The Way of the Cross

The biblical reality is that Jesus rejected the subtly counterfeit offer tendered by Satan of all of the kingdoms, wealth, and glory of the world, in the temptation in the wilderness, because these things already belonged to Jesus (Mt. 4:8-10).

Jesus is the singularly unique Person of “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The prince of Peace”…of Isaiah 9:6-7, even though He is found in the humble status of being a carpenter from Nazareth without any worldly-recognized, lofty pedigree to His credit.

The life-script composed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for Jesus to be the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world …is so far above the inflated and over-valued offer of Satan to try to tempt Jesus with the temporary allure of the power and glory of this world…that if this offer was not presented with the intention of such universal collateral damage to the human race in mind, fueled by the most deadly malice…it would be almost laughable.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33), does not say “and all these things shall be withheld from you.”

Paul says in Philippians 4:11 “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Peter expresses this well in the closing to his first epistle: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet. 5:10).

An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that every single one…without exception…has nothing to do with achieving success in a purely worldly sense.

There is not a single storyline in a God-composed life-script in the Bible that chronicles a pathway, no matter how admirable and commendable in keeping with the “Protestant work ethic,” to worldly success, wealth, personal renown, and comfortable security (Lk. 12:16-21).

On the contrary, every biblical narrative story of faith is located at the elevated level of an adventure of faith far above the conventionally normative plans and aims of everyday life.

It is not that God dismisses these aspirations and responsibilities as unimportant…”your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” (Lk. 12:30).

It is simply that in a totally committed adventure of faith God has all of the practical necessities of life factored into the equation that will produce a divinely elevated outcome (Phil. 4:13).

This applies equally to Christian medical missionary doctors in the Amazon rainforest, Christian CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, highly paid professional athletes, and to the elementary school janitor with a wife and two kids struggling to make ends meet.

Jesus did not die on the cross to give us lives of horizontally conventional normalcy (Rom. 6:3-4).  The biblical narrative stories of faith are anything but conventionally normal.  Jesus died on the cross, and rose the third day, to procure for us an adventure of faith.  Jesus died for us that we might live a life divinely guided by purpose, meaning, and love for God and for one another (Jn. 10:10).

That every single biblical narrative story of faith soars far above worldly conventional normalcy is a key to placing the highest value upon journeys of faith that Jesus purchased with His own blood on the cross of Calvary to actualize for each one of us.

As blood-bought and Spirit-born Christians today we should not allow any of the cultural challenges of radically skeptical unbelief to undercut or diminish in any way this priceless heritage of our journey of faith following Jesus Christ.

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are masterpieces of incalculable value.

Above the creativity of a Rembrandt, DiVinci, or Renoir…they are living portraits of real people engaged in the most challenging and beneficial pursuits conceived out of the very heart and mind of God.

Above the artistry of a Beethoven, Chopin, or Brahms…biblical journeys of faith combine events and circumstances into perfect harmony, pace, and rhythm to produce compositions of rare beauty and lasting interest.

The lives of the people of faith in the Bible touch us at our deepest longings for truth, virtue, and the sure peace of inner conviction, in a world where the true directional compass for the guidance of our spirit and soul is hard to find amongst a multitude of competing voices and alternative pathways to follow.

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible tell us that there can be real meaning, purpose, direction, and risk-filled adventure to our lives.  They tell us that there is a living God who wants to take an active role in the events and circumstances of our lives to help us find out who and what we were created to be.

These biblical stories describe a God of brilliantly creative imagination combined with an insightfully piercing grasp of moral and ethical standards at the peak of truthfulness, yet with the enduring patience and forbearance of a wise and loving parent (Mt. 6:9-13).

God wants to partner with us to help us find our true selves and to perfect our unique place in eternity, through what this book calls the Christian danger zone of faith.

The Callings of God in the End-Times

In Paul’s message to the many Christian converts in the churches he founded across the Greco-Roman world in the first- century, nowhere does Paul instruct these Christians to “pull-up stakes,” gather up their belongings, and to “hit the road” as missionary evangelists in imitation of his own unique calling of God.

