Spiritual Pride Needs a Context 3

We Are Emissaries of the King         

It might be well to pause for a moment of reflection here.

The apostles were in the inner circle of being disciples of the Creator of the Universe, the eternal Word of God.  Yet none of these men showed signs in their subsequent early church ministries of trying to cash-in on their relationship with Jesus Christ to make something of themselves.

The same can be said of the prophets in the Old Testament.  The price-tag of being in the confidence of the Almighty God is having the high character trait of selflessness, of being willing to be trustworthy and dependable agents of the king…of not seeking our own interests.

Imagine the privilege and responsibility of being called to be even a “minor” prophet in the Old Testament by God Himself…to be trusted with God’s message and mission to take to other people.

This requires the highest character in conformity to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  Serving God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is traveling in the highest company.

To aspire to this requires the most sober humility in a human being.  Being entrusted to take God’s redemptive message of life out into a broken world is a serious endeavor, allowing no room for self-adulation or personal acclaim.  This is the lesson in placing a small, innocent child in the midst of the disciples, as an example of the correct selfless spirit in serving God faithfully in any capacity.

People will try to push people up in Christendom (Jn. 6:15).

If I am “somebody” this does absolutely nothing for you.  Only if Jesus is somebody important in our lives does something happen for the good.  The right approach is to lift up Jesus, not people.  Being a selfless servant of God is what produces eternally beneficial results.

Every Christian should be on guard and aware of spiritual pride.  In everything we do, but especially in our Christian service, we should remember the insightfully classic words of the Greek Gentiles seeking an audience with Jesus by approaching Philip during the Passover feast in Jerusalem: “Sir, we would see Jesus” (Jn. 12:21).

As professing Christians, we should always be pointing people’s vision toward Jesus and away from ourselves.

Spiritual Pride Needs a Context 2

The Pride of Life is Not of the Father (1 John 2:16)

What gets people into trouble in terms of pride is that they want more than Jesus.  Human nature wants Jesus plus worldly recognition and acceptance.  We want Jesus plus the moniker of outwardly visible success.

The problem with a genuine biblical walk of faith with God is that there isn’t anything honorable, pure, holy, or commendable beyond Jesus.  Wanting more leads to the dispute of the apostles as they journeyed toward Jerusalem as to who should be the greatest.

At that precise moment in time, the apostles possessed Jesus in the form of an intimate, accessible, physical person more than anyone has enjoyed in history.  Yet they wanted more according to their fallen human natures.  This character flaw had to be corrected if the new Christian church was to survive, flourish, and grow.

Paul honestly admitted that there was a part of him that “would desire to glory” (2 Cor. 12:6).  In Romans 7:15-25, Paul talks about the conflict of his two natures, the one that delights in the law of God after the inward man, and the other that attempts to bring him into captivity to the law of sin in his members.

Also in Romans 12:3, Paul warns “every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

John 7:17-18 reads “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.  He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh His glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.”

For every Christian who is serving God in some capacity, there is a daily decision or bent of the heart to seek His glory and/or our own glory.  The Holy Spirit reveals to us the spiritual pride that would tempt us to take what God has provided to us in terms of wisdom and light to use for our own glory.

How do we rid ourselves of this tendency to seek recognition, attention, and acclaim for ourselves?  The answer is to constantly remind ourselves to ask God to give us the strength and wisdom to “seek His glory that sent us”…to stay within the parameters of our mission as agents of the King…to stay within our calling as servant-leaders.

The context within which we live and work has a lot to do with how well we can resist the urge to dispute along the road who should be the greatest, and conversely how well we can focus instead upon being a “servant to all.”  Being caught up within the center of God’s life-script mission for us provides the protective context that wards off destructive spiritual pride.

Being focused and dependent upon God’s leading…takes our eyes off ourselves.

Every person has to examine his/her own motives.  When the Holy Spirit puts a person forward as a preacher, evangelist, prophet, scholar, teacher, Christian movie-maker, or writer, then God is present to provide the measure of humility that is needed.  This is what He did for the apostles after they disputed who would be the greatest.  The last thing that God wants is for a Christian to reach the level of being able to serve and then fall to the temptation of spiritual pride that brought down Lucifer.

