God’s Optimum Training Program 3

The greatest harm that man can do to the ways of God is to tinker with the training environment of faith that God sets up.

Mankind is constantly trying to replace the spiritual training program of a walk of faith with God, with empty religious practices that homogenize, sanitize, and nullify the environment of situations and circumstances whereby God can interact with faithful believers.

This occurred throughout the Bible.  It starts with the lethal contrast between Cain and Abel.  Cain wants to change the rules to suit his ideas.  Cain wants to do things his way, with deadly tragic consequences.

In the New Testament, replacing God’s ways with our ways is one of the underlying causes of the lethal differences between the Jewish religious rulers…and Jesus…which culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus the Son of God.

There is no basis for the extreme outcome of the crucifixion of Jesus the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of man…if there are not stubborn and hard-hearted hypocrites sitting in the seats of power as religious and political rulers in Jerusalem.

The religious leaders of that day, and Jesus and His disciples, are in two totally different realities…two different character-building programs…two different spiritual “training camps” that are worlds apart.  This difference is what fueled the tension that finally resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers did not submit themselves to the spiritual equivalent of the grueling two-a-day August workouts that typically lead up to the start of the high school football season, orchestrated by a demanding coach getting his team into top physical shape to be winners on the football field.

The ministry of Jesus Christ exposed the fact that they had not gone through God’s spiritual training program.  Otherwise, they would have recognized the voice of God their divine Coach during the Sermon on the Mount.  They would have been conspicuous within the listening crowd of people, with heads nodding up and down in agreement with what Jesus was teaching, walking in amongst the audience patting people on the back and encouraging them to listen to what Jesus was saying.

Instead, Luke 11:52 reads: “Woe unto you, lawyers!  For ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”

The ministry and teaching of Jesus exposed the fact that these religious leaders were outside of the uncompromising environment of faith that God sets up for the benefit of all.

Jesus exposed the Pharisees and scribes as unskilled and untrained players, posing as qualified players in the starting line-up on the field, and they killed Him for this (Mt. 27:18).

When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist at the river Jordan, John said “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth, therefore, fruits befitting repentance” (Mt. 3:7-8).

In other words, John the Baptist said “show that you are genuine athletes prepared for real play on the field, and not just pretenders and frauds wanting to wear the uniform during the game, and wanting to walk around campus wearing the varsity jacket during the week.”

The context of situations and circumstances in which God sets up faith and trust to operate, is not a matter to be taken lightly.  God and Lucifer are in a constant spiritual battle over who controls the territory of the environment of situations and circumstances.

The Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, and the method of preparation for them to be able to conquer their promised land, is a straightforward biblical example of this concept.

God took Israel out of the context of Egypt and into the Sinai desert.  God changed the environment altogether.  In the desert God had more exclusive access and control of outward situations and circumstances to craft lessons of trust and reliance upon Him.  The external issues for the Israelites in the desert were narrowed down to the basics…food, water, and getting the memory of Egyptian idol worship out of their thinking.

In the desert God was able to get the undivided attention of the Israelites, and to get them trained in the spiritual areas of trust and reliance upon Him, so that they would follow Him and Joshua into the all-important impending military battles.

God did not want the Israelites to be terrified at the first sight of warfare.  God wanted the Israelites to march forward into battle with determined resolve and courage, for their own benefit and welfare.  God’s demanding and challenging training methods with the Israelites, at the very real risk to Himself of becoming temporarily unpopular…proved to be of the highest championship quality.

Lucifer, by contrast in this environment of the Sinai desert, had fewer tangible outward opportunities to work with.  The usual glittering worldly temptations and allurements were not present in the desert.  Spiritual military “boot-camp” provided fewer openings for Lucifer to operate within.

One of the fallacies that should be addressed as we approach the upcoming end-times is the idea that just because we are born-again Christians, God is satisfied with spiritually out-of-shape and overweight players on His team.

This idea of a soft brand of Christianity is not biblical.

Every born-again Christian will be raptured when the time comes, regardless of what shape we are in.  The thief crucified next to Jesus, who that very day would be in paradise with Him, with no future opportunity to live out his new faith on earth, tells us that salvation is entirely by grace through faith… and not conditioned upon works.