Except for those very few who were called-out to join Paul for some portion of his missionary travels, and those in the future who might be called to the mission field, it was expected that these Christians in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica would carry on in their professions and trades in the commendable “occupy til I come” mode (Lk. 19:13).

The fruits of the Spirit as enumerated by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23…such as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance…have no connection to some special once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to a sacred mountain or some holy shrine.

They are obtained by Christians through daily walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).

This we can do right where we find ourselves, through prayer, Bible study, listening to God, and stepping-out in obedience to His voice…none of which necessarily requires going anywhere special or doing anything grandiose through self-energized good works.

Becoming a transformed new person “in Christ” ready to share our testimony (1 Peter 3:15) and following Jesus by faith (Jn. 6:29) is the foundation for a life pleasing to God.

In other words, we do not have to have a spectacular calling and a renowned ministry to please God.

All of the things that are typically considered commendable and admirable…financially supporting our families, performing our best at work, investing time in our marriages, raising our children with wisdom, love, and patience, being a good friend, and setting an example to the world of what a Christian man or woman of God ought to be, amongst several other similar things, are all endeavors which without question or controversy please God and make Him proud of us.

I believe that some of the larger realities of life…building a good marriage, raising children, and pursuing excellence in our chosen careers…already have built-in journeys of faith pre-written into them.

These are pre-scripted, ready to use, out-of-the-box vehicles the Holy Spirit can use to lead people into the “all truth” of John 16:13….challenging, complex, and needing the participation of God in our lives…just as much as a calling to become Christian missionaries in parts of Africa, New Guinea, or Nepal.

Applied Faith is Historically Jewish and Christian

I would like to make one final point before moving on, and it is a critical point in understanding this area of our motivation to take up the cross.

Jesus could not succeed and win over the religious and political leadership in Jerusalem in the first-century…because the gulf between worldly conventional thinking and a God-composed journey of faith…is a gap too wide to bridge (Jn. 8:43).

The religious leaders in Jerusalem unwittingly fulfilled the messianic prophecies of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 in crucifying Jesus…precisely because of the historic, unchanging reality of this wide gulf.

They could do no other than to reject the lowly yet miracle-working Jesus of Nazareth, because their mindset and hearts were stuck in the flat-line status-quo realm of worldly expectations alone, worshipping at the safe idol of conventional normalcy rather than the risk-filled, Abraham-style adventure of faith.

By contrast, in Luke 10:17 the story is told of the returning seventy disciples sent out to minister two-by-two: “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name.”

These ordinary, common-folk disciples are seen here as excited and overjoyed at the possibilities arising in this new elevated realm of faith in God and in beneficial service to mankind.

Counterintuitively, the leading Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers in Israel in the first-century couldn’t care less about the teaching or the miracles of Jesus.  They did not care about healing the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, and those afflicted with leprosy (Mt. 9:12-13).

They only wanted to know from Jesus: “what are you going to do about the Romans occupying our country?” and “what are you going to do about our economy…about improving trade and business…and especially about peace and an eternal kingdom in Jerusalem?”

These religious leaders basically said through their words and their actions throughout the four New Testament gospels: “we do not care about your Sermon on the Mount or raising Lazarus from the dead…we care only about the horizontally conventional aspects of worldly political power” (Jn. 11:47-48).

A God-composed journey of faith life-script, following God by faith according to the uniquely singular Jewish tradition of Abraham, was oddly and disappointingly the farthest thing from their hearts and minds (Jn. 8:23).

When Jesus stands before Caiaphas and the religious leaders at His night trial, the basic question at issue about the ministry of Jesus is: “whom makest thou thyself?” (Jn. 8:53).

The messenger was being attacked (ad hominem) rather than the message.

The cross, the resurrection, and Pentecost had not happened yet.

The resurrection, which would change everything from that time forward for all eternity, was yet four days away.

Jesus was being unwisely judged solely by His lack of worldly status up to that point in time.

