The Angle of Our Vision 3

In this critical area of biblical lessons demonstrating God’s attempt to raise our vision upward toward Him, one of the highest illustrative examples is the redemptive reach of the cross of Jesus Christ.

How could anyone, including the apostles, grasp ahead of time the enormous idea that one person could die on the cross as satisfaction for all of mankind’s sin?  The atonement for the mass of sin accumulated by every single person from the beginning of human history…redeemed through the sacrifice of one man Jesus Christ…was in-the-moment simply too much to contemplate.

Even someone like Jesus, who is restoring sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, healing cripples, casting out demons, multiplying fish and bread to feed thousands, walking on water, instantly calming a raging storm at sea, and raising the dead…still does not bridge the conceptual gap ahead of time that one person could single-handedly…as the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice…absorb the enormous quantity of mankind’s sins and offences.

People see Jesus raise the widow’s son from the dead in the city of Nain, but they ascribe to this obviously divine miracle the arrival in Israel of a great prophet only.  This is as high as their spiritual vision will allow them to go (Lk. 7:16).

Eye-witnessing this miracle did not connect them with the idea of the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice…for the sins of mankind.  One does not necessarily follow the other.  Making atonement for mankind’s sin is a totally different matter.

Though Jesus actually told the disciples ahead of time about His impending crucifixion and resurrection (Mk. 8:31), even they did not get it.  It was spiritually above their still worldly horizontal comprehension.  Only after the resurrection did they finally understand.

They personally saw and spoke with the resurrected Jesus in His newly restored body, still having the nail-pierced scars on his hands and feet, affirming the divine capacity of the blemish-free Lamb of God Jesus to indeed take away the sins of the world.

The perfection of Jesus as the sinless, spotless Lamb of God atonement for mankind’s sin would only make full sense after seeing Jesus visibly risen from the dead.

The powerful testimony of Jesus through the words and deeds of His ministry, combined with all of the Old Testament messianic backstory, only comes into clear focus for the disciples after the resurrection.

In the glorious new world the disciples awoke to on that fateful Sunday morning, where Jesus is now bodily risen from the dead, the upper boundary line of what was previously possible was completely shattered.  This unanticipated action by God liberated the disciples up above the conventionally horizontal into the realm where all things are possible (Acts 3:6; 4:8).

The example of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands at the pinnacle of God’s divinely composed outreach to mankind…in a previously unthinkable and unimaginable way…to come upward in our spiritual vision of what God can and will accomplish in our lives if we will place our trust in Him.

One man can take upon Himself the sins of the world…if He is the Son of God.

If absolutely everyone in-the-moment is not comprehending the upcoming resurrection of Jesus Christ prior to and shortly after His crucifixion, and all of the details surrounding their actions and reactions are embarrassing to the apostles of the early church…are we to plausibly believe that these same apostles or someone else subsequently invented this brilliantly imaginative scenario as literary fiction from a detached, mezzanine viewpoint?

What would be the origin or frame of reference to explain the unique originality of this creative inspiration if the gospels themselves admit that no one at the time anticipated God the Father raising Jesus from the dead?

Why would the gospel writers admit and accurately record this fundamental shortcoming of not grasping the upcoming resurrection, then describe it all with such detail?  And who amongst the followers of Jesus would possess this world-class literary creativity…if it were all pure fiction?

Encapsulated within the account itself is the important revelation that the ordinary, naturalistic capacity of our human intellect is not up to the task of anticipating and comprehending ahead of time…the higher ways and works of God.

God had to arrange the cross and the resurrection in such a heart-breaking and disappointing fashion…for the disciples…in order to bring everyone to the endpoint of their own self-reliant thinking, plans, and vision.

The cross and the resurrection of Jesus forced everyone to squarely face the limited reach of their own horizontal thinking.

As the Roman soldiers are hammering the metal spikes through the hands and feet of Jesus…not only is the blood of Jesus cleansing believers from sin…but these metal spikes are going straight through the arrogant pride and hubris of humanism…humanism that was and is blind to what was happening at that moment.

The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s most powerful, drastic, and love-filled means to get people to raise our vision higher.  The unsurpassed quality and singular originality of the story validates the divinity of its authorship.

This is a reality common to all of the positive journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, and a foreglimpse of the upcoming issues for individual Christians and the Christian church on a colossal scale in the end-times.

In a biblical journey of faith, God takes people through tightly crafted and divinely guided circumstances beyond the point where they can depend upon their own self-reliance.

This is the surest way…maybe the only way…that God can demonstrate His faithfulness and love for us.

Why did the world reject Jesus during His first advent as Messiah?

One basic answer is that the religious leadership in Jerusalem and a large portion of the populace had their vision focused horizontally.  Some portion of the populace followed Jesus because they wanted a free meal (Jn. 6:26) and to witness the novelty of miracles (Lk. 23:8).

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes thought that the removal of Jesus of Nazareth, who showed no signs of leading a successful Jewish military revolt against the Roman occupation of their country according to their expectations… was best achieved through the ignominious death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

They had no concept of the mission of the messiah as outlined in Isaiah 61:1-2…and no desire for a new covenant gospel message of hope and peace that would offer genuine freedom to the entire world.  This was above their temporal and worldly comprehension.

