The Christian Danger Zone of Faith 1

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;                                                                                                                           (Heb. 12:1-2)

It takes guts, courage, and resilience to be a Christian…who is Spirit-led in their life-plan and calling…through the worldly unconventionality of a God-composed adventure of faith (Jn. 16:13).

The stereotypical judgment by some people that Christians are by nature weak…because they think we lean upon God and use Him as a crutch to get through the storms and challenges of life…is an inaccurate assessment …a faulty impression…based upon the starting viewpoint of skeptical unbelief regarding the existence of God…but more importantly also based upon an incorrect understanding of biblical faith (Heb. 11:1).

The idea that following the God of the Bible into an adventure of faith…is a sign of weakness…could not be farther from the actual truth.

Even the most benign of Christian callings will have events and circumstances that contain some measure of difficulty and challenge…because one of the goals of an adventure of faith is for new covenant believers to personally get to know God from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:34)…in the process our own way falling into the ground to die like a seed…in order to spring up as a tree or plant that produces good fruit (Jn. 12:24).

This is another way of describing picking up our cross to follow Jesus (Mk. 8:34).

For people who have read the Bible…the narrative stories of faith…being highly complex and detailed life-scripts from Abraham to Paul…consist of the most intense and challenging sets of circumstances in human experience…often balanced and teetering on the edge of the precipice of life-threatening events.

I cannot think of a single narrative story in the Bible…that has the people of faith following a care-free life of ease…without encountering divinely orchestrated difficulties and challenges having an end-point purpose in mind.

There is an old proverb that says: “a ship in a harbor is safe, but ships were not made for harbors.”

The whole point of a God-composed adventure of faith life-script…is to take the Old Testament Jewish man or woman…and the New Testament Christian…into a well-designed yet risk-filled series of events and circumstances…to create the humanly unattainable context for a personal relationship between people and God…to actualize into reality.

In that scenario…by intentional design…there is no option other than to rely upon God within our journey of faith.  That is the underlying aim…the whole purpose…the essence of a God-composed journey of faith life-script.

A biblical-quality journey of faith…in the living God…and the diametric opposite of autonomous individualism…the hallmark of humanism…do not mix.

To enter into a journey of faith following God…by practical necessity and by definition…human self-sovereignty has to be jettisoned overboard (Heb. 11:6).

This is the context wherein the Christian danger zone of faith exists…and it is not by any stretch of the imagination a zone of human weakness, fear (2 Tim. 1:7), or an unhealthy reliance upon the leadership skills of God (Prov. 3:5-6).

Skeptical unbelief cannot enter into a journey of faith following the God of the Bible…nor accurately opine on the strength or weakness of the Christian reliance upon God…because this judgment comes from a place of ignorance…a total lack of experience in the matter.

How else…by what other means…could God reveal Himself to people on a personal, individualized basis…than to compose supernatural life-scripts that have the risk of catastrophic failure on some level or other…that upon fulfillment and successful completion…completely removes all doubt as to His existence and capacity as God…yet with the possible opposite conclusion…utterly destroying faith and hope should He fail to come through on the reliability and trustworthiness of the outcomes of His callings, mission-plans, and promises?

The perilous wide-open seas…the varied adventures of faith to far-flung destinations outside of the safety of the harbor…that God takes people out into to courageously navigate through…is simply a different environment…a different reality…from remaining safely and securely inside the worldly conventional harbor of self-sovereignty and autonomous individualism…determining our own goals and outcomes as the sole captain of our ship…mapping-out the course of our lives.

Following God into an adventure of faith requires more courage…more fortitude…more elevated character…not less…in comparison to worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…because enabling us to know God personally requires the insertion of His higher ways and thoughts into our lives

By necessity…a journey of faith rearranges the vertical order of positions between people and God…with God as the new leader of the expedition…and us now as subordinate followers…which is anathema to the pride of humanism…is contrary to worldly conventional normalcy and thinking (Heb. 11:16).

A journey of faith…as patterned for us in the Bible…presupposes a divine set-up of the context of risk-filled events and circumstances…in which faith in God can first be established…and then strengthened throughout our lifetimes.

This is not a formula for weakness…the incorrectly supposed weakness of not being able to stand alone…within autonomous individualism…in our own strength to weather and overcome the storms of life.

The theme of this book is that the storms of life…are precisely engineered by God to produce a divinely intentioned work of character reformation in our lives…while at the same time blessing the lives of other people…sometimes in large numbers…but always in loving, unselfish service…which defines a strength of character all its own.

The false contention by some people that relying upon God demonstrates weakness of character…misses the point entirely…because a personal relationship with God cannot exist without placing faith and reliance upon God.

Obviously…if the God of the Bible does not exist…then fabricating a man-invented God that creates a fictional set of religious rituals, dogmas, and principles to base our hope and faith in…would be the ultimate faulty crutch to lean upon…for the needed backbone to face the storms of life.

If this was the reality…then skeptics, unbelievers, and atheists would have a plausible complaint against the Christian life.

But the fundamental problem with the assertion that placing faith in the God of the Bible is weak…is that the biblical narrative stories of faith are so far outside of the calm safety of the harbor of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…that these biblical narrative stories of faith could not possibly be the product of humanistic literary fiction.

The biblical narrative stories of faith cannot be the product of human invented religion.

The adventures of faith following God…according to His imaginative life-scripts as recorded in the Bible…do not take us anywhere within worldly conventional expectations and aspirations.

If the biblical narrative stories of faith followed the norms of conventional thinking…to seek and to aim for material wealth, prestige, political power, economic security, and self-fulfillment at any cost while violating integrity, fairness, empathy for other people, and honor…then they could be suspected of being the product of human literary invention.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33)…is a radical reprioritizing of our focus that now includes the previously unknown, novel, and foreign concept…prior to accepting Christ…of placing faith and trust in God as we walk through life with Him.

Discovering and developing faith in God is a formula for an entirely different life-approach…where again…God takes people out into the wide-open seas of a first-hand investigation into an understanding of the knowledge of good and evil (Jn. 16:13)…that is otherwise not accessible through a worldly conventional journey of self.

The redemptive plan of God is to create new spiritual hearts within the people who will accept and trust Him (Jn. 3:1-16)…then lead them safely out of the expectations and aspirations…outside of the harbor of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

The “race that is set before us”…following an individually personalized life-script composed and managed by Jesus Christ the Creator of the universe…takes us to the real, genuine, brave new world…a divinely innovative world of actualized faith in the living God…previewed and patterned for us today in the biblical narrative stories of faith in the Old and New Testaments.

The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision; for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”                                    (Joel 3:14)

What is at stake in these three key words that apply to Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6)?  Why write a book about the high standards of God as we approach the beginning stages of the end-times?

