and love for us.

The Angle of Our Vision 1

From The Church in the Last Days

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”                                                                 (Mt. 6:33)

This book is not about church organizations or structures.  It is about the people who make up the universal Christian church of Spirit-born believers around the world.  Get people personally connected to Jesus Christ, and He can then capably take it from there to produce the positive results we read about in the lives of the people of faith recorded in the Bible.  A genuine reformation in the Christian church begins with repentance, prayer, Bible study, listening in the Spirit, and a heartfelt desire for genuine discipleship.

But a fundamental reality in the world is that not many people listen to the words of the true prophet at the moment the message is being delivered.  This is primarily due to the vertical separation between the message of the prophet’s speech in the elevated realm of faith and trust in God, and how well people in-the-moment have the capacity for listening “in the Spirit” (Mt. 11:15; Acts 27:9-11).

Most people going about their normal lives have their vision focused horizontally upon day-to-day concerns, and are not contemplating the higher ways of God in their daily affairs (Isa. 55:8-9).  But a true prophet of God is always trying to elevate people’s spiritual vision up into the higher realm of daily living combined with “walking in the Spirit.”

This is the location where faith and trust in God can produce divinely orchestrated outcomes coupled with profound character growth.  This is also the area where resistance to change and the element of risk reside.  This is why for many people the sudden introduction of the message of God through a prophet is often a jarring and unwelcome event.  The prophet’s message can be a nettlesome intrusion into our otherwise normative, complacent, worldly sensible plans.

Israel historically revered their prophets in hindsight, and went to great efforts to accurately record, maintain, and pass along the sayings and writings of their prophets.  But many of the biblical prophets were persecuted and rejected by their contemporaries at the time they delivered their messages (Jer. 1:19).  It is a relatively safe exercise to look backwards in time in nostalgic appreciation for the purely intellectual component of the prophet’s message, conveniently removed into the history of centuries past.  It is a relatively safe enterprise to endorse the ancient prophet’s fiery call for personal repentance, a heartfelt change in our lives, and the challenge to step up into a biblical-style adventure of faith (Mt. 23:20), as long as this message can be interpreted to apply to past generations of our wayward ancestors and not directly to us.

A Spirit-filled prophetic call to surrender all to Jesus today, in full consideration of the costs and benefits involved, can be just as sobering a challenge for us now as it was for the Old Testament Jews listening to Moses, Samuel, Elijah, or Jeremiah.  The unique aspect of the final chapter of the Christian church in the last days is that there will not be a future time in human redemptive history to nostalgically look back upon the present-day words of prophets calling people to a higher and deeper experience following Jesus Christ.  The second coming of Christ brings an end to this human redemptive period for all time.

This interaction between God and people set within the context of life’s events and circumstances, having mutual faith and trust as the bonding cement of the relationship is not found anywhere else in philosophy, religion, or human experience.  The validating element of this arrangement is authenticated by the reality that the living God must actively take up His part of the relationship.  Like playing catch with a baseball, someone real has to be on the opposite side to catch the ball and throw it back.  In the case of a biblical journey of faith, the one true God invented the game and openly invites all to participate.

The entire Bible can be interpreted as God’s attempt to get us to release our faith and elevate our vision up into the realm where God can effectively work with us.  This is actually a key aspect of the Bible that confirms its divine origin.  The component of God’s active out-reach toward us is something that cannot be fabricated by human invention.  The callings of God, and the ingenious and varied narrative stories that follow the enlistment of each person of faith recorded in the Bible, are totally outside the imagination and literary invention of man.