The disciples, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the horizontally flat vision- spectrum.  Their individual hopes and plans are crushed by the trial, death, and burial of the one they believed to be the long-promised Messiah for Israel.

They wondered if they had somehow made a mistake in following Jesus.  It is probably not fair to say that the disciples should have known better.  God arranged events with such precision that the hopes and dreams of the disciples were dependent upon the miracle of a resurrection of Jesus…that was not even within their contemplation.

The eternal salvation for mankind and the disappointing heartbreak of the disciples were both contained within the exact same cross and resurrection events.  God had to raise their vision above the horizontal, and it took the most sublimely brilliant, imaginative action composed and orchestrated by God…that also contained a painful separation of the disciples from their own mindset, their self-will, and the way they expected things to turn out.

In short, the divine love that is contained within the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ extends into our daily lives through a God-composed journey of faith far above the horizontally conventional.

This is a truth of such monumental importance and application that it must not be surrendered, misplaced, set aside, lost, or become partially out of focus for the Christian in the last days.

Someone may ask at this point, how do the narrative stories and examples in the Bible relate to me, and to the modern-day Christian church?  I get up in the morning, go to work, and come home to my wife and children each day…so how do the inspirational stories of the biblical superstars of the faith relate to me in my desire to obtain vertical vision as a Christian?

How can God integrate His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9) into the ordinary conventional routine of my daily life?

The answer is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, learning to listen in the Spirit, studying the Bible daily, and a willingness to follow the leadership of Jesus within the events and circumstances of our uniquely individual lives.

Like the example of playing catch with a baseball, we get better with practice.  But unless we are throwing the ball straight up and catching it by ourselves when it comes back down, we need a minimum of two people for a game of catch.

To enter into a biblical style journey of faith having vertical vision, this requires the unmistakably supernatural participation of the living God.  This is the reality for new covenant, Spirit-born Christians that is promised through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13).

The solutions to the challenges facing Christians and the Christian church in the last days are found in raising our vision upward toward Jesus Christ in faith and trust.

The answers to the upcoming challenges of the end-times are found in the fully committed approach taken by the three young Hebrews confronted with the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:18), by Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:22), and by Esther in attempting to be the instrument of God to save her people (Est. 4:16).

These are not ancient myths.  This is not man-invented folklore.

The opportunity to likewise exercise our faith, to walk in the Spirit, and to be “in Christ” in this broken world in the middle of the unprecedented world-shaking events of the last days, is a privilege, a calling, and an honor beyond reckoning.

The theme of this book is to illuminate and clarify this vision of seeing above the horizontal through faith in Christ.

An understanding of the role of a collective adventure of faith through the cross…for the entire Christian church as a group…composed and orchestrated by God in a way that is above and beyond human invention…is another key truth leading to our success as overcomers in the upcoming end-times events.

The Angle of Our Vision 2

Temporarily improving the political equation in Palestine in the first century was not the solution to Israel’s current problem of Roman occupation.  God had already provided the solution to this problem to Israel hundreds of years before in the book of Judges.  The solution was to turn to God with all of their hearts.  This was the mission of Jesus (Lk. 4:18-19), not to lead a military revolt against the Romans to remove the burden of taxes paid to Caesar.

The Pharisees and Herodians attempted a strategy of verbal entrapment with Jesus, trying to publicly catch Him in misspoken words.  What they got instead from Jesus the eternal Word of God was a brilliantly concise response of such universal scope and wisdom that the opponents of Jesus eventually recognized their attempts to outwit Jesus in pubic were embarrassingly counterproductive (Mt. 22:46).

But the splitting up of this question by the Pharisees and Herodians, into two distinct parts by Jesus, goes infinitely deeper than being merely a clever, temporary evasion of this thorny issue.

Jesus is not talking out of both sides of His mouth like modern-day professional politicians.  Behind the insincerity of the motivation to attempt to trap Jesus…lies a profound question that goes to the heart of our faith and relationship with God in this broken and often confusing world.  The answer of Jesus to render to God the things that are God’s…soars far above all practical worldly considerations.

In a God-composed and orchestrated adventure of faith, everything in our lives is managed and guided by God’s will and way…even the paying of taxes to support the government of an occupying foreign nation (Mt. 17:27).

This attitude of faith and trust in God, within the ups and downs of life in a journey of faith, only successfully works through elevated vision focused on the one true living God.

In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter strongly voices his objection to the idea that Jesus might fall into the wrong hands and suffer personal injury.  This would otherwise normally be an admirable and commendable reaction from the worldly horizontal viewpoint.  But in this one singularly unique instance, Peter’s proposed physical protection for Jesus is about as far off-target as is humanly possible.

The upcoming event of the crucifixion of Jesus for the redemption of mankind was planned from the foundation of the world.  Peter’s spiritual vision, along with the vision of everyone else at that time, was horizontally flat regarding the impending trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Peter goes out and weeps bitterly after failing so miserably in the courtyard of Caiaphas, revealing his total lack of understanding regarding the big-picture direction of events that must occur, culminating in the resurrection that forever defeats death and hell (Rev. 1:18).

