Posts Tagged ‘Joel Osteen’

Reading the Psalms with the doctrine of imputation in mind

January 21, 2019

Psalm 118 was written by David, who, according to the God-breathed words of its preface (i.e., the preface is part of the original Hebrew text), “addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.”

It’s a psalm that ought to greatly encourage those of us who are united by faith with Christ. David affirms that God is our protector, defender, and place of refuge. He rescues us when we cry out to him in fear. In fact, God becomes angry on our behalf, when we are mistreated. He will avenge us; he will vindicate us.

Why does God do this for us? Because, as verse 19 says, he “delights in us.” In my Christmas Eve sermon this year, I connected the angel’s words to the shepherds, “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) to the Father’s words to his Son Jesus during his baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). The Greek root underneath the English words “pleased”  and “well pleased” is the same: Therefore, if we are in Christ, our Father is as pleased with us as he is with his own Son, not on the basis of who we are and what we’ve done, but who Jesus is and what he’s done for us.

So when David describes what God has done to rescue him from his enemies, and all the trouble that his enemies caused, everything he says about God’s actions toward him are at least as true for us. He’ll do the same for us but even more so—because God has imputed to us the gift of Christ’s righteousness.

Apart from our understanding the doctrine of imputation, the words that David writes in verses 20-24 ought to depress us:

The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from my guilt.
So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

Why should these words depress us? I wrote the following in my ESV Journaling Bible:

These could be among the most discouraging words in scripture, when we consider our sin. Indeed, the psalmist in Psam 130:3 recognizes the universal problem of sin: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Not to mention Paul’s words about the war within us: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). So if God’s protection, defense, and vindication of us depend on “my righteousness” or “the cleanness of my hands,” then we’re all in trouble!

But here’s where we need the good news of the gospel: the favor that we enjoy in God’s eyes is based not on our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ. For all of David’s words about his personal righteousness, we can substitute “Christ’s righteousness on our behalf”: For us, in other words, Christ has perfectly “kept the ways of the Lord”; Christ has not “wickedly departed from my God”; Christ did not “put away” God’s rules and statutes; Christ was “blameless” and “kept [himself] from guilt”; God has “rewarded [us] according to [Christ’s] righteousness, according to the cleanness of [his] hands in his sight.”

So for those of us who are united with Christ through faith, all of the positive outcomes that David describes are now ours—only better!

Do you see the logic of imputation? There are few doctrines more glorious, more reassuring, than this one.

With this in mind, how can I not heartily endorse a tweet like this from Joel Osteen, with only a small qualification?

We can be confident that what God ordains for us is good. How could it be otherwise, given our new identity in Christ?

Make me your prisoner, Lord, because “free will” isn’t working for me

December 19, 2018

Yesterday, when journaling through Zechariah, I came across this evocative verse: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double” (Zechariah 9:12). In context, the prophet is speaking to Jewish exiles in Babylon. But that phrase, “prisoners of hope,” inspired me to write the following:

9:12 “O prisoners of hope”: Imprison me in this same way, Lord. Make my heart captive to your Word and your gospel, such that I can never leave. If you capture me against my will (which is true by definition), then please transform my will. Change my desires so that I desire only you. Make me a prisoner of hope, rather than a prisoner of despair, or bitterness, or resentment, or fear, or vainglory. I’ve been a prisoner to those things too long!

The older I get, the lower my anthropology becomes, which is to say, the less optimistic I am about human nature. (Maybe I know myself too well?) Regardless, my “free will” isn’t working for me, let’s face it. I want too many things that are bad for me. So now I’m pleading with the Lord to make me want him and his kingdom: Make me your prisoner, Jesus. It’s the only way I’ll stay close to you! And in my best moments, when I am sufficiently under the influence of your grace, I want to be close to you more than I want anything else. And I am happy.

Sometimes when I say or write things like this, which cut against the grain our culture’s “moral therapeutic deism,” some of my well-meaning fellow Christians try to comfort me: “There, there,” they say. “You’re not so bad.” But I am! Besides, when I begin to think otherwise, I’m tempted to climb back on the hamster wheel of self-improvement that too many Methodists call “sanctification” and make myself miserable all over again.

No, I like being reminded that my standing before God doesn’t depend on me. That is incredibly good news!

And don’t forget: the gospel is, first and foremost, news. Pastor Tim Keller puts it like this:

Advice is counsel about what you must do. News is a report about what has already been done. Advice urges you to make something happen. News urges you to recognize something that has already happened and to respond to it. Advice says it is all up to you to act. News says someone else has acted. Let’s say there is an invading army coming toward a town. What that town needs is military advisers; it needs advice. Someone should explain that the earthworks and trenches should go over there, the marksmen go up there, and the tanks must go down there.