The wide gulf between “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33) and “what do you plan to do about the Roman occupation of our nation Israel?”…in other words Isaiah 9:6-7 as interpreted by these religious leaders…was center-stage and fully on trial…as it still is to this day. 

Spiritual vision…the ability or inability to see Jesus for who He is…is the real issue that was on trial that fateful night two thousand years ago.

The main point here is expressed by Paul (someone personally and intimately familiar with the basic issues in question) in Romans 8:6-7…”For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

If we attempt to follow the Law through our own self-directed carnal mind…if we attempt to save ourselves through our own good works…without the benefit of a new spiritual heart that enables us to enter into a divinely crafted journey of faith…we will fall short.

Jesus was considered a failure and was crucified, by the religious leaders and a portion of the general populace…because He was operating far above the horizontal realm of worldly conventional thinking and living.

An elevated journey of faith powered by God, and carnally-minded conventional thinking, are incompatible at a lethally explosive level when perfectly expressed through Jesus Christ the Son of God walking through this broken world…which is blindly lost in sin.

If the life of Abraham was about fulfilling horizontally conventional normalcy, Abraham could have stayed safely in Haran.

Abraham courageously journeys out into an adventure of faith following God into the Promised Land.

                The cross at Calvary not only epitomizes the rejection of Jesus Christ, but also a rejection of a God-led, Abraham-quality expedition of faith central to Judaism and Christianity.

When Abraham walked the earth he was not only the father of faith…but also the sole entirety of the Jewish nation.

A journey of faith after the pattern of Abraham is therefore exclusively Jewish by origin and definition.

When the leaders in Jerusalem rejected Jesus in favor of continuing worldly conventional normalcy in the political and religious realms (Jn. 11:48), when they rejected an adventure of faith patterned after Abraham, they were in the most profound and concrete way being un-Jewish (Rom. 9:6-7).

The rejection of Jesus as messiah is an emphatic endorsement of worldly horizontal, conventional normalcy because it is a rejection of the bold and liberated adventures of biblical-quality faith starting with Abraham.

Acts 13:27 reads: “For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.”

Their tragic vision was so horizontally limited they could not recognize the divinity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…right before their very eyes (1 Cor. 2:6-8).  They were stuck in the self-autonomy mode of going our own way.

This is why in the area of motivation it is imperative that Spirit-born Christians take up their cross and “enter in at the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14) of our God-composed adventures of faith.

Every Spirit-born Christian is in the narrow gate and no longer on the broad road to destruction.  The new covenant promise of God is that all believers will know Him from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:31-34).  The way of the cross in a journey of faith is the God ordained route to rise above worldly conventional thinking and into the realm where all things are possible with God.

We cannot possibly write the life-script of experiences that will bring us into a personal relationship with God.  We cannot possibly know ourselves well enough in-the-moment, using divinely wise foresight like God possesses, to be able to craft a life-plan that will actualize our individual destiny.

We cannot creatively imagine a life-script for ourselves to match the innovative brilliance of life-plans like those of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Ruth, Hannah, Esther, Daniel, Peter, James, John, Philip, and Paul…producing personal character growth and at the same time filling a cultural and historical niche in time that is outside of the range of our short-sighted, wide-angle vision.

This is why the Spirit-born Christian today must abandon self-sovereignty, take up their cross, and begin their journey of faith following Jesus Christ…building a backstory of faith-generating experiences that form the basis for overcoming faith as described in Hebrews chapter 11, Ephesians 6:11-18, and Revelation 12:11.

My Story

I cannot speak for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Ruth, Hannah, Huldah, David, Elijah, or Luke the physician and the writer of the third New Testament gospel and the book of Acts, as to their personal reasons for deciding to follow God.

For me, upon hearing the gospel message for the first time and being convicted of my sin…at age 18…I was amazed first that God was real and second that He knew all about me.

I was also amazed that He did not condemn me but was offering forgiveness for all of my past mistakes and wrongdoings, wrapped within a quality of encouraging, optimistic, and unconditional love I had never before encountered.