Likewise, the other disciples scatter for safety at the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane.  This also reveals a horizontal misunderstanding of the temporary safety of their position as mere disciples.  The security of this position is based in the historic miscalculation by the religious authorities that focusing exclusively upon the removal of the leader Jesus would quickly stamp out His movement.

Because of the conventional thinking of the religious leaders, the disciples had little to fear for their safety during the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

The horizontally flat vision of not understanding the true situation is also clearly evidenced by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus by the wrapping of the body of Jesus with linen strips of cloth according to Jewish customs for permanent burial.

This is evidenced a second time by the women coming early Sunday morning to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices, again in anticipation of permanent interment and not at all in expectation of an imminent bodily resurrection.

A large enough group of people heard and understood the sayings by Jesus that He would rise the third day, to the point of motivating the chief priests and Pharisees to take the extraordinary step of coming to Pilate the day after the crucifixion saying: “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again” (Mt. 27:63).  They then asked permission to place a group of guards and to seal the stone at the tomb of Jesus.

It is ironic that the deadly opponents of Jesus are the one group that expresses the possibility of Jesus rising from the tomb.

Albeit, in this case, their thinking is not based upon faith in Jesus but on the totally cynical notion that the disciples would attempt to steal the dead body of Jesus, and then falsely claim He rose from the dead.  Their vision is about as worldly horizontal as can be.  This explains their nervous precaution of placing a group of guards at the tomb to prevent the removal of the body.

The actions taken by everyone involved in the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection betrays their horizontal mindset.

Peter, the other disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus, the women at the tomb, and the opponents of Jesus all are stuck in the understandably commonplace notion that people simply do not raise themselves from the dead.

It takes the one-time, supernatural intervention of God the Father to raise Jesus the Son of God from these seemingly impossible circumstances, validating and establishing Jesus as Savior.

That God the Father supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead is the fuel that propels forward the world-changing gospel message and testimony of the early church, and is the foundation for the Christian church to this day.

The Angle of Our Vision 1

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”                                           (Mt. 6:33)

This book is not about church organizations or structures.  It is about the people who make up the universal Christian church of Spirit-born believers around the world.  Get people personally connected to Jesus Christ, and He can then capably take it from there to produce the positive results we read about in the lives of the people of faith recorded in the Bible.

A genuine reformation in the Christian church begins with repentance, prayer, Bible study, listening in the Spirit, and a heartfelt desire for genuine discipleship.

But a fundamental reality in the world is that not many people listen to the words of the true prophet at the moment the message is being delivered.  This is primarily due to the vertical separation between the message of the prophet’s speech in the elevated realm of faith and trust in God, and how well people in-the-moment have the capacity for listening “in the Spirit” (Mt. 11:15; Acts 27:9-11).

Most people going about their normal lives have their vision focused horizontally upon day-to-day concerns, and are not contemplating the higher ways of God in their daily affairs (Isa. 55:8-9).

But a true prophet of God is always trying to elevate people’s spiritual vision up into the higher realm of daily living combined with “walking in the Spirit.”

This is the location where faith and trust in God can produce divinely orchestrated outcomes coupled with profound character growth.  This is also the area where resistance to change and the element of risk reside.

This is why for many people the sudden introduction of the message of God through a prophet is often a jarring and unwelcome event.  The prophet’s message can be a nettlesome intrusion into our otherwise normative, complacent, worldly sensible plans.

Israel historically revered their prophets in hindsight, and went to great efforts to accurately record, maintain, and pass along the sayings and writings of their prophets.  But many of the biblical prophets were persecuted and rejected by their contemporaries at the time they delivered their messages (Jer. 1:19).

It is a relatively safe exercise to look backwards in time in nostalgic appreciation for the purely intellectual component of the prophet’s message, conveniently removed into the history of centuries past.

It is a relatively safe enterprise to endorse the ancient prophet’s fiery call for personal repentance, a heartfelt change in our lives, and the challenge to step-up into a biblical-style adventure of faith (Mt. 23:20), as long as this message can be interpreted to apply to past generations of our wayward ancestors…and not directly to us.

A Spirit-filled prophetic call to surrender all to Jesus today, in full consideration of the costs and benefits involved, can be just as sobering a challenge for us now as it was for the Old Testament Jews listening to Moses, Samuel, Elijah, or Jeremiah.

The unique aspect of the final chapter of the Christian church in the last days…is that there will not be a future, upcoming, extended period of time in human redemptive history on earth…to nostalgically look back upon the present-day words of prophets…calling people to a higher and deeper experience following Jesus Christ…in-the-moment…right now.

The second coming of Christ brings an end to this current human redemptive period…for all time.

This interaction between God and people set within the context of life’s events and circumstances, having mutual faith and trust as the bonding cement of the relationship…is not found anywhere else in philosophy, religion, or human experience.

The validating element of this arrangement is authenticated by the reality that the living God must actively take up His part of the relationship.