But the idea that Jesus Christ will not set up a rigorous training environment to get us all into top spiritual shape before the end, whatever particular eschatology the end-times may entail, needs some serious re-thinking within contemporary Christendom.

This current environment of earth is a one-time, non-repeating event.  The end-time is the last “football” season for all eternity.  Jesus Christ will not allow His team to go out with a losing final season, because we were out-of-shape, unprepared, and poorly coached.

The perfect, divine coach Jesus Christ unselfishly loves each one of us too much to allow that to happen.

God’s Optimum Training Program 2

The Easy Route Won’t Produce Results

When we pick up our cross and are following Jesus, God is intimately involved with our spiritual training program.  The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ set up this initial beneficial environment.  Through Jesus, man can re-establish fellowship with God with a fresh start as new creatures in Christ.

God the Father looks at us through Christ.  Christians are sinless in the sight of God the Father through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, so that we can experience a walk of faith through the situations and circumstances God composes for the believer in this life.

This program of spiritual training is extremely important to God.  In the Old Testament, God was constantly fine-tuning, changing, and using the outward political environment to get the Israelites back into a relationship of trust and faith in Him.

The various challenges of invading foreign armies, temporary military occupations of their homeland by surrounding nations, the powerful messages of prophets sent by God, and the Babylonian captivity, constantly re-established the correct environment for trust and faith in God for the Israelites during their long history.

The letters to the churches in the New Testament are designed to keep Christians within the purity of an environment of faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

As always, Lucifer attempts to get Christians off course by subverting and attacking the God-composed environment created for faith and trust to operate.  Lucifer’s strategy is a straight-on attack at the very program that God sets up in this physical world designed for the people of faith to discover His love and His care.

If Lucifer incites the Midianites to attack Israel, God responds with the calling of Gideon and the uniquely creative plan of the counter-attack with the 300 Israelite soldiers.  This re-established an environment in Israel for active faith in God.

If Lucifer incites the Philistines to invade Israel and defy the God of the Jews through a warrior champion like Goliath, God counters with the raising up…seemingly out of nowhere…of a courageous young man named David.

David kills the giant with one sling-shot stone perfectly aimed into the forehead of Goliath.  This starts in motion a process to establish the reign of a godly king in Israel that sets up the environment for the Jewish nation to again exercise trust and reliance upon God.

The scriptures tell us that Lucifer desired to “sift” Peter during the faith-testing period of the arrest and trial of Jesus (Lk. 22:31), to destroy Peter forever in self-incrimination and despair over failing to remain true and faithful to Jesus at the critical moment.  Lucifer successfully uses the unfamiliar, intimidating surroundings of the home of Caiaphas the high priest, as an unanticipated and underestimated new environment for Peter, who utterly fails in courage to acknowledge Jesus before a group of people assembled around a fire in the exterior courtyard.

Yet God counters by using this very same crushing defeat in Peter’s life to create a life-changing, positive character transformation in Peter, from previously being foolishly self-confident and self-reliant…to becoming humbly and wisely reliant upon the Holy Spirit for the remainder of his life.

Lucifer attempts to discourage and weaken Paul’s resolve for service by inciting a near-death stoning of Paul by the Jews at Lystra.  Lucifer tries to bring disruption and doubt into Paul’s calling, to bring in an element of fear and possibly unforgiving resentment and bitterness toward the Jews into Paul’s God-inspired program of evangelizing the Greco-Roman world.

Instead, this failed attempt by Lucifer to attack the ministry of Paul… probably only created more spiritual freedom in Paul’s outlook.

From that time forward Paul could consider that he was now operating on borrowed time.  Paul had looked a horrible death square in the face, and got up and carried on.

If Jesus Christ could raise Paul up from this stoning experience at Lystra, what more could Paul have to fear from opposition to his ministry?  Paul could look at each current threat and say to himself that he already experienced far worse and had survived.

But on a deeper level, 1 John 4:18 says: “but perfect love casteth out fear.”  This extreme physical attack upon Paul did not dampen his love for his Jewish brethren (Rom. 9:1-3).

Paul exhibits fearless ministry in perfect love (within human limits) throughout his calling to evangelize the first-century world, because Paul stayed faithfully within the rigorous training environment that Jesus Christ set up for him.  No matter what was occurring in the natural realm in terms of the deadly malice and hatred of the opposition, Paul remained steadfast.

