We’re back from a fish’n trip with some of the men in our church. Below are some pics from the Chippewa Flowage, in northern Wisconsin. We thank the Lord for his handiwork revealed in creation – the Northwoods are beautiful this time of the year!
Northern Pike caught on a “Terminator”
Large Mouth Bass
Now that’s relaxation!
I may be in Northern Wisconsin, but my heart is still in West Virginia!
Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) wrote in his book, The Bruised Reed:
“It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts,” (pg. 6).
This most influential and gentle puritan was referring to what would characterize the life of Christ (Isa. 42:1-3; Matt. 12:18-20). Christ would tend his sheep like tending to a nearly broken reed. If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and yet feel weak and helpless, then you are like a bruised reed that Christ will not deal so severely with you that you break. If you feel worthless because you cannot perform many things at optimum level, if you feel that you have little to offer, if you feel that on most days, life is barely manageable, if you feel that Christ cannot love such a wreck as you, if you tally your life as lacking far behind, if you are prone to despondency with past regrets and feel that there is little to look forward to, if you are feeling more sadness than joy, more loss than gain, more emptiness than plenty, if you are keenly aware of your sins and the greatness of grace that covers them all, if you wonder why your life seems to be much heavier than others, then know this:
How much grace does it take to bring a suffering, broken, bruised, and nearly crushed child of God home to heaven? If we knew the massive burdens that some saints bear, we would applaud them for just rising out of bed in the morning. Some saints bear such grievous loads that it takes all of heaven’s grace to bear them up. That they stagger on and on and on to the promised land is no small feat.
It just might be that the weakest among us are actually the most courageous and strongest of all. This is why Jesus is gentle with our bruises. He knows our need, for he too was “bruised for our iniquities” so that he might heal us (Isa. 53).
Below is what Kevin DeYoung recently posted. This was helpful for me. Enjoy!
“I don’t think being a huge football fan is automatically, or even normally, idolatrous. I’ve loved watching football as long as I can remember. It’s one of the many habits of sports fandom I picked up from my dad. Each year when I start to get sad about the inevitable ending of summer, I am cheered to think that with everything we start to lose in the month of September–daylight, heat, leaves, pool time, vacations, sleeping in–at least we gain football.
Americans love football like the rest of the world loves. . . .football. Except in our football the actions takes place six seconds at a time and the players pretend they are NOT hurt.
Wherever there is a consuming passion for anything that is not God there is the danger of idolatry. And football is certainly a consuming passion for many in this country. So what are some of the signs that football has grown to idolatrous proportions in the heart of the Christian?
Here are three questions to help in your self-diagnosis:
1. Is ministry and worship on the Lord’s Day compromised by my allegiance to football on Saturday and Sunday?
It’s a bit of common grace goodness to unwind during part of your Saturday watching college football. My Sunday scruples are even sufficiently lenient that a little football on Sunday can be enjoyable (and usually a nice precursor to a nap). But let’s keep our priorities straight. And twelve hours of football on Saturday, only to be dead tired for church on Sunday, is not the right priority. Some Christians drive hours every Saturday to watch their team live on the field. If that’s a way to spend time with your family and enjoy being outside seven Saturdays this fall, that’s great. If it means you miss attending your own church for the next three months, not so great. And when it comes to Sunday, football should not dictate whether we can attend a Sunday school class, whether we stay for the missionary potluck, whether we can invite a new family over for lunch, or whether we can come back for evening worship. Football is fun–in its place. Football in the place of worship is, well, worship.
2. Are my emotions all out whack?
This was a bad weekend for my football teams. The Spartans lost a marquee match-up to the Oregon Ducks. The Big Ten embarrassed itself all day Saturday. And on Sunday the Bears looked bad in losing to the underdog Bills. The only bright spot was tight end Julius Thomas going off against the Colts–a three touchdown performance which allowed me to beat my 11 year-old son in fantasy football. Talk about a Pyrrhic victory.
How do you feel when your team loses? I don’t think you have to feel especially chipper about it. We root for our teams for all sorts of reasons: regional pride, family tradition, loyalty to our alma mater, comradery with friends. A little bummed-out-ness is fine. The opposite of idolatry is not emotional detachment from most of life. And yet, some of us need to get a grip. It’s a game! A game with a ball, played by men in tights. Caring about your son’s JV scrimmage is no excuse for berating other grown men (let alone children).
Go ahead and root your guts out for the Fighting Turkey Vultures but don’t be a bore to your wife and a louse to your kids just because they lost a nail-biter to the Flying Turnips in overtime. If the good news of Jesus’ resurrection can’t outweigh the bad news of your team’s minus 3 turnover differential you’ve got some heart work to do. Cheer when your team wins and kick the dirt when they lose, but don’t show up to church a sourpuss and don’t sit their emotionally unengaged during the worship of our Triune God when everyone knows how you can jump, jive, and wail for a perfectly placed pooch punt. Where your heart leaps out of your chest, there your treasure is also.