Like playing catch with a baseball, someone real has to be on the opposite side to catch the ball and throw it back.  In the case of a biblical journey of faith, the one true God invented the game and openly invites all to participate.

The entire Bible can be interpreted as God’s attempt to get us to release our faith and elevate our vision up into the realm where God can effectively work with us.  This is actually a key aspect of the Bible that confirms its divine origin.

The component of God’s active out-reach toward us is something that cannot be fabricated by human invention.  The callings of God, and the ingenious and varied narrative stories that follow the enlistment of each person of faith recorded in the Bible, are totally outside the imagination and literary invention of man.

One classic example of God trying to get people’s vision raised above the horizontal, everyday thinking…is recorded in Mark 12:13-17.

The Pharisees and Herodians come to Jesus, and ask Him: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”  These opponents of Jesus think they have Him intellectually cornered with this cleverly devised question which appears to offer no positive option within the worldly horizontal realm of practical concerns.  Answering yes or no strictly within the bounds of conventional wisdom…spells trouble either way.

Telling the Jews not to pay their taxes offends the Roman government.  Telling Jews to dutifully pay their taxes to the hated foreign occupiers offends the populace in the very sensitive area of Jewish national pride and in the practical area of their pocketbooks.

But Jesus brilliantly lifts this issue up a level into the elevated realm of the Spirit, above our horizontal vision.  Jesus asks the Pharisees to show Him a coin, asks whose image is engraved on the coin, and then unexpectedly divides the answer to their question into two distinct vertical zones.

Part one of the fully correct answer…is to render faithfully to the demands of the everyday practical world that which belongs to the everyday world…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

Part two of the answer is to render to God the living faith and trust that can only occur within the elevated realm of the adventures of faith following God, which up until that time were vividly and clearly portrayed throughout the Hebrew Bible.

This ingenious answer by Jesus to this otherwise difficult question has intrigued skeptics and admirers of Jesus for almost 2,000 years.  The Pharisees and Herodians shake their heads and walk away in amazement at this answer of Jesus.  In its brevity it fully addressed all sides of the issue of practical godliness in this broken world, having the clear bell-ring of truth that left no further opening for a follow-up question.

This succinct answer by Jesus is inarguable and unassailable in its pinpoint accurate truthfulness, because it’s simple depth and scope fully encapsulates God’s program for all humanity in a nutshell.

Gethsemane 3

An essential part of becoming born-again in the Spirit is not only acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior, but also restoring Him to His rightful position as Lord in our lives.

In the motion picture Ben Hur, staring Charlton Heston, toward the end of the movie Judah Ben Hur, his future wife Esther, and his mother and sister are sitting on the side of a long stairway as the condemned prisoner Jesus is ascending the steps carrying his cross.

Judah Ben Hur’s mother Miriam, and his sister, Tersa, both have contracted leprosy.  Esther had thought to bring the two women to hear Jesus preach, and thus give them the hope that there was a life after death, free of leprosy.  But instead of being able to listen to the teaching of Jesus as they had hoped, all four were surprised to find that Jesus had been tried, condemned, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

As Jesus approached them carrying his cross, Esther asked in amazed astonishment “how can this be?’  How could the religious rulers in Jerusalem and the Roman authorities have condemned Jesus, a teacher of righteousness and the healer of so many people, to something as unthinkable as execution by Roman crucifixion?

At the cross…is where the stark contrast between the vulgarities of human sin…crashes up against the divine love of God.  Mankind at that moment was unwittingly displaying its own worst condition.

In open view, for all to see, was the futility of man’s wisdom and works when they exist apart from God, as mankind was performing the most embarrassing indignity possible in putting to death its own Creator.  Nothing remotely imaginable could be more wrong than this.

To God’s everlasting credit, this very same misguided and inexcusable action by the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and Roman rulers, was providing the means for salvation and eternal life to mankind through a divine atonement for man’s sins.

At that moment in history, the two opposing viewpoints and lifestyles available to all human beings through the freedom of choice…self-autonomy apart from God leading to sin, and fellowship with God leading to holiness…violently collide with deadly impact at the cross of Christ.

If ever there was a persuasive and clearly demonstrated argument for the wrongness of man going his own way apart from God, the cross is that argument.  Man’s actions on that day condemned not Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, but the practice of a religion that conspires with a “civilized” Roman judicial system that can both be so far off-the-mark that they end up killing the God and Creator of the universe.

If ever there was a well-stated, practically demonstrated argument for trusting and relying upon a capable and loving God to show us the correct approach to life, the cross is that argument.  Salvation, redemption, and a new resurrected life of love and peace is made possible by God through this enormous blunder by mankind in putting to death the Creator of life itself on a cross fashioned crudely out of two large, heavy pieces of wood and some metal spikes.

That God is intelligent and well-intentioned enough to take the worst action in all of human history, in all of eternity, and turn it right-side up into the very means to provide forgiveness, cleansing from sin, and re-birth into a new spiritual life of joy and peace…is something so sublimely powerful it may take a lifetime in heaven to comprehend and appreciate.