These are all examples of a great, championship-quality Coach instilling the high standards of character and preparedness that produce victory on the field of play.

God’s Optimum Training Program 1

“I council thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with salve, that thou mayest see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.”                                                      (Rev. 3:18-19)

A truly great high school football coach who cares about his players will work them hard during the late summer two-a-day conditioning drills.  The football team that is heading toward a successful season can be heard groaning and complaining about the coach’s tough training methods and seemingly impossible standards for the entire six to eight weeks leading up to the first game of the regular season.

It is only after the team takes the field and discovers that they are well prepared to play high-quality football that they can look back at their coach’s emphasis on physical conditioning and the constant repetition of the same basic plays over and over again until they finally got them right.

The character lessons these players learned from their coach, about how to approach a particular challenge with intensity of purpose, hard work, and a will to never quit, often last them throughout their lifetimes, long after they stop playing football.

            A God who asks little of us cannot have much of an impact upon our lives…and can never be considered great. 

A compromised message from the pulpit tailored to please people will never inspire the type of commitment that will produce excellence of character in us.

A book like this one, on the subject of the high standards of God in the end-times…to have real value must inspire committed Christians to continue forward on their present journey of faith, and to jolt less dedicated Christians out of complacency.

The story of the Bible is God’s call to people to give their best, to surrender all to Jesus Christ in trust and faith.

God is a spiritual coach who demands the very best, by setting up a rigorous training program of situations and circumstances for our benefit.  He does this because He loves us enough to want to see us victorious on the playing field in the actual game of life.

Dumbing-down and diluting the Christian experience to a more comfortable level, results only in mediocrity.  The Holy Spirit would never inspire or condone “Christianity Light” (Acts 4:8).  God is not and never has been interested in producing mediocre saints.  That is why He gave us outstanding natural talents, abilities, and capacities, like His own.  God created us in His image.  That is why God says to us “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).

God is the great playbook writer of the lives of faith portrayed in the Bible.  The reason that God wants to compose the playbooks for our lives is that He wants to set up a regimen of spiritual training where we can be challenged to give our all…the very best we have to give.

In the area of assimilating godliness, which we initially know nothing about, we need a demanding coach to set up the program and to push us to our limits.

We won’t reach excellence in the area of Christ-like character on our own.  Like learning to play championship football as a team, or learning to play classical piano at an advanced level, we need someone who is more knowledgeable than ourselves to show us the way and to push us toward a greater effort and a higher outcome.

The truly great teachers, coaches, and role models in our lives obtain our total commitment to do our best because we sense that their demanding standards are based upon the fact that they really care about our development as people.

The respect and sense of worth that is shown toward us through a coach or a teacher, who cares enough about us to demand our very best effort, will often inspire us to perform at our highest level for a lifetime.

Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life.  Jesus is telling us here that He has the winning play-book, and that He is the Championship Coach.  Only God knows what it takes to have godly character.  If we will join the team, and not quit, God will set up a tough spiritual training program for us.

God does this because He cares about us.  Like an inspiring college professor, a demanding high school athletic coach, or a respected parent, we will find ourselves wanting to please God and get His approval in everything we do.

That is the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Jesus inspires a life-long commitment to excellence in the course of our life.  God takes people like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul, and transforms them into people with spiritual character and power in the areas of life that really matter.

Abraham becomes the father of faith, Joseph leads the nation of Egypt through seven years of famine, David becomes a godly king, and Paul evangelizes the Mediterranean world.

These are the world-class results when God is our coach and we submit ourselves to His program of spiritual conditioning and training.

We Should Expect a Spiritual Adventure of Faith 3

Not Humanistic Invention, Myth, or Folklore

The issue that is contrasted here in this story of the Exodus, is the difference between play-it-safe security versus step-out-in-faith significance (Mt. 14:29).  It is the difference between a risk-free life that accomplishes little of eternal value, and a bold life that purchases faith and trust in the living God that is worth more than gold.

Either the God of the Bible is real or He isn’t.  Either God can be counted upon in a crisis, or He cannot.  Either the Bible is true or it is a collection of fables.

Unlike walking out of a theater after watching a fictional motion- picture for two hours, every Christian can choose to follow Jesus through a real, actual life of faith, and discover and prove for ourselves whether or not our God is the same God we read about in the Bible.

