Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Difference Between Osteen & Biblical Rewards

Much digital ink has been spilled about the recent Osteen video (this being my favorite). In case you are unaware, in said video Victoria Osteen encourages their congregation to do good for themselves.

It's quite shocking to hear someone called a pastor (her and Joel are co-pastors) exhort their "Christian Church" in such a way. While they have rightfully received a good amount of criticism from the conservative evangelical movement in recent years, this video so clearly and succinctly displays the fundamental problem with their so-called theology - Man and his earthly pleasure are central, while God and His eternal glory are absent.

However, I'd like to ask one simple question about this issue: is it wrong in every sense to pursue God and practice your faith with a view towards a reward? In other words, is there a sense in which it is right to be motivated by rewards "for yourself"? According to Scripture, rewards for oneself are a biblical motivation:

"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." - Hebrews 11:6

"And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." - Matthew 6:4, 6:6, 6:18

We see that Hebrews clearly tells us that as we seek God, we must believe that he rewards us for doing so. Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount repeats three times that the Father will reward us for righteous acts, and that his reward is greater than man's praise. So it is biblically appropriate to be motivated by rewards for oneself.

What then, is the difference between these Scriptures and the Osteens' message? The difference is that with the Osteens, God is merely a means to a temporal end. In the above video clip, she does not merely say that rewards are biblical; she actually says rewards are ultimate, going so far as to state repeatedly "you’re not doing it for God." Moreover, the Osteens typically define these rewards as temporal, earthly, emotional, financial - in the video, she says it's to make us "happy" - as opposed to the heavenly, eternal, spiritual rewards that Scripture speaks of. So the Osteens teach that our own temporal satisfaction is ultimate.

Whereas Christians in former times wrote "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (including both the supremacy of God and the reward of man), the Osteens now seemingly flip the script and proclaim "The chief end of God is to glorify man and enjoy him forever."

So, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The problem with the video clip is not the presence of reward for man, but the nature of man's reward as earthly and the position of man's reward as ultimate.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Hey "all"...

I haven't posted here in awhile, so here's my explanation as to why. In the past year, I was appointed as an elder at my church; consequently, I've been responsible for running the website there, which includes a blog. Since I'm not a Piper who can pump out amazingly insightful blog posts every other exhale, my writing efforts and spiritual "insights" (if that's what you want to call them) have been focused on the content of the church blog. Primarily, I've written follow up thoughts on our sermon series, with additional items sprinkled in.

So, whoever you are, you can read along at our Revive Church blog, where the bulk of my writing is on the "Deeper" blog series.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Looking for a Home

My wife and I had been house-hunting for over a year, a search that mercifully and successfully ended this last month. It was a stressful and joyful learning process with twists and turns that one couldn't expect. After renting 2 small places for a total of 5 years, the house-hunt was completely different in focus.

We don't consider ourselves to be very particular or prissy types. Yet as we walked through dozens of homes, we were very critical, asking every question under the sun. Will we like having an east-facing door? Is the small property size a deal breaker? Can we fit enough people in this room? Will we have the additional resources to fix this place up? How important is a big kitchen? Is this bedroom too big? Too small? Are these windows/appliances too old? What is really important?!

The main difference in shopping for a house is the perception (often a reality) that this is a long-term situation. While renting, we were far less critical or "picky", if you will. Old kitchen? Who cares, it's a rental! Nasty carpet? No big deal, we'll move someday! Needs repairs? Call the landlord! The perception of a long-term, expensive residence makes one ask more questions, give more time, and think more deeply.

During this process, I was drawn to thinking about the reality that earth is not my home. Throughout the New Testament, I am told that as a believer in Christ, that my home is elsewhere. Philippians 3:20 says, "But our citizenship is in heaven..." Hebrews 13:14 likewise tells us, "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come."

When searching for a semi-permanent residence here on earth, I gave the process more time, more energy, more thought, because it was more valuable. And through that process, God painted the picture that my effort and thought process should be even more intense for my heavenly, eternal home! If something is eternal, it is weighty, and it must be given appropriate attention and care.

My earthly tent of my body is my short term home. It is important, but my priorities and questions and efforts and resources should focus on the heavenly home where I will reside for eternity (mortgage-free).

Friday, November 8, 2013

On Theological Debate

I recently followed along with a theological debate via a series of blog posts, articles, video responses from many different parties or theological camps. The specific topics of the debate aren't important for my purposes here. Let's just say there was a theological position being critiqued, then there was the subsequent objections, clarifications, definitions and re-definitions.