On one side of the cross was the enormous tally of all of history’s offenses, misdeeds, sorrows, injustices, and shortcomings that are a result of fallen mankind going its own way apart from God.  On the other side was the contrasting approach of Jesus using surrender, faith, dependence, and reliance upon the Father’s uniquely ingenious plan to cancel out the weight of this massive debt of human sin.

No wonder Jesus sweated great drops of blood when finally confronted with the insurmountable task of nullifying this great mass of self-centered rebellion, using only His own spotless and blemish-free life, and a lamb-like surrender and reliance upon the will of the Father.  No wonder Jesus had to return moments later to the same spot in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray a second time “more earnestly” (Lk. 22:44).

At the cross is where Christians must take their cue to strike out on the path of faith and trust in God, to match the stories of the lives of people of faith as patterned in the Bible.

Self-autonomy, self-reliance, and self-direction are on the wrong side of the cross, in the territory of man-made religion, in the camp of the spiritually blind religious leaders and the worldly-minded Roman authorities who crucified Jesus.

C.S. Lewis said that we are not just imperfect people who need growth…but we are rebels who need to lay down our arms.

Laying down our arms occurs when we repent of our sins, recognize our need for God, and accept Jesus into our lives.

But this is not a one-time event at our Christian conversion.  The Christian life as a disciple involves a desire, a bend-of-the-heart toward daily surrender and yielding to God.  It involves placing Jesus Christ at the top of our priority list.  That is why Jesus said we have to pick up our cross daily (Lk. 9:23).

For the Christian disciple, the attitude of “I want to do things my way,” has to be crucified on the cross.

The calling of God for our lives, which displaces our own self-in-charge nature, establishes a Godly context, a clear set of goals, and a very specific arrangement of situations and circumstances, which fashions a path of faith within the course of our lives where the old rebel in us has increasingly more difficulty expressing itself.

A genuine walk of faith set-up by Jesus Christ creates constructive and positive things to do that lead to personal growth and ministry to others, absent the rebellion of self-sovereignty.

When Moses received his calling at the burning bush, and obediently set off toward Egypt to deliver the Israelites, he began living in the non-rebel mode.

After Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, it was the action of following Jesus within this new context of being the missionary evangelist to the gentile world, which enabled Paul to now live as a non-rebel.

When Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:32, “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” it is within the actual context of strengthening the newly born Christian church in Jerusalem that Peter is fulfilling his calling…in living as a non-rebel.

This is why the genuine gospel message of repentance, salvation, faith, trust, and transformation into a new person “in Christ” is so important.      The “truth that will set us free” is the life following Jesus in non-rebellion to His leading.

This is why we follow a crucified Son of God.  The will and way of Jesus was crucified to the will of God the Father, in the Garden of Gethsemane and at Calvary, for the benefit of all of mankind.

Jesus went before us in this regard.  The fact that Jesus Himself was without sin, tells us that the way of the cross is perfect.

This is one of the key character attributes which qualifies Jesus to be our leader.  We learn daily how to “lay down our arms” and become a non-rebel, in terms of our relationship with God…by following the sinless, perfect non-rebel in this regard…Jesus Christ.

Every born-again Christian can examine themselves as to who is in charge in their lives…self or Jesus Christ.

Every Christian can enter into their personal “prayer closet”, get on their knees, lift their arms up to God, and ask God to assume a greater role in their lives.

Every Christian can ask God in prayer to open up their spiritual eyes, and unclog their spiritual ears, so that they can see and hear God better in the specific ways that God would like to lead them.

If it is possible for God to weep in heaven, this is the type of sincere request from His saints that will probably bring tears of heartfelt joy to God’s eyes.

Our walk of faith…our purchase of the knowledge of good and evil through a God-composed journey of faith life-script…means that much to God.

Jesus died and rose again that we might have an abundant life through this living journey of faith…now and forever.

The Natural Moral Law 3

If one thinks about it, this is an amazingly profound realization.

How is it that we agree so readily about the decision for duty, honor, and responsibility over the pursuit of personal happiness?  How can this natural moral law rise to elevated precedence over everything else, including our personal goals and wishes?

How can the natural moral law be that important?  How can there be values in life worth making sacrifices for, over and above our personal desires?

How can “doing the right thing” command our respect and loyalty to this degree of self-sacrifice?

Why does this theme repeat itself in so many great movies, achieving so much popular acceptance and acclaim, yet be so morally demanding?

No Christians today would in hindsight tell Noah to stop building his ark, or advise Abraham to stay in Haran, or advise Moses to refuse God’s difficult calling to go to Egypt and deliver the Israelites.

No Christians would tell David to forget about the absurd notion of attempting to kill Goliath using only a sling and a stone, or tell Peter to continue mending his nets rather than accept the invitation of Jesus to follow Him, or tell Paul he had better give up his missionary quest and return to the safety of being a Pharisee in Jerusalem…after being nearly stoned to death in Lystra.

Buried deep within our conscience, we know that doing the right thing is more important than doing what we might otherwise want to do, when the circumstances of life require us to make a choice.