A true journey of faith with the God of the Bible is a testable proposition, with the real possibility of success or failure through situations large and small.

The Israelites could have continued living in Egypt, scratching out an existence with no purpose or meaning, or they could step out in faith and follow God.  But in this defining moment in the separation of belief from unbelief, in the dividing of trust in the living God from self-sufficient existence in Egypt, there was a real cost to following God.

God led them to the edge of the Red Sea.

It was God Himself who set up this life-and-death situation for the Israelites.

In this make-or-break test, there was not enough time for any self-generated options for the Israelites.  They could not set up an adequate defense, purchase weapons of warfare from surrounding nations, or send emissaries to hire foreign armies to come and help fight the Egyptians.  At any moment, either they would be killed by the Egyptians, or God would somehow deliver them.  Faith, trust, and reliance upon God were at the heart of this crisis.

We see from this example that it was the intention of God to initiate this final confrontation with the Egyptian army, so that God could demonstrate once again to Moses and to the Israelites His deliverance power and unfailing love.

God knew that He could and would open up the Red Sea, and it appears that Moses also knew this from God sometime before it actually happened.

It was the Israelites who needed to discover the depth of God’s love for them, and He did this through a spectacular display of His power over nature, in the midst of this seemingly unsolvable dilemma.  This was intended to provide the Israelites with hope and assurance to see them through the difficult days ahead and to provide us with a powerful example of hope we can apply today as well.

If we as Christians today have experienced through salvation that God is real…believe that the Bible is true…and that these events actually occurred… then we should not be surprised when God maneuvers us into similar situations and circumstances, albeit on a less dramatic scale, that enable God to reveal to us His deliverance power and caring love as well.

This is how we grow.  This is how we get spiritually strong.  This is how we each individually get to know God better.  This is how we become able to stand up spiritually on our own two feet and proclaim boldly what God has done for us.

God has not changed.  He has an infinite variation of scenarios and life-scripts at His fingertips.  We don’t all have to play lead roles like Robin Hood, Sidney Carton, or Luke Skywalker, but God has a carefully chosen and well-intentioned role for each of us to play as mature and savvy Christians to make an impact for good in our world.

Some great novels are so captivating, that the reader dreads the book coming to an end.  But as the pages turn one after another on a quiet Saturday afternoon, the last page is finally reached, the story ends, and the back cover of the book is closed.

Some movies are so entertaining we wish they would go on and on.  But these movies also end, the lights in the theatre come on, and people head for the exit doors.

After Jesus and the two thieves were taken down from their crosses, these blood-stained crosses presumably stood empty for awhile on Calvary Hill.  Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father had accomplished their plan for Jesus to be the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for mankind’s sin, slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).

The time of the actual crucifixion came and went, with Jesus then going on to rise the third day (Lk. 22:37).  Like an empty stadium after a championship game, or like an empty theater after an award-winning play or a virtuosic music recital is over…the time for the grand event comes and goes.

All of the upcoming end-times events are scheduled to occur in the near future.  Jesus Himself talks about them in the gospels.  They must happen.  They are part of mankind’s destiny.  They were set in motion when Adam and Eve each took a bite of the forbidden fruit long ago.  The story of good versus evil has been playing out ever since.  Each of us has a part to play in that story.

We worship a real God who is both all-powerful and all-good, and who happens to also be a master screenwriter and director.  We can surrender the course of our lives (Romans 12:1) into His hands with confidence, discovering first-hand His goodness and trustworthiness through our own individual experience of a walk of faith.

An old proverb aptly applies here: “a ship in a harbor is safe, but ships were not made for harbors.”

We were created for an adventure of faith, out upon the wide-open seas of life, following the life-script that the true and living God of the Bible has written for us.

We Should Expect a Spiritual Adventure of Faith 2

The Most Qualified Talent-Scout in the Universe                

One of the themes that is hidden just below the surface of the lives of the people of faith in the Bible, which is clearly apparent once you see it, is that God wants to write the scripts and screenplays of our lives (Phil. 2:13).  People like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David in the Old Testament, and Peter and Paul in the New Testament, put all of their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and even their lives on the line to follow the plans of God for them.

