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.

Going Our Own Way 2

I worked in building construction as my career.  Everyone who works in building construction knows that we have to get the concrete foundation, the structural embed hardware, and the framing layout correct in order for all of the future pieces to fit together.

If the concrete slab has a hump (is not perfectly flat), if a structural embed for a structural wood post is off by a few inches, or if a door or window rough opening is mistakenly framed the wrong size…this produces future corrections that surface later in the construction…that take time and cost money to repair.

Because humans are imperfect and lack foresight…the best way in building construction to approximate the beneficial features of foresight…is to record and document subtle building design and construction problems as they surface …compiling a generic checklist of photographic images, sketches, and explanatory text to use as proactive information in preventing future similar problems and mistakes from reoccurring.

One point I want to make in this section…is that even with a knowledge of the “law and the prophets” in Old Testament times…and even with a thorough knowledge of the New Testament today…the unfamiliarity of the pathway in a walk of faith with God…and the divine creative ingenuity in crafting life-scripts that take us from going our own way to God-sovereignty…without exception brings biblical faith (Heb. 11:1) into operation on our part.

Biblical journeys of faith universally have this as a built-in component.

What is uniquely original to Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity…in all of literature and in all of human experience…is that the tribulations, challenges, disappointments, and heart-breaks written into God-composed journey of faith life-scripts are deliberately designed by God to separate us from going our own way.

We see this repeatedly throughout the Bible…as people of faith reach the divinely premeditated point of exasperation in not being able to “see” just around the corner in time in their particular calling and mission…and must abandon self-reliance in whole or in part…and exercise instead the hope…spread out over time…of Hebrews 11:1 faith in a God whose pinpoint accuracy is based upon timeless foresight into the future…and perfect moral character.

There are no “one size fits all” 3-point or 5-point plans in the Bible that we follow using our own abilities…that can substitute for a personal walk with God.

Even though we have the brilliant and informative backstory of the Bible…with all of its precepts and life-examples…every Christian today is called to experience biblical faith…within a scenario that is crafted by God.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God that we get to know through study and through a personal relationship (Jn. 14:8-9).

What differentiates Judaism/Christianity from all other worldviews…is that unlike amassing a database of past mistakes to use for future proactive prevention in building construction…thus partially solving the human capability gap where timeless foresight does not exist…in God-composed journeys of faith…the missing ingredient of timeless foresight being identified as a fundamental deficiency in going our own way…is precisely the divine attribute that God uses to skillfully spread apart life-script events and circumstances to create the uniquely biblical faith of “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

A biblical example might be helpful here in understanding the wide gulf between the two tracks of biblical faith…contrasted with going our own way…and the real difficulty of changing from our thoughts to God’s higher thoughts having the benefit of timeless foresight.

In Matthew 11:9-11 and Luke 7:24-28…Jesus calls John the Baptist one of the greatest prophets who has ever lived.

John 1:29-37 records John the Baptist early on saying about Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29)…and that while baptizing Jesus…John saw the Spirit shaped like a dove…descending upon Jesus.

But this is at the very start of the public ministry of Jesus.  John the Baptist has not at this point been able to view Jesus over a long period of time.

John the Baptist is no less than the very important person identified in scripture (Isa. 40:3-5)…called to be the forerunner to prepare the way ahead for the coming of the messiah to Israel.

Yet in prison, while contemplating the growing negative reception to the teaching and ministry of Jesus by the religious elites in Jerusalem…John the Baptist has trouble squaring this disappointing reality with what he knows with certainty early on about the divine identity of Jesus from their first meetings at the river Jordan.

The gap between the “going our own way” expectations and preconceptions on what the messiah would be like…normalized for hundreds of years in the Jewish culture…contrasts sharply with the life-script God has written for Jesus the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin…slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8)…causing John to send two of his disciples to ask Him the question: “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Mt. 11:3).