The part of the make-believe world of movie acting that is not make-believe is the bond of friendship and camaraderie that is often formed within the acting troop.  The relationships between the fictional characters within the story and the fictional world the actors are playing-out in the movie…are oftentimes better than the actor’s real lives.

The invention of DVD movies that can be replayed in our television sets has allowed for something called Special Features to be included that contain interviews with the actors and the movie directors.

Toward the end of shooting on set, actors in recent movies like Pride and Prejudice (2005), or the movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings (2003), for example, often say that they enjoyed the friendships they formed while playing their fictional roles so much that they wish their movie make-believe world would continue indefinitely.

This secular window into our human nature provides a glimpse into something important about us.

Well-written fictional characters, acted out within movie-scripts having high ideals, with capable, talented, and caring movie-directors, and supportive fellow actors, creates a short-lived, idyllic yet challenging and fulfilling environment that we would popularly call “a small slice of heaven on earth.”

But this idea runs much deeper.  Throughout the filming of a great movie, in memorizing their lines, studying their characters, and acting their parts, the actors must think about and internalize the issues of the story composed within the artistic inspiration of the storywriter.

This is also what occurs in a journey of faith following Jesus Christ…we learn the deep and fundamental issues of truth…while living a walk of faith.

Paul can write his New Testament letters by living the life Jesus composed for him as the missionary evangelist to the first-century Greco-Roman world.

What is different in our subordination of self in following the lead of Jesus the Great Director in our personal journeys of faith, and in the larger grand story of human redemptive history, is that it does not all come to an end with a “wrap” of the filming production and the actors finally going their separate ways.  The bonds of friendship we form with God, and with other believers, last for eternity in a new heavenly world without time.

The improved character traits we purchase through a journey of faith actually take shape and become part of ourselves, not just in the form of the wisdom and knowledge that actors take with them after studying a particular character and learning their lines in order to act out that character in a fictional movie.

The journey of faith, being led into all truth by the Holy Spirit according to Ephesians 2:10, results in us becoming the enhanced character of the story, rather than abandoning our movie-acting roles at the end of film shooting to return to our otherwise normal lives.  Peter speaking to the Sanhedrin, or Paul addressing Festus, are not fictional roles…they are real, eternally beneficial character building performances.

An accomplished actor performs “in-the-moment” using their natural personalities and emotions, but empty of their true selves in favor of inhabiting and possessing the fictional character portion of the stage play or movie they are in.  Great actors lose themselves in their character portrayal to the point that they temporarily suspend all sense of nervousness, stage-fright, and self-awareness.  It is being empty of self, yet utilizing our own personality traits and emotions that create a memorable performance in terms of facial expressions, voice modulation, body motions, and interactions with the other actors.

But at the close of each day of shooting on the set, actors revert back to their normal selves.  Not so with Spirit-led Christians engaged in a God-composed walk of faith.

Partnership with the Holy Spirit…producing beneficial character growth…becomes permanently ours…becomes part of us.  This is what God hopes and longs for…that we will become who and what He created us to be, living and acting voluntarily at a high moral level that He can relate to, enjoy, and be comfortable with forever, time without end.

Isn’t this a similar pattern to what we long for in our relationships with our own children and grandchildren?

The biblical journey of faith is the real performance that has lasting benefits and consequences beyond our current imaginations.  Passing from death into eternal life is the raising of the curtain for the beginning of the actual stage-performance.

This current rehearsal preparation to enter into a new world where time does not exist, fully trained and familiar with our true intended character roles “in-Christ” according to the script composed by the great Playwright God, elevates the process of becoming sons and daughters of God to the level of the High Standards of God for End-Times Christians.

The Bible does not tell us what heaven will be like.  Words written in black letters on the white pages of a book could not adequately describe the marvels of heaven.  But judging by the preview of this current physical earth that God created, and our own incredible motor skills, five senses, and intellectual curiosity, it is a safe, educated guess that heaven is likewise filled with a myriad of natural wonders, interesting and challenging activities, breath-taking places to visit, and fascinating people and heavenly creatures to meet.

God created us in His image.  God created us with the capacity to be able to appreciate and enjoy an environment where friendship and love can exist for an eternity.  Jesus Christ is the great Screenwriter of Life for all time and the Master Director of the ultimate movie-set.  We would all like to spend each and every day of eternity being an integral, contributing, and valued member of His cast.

Lucifer isolated himself from God through his rebellion.  Lucifer’s malicious and wicked intent is to draw man away from God into isolation as well.  Sin tragically separates us from God and from each other.  What is at stake in this contest as to who controls the thrones of our hearts, is the fundamental meaning and purpose behind the existence of life.

The bond of friendship and love is one of the most satisfying things in existence.

When the angels in heaven announced the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, they said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Lk. 2:14).  Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).

As Spirit-born Christians, we must enter into this living journey of faith that promotes a friendship with God and selfless camaraderie with other believers, that will surpass anything we might ask or think (Eph. 3:20) in this life.  And we must try, through the Holy Spirit inspired means of loving persuasion and the evidence of our own transformed lives, to bring in as many other people into this eternal joy and happiness as possible.  This is a part of the divine motivation behind the high standards of God for end-times Christians.

There is an old saying: “If you aim for nothing, you are sure to hit it.”

The contemporary Christian church in the developed countries needs to refocus on the simplicity and purity of Christ, the cross, and the power of the resurrected life.  We need leaders who will point people toward Christ, and a genuine, biblical walk of faith, so that the church can achieve the high standards that God intends for individuals and the body of Christ as a whole.

If as Christians we lower our spiritual vision to the horizontal level of worldly acceptance and expectations instead of the cross and the narrow gate (Mt. 7:13-14), we aim at nothing and are guaranteed to hit it.

With God’s leading, when we do finally discover the individual narrow way for us, establish our spiritual footing, and find our place of service in God’s grand plan, God will say to us: “I always loved you and meant the very best for you.  Thank you for trusting me enough to help you.  I enjoyed the time I spent with you and am looking forward to knowing you throughout eternity.”

We were created with the potential for a walk of faith with God.  These are The High Standards of God in the End-Times for individual Christians and for His church as a whole.  God is the only capable author and director of this process.

Spiritual Opposition 3

Following Jesus is the Pinnacle of Human Experience

Lucifer takes the Christian born-again salvation experience and slanders it with one of his most deceptive lies.  The world accuses the new Christian of having a weak character, of copping-out, of using God as a crutch, by relinquishing their throne and giving it over to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master.

This is the crux, the heart of the issue over sin.  Lucifer tells man to remain in his fallen nature as a god on the throne of his life.  But man was not created with the capacity to be a god.  God is the only person qualified to sit on a spiritual throne.

When we push God away and continue to assume the unnatural position of being our own gods, we are spiritual rebels.  Lucifer has led mankind to join his rebellion by getting us to think we are something we are not.  Lucifer has deceptively gotten mankind to accept a job promotion at a divine management level that we are not qualified nor trained for.