God is able to write and direct real-world life-scripts that are in most cases above and beyond fictional motion picture screenplays.  God wants to write the scripts for our lives because He is simply better at it than we are, and He has an overall message He wants to get across.  He wants the entire universe and all of creation to know that He is a trustworthy, capable, and loving God.

The reading of the Bible and our own present-day Christian lives become more understandable once we grasp and embrace this concept.

All of us want our lives here on earth to count for something positive.  Like our interest in a good adventure movie, we want the events and circumstances of our lives to be channeled toward some good conclusion.

But like motion picture actors who are not screenwriters, we are incapable of coming up with plot-lines that also include trust, reliance, and faith in a supernatural God.  To add these elements to our life-script, we need the great Screenwriter, the God of the Bible, to compose imaginative lives for us like those of the people of faith in the Old and New Testaments.

This is one reason why God inspired the writing of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15-17).  The Bible gives us an accurate pattern and template of what He accomplished in other people’s lives so that we can also release our faith and have confidence in what He can do in our own lives.

Only God has the divinely creative imagination to compose life-scripts for us that contain eternal purpose, meaning, and truth.

When people plan and manage their lives while pushing God away, they opt for the default screenplay for life.  This default screenplay calls for the typical need for security, material possessions, the approval of friends and family, conformity to the conventional worldly pleasures of life, and usually putting as much distance as possible between ourselves and anything unpleasant in terms of character building.

The problem with this approach is that the typical 60, 70, or 80 year old life here on earth is like a vapor of smoke (Jas 4:14) that is gone in what seems like no time at all.  Before we know it, we can regretfully look back upon a life lived without purpose, meaning, or eternally beneficial impact upon others.

Sometimes a few exceptional people do manage to pursue exciting lives that have the outward appearance of challenge and adventure, but it is nonetheless on their terms and within the limits they set for themselves.

Because we cannot live two parallel lives at the same time, the self-led and self-directed life, no matter how attractive according to outward appearances, is by definition a God-less life.

There can only be a single plot-line for our character in the movie script of our lives.  If self-absorption and self-centeredness is the storyline of our lives, then God’s plan for us is pushed off the pages.

We choose who writes our life-script…ourselves or God.

To have eternal satisfaction, purpose, and meaning…our lives must include God.

A much higher purpose for life exists, which is described and recorded for us through the examples of the people of faith in the Bible.  That purpose is to live-out the fulfilling role that God has individually pre-written just for us in the great screenplay of human experience.  If we do not allow God full participation in our lives to lead us into that divinely inspired role, because of timidity, fear, unbelief, self-centeredness, being too worldly busy, or thinking we know better than God…in the end we will be the person most disappointed.

After the ten plagues in Egypt forced Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage as slaves, it was God, through Moses, who led the Israelites to set up temporary camp on the shore of the Red Sea.  When Pharaoh and the Egyptians changed their minds, and pursued the Israelites with their chariot army, the Israelites were trapped by the Red Sea.

This was God’s doing.  Moses had not made a mistake.  He was listening correctly in the Spirit to God’s voice.

When the Israelites saw the Egyptian army, they panicked.  The Egyptian chariot army was not going to pull up to the crowd of Israelites and calmly discuss the terms of their return to Egypt as slaves.  The Egyptians were going to massacre a large number of Israelites, in retaliation for what had recently occurred in Egypt, and then force the survivors back to Egypt.

Although their lives were hard and bitter in Egypt, they still had had wives, children, enough food to eat, and a roof over their heads.

At that moment the Israelites were wondering why they had given up their hard but secure existence in Egypt for the promise of freedom through faith and hope in a leader named Moses and in a God they barely knew.  The circumstances were real, immediate, and they did not look good.  The Egyptian soldiers had spears and swords they would soon thrust through the Israelite men, women, and children, without a second thought.  Yet they were trapped by the Red Sea.

Unlike the fictional stories of Robin Hood, A Tale of Two Cities, or Star Wars, this author believes that God actually did place a real pillar of fire to temporarily block the Egyptian chariot army, and that God did open up an actual dry land passage through the Red Sea.

I was not there.  I did not see it happen.  But I believe these were actual historical events.

If God can create the physical universe out of nothing through the Big Bang…bringing into existence all of the material particles and fields of energy in just the right quantities and proportions…along with all of the accompanying laws of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and the dimensions of time…it should be relatively easy for Him to supernaturally open up the Red Sea and hold back the waters long enough for people to pass safely through.