In a way I cannot adequately describe, I acutely sensed that this was my Creator speaking directly to me, showing me lovingly how and where I was coming up short in His estimation, and offering a way out of sin and a way into a new life through the cross and the resurrection of Christ.

The additional realization over time, after my conversion, that God thought enough of me to reveal to me His plan for my life, sealed my commitment to take up the cross and to follow Jesus through a mixture of respect, admiration, and a deep curiosity to see how a walk of faith with God would actually work out.

I sensed that it was not just merely okay, but was actually expected and encouraged of me, by faith to put God’s higher ways to the test.

My curiosity about the ways of God, starting out in my new walk of faith, in my case made up for the lack of high character or natural talent in godliness…that I did not and do not innately possess.

Passion, dedication, and tenacity in my own unique journey of faith…came later with time.

But everyone possesses and can begin their journey of faith exercising healthy curiosity about God…and to have a willing and open-mind to accept the offer of Jesus…recorded in John 16:13.

With my Christian conversion experience I also felt an equally indescribable, secure, and solid sense of hope that whatever God had planned for my future it would no longer be aimless, unguided, and missing the mark.

The nagging sense of the empty insecurity of not knowing the right way…that something important was missing in my life…left me entirely when Jesus entered my life.

The higher ways of God are infinitely more hope-filled than anything this world can invent or offer.  A God-composed journey of faith is the one and the only thing in all of reality that offers genuine hope in this current life.

An equally important factor in “selling” the positives features of taking up our cross to follow Jesus is that in our journey of faith, no matter how challenging in the present moment, we have the very real sense that we do not walk alone.  Not only are we “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), but we also carry within us the very real and tangible peace of God which comes with having Jesus with us and inside us at each step of the way (Rev. 3:20).

No matter how challenging the temporary circumstances of the present journey, if we can get quiet and still in our “prayer closet” before God, we sense the uplifting encouragement that Jesus knows the one right way to go.

Accepting the Invitation

One of the challenges of writing a book like this is the very real obstacle of trying to “sell” the idea that the way of the cross is not something to avoid…is not a negative (1 Cor. 1:18-24).

The way of the cross is not a take-it-or-leave-it option for the true disciple of Jesus Christ, today or in the long ago past.

At issue is not some Christianized version of the worldly warped and totally inaccurate viewpoint that God wants to steal our fun by forbidding the pleasures of sin…that God is somehow a cosmic killjoy with strict rules and a bag full of “don’t do this or that.”

The way of the cross is at the highest imaginable level, the best possible path to take in life because it removes our mediocre way and replaces it with something infinitely and eternally better.

The not-so-obvious difficulty here is that taking up our cross for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mk. 8:34-35) has an unspoken, justifiably negative connotation.

Picking up our cross is not picking up our golf clubs, our bicycle, our fishing pole and tackle-box, or our slow-pitch softball gear.  Taking up our cross and heading off toward Calvary Hill means that we will be crucified.

But if the cross of Jesus Christ set us free from sin and gave us the gift of eternal life, how then can the way of the cross, applied to our own lives, be a negative?

If every narrative story of faith in the Bible has God displacing our ways with His higher ways through the way of the cross…without exception…how can taking up our cross be anything other than the greatest thing that could possibly happen in the lives of born-again, Spirit-led Christians (Heb. 12:1-2)?

Of course Abraham the wealthy herdsman, recently relocated to the land of Canaan…the “Land of Promise” inaugurating the first biblical journey of faith…wants a large family of sons and daughters…a tent full of laughter, joy, and fulfillment.

But God reshapes the normal aspirations of Abraham into something much larger and grander in becoming the “father of faith” that fathers millions upon millions…like the number of stars visible in the night sky…of direct and indirect descendants of faith that will each shine in the glory of their own journeys of faith, like starlight for all eternity.

But the cost involved in Abraham’s beautifully crafted, purpose-filled walk of faith is to let go of his own way…by faith…to create the space for challenging trust and patience in God’s higher ways to be put into action.