What is incredibly remarkable about this whole affair is that God’s solution to the spiritual opposition of Lucifer fomenting rebellion within the ranks of mankind, once again is to brilliantly take spiritual darkness and turn it around upon itself.  By enlisting mankind in his rebellion against God, Lucifer has unintentionally and unwittingly given God a wide-open door to expose for us the eternal key to peace and happiness.

The way to eternal joy and peace is found in knowing who and what we were created to be within a relationship with the Almighty God, and not in attempting to be gods in autonomous rebellion outside of fellowship with God.  We are in our most blessed condition when we are living securely within our capacity as human beings, allowing God to walk in the very large-sized shoes that only He is capable of filling.  This is a formula that will happily work for us for all of eternity.

Lucifer introducing sin into the world, and God’s illuminating answer to it, forever solidifies for us the eternal truth of being graciously, lovingly, unselfishly, and contentedly satisfied with being who and what we are…within the context of our creation by God (1 Tim. 6:6).  We can exercise the most brilliant and creative God-given attributes, safe from destructive pride for all eternity, as long as we stay within the parameters of loving thoughtfulness and beneficial service to others, thanks to this all-important spiritual lesson we learn here on earth.

The divine character of the Holy Spirit living within the Christian makes this invaluable lesson…of death to our self-in-control natures through the cross, of the benefit of stepping down from the thrones of our hearts…accessible and comprehensible to us.  The fact that God can craft this priceless lesson for us out of the challenging environment of spiritual darkness and rebellion… validates forever God’s claim to be a loving and all-wise God.

The power of Lucifer’s deceptive lie about Christians being weak because we rely upon God instead of exclusively on ourselves, when turned on its head, supplies an opposite but equal force in God’s rebuttal response.

Stepping down off the throne of our lives opens up the opportunity for an adventurous, unconventional, supernatural walk of faith following Jesus Christ, which by God’s intentional design contains genuine risk.

Accepting the risk of failure following Jesus Christ through a walk of faith, having no advance guarantee of success other than the Word of God, our current relationship with God, and our previous positive Christian experiences, is the opposite of being weak. 

The step out of the familiarity of self-reliance into a new adventure of faith following God requires courage, not weakness.

The real truth is that there cannot be a risk/reward, courage filled walk-of-faith while we remain in the state of being our own god.

Two kings cannot occupy the same throne.  That is why repentance is not weakness but enlightened good sense.  How can anyone trust Jesus Christ about things over which we still maintain complete control?  Until we surrender as rebels and throw down our arms in this issue as to who should be God…eternal life in the Spirit in a proper relationship with God…cannot begin.

Surrendering all to Jesus is the epitome of stepping out into an adventure of faith, in the one area that really counts for something…the course of our lives.

The Christian walk of faith is the exact opposite of the lie that Lucifer spins about the weakness of the life following Jesus Christ, when Jesus is atop the throne of our heart.  Stepping down off the throne of our heart, turning away from being our own god, and inviting Jesus Christ to assume His rightful place as God, is the foundational cornerstone truth that will set people free to enjoy a life of peace and fulfillment for all eternity.

In a nutshell, this is the great end-times closing message.  People are not gods.  We were never meant to be gods.  We have no business being a part of Lucifer’s rebellion.  Lucifer is still trying to make his point in his rebellion, and he is using mankind as his foil, using people as his dupes.  That is why it will be sheer lunacy to accept the end-times mark of the beast in allegiance to the Antichrist.

Jesus Christ selflessly died on the cross to set us free from ourselves in this deceptively miscast role of being our own gods.  The Bible tells us we were created in the image of God, not actual gods ourselves.

Jesus Christ really is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, because the walk of faith orchestrated by God for us through this current broken world begins by correctly enthroning Christ atop our lives.   Jesus Christ is our Savior and King for a very simple and practical reason…He actually is God…we are not.

Spiritual Opposition 2

Five of the most important words ever written are found in Psalm 23:4…”for thou art with me.”  God’s promise to keep safe His faithful followers is based upon His love and His mastery over spiritual opposition.

Paul is nearly stoned to death by the Jews in Lystra (Acts 14:19) because Paul and Barnabas are being used of God mightily to convert the Gentiles to the new Christian faith.

Yet Paul is not defeated by this extreme opposition to his ministry.  On the contrary, as a result of this stoning, Paul is probably freer of any remaining inhibitions about preaching the gospel, is more determined than ever not to be defeated, and is further stripped of his self-in-control nature.  Paul could add this new experience of a near-death stoning to his resume as an apostle, suffering in conformity to the cross of Christ as a definite sign that his ministry was having an impact (Eph. 5:20).

Stephen is martyred by the Jews of Jerusalem because He is defending the new way of Jesus Christ as the risen Messiah with such power and persuasiveness (Acts 6:10) that the Sanhedrin cannot tolerate Stephen’s message in their city.

But spiritual opposition does not win in this confrontation with Stephen.  Stephen does give his life as a faithful witness to Jesus Christ.  But as Stephen was about to be stoned to death, Acts 7:55 says that he looked up into heaven and saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”

Acts 8:1-4 then goes on to describe how an intensified persecution of the Christian church after this stoning of Stephen, resulted in the church being scattered to outlying regions around Jerusalem and as far away as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19), creating the first Christian missionaries.

Spiritual opposition silenced Stephen, but in doing so it set in motion the persecution spearheaded by the young Saul…soon-to-become Paul…and thereby created the opposite unintended consequence of hundreds of Christian missionaries who “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

God took Stephen’s sacrifice at the hands of spiritual opposition, and turned it into the beneficial pattern of missionary evangelism that would continue down to our present day.

Peter is arrested by Herod the king, and scheduled for martyrdom to politically appease the Jewish rulers (Acts 12:3-4)

This was in opposition to the great work that the Holy Spirit was doing through Peter and the other apostles in the growing Christian church in Jerusalem.

This spiritual opposition that manifested itself in the outer natural realm, first in the execution by Herod of the Apostle James (Acts 12:2), then in the seemingly hopeless outward appearance of doom for Peter, did not deter God in the slightest.  God simply reached deeper into His assortment of options and sent one of His angels to release Peter and guide him safely out of the prison.

Scripture does not tell us why God allowed James to be killed at this time.  But we can be sure that after Peter’s rescue, the second rescue from prison in his Christian career (Acts 5:19), that even the heretofore highly experienced Apostle Peter gained a greater confidence in yielding and surrendering himself into the care of the Almighty God.

The Old and New Testaments of the Bible are filled with similar stories of situations and circumstances meant to destroy God’s people or individual servants of God, which God then channels and re-directs towards a good outcome containing positive spiritual lessons and character-building.

Equally important, the Old Testament tells us that God is capable of using spiritual opposition on a macro scale, in the form of the threat of invading foreign armies, periods of exile, captivities, and dispersions, to redirect the entire nation of Israel back into the sphere of His ways.