I know from the transformation that happened inside me when I accepted Jesus Christ into my life, and through several supernatural experiences of God’s faithfulness in my life since then, that this is just the type of thing that God would do with the Israelites at the beginning of their history-making exodus from Egypt (Isa. 14:24).

If Christians have experienced being spiritually reborn (Jn 3:3), then they personally know that God can supernaturally intervene in the affairs of mankind.

Something extraordinary like the parting the Red Sea for the Israelites simply falls somewhere along the sliding scale of the differing magnitudes of the various works of God.

We Should Expect a Spiritual Adventure of Faith 1

“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”      (2 Tim. 2:4)

In the 1938 movie The Adventures of Robin Hood, Errol Flynn plays a dashing and courageous hero whose band of men hiding in the forest prevents the treacherous Prince John from taking control over England in the absence of good King Richard the Lionheart.  Robin Hood steals from the rich Normans and gives to the poor and oppressed Saxons, wins the love of the beautiful Lady Marion, played by Olivia DeHavilland, and in the end kills the evil Sir Guy of Gisborne, played by Basil Rathbone, in a thrilling swordfight.

In the movie, King Richard returns from fighting in a Crusade, joins forces with Robin Hood, and together they win the day and banish Prince John and his supporters to France.  The movie ends with a large wooden door closing behind Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland as they triumphantly leave the castle together arm in arm.

What is it about this type of story that captivates audiences from the day it first played on the movie screen down to our present day?

The answer is that people simply love an exciting action story that pits good against evil, has a courageous hero who lives on the edge of defeat and death throughout the movie, and that resolves itself into a happy ending.

Even Errol Flynn probably envied privately the fictional life of Robin Hood somewhat as he played it, with all of its daring escapes, courageous stands against injustice, unselfish sacrifice to help others in need, and most of all Robin Hood’s fearless character that wins the admiration and love of the beautiful Lady Marion.

As the common saying goes, “it could only happen in a movie.”

But there is something else about this movie that tells us something important about ourselves.

Few people, if any, want to know (other than idle curiosity) what happens in the lives of Robin Hood and the Lady Marion after the castle door closes behind them.  Robin Hood vanquishes all of his evil foes, saves the day, wins the fair lady and that is the end of the movie and the end of our interest in the story.

No movie producer in his or her right mind would do a sequel to The Adventures of Robin Hood in the aftermath of this movie, unless some screenwriter could come up with an equally thrilling tale having Robin Hood and the Lady Marion again battling evil conspirators threatening England.

An adventure-less movie that had Robin Hood dealing with the everyday life problems of managing the Nottingham Castle estates, like repairing the north gate, or checking on the water level of the castle moat, or planting enough barley in the south fields, would have people quickly yawning and heading for the theater exits in ten or fifteen minutes.

In the 1935 movie A Tale of Two Cities, staring Ronald Colman, based on the classic book by Charles Dickens, again no one cares what takes place in the loving home of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette after their friend Sidney Carton sacrifices his life on the guillotine, during the French Revolution, to secure their future happiness.

Sydney Carton uses a daring scheme to switch places inside the prison with the unjustly condemned man Charles Darnay, the husband of the woman Carton loves, and thus redeems his ill-spent life with a sacrifice so noble that it approximates on a smaller scale the death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of mankind.

Yet as the horse-drawn coach carrying the saved family speeds away from Paris and towards England and safety, and Sidney Carton looks peacefully upward toward heaven as he climbs the steps to the guillotine, the movie comes to an end and so does our interest.  The drama of the story with all of its interwoven themes and characters is resolved.

After this we do not care that much about the everyday life of Lucie Manette and her family.  As an audience we are not interested in the “they lived happily ever after” details of the story.

Coming up to a more recent time, the immensely popular movie Star Wars tells us the same thing.

At the end of the final movie in the six-movie series, the fallen but reformed Darth Vader is burned on a funeral pyre, balance in the cosmic “force” is restored, Luke Skywalker and the Jedi are victorious, and Hans Solo and Princess Leia are finally together.  The epic and adventurous parts of the story come to an end.  Presumably all of these people then pursue a normal life after this, without having to battle the “dark side of the force.”