As a teenager growing up in Canaan, Joseph is bursting with the knowledge that he has innate leadership abilities.

But only God can set-up a tightly focused training regime and an unimaginably improbable scenario of events that leads not to Joseph capably managing the family sheep herding enterprise in Canaan according to horizontally conventional expectations, but instead managing the entire nation of Egypt as ruling governor during a massive crisis having a divine trajectory and eternal implications.

At the time only God had the prophetic foresight to see all of this.

Certainly Moses wants to engineer the deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt.  This imperative is an innate, conscious calling for Moses from his youth (Ex. 2:10; Acts 7:25).

But there is no plausible, worldly conventional scenario whereby Moses can achieve this goal.

Moses cannot raise a foreign army strong enough to militarily defeat Pharaoh’s army and set the Israelites free.  Moses cannot devise an effective program of non-violent protest combined with elegantly persuasive speech to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians to “let my people go.”

The only force on earth strong enough to liberate the Jewish people from bondage as slaves in Egypt is the living God.

The God-composed life-script for Moses “the deliverer” and for the divinely created nation of Israel…is beyond human invention…far above anything Moses or the Israelites could imagine or actualize.

The way of the cross in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible and in the lives of Christians “walking in the Spirit” today…is deeper, fuller, and overflowing with purpose and meaning beyond anything we could imagine or cause to come into reality…no matter how high or how humble the actual path may be at any one particular time in our lives.

An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that God does not sell the benefits of His callings to the people of faith through an upfront, give-and-take process of negotiation.

God already knows ahead of time that placing loving faith and confidence in us that conveys our priceless worth to Him as individuals…will capture our devotion when it is met with a corresponding measure of faith in God on our part.

People hear God’s call, and with allowances given to their understandably human reservations about their fitness and capacity to be able to comply with the magnitude of their missions (Ex. 4:10; Jud. 6:15; 1 Sam. 10:22; 1 Ki. 3:7; Jer. 1:6; Jon. 1:3; Lk. 5:8), they take up their callings and willingly follow God.

Following the Law

Following the Law alone…the Torah…the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament ordinances…carries the very real risk of falling back into self-autonomy…of creating our own rationalized ways of measuring up to our own standards for judging our performance.

But a biblical-quality journey of faith, divinely crafted out of the mind of God, offers no such option for wiggle-room manipulation on our part…because a God-composed journey of faith has a definite life-script storyline…a plotline…with a premeditated, end-point outcome having a pathway of intended events and circumstances that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount as the “narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14).

In other words, if we have the whole program in the form of the 613 Mosaic laws of the Old Testament…if the entirety of the information package of our religious experience is in our possession…we then have the ability to tweak,  adjust, and moderate the more difficult elements to suit ourselves. 

But a biblical-quality, God-composed journey of faith that is revealed to us incrementally as we travel along our faith-journey (2 Cor. 5:7; Jer. 33:3)…does not always allow us to see too far ahead and thus tempt us to take an alternate detour- path because the true path gets narrow, steep, and seemingly “dangerous” to our conventionally limited way of thinking.

This is a part of the incredible genius of God-composed journeys of faith as recorded in the Bible…as guiding templates of instruction for our own journeys of faith.

While Moses and the Israelites were in their wilderness journey they were collectively, as a group, all experiencing an adventure of faith…momentarily bereft of their own individual plans and schemes…and as a result of their shared common goal of recapturing their Promised Land of Canaan…they had no other worldly conventional choice than to give all of themselves to God.

The unacceptable alternative would be to go back to Egypt.

It was their learned-faith in God in the hardships of the desert wilderness that enabled the Israelites to go on to conquer their promised homeland.  It was learned-faith in the middle of an adventure of faith that enabled them to eventually capture their destiny…through trust in God…a new-found confidence in themselves…and uplifting adherence to a divine set of laws and rules.