If over the course of this short interval of time…from the opening expectations for the messiah…of a great prophet John the Baptist…to the realization of the entirely different higher ways and thoughts of God (Mt. 11:4-6)…if the gap is this wide…this tells us that God is making an important point about His capacity to rule and reign…having timeless foresight, perfect character, free-will choice, the knowledge of good and evil, and a brilliantly creative imagination.

If the leap from going our own way to biblical faith is this far…for John the Baptist…for Mary the mother of Jesus (Lk. 2:34-35)…and for all of the people of faith in the Bible operating without possessing timeless foresight in their adventures of faith…this puts into clearer context the key issues of human life having eternal import.

This tells us this biblical and spiritual reality is not going to be easy or simplistic.

Whenever the timeless nature of God is brought into the discussion…atheists and skeptics rightly bring up the objection that a timeless God is being unjust and unfair in condemning people for unbelief…when He knows in advance that some people will not exercise faith in God or in Christ…and knows in advance who these people are as a result of possessing divinely timeless foresight and foreknowledge.

This seems on the surface to be a formidable challenge…until we observe that the self-sovereignty track that leads to the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ extends backwards in time in a straight line to the decision of Adam and Eve to go their own way.

This produces the ripple-effect of faulty living running down through the course of human history…resulting in people so committed to the worldview of going our own way (Jn. 11:47-48)…so invested in self-sovereignty…they cannot make the conceptual leap across the gap to biblical faith…even though the outreach to them is simplified as much as possible (Jn. 10:38)

This is expressed succinctly in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8:

7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.

8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

This is why Jesus responded to the inquiry of John the Baptist from prison: “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Mt. 11:6).

Biblical faith…invented by God when He invented time…allows God the opportunity to work out in our lives the real journey into the knowledge of good and evil…factoring in His timeless foresight and perfect character…two things that were missing in the impetuous and impatient decision by Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

This is why the faith of Abraham is accounted to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3)…because he trusted God’s capacity to rule and reign…rather than the strong pull or worldly conventional normalcy and thinking to go our own way.

Hebrews 11:6 reads: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

One of the most brilliantly insightful statements in all of human history is expressed in Isaiah 53:6…which explains how and why Jesus ends up on the cross: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

If the misguided decision in first-century Jerusalem to crucify Jesus Christ is based upon this Isaiah 53:6 prophetic appraisal of the iniquity of going our own way…extending all the way back to the Garden of Eden…and Jesus on the cross is the extreme demonstration of the negative outcome of departing from God…being the zenith…the epitome of the mindset of going our own way…then how can anyone justifiably blame God if we stubbornly continue to push God away using the very same mindset of going our own way that eventually crucified Jesus?

These two things…going our own way and biblical faith coalesce at the same historical event of the cross at Calvary…preventing any excuse for unbelief.

People freely choosing to go their own way apart from God…automatically crucify Jesus Christ on a Roman cross of execution in the first-century…thus by their very choice condemning themselves…because God…using timeless foresight…has skillfully blended condemnation and salvation together…at the cross.

This is too brilliantly complex to be explainable as human literary invention.

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.

An Argument for the Ages 1

From Commonsense Christian Apologetics

“If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.  For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”                                                                   (Col. 3:1-3)

In making an apologetic argument for the existence of God and the truth of Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity…one place to start is to make the opening claim that the story of Abraham is too profound…too complex…too coherently integrated…and too thoroughly unconventional to be the product of human literary invention.

If this claim is true…and I think it is…this is one of the most important issues for discussion and testing through applied Christian living…in all of human history.

The novel through-line of the story of Abraham…having no precedent or parallel…is that God…the Creator of the universe…communicates and interacts on a personal level with Abraham in a life-script that has an imaginative story, true-to-life characters, and captivating drama.  But the story of Abraham also has a life-script that introduces non-simplistic, highly specific, unheard-of themes that cannot be found anywhere within the universally conventional mindset of the plans and goals for “normal” human living…in 2,100 B.C. or in the twenty-first century A.D.

