I have inside word that Joel Osteen is under stress. It seems a woman has been stalking him in one manner or another. While precautions have been taken, these things can take their toll. Even Jesus found it necessary – and increasingly difficult – to escape physical jeopardy, until He willingly accepted it when it was His time to go to the cross. We need to be praying for Joel, and all the church’s leaders.
I wish the body had a broader perspective toward ministers such as Joel. Joel is not perfect. I don’t go to him when I want a catechism answer. But there was a time in my life when I did go to him for encouragement, and to be reminded of the love of God. In fact, he was the only TV preacher I could listen to for a season.
Yet because he doesn’t harp on sin week in and week out, some accuse him of distorting the Gospel. They don’t understand that when Joel exhorts us to have a better attitude, or exercise faith that God is working on our behalf and will bring good out of difficult circumstances, it is implicit that our sinful attitudes must change and we must draw near to God.
It also escapes the understanding of some that the Gospel is about more than just initial salvation. Salvation is an ongoing process by which we are continually sanctified – “from glory to glory” is the way the Bible puts it – and we need encouragement and exhortation to be walking according to the fullness of our heritage in Christ. Joel is a modern day “bar Nabus” (son of encouragement), bringing us that uplifting word.
There’s also one other thing that some don’t realize. A great portion of the world’s people live trapped in dark lands where the love of God is suppressed. Joel’s message of love is beamed into those lands via satellite and the Internet. Imagine you have been born into a repressive cultural milieu, and live in terror of arbitrary and legalistic religion. Now you hear of a God who acts on our behalf from selfless love. You even see the minister quite frequently getting emotional talking about Him. What amazing evangelistic power this can have. God loves these souls, and we need to reach them with that love.
As I said, Joel is not perfect. But he has been faithful with the light he’s been given. He helped me immensely during a season of my life, and for that I will always be grateful and bless him. We need to pray for our leaders. Until the Body comes together in the unity of faith and love, we will suffer together with a lack of power.
Since the mid-1980s I’ve counted myself as a conservative. I spent time on the abortion barricades and in the public square, advocating for morality and for America’s return to her Constitutional roots, as the only basis on which we can survive in any recognizable or good form.
America’s founders based our government upon the unique paradoxical biblical revelation of the nature of man. Man is made in the image of God. As such, he deserves dignity, freedom, and human and civil rights.
But the Bible also holds that man is fallen, a sinner that cannot be trusted. Therefore we must have government. And because fallen man is also the one who runs the government, that government must be strictly limited.
There’s a tension between those truths, and the best solution we can come with is a dynamic equilibrium that balances them successfully. It never will be perfect, but if we keep working to maintain the center, we can survive and preserve the freedoms we have gained.
The problem is that for several decades now, the nation has been increasingly run by humanistic elites whose purpose, stated or not, is to erode the biblical foundations of our republic. They have systematically stripped the culture of as many references to God as they could. Prayer and morality left the school, and condoms filled the vacuum. How could it have been otherwise?
It’s heartening then to note that the nation of late continues in a tilt toward conservatism. Fully 40% of the population so self-identify, more than even the 33% who claim the middle, leaving liberals with less than a quarter of the count. This is a stunning reversal at the grassroots, even if we don’t see much reflection of it yet in the halls of power.
We need to keep working, with both prayer and action, to win America back. The situation is dire, but with God’s help we will succeed.
But while I continue to hold conservative political values, at the same time two important truths have been impressed on me lately, as I watch the pace of cultural decline accelerate.
First, conservativism and godliness often overlap, especially at this critical time, but essentially they are distinct entities. This was strongly impressed on me recently when a story about the detrimental effect of pornography on men’s ability to bond qualitatively to women was posted to a conservative blog I frequent. Very predictably, I’m sorry to say, the reaction from the crowd there was a bunch of snide jeering and a celebration of the joys of porn. These were conservatives.