Entering in at the narrow gate (Mt. 7:13-14) does not allow for Jesus plus worldly validation, acceptance, or acclaim.  Our mission is to allow Jesus to glorify Himself in and through us in whatever we do.  The correct spiritual equation of a walk of faith…is Jesus minus the need or desire for worldly recognition, validation, or acclaim.  Unappreciated, unnoticed, thankless, humble, under-the-radar-screen service to God, when possible, is the safest spiritual place to be in Christian ministry.

Did Peter or Paul have to deal with the “advanced billing” of an exalted reputation that preceded them when they traveled to a new city to teach and preach?  Of course they did.  That is the reality of human nature.  The secular city at large may not have heard of Peter or Paul, but the local Christian church looked forward with anticipation and “pride” that a great apostle (someone who had personally seen and heard Jesus Christ) was coming to speak to them.

Paul tells us how he stayed focused with the correct attitude.  He told the Corinthians: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Paul told the Galatians: “But God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Paul actually says in 1 Corinthians 4:9 that God “hath set forth us, the apostles, last”…in order to establish and maintain a humble context for evangelical outreach…starting with the apostles at the bottom floor of the social scale…allowing for the broadest possible sweep of lost sinners into the kingdom of God.

Nearly every Christian at some time or another has heard the phrase or the concept “empty vessel for God’s use,” meaning that a person has been prepared by God for some type of ministry or service.

But the question can be asked, empty of what?  The answer is empty of all of the things that prevent a person from being able to be used effectively by God…such as pride, self-will, arrogance, haughtiness, fear, self-centeredness, impatience, being judgmental, racial prejudice, social prejudice, personal ambition, and many similar things.

All of these attitudes in some measure or another hold back people from being filled with the Holy Spirit power and anointing to minister the gospel to other people.

The Christian disciple who is empty of self and open to service, has stepped off of the throne of their heart and allowed Jesus Christ to take His rightful place there as God.

Like a small child (Mt. 18:2), the Christian who is walking in faith and loving service to others is oblivious to the concepts of self-glorification and personal ambition.  For the Christian disciple who has an empty vessel open to God for service, the Holy Spirit can prepare ahead of time people in need of ministry and bring them across our path for salvation, healing, deliverance, or encouragement.  This is the formula that produces eternally beneficial results.

God knows our spiritual capacity.  God knows the needs of people in our immediate, physical vicinity.  The Holy Spirit can bring the two together.

Our part is to be “prayed up,” live the quality of life that can produce the words of Life when called upon, to be willing and open to be used by God, and to give God the credit and the glory when we see positive results.  This approach works for the most average of Christian disciples and for the greatest apostles like Philip, John, Paul, and Peter.

The way to greater power and anointing under the Holy Spirit, like that displayed in the lives of the first century apostles and disciples, is through the humility illustrated by Jesus when he placed the child in the midst of the apostles.  The way to real spiritual power is not through succumbing to the temptation to become “somebody” in the Christian world, thereby mimicking what occurs in the conventional outside world.

The spirit and attitude of the Christian is supposed to be the opposite of the spirit of this world.  The most prepared person for God’s use is not “full” of themselves, but “empty” of themselves.  The greatest among us are supposed to be the least in terms of haughtiness and worldly pride.  The chiefest is supposed to be servant of all.  The person who is truly walking in the Spirit is devoid of self-awareness and self-recognition.

Even experienced, mature, and savvy Christians walk a fine line in this area.  As God transforms us into sons and daughters of light, we always have to recognize our need for God.  The proud and arrogant cannot do this.

That is why the process of salvation begins with humility and repentance, and continues that way as long as we draw breath on this earth.

Spiritual Pride Needs a Context 1

“But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your minister; And whosoever of you would be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”                                             (Mk. 10:43-44)

For it to surface, spiritual pride needs a suitable context in our Christian lives.

In Mark 9:33-37 and in Luke 9:46-48, the story is told of the apostles disputing as they traveled on the road, who should be the greatest among them.  They knew…by then…who Jesus was.  They knew that they had been chosen to be the apostles of the Messiah the King.  They suspected that events were coming to a head and that somehow Jesus would take His rightful place as the leader of the Jewish nation.  They knew this opened up opportunities for them to occupy positions of leadership in Jerusalem.

This new reality occasioned the dispute among them as to who should occupy the highest positions in the new upcoming kingdom.

This internal debate amongst these men could not have happened a few years earlier, outside of the context of their becoming apostles and disciples of Jesus.  The thought of who would be the greatest among them in God’s upcoming kingdom on earth, which they mistakenly thought would be politically established in the very near future in the capital city of Jerusalem, could not conceivably have happened while they were ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, or revolutionary zealots.