Even though from time-to-time, overcoming faith pops up in the numerous deliverances during the period of the judges in Israel, during the reigns of godly kings, and during the times of prophets like Samuel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, yet the Jews over time fell back into following the Law exclusively and forgot about their divinely sanctioned, universal access to the adventures of faith patterned in the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David.

It is much easier in terms of our self-willed, humanistic bent to follow laws, rules, and religious practices that we can conveniently tweak, manipulate, and interpret to suit ourselves, than it is to step-out into the unknowns of a risky journey of faith not of our own making… that has a divinely crafted storyline of definite trajectory, direction, and intention…that cannot be toyed with.

We see this in the biblical narrative stories of faith in both the Old and New Testaments.

When viewed in the context of the fundamental purpose behind all of our efforts in many fields of research and in the arts…to find purpose in life…this concept of a God-invented journey of faith…leading to an understanding of the knowledge of good and evil that simply eating the fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden could not possibly fully achieve…rises to the very top of all philosophy, science, history, politics, economics, and religion.

By the practice of following Torah alone (easily susceptible to becoming corrupted into autonomous self-rulership apart from God) the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus…sadly and tragically missed the target…dynamic and actualized faith following God.

The Jews were supposed to do both…follow the Law and walk in individually personalized, God-composed journeys of faith.

In missing the all-important half…an adventure of faith…these Jews in the first-century time of Jesus were in the most profound way missing their special heritage of personally experiencing the faith journey of Abraham the “father of faith.”

Spirit-born Christians today must be careful not to make the same mistake by exclusively following institutional Christian church practices as their sole experience, while neglecting a genuine adventure of faith following Jesus Christ after the pattern of God-composed life-scripts recorded for us in the pages of the Bible.

One Old Testament Example of the Danger Zone of Faith

When Joseph stands before Pharaoh in Egypt, interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and presenting the God-inspired plan to manage the upcoming great famine, Joseph has no worldly-based grounds for an optimistic expectation (unless God told Joseph ahead-of-time what to expect as part of the dream interpretation) that Pharaoh would stoop low enough to choose him as a non-Egyptian to run the entire operation (Gen. 41:33).

Joseph’s thinking at that moment probably only goes far enough to hope that Pharaoh will be grateful to the point of granting Joseph’s release from prison.

But to Joseph’s utter surprise and amazement, Pharaoh then wisely proceeds to make Joseph “ruler over all the land of Egypt” and to put on Joseph’s hand his own ring as a sign of the authority Pharaoh was transferring to Joseph (Gen. 41:38-44).

Joseph is now solely in charge of managing the collection of the vast food supplies needed in Egypt in preparation for the great famine ahead.  This sets up in the very near future the reality of the events and circumstances for the fulfillment of the two prophetic dreams given to Joseph several years before in Canaan (Gen. 37:5-11).

But the point here, in terms of the danger zone of a journey of faith, is that Joseph has unknowingly paid the price in advance of this previously unexpected and unimaginable event…to instantly step-up into becoming an effective leader of the nation of Egypt in a crisis…through a brilliantly imaginative, God-composed apprenticeship in management, leadership, and humility in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s prison.

Joseph is fully prepared and ready for his unique destiny through a divinely composed and revealed game-plan having far-reaching implications extending thousands of years into the future (Gen. 12:2; 15:13-15) which he could never have engineered through human inventive imagination or contrivance.  Divine foresight and premeditated planning-ahead are all over this story of the life of Joseph, beyond what human literary creativity could or would invent.

A God-composed journey of faith life-script asks us to give our all through the unfolding over time of a risk-filled scheme not of our own creation, not only to fulfill our own destiny but also to help other people through our self-sacrifice.

This concept of the giving up of some portion of our claim to worldly conventional normalcy, which is interwoven into the fabric of our journey of faith, in the end gives back far more, through selfless service to other people and also to ourselves, than we could ever have imagined.

This is a central theme portrayed in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

This is a part of what motivates people of faith to willingly choose to live out a God-composed life-plan according to a higher calling, sometimes with huge risks and at great personal cost, come-what-may.