This must have the clear bell-ring note of truth that resonates in our innermost being, otherwise the movie Roman Holiday would not have captured our imagination and maintained its longstanding popularity to reach the elevated status of being considered a “classic.”

Within the highly competitive marketplace of ideas filtered through the cultural medium of modern movie-making, the theme of this beautiful story has stood the test of time for a good reason.

There is an important lesson we can take away from this classic movie.

Even the supportive and affirming aspects of common romantic love, which God created, can change people for the better.

Before her one-day love affair in Rome with Joe Bradley…the Gregory Peck character in the movie, the Princess Anne is going through the perfunctory motions of acting like a princess, of doing what everyone around her tells her to do, because that is what is expected of her.  But after she discovers, even for a single day, that a handsome and charming man actually loves her for who she is rather than what she is, this supporting validation of her as a person sets her free to become her own person.

Not only does the love, value, and respect coming from the Gregory Peck character in the movie enable Anne to grow instantly into a mature woman capable of independent decision-making, but also enables Anne to make the difficult but elevated moral decision to continue in the responsible role as her country’s princess.

After her Roman Holiday, the Princess Anne will enter into her duties in the service of her family and her country out of her own volition and choosing, albeit at the high cost of a lost romance and a broken heart.  This one-day, eye-opening experience will make her a better person and a more committed public servant for all of the right reasons.  This one-day transformation came about through the respect and support that comes with being genuinely loved.

Likewise, the one-day romp through the city of Rome with the beautiful princess in the disguise of a commoner, creates in Joe Bradley a growing love and affection for this woman as the day progresses, that in the end produces the elevated nobility of character that sacrifices for her welfare, the sensational front-page reporter’s story of a lifetime.

While standing in the front row of the gallery of reporters at the next day’s press conference, Gregory Peck assures Audrey Hepburn that the scandalous nature of their day out-in-the-town in Rome will forever remain a secret between the two of them.  Joe Bradley tells the Princess Anne that her “faith in the relations between people will not be unjustified.”  And thus these two people discover together the elevated, self-sacrificing quality of character that their love for each other has created…seemingly out of nowhere.

Anne starts out her Roman Holiday wanting only the excitement of pursuing one day of total freedom to do just whatever she pleases, and Joe Bradley starts out pursuing the personally detached, coldly calculated news reporter’s front page feature article.  Both unknowingly start out the day in the natural realm of worldly conventional, self-centered plans and schemes, but through the day’s totally unique shared experiences they end up at the highest character realm of the natural moral law of self-sacrificing love.

So it is with a God-composed journey of faith following Jesus Christ.  Spending time with Jesus will change us forever.

Romantic love that contains genuine self-sacrifice motivates Hepburn and Peck, in the movie, to make the right decision and to do the right thing.

But it is the actual activities of the day spent together that creates the bond of love between them to make this possible.  This is where the “rubber meets the road” in the story.  Without their “Roman Holiday” there is no context for their shared experiences, growing love for each other, and subsequent elevated character growth.

Without their Roman Holiday experience, they both would remain just the same as they were the previous day, hopelessly stuck within their horizontally conventional realities.

Only God can craft the events and circumstances in our lives to create the singularly unique context for developing love for God and right actions consistent with the natural moral law.

Whenever Jesus Christ calls a person into a particular task, mission, or service as part of their journey of faith, the confidence that God places in us is a divine aspect of love that will inspire a response to rise to the occasion.

This supportive validation of us as a person, coming from no less than Almighty God Himself, will raise the bar to a new elevated level of character within us.  The value that God places upon us, and the trust He invests in our development, when divine love is in operation, will elevate people into the high character level of the natural moral law contained within a journey of faith, to match the beautiful stories of faith in the Bible.

The acceptance, confidence, and validation that are a part of the love of God that is shown in God’s willingness to interact with us on a personal level, will elevate us to become better people, again seemingly out of nowhere (Mk. 4:26-28).

Whether we consciously know it or not, when we place our trust completely in Jesus Christ through a God-composed journey of faith, we are subscribing wholeheartedly to the natural moral law.

A personalized adventure of faith patterned for us after the lives of faith portrayed in the Bible, is God’s ingenious method of establishing a relationship with us based upon mutual love.  This love will capture our voluntary willingness to climb any mountain, cross any sea, and bear any burden in response to the living God who loves us and cares for us.

This explains why Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Jeremiah, Elijah, Daniel, Peter, and Paul stay with God’s program through thick and thin.  They recognized God’s confident love for them and responded with fidelity and loyalty to God’s higher ways and plans.

This is the elevated, higher character realm of the natural moral law where God resides.

Princess Anne and Joe Bradley unintentionally fall in love as a result of their shared Roman Holiday experience, combined with their physical attraction and growing affection for each other.  This was not a consciously intellectual choice on their part, conferring merit on their creative wisdom to set all of this up in advance.  We simply have the God-given, innate capacity for experiencing love that will alter our lives for the better.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).

One theme of this book is that God sets up unimaginable life-scripts for us to walk in, individually tailored to His intentions when He originally created each of us.