Because of the attack on moral values, coupled with the unrestrained Internet, America and the world is awash with an unprecedented amount of pornography. And we are suffering for it. While in some ways they have obtained freedom, women are now openly objectified as never before, and often by their own choices have become their own worst enemies. The values that used to protect them – morality, fidelity and monogamy – are in short supply indeed. And women, in competition for attention, have largely allowed themselves to be degraded to the level of the culture’s expectations. They are the worse for it.
It is short-sighted that many conservatives have an implicit belief that the morality they labor for in foreign and domestic policy can long endure if personal morality is jettisoned. They ought to give Washington’s farewell address a good read, in which he warned the nation that it could not long stand if it abandoned the “twin pillars” of democracy – morality and religion.
Jesus said that judgment will take place in this manner: two will be working in a field, and one will be taken; two will be grinding at the wheel, and one will be taken. Let me apply that to our current day. Two will hold conservative political values, and only one will be pleasing to God.
It’s a good thing to labor to restore the nation to its roots. But it’s not a good enough thing. It’s a terrible thing to work conservatively in the external political sphere but not attend to restoring one’s own spiritual roots.
The other issue that I think needs reassessment is conservatism’s claim to exclusive correctness. In that same farewell address, Washington also warned against involvement with other nations. That is no longer possible, and indeed it never was. It was only shortly after Washington left the scene that the Barbary Pirates – read: Muslims – began to severely harass American ships. If we were going to have any commerce with the world at all, it quickly became necessary to deal with international problems.
With increased information flow, the world is getting smaller. If nothing else, the latest Muslim incursion, on 9/11, proved that we simply cannot shut out the world.
And I’ll go one further. We are not meant to shut out the world entirely. America was blessed with resources and governance not merely for her own freedom and prosperity, but that she could bring them to others. More precisely, America, founded on Christian principles, is meant to be a Gospel light to the nations. We cannot do that by hiding our light under a bushel.
Strict isolationism will not work. God’s love and grace has been shed abroad in our hearts liberally, not conservatively, and that’s how we need to spread it to others. In this regard, the motivations of liberals are many times correct. Their mistake is their inordinate faith in the state, which becomes a substitute for the church and the individual as the means of dispensing that grace. Jesus warned, call no man ‘father’, but we have forgotten.
The point of this article is this: we should acknowledge civic virtues, and we should work to bring America back to her roots, but we need to do it all, first and foremost, for the glory of God. When we do that, we not only have the chance of earthly achievements, we have the certainty of heavenly rewards.
An added note on porn:
Those who embrace pornography are squandering their affections. They are building walls around themselves that make real intimacy with their wives impossible. They are sowing seeds of cynicism, resentment and alienation, and one cannot do that without consequences.
In this regard, a good woman is like anything else: what you put into her, you will get out of her, and more. What better is there to invest in but your family? Or for that matter, God?
If you make a commitment to avoid porn, you can get to a place where you recognize when women are using their appearance as a substitute for good character. Trust me on this, you will be avoiding a world of pain if you do so. The benefits of devoting yourself to your wife, and the detriments of squandering your affections, are both so great that the difficulty of disciplining yourself morally are well worth it.
Remember the embarrassing passage in Genesis, in which Jacob, working for the finagler Laban, set his wages to be every “speckled or spotted sheep”? Laban thought he was getting a deal, and set out to defraud Jacob. It was all so easy. But Jacob outwitted Laban by setting up an environment for the sheep that graphically mimicked how he wanted the new lambs’ coats to look. The result was:
When the sheep mated in front of the [color-contrasting] branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. -Gen 30.9
“Oh, what a rip. Genetics are entirely independent of environment! This Jacob story is just more evidence that the Bible is a collection of fairy tales and its believers are anti-scientific, irrational yokels.”
So the ridicule went. But it seems that after centuries of evolution theories, science has just made a reversal and taken a small step to catching up with the Bible in this matter.