Only after successfully following Jesus for two or three years as apostles and disciples…did this tempting new context of events start to actualize into a foreseeable eventuality.

Matthew 20:20-28 tells the story of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus and asking Him if her two sons could sit on His right hand and on His left hand in His kingdom.  This request could not have been made without James and John being in the inner circle of apostles close to Jesus.  The extraordinary ministry of Jesus created high future expectations among His followers for the nation of Israel.  This provided the context for this forgivable and understandable ambition on the part of the mother of James and John.

Jesus did not rebuke the mother of James and John for this request (He probably inwardly admired the courage of her advocacy for her sons), but simply answered that she did not clearly understand the thing she was asking of Him.  The scriptures then say that when the other ten apostles heard what the mother of James and John had done, they did not get upset with her but they were “indignant” against James and John.

The response that Jesus has for the apostles arguing among themselves as to who should be the greatest…was to take a child and set him as an example in their midst, and tell them that “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:48).

The apostles and disciples learned this important lesson well, and had the right spirit regarding this issue in their first-century ministries.  After these specific lessons by Jesus, and after the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles (Jn. 13:2-17), we do not hear anything more about who will be the greatest among the apostles or disciples.

But the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, in place of a worldly coronation and political reign in Jerusalem, also removed from the apostles the previous context of determining who would have high positions in the supposed new government…under Jesus.

The first-century church of new Christian converts was the actual kingdom that resulted from the ministry of Jesus, not the worldly reign of Jesus the political King in Jerusalem.

In the context of the New Testament church, Jesus’ teachings about the least being the greatest, Jesus washing the apostle’s feet, and Jesus using a young child as the example of the correct attitude for spiritual leadership, now made perfect sense to the apostles.

Luke 20:46-47 reads:

46  Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the market places, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts.

47  Who devour widow’s houses, and for a show make long prayers, the same shall receive greater condemnation.

When the apostles disputed among themselves who should be the greatest, they were on a parallel road in terms of attitude with these scribes.  Although they did not realize it, they too were similarly thinking about wearing long robes, being greeted as “somebody” in the market place, having the highest seats in the synagogue, and occupying the chief rooms at festivals.

The sinful pride side of their natures was showing itself in this dispute, on account of the context of the possible upcoming rulership of Jesus in Israel.  This would have been the beginning of church-leadership personality conflicts, power structures, political intrigue, and unholy ambition in the Christian church.

That is why Jesus took the time to speak to them about this important issue on several occasions.

And that is why, in God’s infinite wisdom, He produced a different context for His Bride…the Church…from what the apostles had in mind as they disputed on their way to Jerusalem who would be the greatest.

God had in mind the humble New Testament church that could evangelize the world without the burden of worldly ambitions and concerns.  The three thousand new converts on the Day of Pentecost would need church leaders who were humble shepherds and “servants of all”, not self-important people more concerned with their outward appearances, titles, and reputations like the scribes of Luke 20:46-47.

In Peter’s speech to the multitudes on the Day of Pentecost, there is not a hint about himself, or about any personal ambitions regarding what he plans to do or to build in Jerusalem.

Everything in Peter’s message is about Jesus, and about people coming to Christ through faith.

Peter is no longer thinking about having drapes measured for his large corner office in the Temple.  Peter is fishing for men according to his true calling (Mk. 1:17), not fishing for financial donations to build something.

A Fourth Cross on Calvary Hill 3

The Character Manufacturing Furnace

Nearly every Christian can look backwards in time and say: “Now I understand why God took me through that trial.”  Every Christian looks forward to the future with hope that we will improve as people and that things will get better.

It is the present time that we all have difficulty with.[1]  Knowing, without a doubt, that we have surrendered and yielded our lives to Jesus Christ, and that the present situations and circumstances in our lives are not an accident but are in the control of God, is a mark of the mature Christian.  The mature Christian can apply every line of Psalm 23, along with David, with full assurance and confidence to their lives.

In-the-moment, present-time situations and circumstances is the furnace where Christian character is manufactured (Jas. 1:2-4).

Our self-in-charge natures will not venture anywhere near the character-manufacturing furnace.  Self-in-charge is terrified of the risk of potential failure that is associated with this furnace.

In the furnace of present-time, in-the-moment situations and circumstances, the issues are so important according to outward appearances that a real spiritual test is set up.