Love will motivate people to voluntarily choose high moral actions in a truly genuine and fulfilling way.  Divine love is the dynamic force that energizes the journeys of faith recorded in the Bible.  The “that not of yourselves” part involves picking up our cross, listening in the Spirit, and following Jesus.  It is the love of God that actively intervenes in our lives that is the key for individual Christians and the Christian church in the last-days.

This is the part of the Christian experience that is infused with the most unselfish, loving intentions of God toward us, creating the space for God to insert a biblical version “Roman Holiday” of unique situations and circumstances into our lives.

The secondary theme of this wonderful movie Roman Holiday, where the cost of duty and honor is commendably chosen over the short-term gain of personal preference, is something that Christians can anticipate becoming more clearly defined in our journeys of faith as the last–days approach.

Love that produces and exhibits self-sacrifice is one of the basic spiritual realities of the Christian life.  It is one of the fundamental aspects of this natural moral law that is a part of the Almighty God that we worship and follow.

Amazingly, this natural moral law even shows up as a main theme in a classic movie produced out of Hollywood in 1953.

Paul’s Private Discourse with Felix

During Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, Acts 24:24-25 reads:

“And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.  And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”

Over the years I have wondered about the exact words and the power of Paul’s speech that made Felix…a Roman ruler…a powerful and worldly successful man…tremble during this very private interview of Paul and “the faith in Christ.”

Paul was reasoning out of the natural moral law combined with the gospel message of salvation through Christ and the cross, in an elevated manner and through personal conviction that is not attainable by human intellect alone.

Saul (Paul) the young Pharisee speaking to Felix or someone like Felix decades earlier, about his zeal and enthusiasm for the religion of Judaism, would have produced genuine respect and admiration for Saul’s religious beliefs and erudition, but would never have brought Felix under Holy Spirit conviction for sin that an anointed discourse on righteousness, temperance, and judgment-to-come would produce in a politically powerful, worldly successful Roman governor.

The difference between Saul the young Pharisee and Paul the seasoned Christian missionary evangelist is that on the road to Damascus, God found Paul and Paul found God.

Saul the young Pharisee knew about God…Paul the apostle of the faith knows God personally.  Paul was able to draw-out from his own adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, the living words of truth that cut through the hard outer shell of the practical worldly thinking of a man like Felix, to reach his inner conscience.

The difference in Paul was produced through an adventure of faith following Jesus Christ in the danger zone of self-abandoned faith….according to a God-composed life-script of such original creativity that it was previously unimaginable to Saul (Paul) or anyone else at the time, before his conversion.

It was a God-composed adventure of faith life-script to be a missionary evangelist to the Greco-Roman world of the first-century that enabled Paul to write to the Corinthians:

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,    Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.                                                                            Love never faileth…                                (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

It is my guess that some of these timeless truths entered into the discussion of Paul with Felix so many years ago.  Only in heaven will we know whether Felix eventually made the decision for Christ that would determine his eternal future.

In this discourse between Paul and Felix, Felix knows that Paul is a prisoner, knows all about the recent furor in Jerusalem involving Paul, and is fully aware that Paul has been rejected by the ruling Jews of Jerusalem.

Yet Felix initiates this private interview with Paul, making a point of including his wife Drusilla the Jewess as well.

The Christian church in the last days, if not raptured pretribulation, may be in a similar worldly disadvantaged condition like Paul in relation to Felix and the world at large (Mt. 24:9), yet likewise be filled with Holy Spirit wisdom, self-composure, grace, confidence in Christ, and divinely empowered love that will draw people to us to hear the gospel message.

In the heat of the end-times environment, only the polarized contrast of a journey-of-faith and a journey-of-self…may exist as options.

Multitudes of people disenchanted with the conventional worldly option will become interested in hearing the gospel message…really listening for the first time.  The piercing truth of the gospel message spoken through an anointed and inspired discourse will cause people to tremble over conviction of sin…as Felix trembled at the words of Paul so many years ago.

Christians today must rise above being merely “church Christians” where the sole experience of our faith occurs only within the four walls of our church building.

Our testimony must have more depth than merely telling people “how great” is our church service, our pastor, the worship music, and the youth program, without ever mentioning what Jesus Christ means to us.

Our lives and our testimony must begin to approximate and become in-line with what we read in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, based upon our own biblical-quality adventure of faith.

This is not only achievable, but is the special work God intends to do through the new covenant relationship with all believers who exercise faith in Christ.

Everyone Missed the Cross

Listen to what people said about Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection:

“Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?  But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?  Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is” (Jn. 7:25-27).

“And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” (Jn. 7:31).

“Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.  Others said, This is the Christ.  But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?  Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?  So there was a division among the people because of him” (Jn. 7:40-43).

At the time, everyone intellectually missed the cross and the resurrection.

The disciples scatter for fear of their lives at the arrest of Jesus, not realizing that Jesus alone was the sole target.

Peter weeps bitterly at his failure not to courageously stand alongside Jesus during the ordeal of His night trial, not realizing that in a few short days the blessed redemption and salvation of millions upon millions of current and future believers would be fully and forever procured through the cross and the resurrection.

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus wrap the dead body of Jesus in linen clothes with myrrh and aloes according to the Jewish practices for permanent burial.