This is one of the upcoming great issues of our time…that God is so in control of events and circumstances that He can beneficially use evil and spiritual opposition as tools to reveal His divine capacity to resolve a crisis and work His purposes at the same time.

The Christian, who has learned through a walk of faith, that in a God-led life all things work together for good, will not be deterred, offended, or discouraged by the spiritual opposition that will manifest itself in the natural realm of events in the upcoming last days (Matthew 24:6).

Whether it is Daniel in the lion’s den, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, or Queen Esther trusting in God’s protective care in approaching the king in opposition to Haman the powerful enemy of her people, God is able to combine overcoming victory, the dividing of truth from error, and beneficial spiritual growth within each of His masterfully creative solutions.

The character traits of unconditional forgiveness and unselfish love exhibited in the believer through the heart and mind of Christ, cannot be defeated under any set of dire circumstances (Lk. 23:34).

Like the fruits of the Spirit, against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22), the traits of perfect love and Christ-like character are not subject to defeat (1 Jn. 5:4).

In a world where Spirit-born Christians already possess eternal life, the character traits of faithfulness, fidelity, trust, and loving commitment to Christ eventually win-out, even in martyrdom.

In a world where Jesus is raised by God the Father…from the grave…Christians do not have to be afraid of anyone or anything (2 Tim. 1:7).

The willingness to become as last (1 Cor. 4:9), and to be fashioned as empty vessels able to contain the outpouring of the Spirit for ministry in the last days (Joel 2:28-29), will set apart the end-times Christian in glorious revelation of the character of Jesus Christ…at the end of human redemptive history.

The Bible teaches us that the condition of mankind, while lost in sin, is out of balance (Eph. 2:1).  God created mankind with the capacity to live as human beings, not as gods unto themselves.  When a person repents and accepts Christ into their lives, they step down off the throne of their hearts to give place for God to assume His correct position in the relationship.

This is one of the explanations for why people, who become born-again in the Spirit, experience a deep inner sense of joy, peace, and relief.  They no longer have to assume the unnatural role of being the god that they were not created to be.  The blood that Jesus shed on the cross not only washes the repentant believer clean of sin, but also sets in proper order and balance Jesus Christ on the throne of a person’s life.

The born-again Christian, who has vacated the throne of their heart to make room at the top for God, can venture out into a genuine walk of faith following Jesus Christ, precisely because they are now operating as a human being and not as a god.   

Spiritual Opposition 1

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.”                                                                                           (Mt. 7:25)

Spiritual opposition to people living and walking in the Spirit is a reality previewed for us in the Bible (Eph. 6:12).  Opposition in the form of negative situations and circumstances in the natural realm is one way that spiritual darkness sows doubts, creates fears, undermines resolve, attacks faith, and weakens trust within the active servants of God.

Spiritual darkness can even use negative situations and circumstances to retaliate against the servants of God, after-the-fact when God has wrought some positive spiritual work through Christians, large or small.

God allows spiritual darkness to operate within the natural realm of events and circumstances.  God is so intelligent He can reshape the efforts of spiritual opposition into re-directed positive outcomes for believers who are in the midst of God-composed and orchestrated walks of faith.

The reason that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) is that God is smarter than the agents of evil.

In the Bible, God always takes spiritual opposition that presents itself in the form of negative appearing events and circumstances, and turns this spiritual opposition around for good outcomes when faith and trust in Him are in operation.

Lucifer introduced evil into the world in the Garden of Eden.  God is not the author of this evil.  God has been demonstrating His divine quality ever since that time, through His ability to take evil and reshape it for His good purposes.

This is one of the most powerful lessons in the Bible.  Throughout the biblical record of God’s interaction with man, God refocuses evil in the direction He wants it to go, defeats it, creates an object lesson out of the encounter, and generates beneficial spiritual growth for His followers all in one brilliant stroke.  We see this repeated many times in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

The example of Joseph being sold into slavery to a caravan heading for Egypt, by his brothers, was meant for evil.  God took this evil action and turned it around for good on a massive scale.  Who other than God could compose such a story as Joseph’s, in which everyone, including Joseph, required hindsight in looking back at events to be able to understand and appreciate what God had done?

The cross of Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this divine ability to shape and remold spiritual opposition into a beneficial outcome, in this case the sacrificial redemption of mankind from the curse of sin through the exercise of faith in Christ.  The cross and the resurrection tell us that God can take evil in its deadliest form, and turn it upside down on its head to perform a great work of God in complete frustration of evil’s original intent.

When God is in charge of the program, spiritual opposition loses every time.

God is so intelligent He uses the very deception that Lucifer originally devised in the Garden of Eden…to attempt to undermine God’s authority…to instead illuminate the spiritually bankrupt nature of sin and thereby our deep need for God.

God is so intelligent He uses the spiritual opposition intended to trip up the Christian, instead as actual lesson-plans to divide for us the difference between right and wrong.

These lesson-plans help us to discover genuine repentance in the character areas we are deficient…short temper, impatience, pride.

God is so intelligent He can take the evil opposition that is intended to destroy us and creatively use it to help us to grow spiritually strong into Christ-like character and conduct.

God set up this physical environment called earth, knowing that this was the best possible environment for exercising faith and trust in Him through situations and circumstances that both spiritual darkness and spiritual light had an opportunity to utilize.

The God of the Bible is never intimidated, deterred, or outsmarted by spiritual darkness, no matter how deceptive or terrifying it seems in the natural realm of events and circumstances.

Isaiah 9:6 gives many names for Jesus Christ…Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, and The Prince of Peace.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, cannot remove the offenses of this world until all of the purposes of God are completed.  But Jesus can change evil into outcomes of eternal peace because He is both God and the Prince of Peace.  Jesus Christ can superimpose peace in and through any set of circumstances concocted by spiritual darkness when people place their faith and trust in Him.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 4

A Perfect Balance of the Cross and the Resurrection 

The gospel message has a powerful positive appeal to it, of the real hope of a life-transforming change for people, whether it is spoken by John the Baptist at the Jordan river, by Jesus to the woman at the well (Jn. 4:5-45), by Peter to the multitudes at Pentecost, or by Paul to the Jews and Gentiles in Antioch Pisidia.

This preaching of the gospel message comes within a confident, bold, selfless, truth-piercing delivery of genuine conviction out of Holy Spirit inspired purity of heart.

This is one of the invaluable pay-offs for the Christian disciple picking up their cross and patiently following Jesus through an adventure of faith.  The ability to someday share our testimony with natural simplicity, with the power of honest conviction, with the freedom of complete unawareness of self in fearless love, and with complete mastery over the opposing spirit of unbelief, to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, is an outcome of the cross and the resurrection in our lives that is of incalculable worth.