Is God reliable enough to place my faith in as the Lord and Sovereign King of my life, in the present-time circumstances, or do I have to take matters into my own hands because the issues are simply too important to trust to anyone but myself alone (1 Sam. 13:12)?

This is a fundamental, pivotal issue of faith outlined for us throughout the Bible.  Gideon was in the present moment when he went to battle with 300 men against tens of thousands of the enemy.  David was hunted by Saul in-the-moment.  Queen Esther made her decision to risk personal safety, in-the-moment, in approaching the King and opposing Haman to save her people from destruction.

God told the young prophet Jeremiah not to be afraid of the countenance of the people’s faces when Jeremiah delivered God’s message to them, thus declaring plainly that it took some courage on Jeremiah’s part to be God’s spokesman.  This challenge for Jeremiah occurred in-the-moment.

In the New Testament, Peter and John defending themselves before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29-32, had the very real risk of being stoned to death like Stephen a few chapters later (Acts 7:58-59).

These accounts are all variations of the central question of the reliability of God’s character in the fiery trial.  These people all put their faith and trust in God…in-the-moment of their present-time circumstances…thus declaring that they believed that the character of God was trustworthy.

The Holy Spirit is charged with the task of taking us to the character- manufacturing furnace of personally tailored situations and circumstances, but only if our self-in-control nature is subordinate to the will and plans of God.

Any attempt to skirt around the Christian character-manufacturing furnace is self-deceiving.  Certainly God is not fooled.  God is only dismayed and hurt that we do not trust Him enough to let go of self-in-control.  When we exercise faith and trust in God in the present-time, no matter what is happening or how bleak the circumstances look, we are saying we believe in the goodness and reliability of God’s character.

The furnace of in-the-moment situations and circumstances is always a test of character, both God’s and ours.

This is where the value of a real relationship with the living God rises to the fore.  It is not some homogenized, new-age diluted humanistic slogan like “let go, let god.”

People who say and teach these kinds of cleverly reduced, cheerleader-type motivational phrases generally have no actual intention of stepping down off the thrones of their lives and following the Holy Spirit into real-life circumstances that require genuine release and trust in the one living God.

The cross is difficult.  Death to self-in-charge is not easy.

Whether it is financial challenges, family issues, health struggles, or the opposition of people to our Christian ministry, God will set up the issues in our lives specifically to create this furnace of character-manufacturing for our spiritual growth.

That is why the outward appearances of some of these situations and circumstances are frightening and terrifying.  Without the genuine challenge of real consequences that matter, the decision to follow God would be too easy.  If the Christian life went perfectly smooth from beginning to end, we would never learn anything about ourselves, about eternal truths, or about God.

[1] Bob Mumford, Fifteen Steps Out (South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, Inc.) 5-7

A Fourth Cross on Calvary Hill 2

The Narrow Gate for Paul (Mt. 7:13-14)

Paul’s appeal to Caesar in Acts 25:11 is another excellent biblical example of God’s foresight and intervention in guiding the fine details of the lives of people who are in the midst of a walk of faith with Jesus Christ.

Paul is under arrest in Caesarea for the tumultuous uproar that occurred in Jerusalem.  Paul does not know that the sympathetic Roman ruler, King Agrippa, will arrive in Caesarea in the near future.  Agrippa apparently would have released Paul (Acts 26:32).

The Jewish authorities want Paul to be returned to Jerusalem for trial.  Paul knows that there are forty Jews sworn to attack his escort of Roman soldiers conducting him back to Jerusalem, but even if Paul makes it safely back, any hearing in Jerusalem would be prejudicial against him.

But Festus, the Roman official having jurisdiction over Caesarea, suggests in an open hearing, for political reasons, that Paul be brought to Jerusalem to be judged before Festus regarding the accusations against Paul.  Before Agrippa arrives, Paul has no choice but to appeal to Caesar.

This is a fascinating and instructive development in the story of Paul.  It provides all Christians with a window into how God works in our lives if we will follow Him completely and not lose faith.

As events narrowly unfold in this account of Paul in Caesarea, Paul is compelled to appeal to Caesar for a hearing in Rome.  This changes the entire nature of the ministry of Paul from being a man of action…planting new churches in Asia Minor…to a man with quiet time to contemplate and compose the upcoming “prison epistles” written while in Rome (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians).