Bringing Forth Much Fruit

Jesus is recorded as saying in John 12:24…”Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

In my opinion, the biblical danger zone of faith…where God displaces our way with His own unique and innovative life-script containing all of the elements of a biblical narrative story of faith…has not been articulated well-enough in terms of its universal application to every Spirit-born Christian.

“There is more than a grain of truth in G. K. Chesterton’s observation that Christianity has not been ‘tried and found wanting’ but ‘found difficult and never tried’.”[1]

I believe this is one of the final pieces of the gospel message of the new covenant…that our worldly normative, conventional goals and aspirations must fall into the ground and die before we can bear much fruit…that this is a fundamental biblical truth…expressed throughout the biblical narrative stories of faith…which is still remaining to be fully recovered from the Protestant Reformation (Jer. 31:31-34).

This concept of falling into the ground and dying as a prerequisite to producing much fruit…as the God-invented pathway into a knowledge of good and evil…sanctified for all time by the death and resurrection of Christ…is not a negative…is not a route to be avoided at all costs…as the worldly conventional thinking of humanism would assert.

A God-composed journey of faith life-script rises above worldly conventional normalcy…not below.

It is the “new normal” of godly living which predates modern theology, scholarship, and philosophy by thousands of years…starting with Abraham.  It is a concept that requires the participation of the one, true, living God…and at its outset at the beginning of human history… soars to the heights of moral reasoning.

The biblical narrative stories of faith produce a “father of faith,” a governor of Egypt, a deliverer of a nation in bondage, remarkable men and women judges ruling the land, a prophet from birth, a militarily mighty and poetic king, powerful prophets having varied callings and missions, ordinary fishermen who evangelized the world, and an apostle…Paul…to the Greco-Roman world in the first-century…who came from the most contrary background as is imaginable.

This incredibly innovative and unconventional concept to life of something falling into the ground and dying to produce much fruit…God’s ways displacing our ways…applies to being a parent, school teacher, local town mayor, policeman or policewoman, soldier, college president, college student, lawyer, architect, civil engineer, professional athlete, automobile mechanic, aerospace engineer, scientist, landscape groundskeeper, politician, church pastor, foreign missionary, social worker, and every other imaginable, lawful, and commendable endeavor.

A God-composed and managed journey of faith is the most exhilarating and fulfilling adventure possible in this life.

I believe this concept…of every Christian stepping into their adventure of faith life-script…will come into clearer focus…and become a universally understood and experienced reality in Christendom…as we approach the upcoming tumultuous events of the end-times.

[1] Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999): 149.

The Christian Danger Zone of Faith 2

Just Different…not Weak

Like the first-century dispute answered well by Jesus about the resurrection of the dead (Mk. 12:26-27)…in plain sight hidden just below the surface within the discourse between God and Moses at the burning bush familiar to every Jew in that day (Ex. 3:6)…this simple truth discussed here about the committed Christian entering into a journey of faith that requires guts, courage, and determination…again is hiding right out there in plain sight for us in the New Testament scriptures.

For example, conventional wisdom would strongly council Jesus to stay away from Jerusalem for several months or even years for His own safety (Jn. 11:8).

But Jesus is not living His life according to conventional wisdom.  Jesus is perfectly living a God-composed walk of faith as the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for mankind’s sins (Jn. 5:30).

This brilliantly engineered life-scheme…jointly composed by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit…eons of time ago (Rev. 13:8)…does not fall anywhere within worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…because it has a singularly unique storyline…applicable only to Jesus the divine Son of God…and to no one else.

It soars above horizontally conventional imagination (1 Cor. 1:25).  For this reason it is beyond the capacity of human literary invention…and must therefore be of divine origin.

These exact same things can be said of every biblical narrative story of faith…in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Jesus goes back to Jerusalem that fateful Passover week, is crucified on Friday, and rises from the tomb on Sunday morning to become the author of salvation to all those who will place their faith in Him.

The life of Jesus, especially concerning the dramatic events leading up to and culminating at Calvary and then Easter morning…are as foreign to worldly acceptable expectations and aspirations of conventionally normal life…as is possible.