Take a look at this article over at the Guardian. The young field of “epigenetics”, which is the study of the protective layer surrounding the chromosome chain, and the effects of that layer on gene sequencing, has found that environmental factors do affect the surrounding matter, and they in turn influence which genes are switched on and which are not. Or, in other words, and I quote:
“Today,” notes David Shenk, “any high school student knows that genes are passed on unchanged from parent to child, and to the next generation and the next. Lifestyle cannot alter heredity. Except now it turns out that it can . . .”
Considering the pummeling the scientific community is rightfully taking on shoddy and dishonest global warming methodology, you can imagine that questions about basic evolution orthodoxy have the potential to create another, and even greater, scientific bombshell.
I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to work that angle. And neither am I going to try to prove that the Bible is true. But I am going to suggest a practical benefit that the Christian can take away from this unfolding story.
Consider these wonderful promises from the beginning of Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. -Ps 103:1-7
Among other things, the Lord here promises us that He will heal our diseases, restore our youth, and redeem our life. Now, let’s say you had neurological damage. For decades medical science told us that nerves and brain tissue cannot be regenerated. We only have a certain number of these cells, and once they were gone, that was it. – Until last year, that is, when they suddenly found out better. For in another reversal, scientists now have proof that human nerve tissue can replenish itself.
If you didn’t believe – or didn’t know – what the Bible says here, what hope for healing would you have had all those years? None. But if you knew the Word, and took God at his Word, believing Him over medical scientists, and taking your stand for your healing – you may have been laughed at by sophisticates, but you would have had hope.
And hopeful, you would have filled your mind with positive, expectant thoughts. You would have meditated on the Word day and night. You would have prayed affirmations aloud, according to passages such as Mark 11, where Jesus tells us to pray believing that we are, right now, as we are praying, receiving, and John 15.7, where we are promised our prayers will be answered if we abide, and so many other places where we are exhorted to pray through to victory. In effect, you would be filling your soul with the reality of your healing even before that healing was manifest to the natural eye.
Your faith would have been anticipating the result you wanted to obtain. Or, put scientifically, you would have been altering your environment in order to affect your genetics. And isn’t that just exactly what Jacob did when he wanted to change the appearance of the baby lambs?
Folks, this faith business is a matter of life and death. Indeed,
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. -Pro 18.21
Whatever your need is, are you going to believe the world’s report, or are you going to believe God? Ancient Israel chose to believe their natural eyes and logic rather than have faith in God, and their lack of faith forced them to futilely circle a desert mountain for forty years rather than enter the promised land after what would have been a mere eleven day journey.
If we fail to enter into the realm of faith, we too risk wasting precious time. The good news is that with the power of the Word, we have the faith option. We can choose to believe God. And if we have failed in the past, it is not too late to repent (which simply means to rethink) and to get on the faith track and begin to reverse the damages. Get serious with God, get in the Word, and you will see His rewards.
One day science will catch up to the Bible, and we’ll know and understand the awesome wisdom which emanates from the God who brought Creation into being. But currently, to the extent that it is at odds with the Bible, fallen science is out in the desert, futilely circling mountains. Thankfully, we don’t have to join it. The choice of whom to follow is up to us. In this age we must walk by faith rather than sight if we are going to take the Kingdom and bear fruit. There is no other way.
Joseph Prince brought out some great insights in his devotional today. It was about the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought Jesus’ help for her demonized daughter. This passage can be hard to understand, and many skeptics have used it to paint Jesus as uncaring and even racist, or at the least, temperamental. For anyone who really knows the Gospels, those charges are impossible, but they have been used to sow doubt in those unfamiliar with the Savior’s character.
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
The Prince piece started me conjecturing what was really going on. First, he pointed out that the woman, though a Gentile, approached Jesus using his Davidic messianic title, Son of David. Why did she do this? Desperate for her daughter, she sought to incur Jesus’ favor by pretending to be a Jew herself, or at least by showing that she knew and respected the Jewish religion.