Paul preached the cross in Antioch Pisidia.  This is still the central, key issue of our present-day Christian experience.

How do we define the person of Jesus Christ, and what do we expect in our relationship with Him?  Are we looking for a similarly unconventional, God-composed experience like that of Abraham?  Are we willing to risk everything like Joseph to discover for ourselves that God is trustworthy and true, and to be used mightily for others?  Can God call us like Moses to go to Egypt, so to speak, in our modern world context to share our Christian testimony to deliver the captives from the bondage of sin?

Can we follow God to the banks of the Red Sea, patiently looking to God in faith and trust to manufacture a miraculous deliverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenge?  Can we relate to Paul, who said that the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world (Gal. 6:14)?  Is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ the most important thing in our lives?  Or are we looking merely for a messiah who will temporarily repair our outward world only, while at the same time allowing us to remain as sovereign kings atop the thrones of our lives?

The totally unexpected separation in the first century of the coming of the messiah as prophesied in Isaiah 9:6-7, Genesis 3:15, and Jeremiah 33:15-16, for example, into two distinct advents accomplishing two entirely different tasks, was and is one of the great issues of the first-century ministry of Jesus Christ.

This separation exposed and divided out of the body of believers those Jews who were merely going through the mechanical, perfunctory motions of synagogue worship.  It inaugurated the living new covenant relationship with God that made the journey-of-faith experiences of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, and Elijah available and commonplace for every new covenant Christian, Jew and Gentile alike.  And it created the church age that has continued down twenty centuries to our present time.

This unexpected and unanticipated split into two messianic advents had enormous ramifications for the human race.  It perpetuated the intense hatred of the Jews toward the occupying Romans, eventually resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the scattering of the Jews around the world for 1,900 years.  The first advent of Jesus Christ as Savior kept in play the adventure of faith for countless people for another 2,000 years, and produced the colorful history of the church age through the dark and middle ages, through the Reformation, and through the incredible and remarkable past four centuries of recent history.

The gospel message of the cross preached by Paul in Antioch Pisidia, leading to a biblical-quality adventure of faith, is staring us in the face today as much as ever.  This timely truth is right there in front of us…so close we can reach out and grab it for ourselves.  The best and finest life is the uniquely unconventional life of faith that God has composed and would orchestrate for us, to match the pattern and template recorded in the Bible, however and wherever that takes us.

We have all the evidence we need to step out in faith, place our trust in Jesus Christ, and begin our journey toward whatever lies ahead in the upcoming last-days.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 3

What is it that We Want in our Relationship with God?

Christian philosophy and apologetics has rightly clarified a key distinction about faith in the existence of God.

Real, dynamic, actionable faith in God does not exist in a world in which the existence of God is an absolute observable fact like the existence of the noonday sun, or an indisputable truth like two plus two equals four.

Over the previous six thousand or more years of human redemptive history, God has skillfully maintained a delicate balance between the evidence for His existence and the ability of humans to exercise unbelief.  This keeps in play the critical element of free-will choice, which adds value and meaning to our choice to trust and follow God in faith, in this broken world.

The key point that many Jews in the first-century blindly missed in evaluating Jesus of Nazareth as a candidate for messiah, is that Jesus ruling and reigning on earth in the fullest sense, starting sometime around 30 to 33 A.D., brings to an abrupt end the exercise of free-will choice and the experience of a journey of faith. 

They missed this key point because they themselves had not experienced a personal journey of faith with God in their own lives (Jn. 7:17).

God’s ability to compose and orchestrate brilliantly original life-scripts to reveal Himself to people who choose to follow Him through the medium of an adventure of faith, ends abruptly in this current broken world environment… when Jesus permanently assumes His place on the throne as King and Savior according to the second advent half of the messianic prophecies.

Gideon’s experience of an Old Testament challenge of faith, recorded in the book of Judges, would have had no further context to play itself out in Christ’s glorious reign…there will be no Midianites or anyone else attacking the New Jerusalem then or forever after.

The type of brilliantly creative journey of faith of Joseph’s rise in Egypt, recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis, would have no further context to actualize in Christ’s glorious rule and reign upon earth…there will be no more famines in Egypt or anywhere else from that time onward.

If the messianic prophecies of the first and second advent of Jesus Christ are fully combined in the first-century, the powerful conversion and subsequent ministry of Paul has no continuing context…no one, including Paul, would mistakenly be persecuting the early church during Christ’s rule and reign in the first-century.

The fulfillment of the second-advent portions of the messianic prophecies regarding Jesus Christ, and all that they entail, would have been totally premature in the first-century.

The human race was not ready for the fulfillment of these final messianic prophecies.  Many of the chosen people of God…the Jews in the first- century…did not at that time understand the concepts of grace, a journey of faith, or the Old Testament verse that “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4) that Paul clarified in his New Testament writings and that Martin Luther rediscovered at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Even to this day, contemporary Christianity has still not fully recovered an understanding and worldly-free application of the second half of the cross in the lives of individual born-again Christians, which was partially lost during the dark and middle ages of history.

Jesus said that He had more lost sheep, not of this first-century fold, to seek and to save (Jn. 10:16).  This meant that God had many more individualized, unconventional life-scripts to compose and orchestrate as only God can do, to personally reveal Himself to the people of faith to come into existence during the centuries of the church age.

First-century Christianity moves out from the purity of doctrine and practice in Judea…into the paganism and classical philosophy of the Greco-Roman world, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., so that mankind can work through the eternally important issues of truth for the next 1900 years or more.

This all-important task is still ongoing.

There were tens of thousands of first-century Jews in Jerusalem, in Israel, and in the Mediterranean world who did accept Jesus as Messiah and believed in Him as Savior (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20).

But there obviously was a large difference in the first-century between the backgrounds, cultures, and expectations of the Jews and the Gentiles.

The Gentiles had no expectations about any messiah whatsoever…world ruler or suffering servant…because a gospel message regarding the fulfillment of age-old biblical messianic prophecies was entirely unknown to them.

The Gentile Christians of the New Testament era therefore had no reason to be offended by a crucified and risen Jesus Christ as Messiah.  The Gentiles in the first-century Greco-Roman world, who were moved by the Holy Spirit preaching of Paul, gladly received the gospel message by faith because they recognized their personal sin and their need for a Savior.

The Gentiles in Antioch Pisidia believed the message of Paul, wanted to become new creatures in Christ, and recognized their need to discard their past lives of sin through the cross.

The Gentiles who believed the preaching of Paul were open to the idea of a new adventure of faith following Jesus Christ according to the new covenant model of a personal relationship with God.  In this sense they were no different from the Jews in Antioch Pisidia who also believed and accepted this message of salvation through the preaching of Christ crucified and risen, introduced by Paul and Barnabas.

From this moment forward, both Jews and Gentiles entered into the new covenant adventures of faith that God would compose and orchestrate for each one of them.  This fulfilled the prophetic promise of God to Abraham, and is described by Paul in Romans 10:12.