3. Can my conversation go deeper than football?
Sports is a great entry point for many conversations. It’s more interesting than the weather and safer than politics. And in a town like East Lansing, virtually everyone knows something about Michigan State football and basketball (even my wife knows a little!). I don’t feel bad talking about sports in the church lobby or across the lawn in the neighborhood. But the point of wading through the shallow section of the pool is to get to the deep end. Don’t stop at sports. Don’t settle for being the guy who knows only one question: “Did you catch the game?” Press on to more important matters. Redeem the time in between commercials. Don’t waste your tailgate.
I see no problem in caring about football. But the man or woman who cares only about sports doesn’t care about nearly enough. Go ahead and give football a little bit of your weekend. Just don’t give it your worship.”
I just don’t get it. Gardeners are a strange bunch because they vacillate between self-imposed guilt and resentment. I feel sorry for them. Let me explain.
Have you ever seen a true gardener throw away their produce? They would rather die than to toss a single tomato into the woods or let the little juicy oval just die there on the vine. Not on your life. Why not? Because . . . well . . . it’s just not right . . . after all that work! I mean, you’d feel – terrible. So, the true gardener is left with two options: you either eat and eat and eat until you’re sick of the stuff with diarrhea(s), or, you tote your precious little veggies all around the neighborhood and to church and to school and to wherever people are gathered – and GIVE them away for free. Why? Because you can’t stand the guilt and shame of letting them just die all alone, uneaten, unloved, unharvested.
But then you end up resenting everyone that you give them to because they didn’t work their rear-end off, planting, watering, tending, pruning, cultivating, harvesting. The resentment escalates because the true gardener knows that others are waiting on you, no, they expect you to come by and GIVE them what they don’t have to work for. And that is what drives the true gardener crazy. But . . . the same thing will happen next year. The purist gardener will again plant too much (it’s an addiction that has no cure), spiral downward into guilt over what to do with too much, resentfully give it all away to people who don’t give a hoot about gardening, then feel scorn for them for waiting on you to give them what you feel guilty about. Sick.
I tell you – it’s a perennial disease that has infected so many with this terrible blight. Let us pray that the Jolly Green Giant will soon find a cure that can rid this insufferable, cyclical disorder so that we can all find peace and rest.
What’s that smell coming from the garage? It’s brats on the grill. Got a go – see ya.
Today is opening game-day as the Chicago Bears kickoff to . . . uumm . . . not sure, but to somebody. I like football. I like watching it. But for all of you Christians out there in Chicago land, I can gladly affirm that Jesus is very ambitious for one thing today, one thing that is on his heart and will never be deterred: his church (Matt. 16:18). Today is a great day for the Church that Jesus is building. Question: Are you ambitious today for what Jesus is? Am I?
As I headed off this morning at 6:30 am to share the gospel with the men at Wayside Cross Ministries, the Lord reminded the people of Northern Illinois that although we deserve to be drowned in our sin, he will continue to be merciful (Gen. 9:11-17). This morning’s “sign” was a rare occurrence as a storm from the West entered our area just as the sun was coming up in the East. I don’t care much to look for the “secret code” of happenings, but I could not resist the pleasure of thinking about why rainbows exist and the timing of this one. It was as if God was putting two truths together: covenant rainbows and the start of a new day. Here, early in the morning, the Lord of heaven and earth is reminding me of his mercies that are “new every morning, great is his faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22, 23).
But though there is mercy for today, a day is coming when no man will survive Jesus’ wrath (2 Thess. 1:5-10) for turning away from the Lord. Hurry! Do not delay – get on the ark while you can – Jesus Christ is the only safe vessel that will anchor safely on the other side. You don’t have to die in your sins. Christ has borne the wrath of God in your place. Believe that Christ went down, way down into the depths of punishment but then came up, bursting out of the ground on the third day. Heed Jesus’ warning: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:2627). Jesus is saying that there is coming a time that while you are going about your normal routines of daily living, his wrath will come upon you unexpectedly, out of nowhere – but it will be too late to board ship.
Today is the day of salvation – “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel
WEDNESDAY • September 3, 2014
The evangelical world, joined by no shortage of secular observers, has been abuzz about the latest soundbite of note from the Pastors Osteen — this time offered by Victoria Osteen as her husband Joel beamed in the background. It is a hard video to watch.
In her message, Victoria Osteen tells their massive congregation to realize that their devotion to God is not really about God, but about themselves. “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”
She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
As you might predict, the congregation responded with a loud “Amen.”