However, if a great king has intercepted and defeated the invading army, what does the town need then? It doesn’t need military advisers; it needs messengers, and the Greek word for messengers is angelos, angels. The messengers do not say, “Here is what you have to do.” They say rather, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” In other words, “Stop fleeing! Stop building fortifications. Stop trying to save yourselves. The King has saved you.” Something has been done, and it changes everything.[1]

The gospel is not what we do; rather, it’s what’s been done for us. Rest in this thought for a moment. Refresh yourself with this good news. Hear Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

By the way, Joel Osteen’s Twitter game has been on fire recently. When I first read this tweet, my heart objected: “No way! It’s too good to be true!” But then, this is the way the gospel ought to strike us, right? We ought to be amazed at what God has done to save us. This tweet gets to the heart of the gospel, the meaning of justification, and Christ’s imputed righteousness. As Fleming Rutledge (in case you need  a more “respectable” source than Osteen) says in her book on Atonement, sanctification means “becoming what you already are.”

Regardless, this tweet is music to my ears!

By all means, find something to disagree with here. I can’t.

“Wait, wait… This grace can’t apply to addicts!” No, God’s grace is for them, too. “But not until they’ve cleaned up their acts a little bit first!” No, God sent his Son because none of us sinners is able to clean up our acts, a little or a lot. “But God doesn’t show favor to the really bad sinners!” I don’t know… Paul called himself the “foremost” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and look at the favor God showed him! “But what about repentance?” By all means, we must repent! But what is repentance? Confessing to God that we are utterly helpless to solve the problem of our sins. “But we must do something!” Well, yes… because faith without works is dead (James 2:20), and our “doing” is a means of testing the authenticity of faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). But our “doing” plays no role in saving us, nor by doing can we claim credit for any subsequent change in our hearts that the Holy Spirit accomplishes. Christ saves us entirely. Solus Christus!

1. Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 21-22.

Osteen: “Quit losing sleep over something that God ordained”

December 13, 2018

A couple of days ago, in the Twitterverse, Joel Osteen posted the following:

So my question to you, dear readers, is this: Is he wrong?

Many years ago, I would have said yes, he is wrong… emphatically.

In fact, my Christian faith was badly shaken on the morning of October 18, 1989. This was the morning after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay area of California, minutes before Game 3 of the World Series was set to start. The Oakland A’s were playing the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

That morning, I was driving to work in Atlanta (I was a co-op student at Georgia Tech at the time), listening to a Christian radio station. After a news break describing the earthquake, the radio host said the following: “I have friends out on the West Coast in the Bay Area. I talked to them last night. They’re doing O.K. I just want to thank God for their safety.”

Something within me recoiled: “No!” I thought. “You don’t get to thank God for saving the lives of your friends unless, at the same time, you blame God for not saving the lives of the earthquake’s many victims.” (Wikipedia tells me that 63 people died and 3,757 were injured.)

Even to this day, while my interpretation of the event has changed, the logic is sound. Isn’t it?

If God possesses the power to keep our friends safe during an earthquake—and who could deny that he does and still be within the realm of orthodox Christianity?—then surely, by that same power, he could keep everyone safe. Indeed, every time we pray for the safety of friends and family who are traveling home for Christmas, for examples, or who are facing surgery, or who are dodging IEDs in war zones, we believe that God has the power to intervene in the world to keep our loved ones safe. If God has the power to do so for relatively “small” events, as we perceive them, then he has the power to do so for big events.

If “thanking God” for loved ones’ safety isn’t hot air, and we really mean it, then we must conclude that in cases in which people die, God has reasons for allowing their deaths. In other words, getting back to Osteen’s tweet, “nothing can happen without his permission.” He “ordains” it.

There is far too much scripture to back this up. Read, for instance, Psalm 139, with its high view of God’s sovereignty: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me… [I]n your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Or how about Job 1? Recall that God gives Satan permission (explicitly!) to harm Job—first his family and livestock, later his own health. Again, this affirms Osteen’s tweet: “He [God] may not have sent it,” but God permits Satan to work this evil. Jesus himself acknowledges the constrained but very real power that Satan has over this world when he calls him the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and the “prince of this world” (John 14:30).

Indeed, when Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness with the gift of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8), Jesus doesn’t respond by saying, “You and I both know you don’t possess that power, Satan,” in which case Satan’s offer wouldn’t be tempting at all. No, Jesus is really tempted because he understands that Satan does possess the power to give him these kingdoms… because God has allowed him some degree of power to influence our physical world. And we see Satan exert this influence in Job 1-2.

Another way of putting it—if it helps—is like this: Just as God allows free but fallen human beings to work great evil in the world, so he also allows free but fallen angelic beings to work great evil in the world. Indeed, it’s not clear where one stops and the other starts, if Paul is right when he says that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12).

Nevertheless, after Satan kills Job’s children, Job responds with these difficult words, which were even used as part of a popular praise-and-worship song 20 years ago (“Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”): “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Even though Satan is the direct agent of harm, God is ultimately responsible for it.

I can anticipate an objection: Yes, but this is Job speaking, not God. What if Job is mistaken?