But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
And what did trying to massage Jesus get her? Silence! Hmmm. The woman gets persistent (just as Jesus teaches us to be), but now the disciples want to get rid of her! From the woman’s perspective, things are going downhill, fast.
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Finally Jesus answers. But how does He answer? He further stonewalls the woman. This is the story’s crisis point. Everything the woman had planned to do had now been done, to no effect. Out of ammo, the woman was either going to have to give up on her miracle or do something unplanned and desperate.
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
Remember, the Jews would have nothing to do with these Gentiles, yet still the woman dares to cast herself before Jesus. It’s no longer the “Son of David” appellation from afar. It’s now “Lord”, in an intimate voice, up close and personal.
And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Jesus stills opposes the woman, but Prince points out that the Greek word used for dogs here signifies a little dog – we would call it a puppy. Though His words still say “no”, the tone of Jesus voice expresses tenderness toward the woman. She sees a ray of hope and is encouraged.
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matt 15:21-28
All the while Jesus seemed to be uncaring, and even adversarial, He was masterfully drawing the woman out of herself and towards himself. He wasn’t satisfied with distant, impersonal worship, and He certainly wasn’t impressed with religious titles or knowledge.
He pressed the woman to reveal her true self, not out of callousness, but so that she could enter into intimate relationship with her Savior. His actions were borne of love, not disdain. All the while that He seemed uncaring, He wanted her to take up the challenge and overcome the obstacles, and He was delighted when she did so.
As always, Jesus was in perfect control of the situation at all times, and He perfectly engineered the conversation so that the woman – His seeming adversary – not only could gain the blessing for her daughter, she could be forever changed in the process!
There is no one like our matchless Jesus, and there never can be. We can take an important lesson from this. Whenever the Bible presents a difficult passage, adopt the view that there is an explanation even if we don’t know it at this time. God is still in the business of drawing people out, to prove what’s in their hearts and to draw them close to Him.
And whatever our need in life, even when Jesus seems to be silent, even when He seems to be adversarial, He’s really on our side advocating for us the whole time. Never doubt the kind intentions of the Savior. Press in and receive the blessing!
I can’t write too much yet about what I’ve been experiencing and learning the past few weeks. It has been earth-shaking to the max. I have been drinking in God’s grace so deeply that years of weariness, caused by trying to walk Christianity out in my own strength, has been released in my soul as my restraints loosen, washing over me as it oozes out. So presently I really can’t do much, but it’s a good feeling because I know it’s the precursor to freedom and empowerment.
It began about three weeks ago, when a friend on Facebook tipped me off to the videos of Joseph Prince. He really has a handle on the Gospel of grace that Paul preached. Paul was persecuted for his Gospel for reasons we still often do not fully understand – that it’s a radical departure from the keeping of the Law; and it’s a radical departure from anything religious man (and man is religious, no matter what particular costume he may be wearing, including secularism) could ever concoct.
For three days I went on a “Prince Extravaganza”, soaking it in, finding new Life. The power of grace began to be released in my soul. Whenever old doubts and anxieties would appear, a simple faith would arise to deflect them: everything was in God’s hands, and He is so very able to take care of me. It literally was like a light would go on in my soul, and the tension would be immediately released. It was miraculous.
Then, through Andrew Strom’s Revival list, I came across the site SermonIndex.net. Poking around, I found a Watchman Nee article (there are about 160 there; it’s a great resource), The Gift, or the Giver?
Nee very insightfully makes the point that the ultimate test of faith and intimacy is to see beyond our Isaac, to God Himself. It’s not about how much Isaac pleases us, it’s about being pleased and consumed with the larger principle of God’s will. That little synopsis does the piece a disservice, but that’s all I can write right now. I strongly recommend reading it.