Theological debate and clarification is not always fun. In an ideal world, the church would get along without theological disagreement. Heck, in an ideal world, all of humanity would agree on theology, especially that about the nature of God, the lordship of Jesus, the meaning of the cross, salvation, and the eternal state. But as it is in this fallen world, there will be debate, and there will be disagreement, even among the people of God:
"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate..." Acts 15:6-7
Throughout the course of my following this particular debate in the blogosphere, I did encounter some who were uncomfortable with the fact that we had a debate at all. "Why can't we get along, why can't we be unified?" they would ask, somewhat understandably. Still others would assert something along these lines:
"I'm not into theology; I'm just into Jesus. We don't need to debate doctrine; we just need to be about God's love."
Now, I can understand being uncomfortable with debate or division. In a sense, this discomfort is a longing for heaven, when God's people will all finally agree! However, it saddens me to see the responses indicating that such a discussion about God's truth doesn't matter. Or that we need to just "be about Jesus" or "be about God's love."

Allow me to ask, when you are "just about Jesus", how do you define who Jesus is? When you just "focus on God's love", how do you know what exactly God's love IS and what it ISN'T? If you make the claim that you don't need to be about theology, you must realize that whatever you are "about" is itself its own theology! As Tim Keller says:
"The insistence that doctrine does not matter is itself a doctrine."
You cannot define whatever it is that you are "about" - Jesus, God, Love - without theology or doctrine. Once you have insisted what something IS, you have also stated what it ISN'T. At that point, you have raised a clear definition which is grounds for theological debate or disagreement! For example, if you are just going to be "about God's Love", you must define what God's love is/isn't and what it does/doesn't do - and someone may disagree with you. If you are just going to be "about Jesus", you must define who he is/isn't and what he has done/hasn't done - and someone will disagree with you.

I'm not saying that all debates or issues are of equal importance. Nor am I claiming that all are handled in the right manner. But when issues arise, to simply take a pass or claim them as unimportant is a position in and of itself. At some point, Christians stand on doctrinal definitions, without which we wouldn't actually exist.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Trials and Wisdom: James 1:1-8

Sermon I gave Sunday September 8 at Revive Church in Claremont. This was part 1 in our series on James, entitled "Heavenly Wisdom for a Life on Earth."

James 1:1-8

Trials Produce Perfection (1:2-4).
Wisdom is a Gift from God (1:5-8).

The sermon handout is up for download here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Do Not Let your Social Network Know What Your Right Hand is Doing

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:1-6

In this passage, Jesus famously decries a religious tendency present in 1st century Jews- doing good works (even prayer) to be seen by others and praised by others. I believe this tendency may be present in us as well. Let's consider a few things.

The problem is not good works being seen. Earlier in the sermon on the mount, Jesus notes that our good works will be seen and will point others to God! "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (5:16). So the problem isn't even that our works are public or visible. We are commanded, "Let your light shine!"

The problem is the motivation for good works. Here, Jesus addresses a specific motivation standing behind good works: "in order to be seen by them"; "that they may be praised by others." Some are motivated by others' opinions, approval, and praise when doing good works.

Does this apply to social media and if so, how? With social media, there is an inherent audience. We post pictures, videos, and statuses because they are seen. If we didn't want them to be seen, we'd write them in a private journal (or on Google+!), not on a relatively public website. The specific motivations may vary as to why we want some items to be seen, but the reality remains; we post something that we feel is valuable enough for others to see, like, comment, and share. It may be something as simple as an interesting and helpful news article; or it may be a promotion of our own good works, in the words of Jesus, "in order to be seen by them."

These thoughts are borne primarily from my own heart motivations in my use of social media; my guess is that your experience may be the same. I believe a tendency exists in us to click "post" or "share" when we're doing things that others will deem praiseworthy. We receive our reward when others comment, like, or re-tweet their approval. That may be a formal ministry activity, informal service of a friend or family member, or even a quiet time. Could it be that Facebook, Instagram, Google+, or Twitter are the "synagogues and street corners" of our day?

I'm not claiming that if we share something potentially godly that we are doing via social media, that our motivation is necessarily off. I am merely claiming that it is a possibility, and it is well worth considering whether we have received our reward in full by sharing such items. If we are to "not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, so that our giving may be in secret", would the same level of secrecy also be applied to our social networks?