Mary Magdalene and the other women come to the sepulcher early Sunday morning to also prepare the body of Jesus for permanent burial…being totally surprised to discover an empty tomb.

The two disciples walking towards the nearby city of Emmaus reveal their complete non-understanding of the cross and the resurrection foretold by Jesus.

Why did everyone at the time miss the cross and the resurrection?

Everyone missed this because the God-composed journey of faith life-script for Jesus Christ the Son of God…like all other biblical-quality journeys of faith…was so far above ordinary conventional wisdom that no one understood or accepted ahead of time what was to occur.

Like the complex information of the workings of the Big Bang, or the unimaginable complexity of DNA and molecular machines within living cells, discovered within the last 100 years of modern scientific research…Christians also may not be able to decipher all of the details of the upcoming end-times events far in advance of their occurrence.

Even though, like the Jews in first-century Israel, we have prophetic scriptures, and the clear promise that we will not walk in darkness (1 Th. 5:4-11), much of our understanding of the end-times scenario may come at the last minute by revelation through the prophecies of Joel 2:28-32.

Much of our understanding of the great end-times issues may become clear by personal revelation and illumination in the midst of the events and circumstances themselves as they occur.

I see a brief last-days period of time…however all of the fine details of the eschatological pieces fit together…of “small” Christians around the globe being filled with Holy Ghost fire, preaching the gospel and sharing their faith courageously in arenas and environments which would currently be considered out of the question.

Christians standing up in their workplaces, their families, their neighborhoods, in universities, in schools, on street corners, and yes…in spiritually dead churches…with Holy Ghost power boldly preaching the everlasting gospel message for the sake of the one, two, or three out of ten who have ears to hear and hearts to respond positively.

I see a correspondingly ferocious opposition of hostility, rejection, and undisguised hatred by worldly people towards those who have this liberated outreach of Christian evangelism that is the antithesis of their skeptical, anti-god worldview beliefs, reinforced somehow and at some point in time by the presence of the dark personage of the “son of perdition” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and alluded to in Daniel 7:20-25, 8:23-25, and 12:10.

I also see the dissolution of a comfortable middle-ground of fence-sitting indifference, when the heat of the conflict between self-sacrificing divine love exhibited in the last-days outreach message of Spirit-filled Christians, and the venomously hostile rejection of Christians by hate-filled skeptical unbelievers (Mt. 24:9), produces the polarized environment too hot for compromise to persist any longer in the middle-ground of uncommitted indecision (Acts 6:9-15; 7:51-59; 2 Th. 2:3).

Returning to the analogy of the small construction company caught unprepared in the middle of rapid business growth, the last-days radical change in the world environment will force upon everyone on the earth the corresponding need for “managerial” character growth that is not obtainable through the horizontally conventional, worldly mindset of self-reliance alone.

The stakes will be so high and the conditions so dire that only a secure hope in the salvation of God through a future eternal life in heaven will overcome the utter despair at the loss of the supposed “right” to the temporal dreams, hopes, and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 12:11).

The heat of persecution will purify the gold of faith and remove the dross of empty, worldly acceptance and short-term ambitions.

The “small” Christian energized by the latter rain of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the earth, transforming people now quietly going about their Christian lives into future roaring lions of the faith courageously proclaiming the gospel message of salvation and deliverance…will epitomize for one last final time the ability of God to reach in and rescue success from the apparent jaws of defeat.

This is the God of the Bible, and there is no other like Him.

To experience this power, grace, and divine love to the fullest maximum extent, at the close of time itself…come what may no matter how high the cost…is the controlling theme of liberated self-sacrifice I see over and over again in the biblical narrative stories of faith…and in the history of the church leading up to today (Est. 4:16).

The concept of people starting out thinking they are not up to the task, yet nonetheless rising to the occasion and overcoming triumphantly in the most difficult of circumstances, through the supernatural insertion of God-composed, ingeniously crafted life-scripts having top-down, information-rich plotlines ready to step courageously into from the outset, is unique to the Bible.

It is not only part of the key to understanding the upcoming end-times challenge, but part of the key to understanding all of the timeless reality of life itself.

A biblical-quality journey of faith following Jesus Christ, within the current context of this broken world environment, resides at the upper limits of all human pursuits and endeavors, because the creative heart and mind of God resides at the pinnacle of the natural moral law for all right thoughts, behavior, and actions.  It is here and here only that Holy Ghost fire energizes and purifies all things (Heb. 12:29).

In the light of these foregoing arguments, is it likely that the last-days Christian church will be raptured pretribulation before all of these critical issues can be played-out to their fullest?

Is it more likely that God has an end-times script already composed for the entire human race, involving the Christian church in the most determined and desperate struggle, against seemingly impossible outward appearances, to gather in the last remaining lost sheep at the last final moment for all time?

I cannot dogmatically say one way or the other.

If God does rapture the Christian church pretribulation, then like all of the works of God, this will be perfect in its outreach, message, and outcome.

But I hope people reading this book will include the worldview concept of the way of the cross into their biblical, end-times eschatological calculus from this time forward.