The commonsense apologetic argument in this book starts out by suggesting that unless Abraham has the faith-challenging, plotline component of waiting the unexpected twenty-five years for the birth of Isaac…this being a large detail left out of God’s promise to Abraham of descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars in the night sky (Gen. 13:16, 22:17)…that unless God shakes up the universal mindset of worldly conventional thinking shared by Abraham and every other human being on earth…then Abraham would not have been able to muster the faith to take Isaac up to Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:1-19).

This ultimate surrender of all that is important to Abraham in trusting and obeying God in taking Isaac up to Mount Moriah…gives us an invaluable foreglimpse of what God the Father planned to do with His Son Jesus the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin…two thousand years later at the cross on Calvary Hill in Jerusalem.

If Abraham and Sarah had been able to start a large family early…according to a more conventional life-script upon their arrival in Canaan…to live a commonplace, unremarkable, and unadventurous life-script…then over time it is likely that Abraham would have become so committed to the routine activities and continued longevity of a large family life…that the conditioned instinctual pull inside him to stay within worldly conventional normalcy on a going-forward basis…would have flat-out said “no way” to God’s incredibly audacious and unconventional “request” to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering at Mount Moriah.

It was the unusually unconventional component of the late arrival of the birth of Isaac…engineered by God in Abraham’s life-script…that reconditioned Abraham’s thinking and thereby set-up the context of events that inaugurated the revolutionary new concept of biblical faith.

This is described succinctly in Hebrews 11:1…”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…that scrambled-up the otherwise rigid duties, responsibilities, and long-range aspirations that normally accompany the early start and ongoing maintenance of a large-sized family-life…that created the space within the newly liberated mindset of faith within Abraham to even entertain…much less follow through with this idea to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac…for what turned out to be the highest and best of reasons imaginable…as we see at the end of the story.

It was the innovatively specified and inconceivably fine-tuned trajectory of the upfront, advance preparation for Abraham that enabled him (Heb. 11:17-19) to step forward in faith…take Isaac to Mount Moriah…and become the “father of faith” for the millions upon millions of people down through the succeeding centuries of human redemptive history…who will take the risk to place the benefit-of-the-doubt in the living God…in their unique “called-out” missions in life.

Simply put, the faith-journey of Abraham offers an alternative dynamic for human life…previously unheard-of…of God displacing our otherwise mundane, mediocre, and short-sighted ways with something far better.

What does the Bible have to say further about the brilliant dynamic of God displacing our ways with His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9; Prov. 3:5-6)…in this opening life-story of Abraham…for our benefit?

In Genesis 17:17…after God reaffirmed His promise to Abraham and changed his name from Abram to Abraham, and Sarah’s name from Sarai to Sarah…it reads:

“Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?”

Then in the following verse 18, Abraham reveals that he is close to giving up on this promise of God, and suggests to God a more reasonably conventional, alternative solution for the fulfillment of God’s promise:

“And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!” meaning that Ishmael is alive and here now…and cannot Ismael be the preferred and more expedient fulfillment to this protracted, long overdue promise?

Or, in other words…”cannot the earlier arrangement be acceptable that Sarah and I worked out with Hagar that produced Ishmael…without your council and input God…according to our own clever and imaginative scheme”…rather than continuing forward within the original plan of God to wait for the birth of the promised heir which seems to be taking far too long in time…according to the worldly unconventionality of God-sovereignty?

But the point of the storyline of the life of Abraham is not to achieve a start to a conventional family-life…but for God to create the context of events and circumstances to actualize biblical faith.

After the birth of Isaac…the biblical faith of Hebrews 11:1 of “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…previously inconceivable to Abraham before this point in time…now actualizes into a new worldview of faith in the true living God…that 13 years later on Mount Moriah will take Abraham to the pinnacle…the summit…of trust and faith placed in the word of another person…in this case…trust and faith placed in the word of God.

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.