But even if he were mistaken, we still have to deal with the next verse (emphasis mine): “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” At the very least, in attributing the deaths of Job’s children to God (whether Job is right or wrong to make the attribution), the premise holds: God, the author of a life that none of us deserves and to which none of us is entitled, is permitted to take that life when he pleases (“it is appointed unto men once to die,” Hebrews 9:27—appointed by whom?). Otherwise, Job would be “charging God with wrong” in saying so.

But even in the face of this tragedy, Job can still say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” Why? Because he knows the truth of what Paul would later say: that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a New Testament example, which I’ve discussed before: Paul and his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Notice the divine passive in v. 7: “a thorn was given me.” In other words, the thorn was, in one sense, a gift from God, which he gave him, Paul says, “to keep me from becoming conceited.” This is an example of what C.S. Lewis calls a “severe mercy”: God has done something for Paul that is in his best interests, even though it causes great pain.

But notice that God is not the direct cause of the thorn: Satan is. This “gift from God” is at the same time a “messenger from Satan” sent to “harass” Paul. How can it be both? In this way: What Satan intends for evil, God intends for good. (See Genesis 50:20.) In other words, while Satan wanted to hurt Paul and hamper his ministry with this “thorn” (a symbol for violent persecution, perhaps, or a physical ailment), and God had granted Satan the freedom to do so, God transformed it into something that would be in Paul’s best interests.

Indeed, if Romans 8:28 is true, God does this all the time. And when God permits something far worse than a “thorn”—something that actually kills us, like earthquakes—we can still say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”—because, at the very least, we get heaven and Jesus: “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Anyway, while I understand why you might object to the Bible’s high view of God’s sovereignty—as I did myself when I entered into a long season of spiritual drought during my sophomore year in college—I hope you’ll agree that I’ve represented the Bible’s teaching accurately.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I am deeply comforted by the idea—cliché though it be—that “everything happens for a [God-ordained] reason.” Even at our worst, if we are in Christ we can be sure that our lives are not spiraling out of control. On the contrary, God is working in our best interests.

After all, how many of us cite Jeremiah 29:11 as a favorite verse? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Does God have plans for us or doesn’t he? Or does something like an earthquake, devastating though it be, have the power to derail God’s plans for us?

Heaven forbid!

Otherwise God does not have the power to intervene in the world, and our Lord would be lying when he teaches us to petition our Father with urgency and persistence.

Prayer makes a difference in the world because we believe that God has the power to make a difference in the world. Contemporary Christians, not least of which contemporary Methodists, can be very earthbound and human-centered in our worldview: we can overemphasize what we humans can accomplish at the expense of what God accomplishes for his glory.

I urge us to be more supernatural in our outlook. This starts, I believe, with a robust view of God’s sovereignty and providence.

It starts, well… by believing what Joel Osteen says… because his words reflect the truth of God’s Word.

In fact, my only small quibble with Osteen’s tweet is that he says, “Don’t try to figure it out.” I would nuance it a bit: “Don’t worry about it if you can’t figure it out.” Besides, as one pastor has said, “There may be a thousand reasons God allows something to happen, and you may only see one or two.” Or none, at least on this side of eternity. And that’s O.K. We’re not God.

We’re not God… I like that! The 19-year-old version of myself would have benefited from that helpful reminder.

Sermon 09-07-14: “Bible Heroes, Part 5: Gideon”

September 17, 2014

superhero graphic

The people of Israel were committing idolatry at the beginning of today’s scripture. It’s not that they stopped believing in the one true God, Yahweh, but that they were adding other gods to the mix—in case Yahweh wasn’t enough for them.

Are we so different from them? We may not bend our knee and worship idols the way ancient Israel did, but we commit idolatry whenever we look to some person or thing to meet our deepest needs. What are the warning signs of this kind of idolatry? What can we do to prevent it?

In Jesus Christ, God gives us everything we need to prevent this kind of idolatry, as this sermon makes clear.

Sermon Text: Judges 6:1-27, 33-40

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Did you hear the news? This Tuesday, Auburn graduate and Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook will announce the first entirely new product of his tenure as Steve Jobs’s successor: the product is the iWatch. Well, we don’t know for sure what it’ll be called, but we know for sure it will be a smartwatch, a powerful computer that you wear on your wrist.

tim-cook1

Apple CEO Tim Cook

One consumer technology consultant who’s seen it told the New York Times last week: “I believe it’s going to be historic.”

And I believe I’m going to need an iWatch. But let me explain: as many of you know, I’ve recently rededicated myself to working out, getting “swole,” and at least getting in kind of shape necessary to be an American Ninja Warrior. Why are you laughing? I’m serious. And insiders say that this new iWatch will leave exercise-related products from FitBit and Nike in the dust. It will track all your footsteps, monitor your vital signs, yell at you when you reach for that extra piece of key lime pie. The new iWatch has everything an American Ninja Warrior could want.

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