The preaching of the cross by Paul in Antioch Pisidia in Acts 13, to begin his lifelong ministry of evangelism to the first-century Mediterranean world, divides and separates forever the difference between the unconventional nature of a God-composed life-script entered through faith in Christ, and the empty and lifeless performance of perfunctory religious practices not having the intimate participation of the living God in the events and circumstances of our lives.

If people are indeed made complete in our new covenant relationship with God, if being “in Christ” is the truest form of rational existence, then the preaching of Paul in Antioch Pisidia is a demonstration of the component of pure, divinely unselfish love intended to seek and to save that which is lost (Mt. 18:11).

This extends down through the centuries as the love-filled component of the high standards of God for the soon coming end-times.

Christians living today in the developed nations of the world are in danger of falling into a subtle variation of the same mistake the Jews made in the first-century in rejecting Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah.

If our vision is worldly horizontal only, if we are looking for a Jesus who will fix our outward world by providing a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car, better vacations, and more economic wealth and prosperity, based solely on performing religious observances and church attendance…then we are once again repeating history and looking for the wrong messiah.

If we are going through the motions of attending church solely for the benefits of fitting-in and conforming to the social and cultural expectations of our immediate family and/or our local community, then we are in jeopardy of being left behind as were the Jews in Antioch Pisidia, who were exposed by Paul’s message of a new covenant adventure of faith through Christ (Acts 13:39).

We are in jeopardy of likewise being identified as merely a lukewarm religious person participating in the synagogue for all of the wrong reasons.

If we are looking for a soft and malleable God who will stay safely within the boundary limits of conventional religious normalcy in His participation and impact upon our lives, then we are looking for a God who is not the God of the Bible. 

Modern Christians must choose Jesus Christ for the same correct reason the Jews and Gentiles received Paul’s message in Antioch Pisidia in the first-century.  Paul preached the cross and the resurrection because it is the power of God to change a person from a life of sin to a life of righteousness, faith, and holiness.  Paul could preach with bold conviction the transforming power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, because Paul stood before the crowd of people in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia…as a living example of this transformation.

The message of the cross leads directly to an unconventional, individually scripted adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, to match the journey of faith that Paul was personally experiencing and preaching about in Antioch Pisidia.  The same separation from the worldly conventional in the first- century exists today, with the precise details of our new covenant Christian lives varying to match our own individual God-given talents and modern-day callings.

People who are justified in their own self-estimation, who think they are just fine the way they are, who have no interest in pursuing an adventure of faith in fellowship with the living God, will look for a God who will fix their outer worldly circumstances only.

Adam and Eve had everything in the Garden of Eden.  They were in idyllic surroundings of incomparable beauty, and they enjoyed daily fellowship with God Himself.

But when they were tempted with having more…to become “as gods, knowing good and evil,” they disobeyed God and fell into sin.  They succumbed to the enticement of having more.

In Mark 14:53-65 and Matthew 26:57-66, during His night trial before Caiaphas the high priest and some of the scribes and Jewish elders, Jesus is asked “are you the messiah, tell us plainly?”

Jesus is the personification of Isaiah 9:6-7, the Son of God in a human body, as He humbly stands on trial before this group of religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Yet clearly He is not up to their expectations.  They wanted more.

Jesus was not out in battle with an Israeli army defeating the Romans.  Jesus was not rallying the populace toward the political and economic reforms that would beneficially change the entire world.  Jesus was not in the process of restoring the old glory and splendor of the reigns of David and Solomon, which would beneficially spill over into the power base of these religious rulers.  Jesus was not even verbally defending Himself, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:7.

Jesus instead had been out in the countryside of Israel amongst the common people, healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching eternal truths, and raising the dead.  He was eternally impacting people’s lives.  Jesus was doing in the first-century what He is still doing today…beneficially transforming people through deliverance from sin, creating spiritual rebirth, and building growth in character that comes through a journey of faith actively following God.

As Jesus stands before these religious leaders of Israel, Jesus models this unconventional life-script of God perfectly (Isa. 55:8-9).

The life-script of God for Jesus of Nazareth, the Passover Lamb of God slain from the foundation of time for the sins of mankind (Rev. 13:8), is composed and orchestrated by God the Father to perfectly match the uniquely divine capacity of the Son of God.

In rejecting Jesus, these men are not only rejecting the physical manifestation of God Himself standing before them, but they are also emphatically rejecting the God-composed, supernaturally unconventional journey-of-faith exemplified in Jesus that makes Him uniquely the way, the truth, and the life.

These religious leaders did not want the way, the truth, and the life through a God-composed, unconventional adventure of faith that would separate them from the pride of their own self-sovereignty.

These religious leaders wanted a God who would only intervene in the external world according to their partially incomplete interpretation of the messianic prophecies, while leaving in place their ability to operate as the autonomous gods of their lives.

This is one of the powerful motivating forces explaining the reason why these religious leaders went to such extreme lengths to unwittingly, unknowingly, and personally fulfill the messianic prophecies by having Jesus the Messiah crucified.

It is ironically fitting that through their dual rejection of Jesus and a God-composed journey-of-faith, they themselves directly provided the very means by which God opened up the way of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

This is why the cross is such a deadly serious issue, surgically dividing truth from error, and demonstrates why God our Father cannot successfully be fooled with, outwitted, or outmaneuvered.

Jesus was indeed offering more, but it was on a higher level incomprehensible to these religious leaders.  Jesus was offering to them, to the nation of Israel, and to us today, a life-experience comparable to that of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and what was to be experienced in the very near future in the lives of Peter, Paul, and the early Christian church.

The “more” that Jesus was offering rises above the unsatisfying possession of an abundance of material objects, that will rust and decay here on earth.

The “more” that Jesus was offering surpasses the fickleness of worldly applause and acclaim, which can quickly fade from memory and turn overnight into jeers and rejection.

Jesus was offering no less than the personal working and moving of the Almighty Creator of the universe in our lives to craft us into people who can exhibit and enjoy the benefits of unselfish love, forgiveness of others, the satisfaction of commendable industry and excellence in our work, and the rock-solid confidence of elevated character that nothing and no one on this earth can overturn.

Jesus was offering to these religious leaders and to us, a transformed new life that can be elevated up into the unconventional, supernatural workings of God that can craft Joseph into the governor of Egypt, David into the king of Israel, and can completely change a person like Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul of the book of Acts and Romans chapter 16.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 2

How a Partially Fulfilled Advent Becomes a Stumbling Stone

Some Jews in Antioch Pisidia did not accept Paul’s gospel message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah, demonstrating what Simeon had accurately prophesied about the mixed reception a new covenant journey of faith, made accessible now through Christ to every new believer, would receive.