How then can disciples…genuine followers of Jesus Christ today…be mislabeled as being weak?

The correctly accurate label is different…not weak.

Different can be good…can sometimes be better.

The mislabeling of Christian faith in God as being weak…has no upside, positive connotation.

Jesus Christ was rejected and crucified because He was different…as prophesied centuries earlier in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22…as we would and should expect the God/man Jesus Christ…the Son of God to be different…looking back today from the perspective of hindsight.

Yet we see not a hint of weakness throughout the entire life and ministry of Jesus…especially during His trial, crown of thorns, scourging, and crucifixion.

It took the most sublime guts and courage, walking along the most unconventionally unexpected life-path, to be the Savior of the world…to be Jesus Christ.

It takes a similar measure of guts and courage to likewise be a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ in the first-century and today…to pick up our own cross to follow Jesus…as patterned for us in the four New Testament gospels and the book of Acts.

Listen to the powerful, uninhibited words spoken by Peter standing before the governing Jewish Sanhedrin council…at the risk of his life…recorded in Acts 4:8-12:

8  Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,

9  If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made well;

10  Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

11  This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

12  Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

The underlying go-for-broke…devil-may-care…liberated boldness and precision supporting these brilliantly concise words regarding the Person and resurrection of Jesus Christ…were energized by the Holy Spirit…set in motion entirely through the supernatural works of God alone.

The on-the-edge-of-the-precipice adventure of faith ride that Peter and John are experiencing at this moment…engineered by God…is the diametric opposite of the definition of being weak.

Peter and John are basically saying to the Sanhedrin council…”Go ahead and stone us…we do not care.  This is the truth…we are going to speak it…and if this brings about our death…so be it.”

The events of the rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection that Peter is speaking about…first and foremost…are exclusively crafted, shaped, and channeled by God (Isa. 53:3; Ps. 22:16; Ps. 16:10).

The entire scenario of the crippled man healed at the gate of the temple, leading to this momentous confrontation between the old and the new at the beginning of the new covenant Christian church in Jerusalem…is totally set-up and manufactured by God.

Peter is not testifying here, before the Sanhedrin council in Jerusalem, about anything that he has done, using worldly wisdom or cleverly persuasive oratory.  The message, power of conviction, and clarity by which Peter speaks are inspired and energized by the Holy Spirit.

The transforming, step-by-step forward progression of the culminating events of Peter’s early discipleship phase, tell us about the perilous but liberating danger zone of faith where the living God may take us…outside of the relatively safe harbor of going our own ways…if we surrender all to follow after God in faith.

Peter’s denial of Christ in the courtyard (Lk. 22:61-62), his personal interview with the risen Jesus on resurrection morning (Lk 24:34), to “I go a fishing” (Jn. 21:3) and “Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:16), the command to wait in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4), and the stupendous breakthrough on Pentecost (Acts 2), is the miraculous story of a God-made man.

Only God has the capacity to create a God-made man…or woman.  Only God has the divine, creative imagination and loving motivation to invent such a context of unconventional events and circumstances wherein changed people…having new spiritually re-born hearts…can function and excel in the areas of truth, love, and courage…at an elevated level of character like no other real-life examples in human history.

No humanistic program on earth could or would do this.

It takes real guts and courage to follow Jesus into a danger- zone of faith adventure…that is outside the safe familiarity of worldly conventional normalcy.

If we could see Jesus present and looking on at the scene of Peter and John courageously defending the new gospel message before the Sanhedrin, we might see Him off to one side at “stage right” with the unmistakable look of loving pride and satisfaction on His face at the progress in character these two young men, starting out as mere fishermen, had made in so short a time.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John were stepping up into the role Jesus had trained them for, and the world would never be the same again.

This is what a biblical-quality journey of faith is designed to accomplish.

This is what The Christian Danger Zone of Faith can achieve, in world-shaking non-conformity, far above the horizontally safe expectations of worldly conventional mediocrity (Rom. 12:2; Acts 17:6).

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.

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