What does this tell us about ourselves?  If we could live our lives in the middle of a motion picture, what movie would it be and who would write the script?  If we knew the story had a happy ending for us, would we really care how many adventures and narrow escapes we experienced to reach the conclusion?

Would we want a boring script, or would we want the script writer to come up with something that was meaningful, inspiring, and even had some measure of risk and adventure?  Would we be excited about even a small speaking role in an all-time great movie, as long as our character was well written and we knew we were part of something special and extraordinary?

As Christians, these are questions we should be asking ourselves as we look at our own lives in relation to the lives of the people of faith in the Bible.

Errol Flynn was a great adventure actor, but he was not at the same time renowned as a screenwriter.  The two men who wrote the screenplay for The Adventures of Robin Hood, Norman Raine and Seton Miller, were expert screenwriters but not famous actors.

Ronald Colman was a great leading actor, but was not a good enough writer to come up with a story as great as A Tale of Two Cities.  The screenplay for this movie was written by W. P. Lipscomb and S. N. Behrman, based upon the book written by the famous author Charles Dickens.

In all great motion pictures, the actors rely upon scripts and stories that are written by other people.

I am not aware of any great movie where the main actor also wrote the screenplay.  An exception in recent times is the movie Good Will Hunting, co-written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, in which both have leading roles.  At any rate, without screenplays, great actors would have no movies in which to act.

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

In this world it is difficult to bring people to salvation.  As in the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, not that many people today want God in their lives.  And those people who do accept Jesus Christ, often only want Him in their lives on their terms.

The second half of the cross as outlined in this book is not advanced Christianity.  The second half of the cross is not radical Christianity.  Surrendering and yielding our self-wills to God so that He has the space to begin to work in our lives for our benefit, is basic Christianity.  No lasting transformation and deliverance can take place without it.

Forgiveness and cleansing of sin, and the removal of self-reliance from the thrones of our hearts, are two sides of the same gold coin-of-the-realm in the kingdom of God.  The Christian always maintains freedom of choice, but defers to the higher and better judgment of God as to how to best go about living this current life.

When the Christian elevates the participation of Jesus Christ into our lives above our own self-reliance and self-direction, we allow the supernatural part of the relationship to begin to improve how we think about our moral choices, the quality of the effort that we put into life, the standards that we expect of ourselves, and our desire to please and glorify God in all things.

This transformation also creates within us an unselfish attitude toward other people.  We will not only discover the mind of Christ in us, but also the heart of Christ in us.  We will discover within us a desire to share with others this same salvation that liberated us from sin, and that transformed us into new people as well.

And most importantly, because of the knowledge of the second half of the cross, and the death of self-powered and self-initiated efforts, we will discover that the words of life that we speak, and the examples of God’s love through works of kindness to others, come through the power of the Holy Spirit within us and not our own self-propelled energy.

When we ourselves are genuinely transformed into new creatures in Christ, the motivation to share the gospel will come from unselfish love from the heart, rather than through some program fueled by compulsion or a sense of duty.

The second half of the cross therefore not only includes the plan of God to get us engaged in a direction according to the will of God for our lives, but also provides the Holy Spirit power within us to transform us into the quality of people who can effectively reach out to others and share what God has and is doing in our lives.

The key is to first get self-will and self-in-charge out of the way, according to the second half of the cross, so that God can begin to interject His love, power, and grace into our lives.  This process begins the moment we become new Spirit-born Christians.

But the advanced Christianity part of a journey of faith does eventually require a complete change in our thinking.  A God-composed and guided journey of faith adds purpose, direction, and structure to our lives that displaces the otherwise conventionally normal mode of simply reacting to random chance events as they arise.

A God-composed journey of faith inserted into our lives displaces “living by our wits” in an improvisational, at-the-last-minute, reactive mode , with a new game-plan crafted out of the mind of God that has the proactive, preventive elements of a transformed character and elevated morality in operation.

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

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

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

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

God wants to do something radical, something extraordinary in our lives.  He wants to change us, to completely transform us from the inside out into becoming the light of the world and the glory of Jesus Christ.

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

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

This is The Second Half of the Cross.

The hard work has already been done by Jesus on the cross.

When Jesus the Son surrendered His will to the will of God the Father, at Gethsemane and at Calvary, Jesus went through the process ahead of us.

This is why Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Our part is to be willing to take His hand and follow, and to not look back or count the cost.