This is why Paul refers to the cross as an offense and a stumbling block unto the Jews (2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Cor. 1:23).

Many Jews in the first century thought that all God had to do was repair their political/economic situation according to their understanding and expectations for the coming messiah, and then all would be well.  They were already mistakenly self-righteous and saw no need for further spiritual reformation in their lives.  They were spiritually blind to the coming of a more broadly accessible new covenant adventure of faith available to both Jews and Gentiles alike.

Because their religious experience was limited to rituals and ceremonies only, and not a living and vibrant life of faith following God, they could not imagine a new covenant expanding to encompass the Gentile world, based upon the ancient prophecies surrounding Abraham the father of faith.

The direct and intimate participation of God in the events and circumstances of the lives of people of faith on a universal scale is made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth during His first advent as Messiah.

This is what Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch Pisidia.

God wants to give us a tailor-made adventure of faith, because in doing so He gives us a revelation of Himself.  Unless God shakes up our world, in the unconventionally biblical way of interjecting Himself into the course of our lives to match on some level the experiences of the people of faith recorded in the Bible, we cannot experience the power of God’s presence working through us.

This salvation entrance through the cross of Christ leading into an unconventional adventure of faith, previewed long before in the life of Abraham, was just as desperately needed in an ongoing basis in the first-century as it still is today in our own twenty-first century.

Paul was God’s chosen mouthpiece based in large part upon the huge gulf between the true and the false in Paul’s own past experience in mistakenly persecuting the early church.  The outpouring of God’s forgiving grace upon Paul at Damascus translated perfectly into the gospel outreach to the equally misguided polytheistic pagan culture of the Greco-Roman world.

Paul’s new covenant message contained a very large dose of giving up our old misguided way for God’s correct new way.  Back then as today, this was not clearly apparent, understood, or welcomed by everyone in Antioch Pisidia.

By contrast, the few Gentile “God-fearers” listening to Paul’s opening message in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia (recorded in Acts 13) about Jesus the crucified and risen Savior for the remission of sin, had no vested interest in the political and economic fortunes of the small and obscure Roman-occupied nation of Israel.

To the Gentiles…convicted of their sin nature through the Holy Spirit preaching of Paul…the immediate concern was not the restoration of Israel, but the restoration of their lost souls.

This same condition persists to our day.  Many Jews today reject Jesus of Nazareth as a viable candidate for messiah, based solely upon a mistaken belief that He failed to fulfill the Old Testament messianic prophesies regarding the setting up of a glorious earthly rule and reign in Jerusalem, to end disease, evil, suffering, and sin in our present world.  Many of the Jews in the first- century were deeply disappointed in Jesus of Nazareth because they mistakenly combined all of the promises and expectations of the  biblical messianic prophesies into one single, first-century advent (Isa. 9:6-7).

Many of the Jews of that day did not comprehend, accept, or practice personalized belief in God as patterned in the Old Testament examples of journeys-of-faith based upon God’s intimate participation in our lives, in contrast to their more familiar experience of pursuing righteousness by the works of the law according to their own self-directed religious observances (Jn. 5:42; Rom. 10:3).

Paul’s message of deliverance from the bondage of self-sovereignty through the liberty of the cross of Jesus Christ was just as foreign sounding to some of the Jews in the first-century…as it is to worldly-minded people today.

As recorded in the Old Testament, God asked Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Samuel, Gideon, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah, and Daniel, to name a few, to do the difficult and hard thing, often at the risk of their lives.

If Jesus had commenced His full reign in Jerusalem in the first-century, without any personal sacrifice of His own, He would have assumed an elevated position of power…on top of the backs of other people’s self-sacrifices.

With the benefit of clear hindsight today, the basic management principle of leading by example should have been obvious to the Jewish scholars, theologians, and rulers in first-century Israel as they attempted to interpret messianic prophecy.  But this true spiritual insight requires a personal experience following God equivalent to the positive journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, to be able to see and understand this fundamental leadership-based prerequisite.

The first advent of the messiah had to conform to the Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53 picture of a suffering servant, according to the universally recognized virtue of a leader never asking people to do something they themselves would not do.

Jesus setting up His earthly reign in Jerusalem in the first-century would have been disappointingly inconsistent with what God had been doing in Israel through the lives of people of faith, during the previous two thousand years.

Jesus beginning His reign prior to experiencing the cross would have been below the high standards God sets for Himself, and below the high standards God had asked of people up to that point in time.

Jesus was about to ask his disciples over the next two thousand years to also do the hard and difficult thing…often again at the risk of their lives.

Perfect divine virtue required Jesus Christ to go before us in this aspect of choosing the hard and difficult way for the advancement of truth.

Most of the people in Israel missed this logical separation of the two advents of the messiah, because they themselves were not personally engaged in a biblical journey of faith following God’s lead that might have illuminated this basic leadership principle.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 1

“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”                    (Acts 17:2-3)

In Acts 13:14-41, Paul would have preferred to preach the outwardly positive message of Jesus Christ the Messiah who rules and reigns from Jerusalem as the political, spiritual, and military leader who would bring world peace according to the prophecies we now understand…in hindsight…to relate to the second advent of Christ.

To begin his major evangelical missionary outreach to the first-century Mediterranean world, Paul would have liked to bring the up-to-the-moment recent news to the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, of the positive impact of the Messiah Jesus in Jerusalem…who was in the beginning stages of restoring their homeland of Israel to political independence and spiritual predominance…as in centuries past.

This is the message that all Jews living outside of Israel would have been overjoyed to hear.

But Paul preached to them the cross (Mk. 9:12).  The cross and the resurrection were the reality in first-century Israel and the Greco-Roman world.

Paul (a Jew having a first-rate rabbinical education, taught by Gamaliel in Jerusalem), preached that Jesus the Messiah was crucified and rose from the dead (Acts 13:30) for the remission of our sins (Acts 13:38-39), despite the temporary humiliation for our sakes of becoming a curse hanged on a tree (Gal. 3:13).

Paul preached the message of the cross, which was an offense to many of the Jews of his day, because they were looking in expectation for the other messiah, the “Son of David” prophesied in the Old Testament who would redeem Israel from her enemies and usher in an everlasting world reign of righteousness, justice, and peace (1 Chr. 17:11-13).

The Old Testament messianic prophecies that apply to the second coming of Christ are in the Bible for a very good reason.  They supply indispensable information that forms the basis for hope for the future.

But these messianic prophecies also bring to the first-century a razor-sharp sword for dividing truth from error, and for exposing what is in the hearts of people…which can be instructive for us today.

Paul wrote of the Jews of his day in Romans 10:3…“For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”

Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem prophesied to Joseph and Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:34-35).

Jesus said of many of the Jews in Israel “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” and “How can ye believe, who receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (Jn. 5:40; 5:44, italics mine).