At this late stage in Paul’s career, more new churches in Greece and Italy are probably not needed.  History shows that the number of churches in existence when Paul set off for Jerusalem for the last time, were enough in number and quality to create a strong foothold for the spread of Christianity in the first century.

If left up to Paul, he would have continued to faithfully pursue his original calling, traveling and planting new churches in Greece, Italy, and he hoped even in Spain (Rom. 15:24).  But it was the God-appointed quiet time in Caesarea and in Rome that enabled the writing of these crucial last epistles to the churches that completed his inspired New Testament contribution of Christian doctrines and practices.

It is also this abrupt change in plans that provides the narrative story for the distinctly different final four chapters in the book of Acts, providing us with a look into the customs of Roman public hearings, an ancient shipwreck, and Luke’s unfinished history of Paul in Rome that enables conservative scholars to date the ending of the book of Acts as a milestone event sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D.

This has enormous apologetic value in validating the authenticity of the New Testament gospels in relation to the activities of Paul, placing the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts so close to the time of the ministry of Jesus as to remove the possibility of legendary development or exaggeration entering into the New Testament.

It took God intervening in the situations and circumstances during this period of Paul’s detention in Caesarea for this change-in-mission to occur.  Through these tightly inter-related events, God closed one door and opened another door in the ministry of Paul.

            The lesson here for every Christian is that no matter how fierce are the winds and the seas of the storm of circumstances around us, the eye of the hurricane is in the center of God’s will.  God sets up, guides, and molds events in the life of Paul, above anything that Paul could manufacture on his own, which results in the optimum final outcome for a life that is totally and completely surrendered to Jesus.

What is uniquely instructive about this episode in the life of Paul is that after this final visit to Jerusalem, he is under Roman arrest for most of his remaining years.  Not only is solitude imposed upon him for the purpose of quiet reflection about all that he has learned and experienced, but Paul is also made safe from the external threat of harm that he daily lived with while he was out on the road, from the Jews or from any of his other enemies.  Tradition does say that Paul was released for some period of time in Rome between a first and second imprisonment.

But from Caesarea onward, Paul was for the most part within God’s bubble of protection through the use of Roman officials and the Roman judicial system.  Paul could not be safer (other than eventual martyrdom by Nero around 62-65 A.D.) in the Roman world of the first century than to be under house arrest in Rome in the care of a Roman soldier.  Paul no longer had to worry about hostile Jews from a previous city showing up suddenly, with deadly intentions, in the city he was currently ministering in (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:26).

Through the clarity of hindsight, we see that God accomplished two things at the same time…first a change in the nature of the ministry of Paul…and second in the protective environment for Paul to compose his final letters to the churches.

This is a clear-cut demonstration of the narrow gate that Jesus is referring to in Matthew 7:13-14.  It is an example of the benefits and outcomes that God would like to perform in our lives through experiential faith.

A Fourth Cross on Calvary Hill 1

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”     (Heb. 12:2)

One of the basic messages of the Bible is that God’s ways are higher and better than our own.

This is one of the pivotal, fundamental lessons of the Christian experience.  Only the real, supernatural God can compose and direct circumstances in our lives that will lead to genuine, everlasting spiritual growth.

It is within God’s unique character-manufacturing furnace of present-time experience that He forges mature saints who can trust and follow Him.  Peter and Paul are two of the best examples of this process from scripture.

Before the crucifixion, Peter thought (according to Peter’s understanding in the realm of the “natural man”) that Jesus was in peril from the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, and that Jesus needed Peter’s personal help for physical protection (Mt. 16:22).

When Peter utterly failed in this capacity, to the point that he actually denied knowing Jesus using cursing to save himself out of a difficult situation in the courtyard, Matthew 26:75 says: “And he went out, and wept bitterly.”

Peter was not just mildly disappointed in himself.  He thought he had failed in the critical, defining moment in his life.

But this was not the defining moment in Peter’s life.  God the Father knew from eternity past that Jesus would die on the cross, and that He would raise Jesus from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.  God did not need or want Peter’s help to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus.  That was merely Peter’s best intentions according to his own thinking.

The critical moment that God had planned for Peter was not at the midnight trial standing alongside Jesus as a faithful companion, but on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, at the birth of the Christian church, as described in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

On Resurrection Day, when Peter first sees the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5), Peter realizes in an instant that God did not need his well-intentioned help to guide these final events.  God did not need Peter to prevent what Peter thought would be a guaranteed negative outcome if Jesus fell into the hands of the Jewish authorities.