America deserves the Osteens. The consumer culture, the cult of the therapeutic, the marketing impulse, and the sheer superficiality of American cultural Christianity probably made the Osteens inevitable. The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire. And, to cap it all off, they give Americans what Americans crave — reassurance delivered with a smile.
Judged in theological terms, the Osteen message is the latest and slickest version of Prosperity Theology. That American heresy has now spread throughout much of the world, but it began in the context of American Pentecostalism in the early twentieth century. Prosperity theology, promising that God rewards faith with health and wealth, first appealed to those described as “the dispossessed” — the very poor. Now, its updated version appeals to the aspirational class of the suburbs. Whereas the early devotees of Prosperity Theology prayed for a roof over their heads that did not leak, the devotees of prosperity theology in the Age of Osteen pray for ever bigger houses. The story of how the Osteens exercised faith for a big house comes early in Joel Osteen’s best-seller, Your Best Life Now.
According to Osteen, God wants to pour out his “immeasurable favor” on his human creatures, and this requires a fundamental re-ordering of our thinking. “To experience this immeasurable favor,” Osteen writes, “you must rid yourself of that small-minded thinking and start expecting God’s blessings, start anticipating promotion and supernatural increase. You must conceive it in your heart before you can receive it. In other words, you must make increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass.”
There is nothing really new in this message. Anyone familiar with the New Thought movement and later books such as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Richwill see a persistent theme. The important issue is this — Prosperity Theology is a false Gospel. The problem with Prosperity Theology is not that it promises too much, but that it aims for so little. What God promises us in Christ is far above anything that can be measured in earthly wealth — and believers are notpromised earthly wealth nor the gift of health.
But to talk of the promises of God to believers is actually to jump outside the Osteen audience. The Osteen message does not differentiate between believers and unbelievers — certainly not in terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In their sermons, writings, and media appearances, the Osteens insist that God is well-disposed to all people and wills that all flourish, but there is virtually no mention of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No reference to sin as the fundamental issue. No explanation of atonement and resurrection as God’s saving acts; no clarity of any sort on the need for faith in Christ and repentance of sin.
Instead, they focus on happiness and God’s “immeasurable favor” to be poured out on all people, if they will only correct their thinking.
As a thought exercise, let’s just limit the consideration to those people who have identified as Christians throughout the centuries. Does the Osteen message come close to their experience? Would it even make sense?
Just consider the fact that most Christians throughout the history of the church have been poor, and often desperately poor. They were not hoping to move into a suburban mini-mansion, they hoped to be able to feed their children one more day. That picture is still true for millions upon millions of Christians around the world today.
And that is just the start of it. What about all those who are even now suffering persecution for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? What about the loved ones of the martyrs in Mosul? What about the Christians forced out of their homes and threatened with genocide? What about the children of Christians slain in Iraq and Syria just in recent weeks, or those martyred by Boko Haram in Africa? How does Prosperity Theology work for them? Can anyone look them in the eye and say that God’s plan for believers in this life is to know Your Best Life Now?
In her recent work on Prosperity Theology, historian Kate Bowler traces the shift from what she calls the “hard prosperity” message of the early Pentecostals to the “soft prosperity” message of modern preachers like Joel Osteen. As Bowler explains, the new “softer” version of the prosperity message has “become the foremost Christian theology of modern living.”
Well, maybe. Prosperity Theology certainly sells books and draws crowds in the United States, but what does it possibly say to a grieving Christian wife and mother in Iraq? How can it possibly be squared with the actual message of the New Testament? How can any sinner be saved, without a clear presentation of sin, redemption, the cross, the empty tomb, and the call to faith and repentance? Prosperity Theology fails every test, and fails every test miserably. It is a false gospel, and one that must be repudiated, not merely reformatted.
Victoria Osteen’s comments fit naturally within the worldview and message she and her husband have carefully cultivated. The divine-human relationship is just turned upside down, and God’s greatest desire is said to be our happiness. But what is happiness? It is a word that cannot bear much weight. As writers from C. S. Lewis to the Apostle Paul have made clear, happiness is no substitute for joy. Happiness, in the smiling version assured in the Age of Osteen, doesn’t last, cannot satisfy, and often is not even real.
Furthermore, God’s pleasure in his human creatures centers in his desire and will that they come to faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. The great dividing line in humanity is not between the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, or even the happy and the unhappy. The great divide is between those who, in Christ, have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s glorious light.
Mere happiness cannot bear the weight of the Gospel. The message of the real Gospel is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is a message that can be preached with a straight face, a courageous spirit, and an urgent heart in Munich, in Miami, or in Mosul.
If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston. That is the Osteen Predicament.