Many of the Jews sitting in the audience in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, listening to Paul in Acts 13, thought of themselves, on balance, as good people.  They did not think they needed additional spiritual improvement.  They thought that they were righteous before God because they were Jews, faithfully practicing the Law and observing the rituals given to them by Moses.

Their expectation was for a messiah who would fix the negative circumstances of their outside world, not reform their inner man through conviction of sin, repentance, and spiritual rebirth (Jn. 3:3).

This important distinction is the issue that Jesus emphasized in His famous night conversation with Nicodemus the Pharisee.

The new preaching of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia exposed the fact that some practicing Jews, going through the mere outward motions of religious observances, were worshipping God for naught.

Along these lines, Paul explains in Romans 9:6 “For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel.”  Paul goes on to say in Romans 11:2 that: “God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew” and in the previous verse says that he himself is also a Jew, believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Savior.

Paul and Barnabas, both Jews, preached Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the grave for the remission of our sins into a new and living way.

This new gospel message revealed the large gulf between people performing religious practices in a purely mechanical exercise according to cultural expectations, without their heart and mind being truly committed and engaged, and a genuine journey of faith following Jesus Christ through unconventional life-scripts composed by God to reveal Himself individually to people.

This was described by Jeremiah as the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).  The new covenant preaching of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia brought the journey-of-faith experience back full-circle to the promise of God to make Abraham, the father of faith, a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3; 22:18).

Jews and Gentiles alike, sitting together two thousand years after Abraham…in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia…fulfilled this ancient promise.

The transition from the old covenant to the new covenant, inaugurating the new church age, exposed the emptiness of religious practices performed solely to enjoy the benefits of conforming to cultural expectations.

The new covenant opened wide the already existing entrance into a life of faith in God…first introduced through the life of faith of Abraham in Canaan years before…and perfected through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins.

Becoming Last for Jesus, in the End-Times 3

As modern-day Christians, we cannot discover the eternally valid lesson of the faithfulness of God…without stepping out into the risk of an adventure of faith following God wherever He leads.

The supernatural power of God for character transformation and Christian service comes with the prerequisite of divine love and genuine humility, purchased through a God-composed and guided measure of hardship within our journey of faith.  This is one element that sets the godly biblical life uniquely apart.  As Christians, we are at our finest and best when our characters exhibit the divine quality of self-effacing, vaunteth-not-itself, servant-like humility exemplified in biblical characters like Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, Peter, and of course Jesus Christ.

This is the creative dilemma and challenge for God.  How does God manufacture a person like Joseph, with the capacity to rule Egypt as governor, yet with the independent virtue to reject through his own free-will choice, the destructive pride of an Absalom corrupted by self-centered, self-adoration?

How does God create a person having the innate abilities of a Joseph, who can learn through carefully guided yet difficult experience, to emulate the near-divine, high level of character to be able to forgive out of his own free-will choice the earlier trespasses of his brothers, through unselfish and bitterness-free grace?

How does God create people close enough in quality to Himself in order to be able to enjoy a meaningful relationship with, like an Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Esther, and Daniel, yet with the character judgment to be able to reject the enticing temptation of Lucifer “ye shall be as gods?”

How does God create a person like Paul, having the innate high intelligence and superb people-skills to fulfill the enormously difficult calling to evangelize the first-century Mediterranean world, yet possessing the humility to recognize, understand, and accept the loving intention of God wrapped up in the concept of “For I think that God hath set forth us, the apostles, last” (1 Cor. 4:9).

The uniquely brilliant way that God has overcome this creative dilemma is to invent a vehicle called an adventure of faith involving the supernatural participation of God in the events and circumstances of our lives, centered around the timeless demonstration of perfect, unselfish love featured in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is how God can supernaturally manufacture godly people who can make the character leap to becoming the father of faith, the governor of Egypt, a king of Israel, a missionary evangelist in the first century, or even the Son of God Himself flawlessly demonstrating these characteristics as the Passover Lamb of God Savior for the entire world, without developing an inflated ego and a swelled head.

The people of faith in the Bible rise to the occasion of becoming capable of an intimate and fulfilling relationship with God amidst their God-composed life-scripts, without falling into the destructive self-worship of their own abilities and talents, because the adventure of faith invented by God contains the element of seemingly insurmountable adversity which separates us from self-sovereignty.  This accurately describes the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the essence of the cross.

The characters of faith in the Bible cannot reach their destinations through worldly conventional scenarios.  It is the uniquely supernatural elements of the cross applied to the events in our lives that produces the God-desired outcome of gifted and talented people that God can have meaningful fellowship with, who also independently understand and appreciate the issues behind freely choosing righteousness and self-sacrificing love, instead of self-centered, self-worship.

This is the narrow-gate aspect of the cross of Jesus Christ that is inaccessible and incomprehensible to the world.

Fulfilling our calling like Joseph, David, and Paul is not accomplished by going around God in a self-autonomous, worldly conventional effort.  Nothing supernatural happens using this approach.  Fulfilling our unique callings and actualizing God’s intended character growth for each one of us, no matter what our particular gifts, talents, and circumstances…is accomplished by going directly through God.  It is the supernatural participation of God in the circumstances and events of our lives, above and beyond conventional wisdom…that adds the purpose, meaning, and richness to a walk of faith with Jesus Christ.

A biblical-quality journey of faith removes the element of pride because it is God’s plan, not ours.  There is no room for knee-jerk pushback, stubborn resistance to change, or the prideful protection of our established turf of doing things our way, when we surrender our leadership position to God as commander of the expedition.

When our plans are entirely displaced by God-composed life-scripts, we follow God’s leadership in faith and trust that leaves no room for pride-filled self-adulation.

As previewed in the God-composed life-scripts of the people of faith in the Bible, the end-times Christian church needs to become last, like Paul, within the seemingly impossible context of the tribulation events (Mt. 24:9-14; Jn. 16:33) to be able to experience and exhibit the divine character traits of humility, love, forbearance, and forgiveness.

At the beginning of the end-times tribulation…in my opinion…the Christian church does not need escape.  At the beginning of the tribulation the church needs the supernatural infusion of God in our lives that will produce the biblical quality of faith that can say along with Job: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).

Paul’s statement in this obscure and seldom taught 1 Corinthians 4:9 verse about his thinking that God has set forth himself and his colleagues the apostles as last, is actually one of the most powerful and instructive statements in all of the Bible.

Paul is most effective in his outreach of the transforming power of the gospel message that can change a person from a life of sin and darkness into a new creature “in Christ” full of spiritual light and love, when Paul himself is least worldly-esteemed as an earthen clay pot emptied of the self-adoration of his own gifts and talents.

Paul is operating at his highest and best use for service in the kingdom of God, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, when God has set him forth in the eyes of the world as last.

This is one of the keys to understanding our spiritual condition in the last-days when Christians will be hated of all nations (Mt. 24:9) and when the Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-29).