God the Father had raised and transformed the broken and mutilated body of Jesus Christ the Son from the effects of a violent death that had occurred only a few days before, into a new and glorious resurrected body.   In a moment of realization…in the light of finally understanding…it all comes together for Peter.

Peter thinks back upon Jesus by the lakeside, in a boat because of the press of the crowd, as He is brilliantly teaching truth like no one has ever heard before (Lk. 5:3).  Peter remembers the oversized catch of fish in the nets that nearly overturns Peter’s boat (Lk. 5:4-11), the miracle of the feeding of the thousands on the hillside (Mt. 14:15-21), Jesus walking on water (Mt. 14:22-36), the transfiguration (Mk. 9:2), lepers cleansed (Lk. 5:12-15), the blind receiving sight (Jn. 9:1-41), and the dead raised (Jn. 11:1-44).

When Peter intently gazes upon his risen Lord on Resurrection Day in amazement and appreciation, he cannot take his eyes off Jesus.  He realizes in a series of quick flashbacks the always up-to-the-challenge Son of God, working masterfully with the Father and the Holy Spirit through every imaginable human issue and crisis, but especially in this final, amazing, unexpected event of salvation for mankind through the bodily resurrection of Jesus after the seeming finality of death on the cross.

Peter realizes that Jesus had Peter’s denial in the courtyard factored into the whole process all along (Mt. 26:34).  With an enormous sense of relief, Peter now understands that his personal failure at the critical time…when under normal circumstances Jesus might have otherwise needed his support the most…that any well-meaning attempt on the part of Peter to physically protect Jesus…could not possibly have prevented or affected in any way…the monumental work of salvation planned by Almighty God so long ago.

Peter was also resurrected to an eternal hope in that single moment of time upon first seeing the risen Jesus (1 Peter 1:3).

In a bright flash of spiritual light, Peter in that instant finally realized that God was infinitely bigger than he was.  Peter saw with his own eyes the capacity of God to overcome anything, no matter how hopeless, when he saw the risen Jesus.

This experience changed Peter forever.

At that moment Peter shifted his reliance from self to God.  Peter could go forward from that day onward with the rock-solid hope of a living faith, and a vessel emptied of self-reliance, to serve his Savior to the end of his life.

This is how Peter was able to stand up before thousands of people in the center of Jerusalem during the celebration of Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and not through his natural leadership ability and bold personality, to successfully proclaim the truth that Jesus was indeed the Christ of God.

Peter’s prior overconfident statement, before Gethsemane, that even though all other men might forsake Jesus, that Peter under no circumstances would forsake Him (Mt. 26:33), revealed a person who was still partially self-led.  Peter was talking out of his un-crucified self-in-charge nature, and this led to bitter spiritual defeat.

Peter, in the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, was not operating “in the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14) of listening to and following the Holy Spirit, as an apostle of Jesus Christ should.  Trouble found and exposed a vulnerable flaw in Peter, because self was still in-charge in this instance.

The character transforming lesson of Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard, and the loving forgiveness he experienced in his personal interview with Jesus on Resurrection Day, changed Peter from self-led failure to a Spirit-led overcomer.  Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ is an example of experiential faith that actualized into spiritual victory.

Rewinding these events backwards in time, Peter could have faithfully and courageously stood at the side of Jesus, as he said he would, and been condemned to death as a follower of Jesus.

Peter would then have occupied the fourth cross on the hill of Calvary that Passover Day.

But God the Father had a much different plan for Peter.

How infinitely better and more exciting would it be, to be filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and to stand up before thousands of people in Jerusalem and preach powerfully about both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah (Acts 2:14-36)?

How much more exciting would it be to bring Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:40), or to heal the crippled man at the gate to the Temple (Acts 3:7), or to participate in the revival in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), or be preaching to the Gentiles when the Pentecost “gift of the Holy Spirit” was poured out on them as well (Acts 10:44-48), or be miraculously released by an angel in the dead of night from Herod’s prison (Acts 12:7-11)?

How much better was God’s plan for Peter than what Peter had in mind for himself prior to the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?  To what purpose would a fourth cross on Calvary, bearing Peter, have served?

According to historical tradition, Peter was eventually crucified in Rome, sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D.  Peter was finally crucified physically, but not before living a full life in service to his Lord Jesus Christ according to the much higher plans of God.

God’s Optimum Training Program 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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