Reading a few other things at that site, I went looking for Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. I eventually found that for download at ProjectGuttenberg, but before I did I struck out at CCEL.org. But while at CCEL I spontaneously downloaded Hannah Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.
WOW! I read the book decades ago, but this time I feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train, full-on. And yes, I have died of the injuries! That is, my flesh died. My paltry attempts to live the Christian life died.
Now I see that it’s all grace, it’s all Him. It’s Him working in me through faith. The whole salvation, justification, glorification plan is His from the outset, our job is to receive and believe. As Nee says, its Luke 15 context proves that the Prodigal Son story really is about the Father regaining what was lost, not the son finding himself.
As I said, I’m too much in process to say much more yet. But I wanted to flag my readers that my absence here has not been wasted time. God is doing something marvelous. And I wanted to leave a breadcrumb trail in case any of you are looking for some great viewing/reading material.
Hope to check in soon. Until then, be, and stay, blessed.
We had a nice respite from a tough Winter the past two days, and I took advantage of it to wash the salt off the car. I went out today to finish up, and as I started to wash the windows, I found myself praying in earnest, “Lord, get me OUT of this mess”!
I wasn’t referring to washing the car. Life can have a way of getting us off script. Maybe that hasn’t happened much to you, but it has happened so often here that I’ve about concluded that it’s normal. My own scripting must be so unacceptable that it repeatedly needs to be tossed, and I end up with a plot that’s hard to discern, facing giants that I don’t know how to defeat.
And so it seemed natural that I should pray for deliverance – after all, the Bible is full of deliverance. The prayer seemed to come from my heart at first, but then I began to sense an increasingly tinny feel to it that wasn’t right. I saw an old problem: there was no faith mixed with the prayer.
I caught myself. Was this the prayer the Lord wanted me to be praying? Did it glorify Him? Not really. Then the apostles’ prayer in Acts 4 came to my mind.
The scene in Acts 4 is that the nascent church was just beginning to make an impact. The world is absolutely fine with Christians believing as devoutly as they may wish, as long as they keep it to themselves and don’t begin to threaten existing systems. The problem is that Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords that He is, inherently lays claim over all authority, and necessarily will rock every single boat that gets in the way of that claim. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken.
On our side, there’s no arm of the flesh in the confrontation, there is only the proclamation of Kingdom authority in the spirit. The problem is that the world’s systems are inherently unstable and insecure, and therefore cling to their own authority and regard any competition as a threat. So while Jesus’ reign is absolutely benign and wonderful and right, it is perceived malignantly by rival systems.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. But we know that when He shall be revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. – 1John 3:2
Twenty centuries ago God established a beachhead in enemy territory. Unlike D-Day, this one came quietly and was barely noticed. Most people just continued going about their lives, not knowing anything had changed.
But everything had changed. God was finally executing His long-held plan to redeem fallen creation. And the Lord of Love was going to do it meekly, “through the frailty of [His] Son”, by giving Himself.
Had Jesus come merely to repopulate the earth with godly seed, none of the issues the devil had raised in his rebellion would have been resolved. And the new race could have fallen just as easily as had the first. But Jesus didn’t come to replace, He came to redeem. The Incarnation is only half the story, the other half being the Cross.
Every once in a while – ok, every once in a great while – a really classic Christmas song comes along. It’s too rare these days that a good tune also has lyrics that you can dig into, meditate on and learn from. Back in 1988, Michael Card penned To the Mystery, one such tune.
I pray we can embody the Christmas message and take it to a world in need of hope.
To the mystery
When the Father wanted to show, a love He wanted us to know,
He sent His only Son and so, became a holy embryo.
That is the mystery, more than you can see.
Give up on your pondering, fall down on your knees.
No fiction as fantastic and wild — a mother made by her own child!
The hopeless babe who cried, was God incarnate and man deified.
Because the Fall did devastate, Creator now must recreate.
And so, to take our sin, was made like us so we could be like Him.