A Mission Of Mercy

This statue of Dr Thomas Guthrie was unveiled in 1910 and gives him a fitting legacy ‘a friend of the poor and the oppressed.’

This statue of Dr Thomas Guthrie was unveiled in 1910 and gives him a fitting legacy ‘a friend of the poor and the oppressed.’

The 18th century Scottish pastor, Dr. Thomas Guthrie, was a man of brilliant mind and staunch biblical orthodoxy. But he was also known as the “Apostle of the Ragged Schools” which were instrumental in rescuing thousands of destitute Scottish children from lives of poverty and abuse in the great cities of the nation.

His life and ministry have now been summarized in a new Kindle booklet published by Andrew Murray (no relation!), who has a passion to see the church return to both biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

In the introduction to A Mission Of Mercy: The Life And Legacy Of Dr. Thomas Guthrie, Andrew writes:

“While holding to the doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the tradition of the Reformers and Covenanters, Guthrie believed in cultivating the ‘outfield’ – the part of society that were ignorant of the gospel and were often trapped in a cycle of poverty. Thomas Guthrie spent most of his time amongst the hopeless and the destitute. It was not some special calling for him, it was the outworking of his beliefs. He was doing what his Savior had done before him – a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Guthrie did not seek to withdraw from the world but sought to win it and transform it by the power of the Gospel.”

“It is my hope that as more of Guthrie’s life and ministry is rediscovered that many will share his vision and zeal. The Church today desperately needs to rediscover its mission to preach that profound yet winsome gospel that Guthrie preached to the whole of society. We need once again to take this good news into the dark and hopeless corners of our communities and become, as Guthrie’s statue in Edinburgh states, ‘a friend of the poor and the oppressed.’”

You can find out more about Thomas Guthrie at ThomasGuthrie.org or at Andrew’s blog, Ragged Theology.

Your Average Life Now

If we grossly underestimate our God-given talents and abilities, then it’s unlikely that we will fulfill our potential.

If we grossly underestimate God’s power and love, then it’s unlikely that we will pray much, expect much, or do much for the Lord.

In chapter 1 of “Your Best Life Now,” Joel Osteen latches on to these two truths and then twists them so far that they become falsehoods.

He begins with a story about a modestly successful man who saw a large mansion while vacationing in Hawaii and said to himself, “I’ll never live in a great place like that.” Osteen comments:

“As long as you can’t imagine it, as long as you can’t see it, then it is not going to happen for you. The man correctly realized that his own thoughts and attitudes were condemning him to mediocrity. He determined then and there to start believing better of himself, and believing better of God.” (p. 3)

Do you see the grains of truth in there? The need to fairly evaluate one’s talents and abilities and the need to believe in the goodness and power of God?

But from these truths, Osteen makes the massive leap to “Imagine whatever you want about yourself or God and it will happen.” He calls us to “enlarge our vision” of self and of God:

“See your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams coming to pass. You must conceive it and believe it is possible if you ever hope to experience it. To conceive it, you must have an image on the inside of the life you want to live on the outside. This image has to become a part of you, in your thoughts, your conversation, deep down in your subconscious mind, in your actions, in every part of your being.” (p. 4)

You don’t need to read much of Osteen to identify this recurring habit of starting with a truth – which builds our confidence – before sliding off into a falsehood

Look at some of his true-then-false statements

“What you keep before your eyes will affect you. You will produce what you’re continually seeing in your mind.” (p. 5)

True: “What you keep before your eyes will affect you.” (True because Jesus taught that the light of the body is the eye and what we let in the eye-gate will determine if we are full of light or full of darkness)

False: “You will produce what you’re continually seeing in your mind.” (False because no matter how much I imagine myself looking like Mr. Universe I cannot produce even a two-pack never mind a six-pack).

“But God wants us to constantly be increasing, to be rising to new heights. He wants to increase you in His wisdom and help you to make better decisions. God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity.” (p. 5)

True: “God wants us to constantly be increasing, to be rising to new heights.” (True because God calls us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ).

False: “He wants to increase you in His wisdom and help you to make better decisions. God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity.” (False because nowhere are we told that God wants us to be richer, more successful, and more innovative).

“You must stop dwelling on negative, destructive thoughts that keep you in a rut. Your life is not going to change until you first change your thinking.” (p. 7)

True: “You must stop dwelling on negative, destructive thoughts that keep you in a rut.” (Obviously true and consistent with Philippians 4:8. Although as we saw yesterday, some negativity is good for us.)

False: “Your life is not going to change until you first change your thinking.” (False because, thankfully, God often mercifully changes our lives before we change our thinking).

First, false teachers never ever teach 100% falsehood. There’s always just enough truth in their message to deceive a sufficient number of people. And, sadly, many people seem to be of the view that if there’s any truth in a message, it’s worth hearing.

Second, throughout these pages we look in vain for anyone asking God, “What do you want for me?” or “What’s your vision for my life?” God knows far better than I do what’s best for me and I’d much rather leave the envisioning to Him.

Third, even if my view of God is less than it should be, and it is, my Bible reassures me that God is not limited by my vision. He does exceedingly abundantly above what we ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

Fourth, the worldliness of it all is appalling. The beatitudes speak of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. In this chapter, all Osteen seems concerned with is hungering and thirsting after money, houses, Miss America crowns (though not for himself), and other secular promotions.

If we want to enlarge our vision, how about “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” God blesses holy hearts with the largest and most satisfying vision of all.

Finally, where does “You shall not covet” fit into all this? Osteen says:

“You need to make a decision that you are not going to live an average, mediocre life.” (p. 8)

What happened to contentment (Heb. 13:5)? What’s so bad about an average, middle-of-the-road kind of life if it’s the life God wants us to live? There are lots of average Christians earning average salaries with average families. They are not to be despised, but encouraged, prayed for, and even admired as they serve God faithfully in their ordinary everyday obscurity.

This is the third post in a series on Joel Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now.” Previous posts were A Book That Begins With A Lie, and Positive Negativity.

Two Opportunities to Serve In Grand Rapids Area

Women’s Center Volunteers

The mission of Alpha Women’s Center of Grand Rapids is to share the hope of Christ to women facing unplanned pregnancies by affirming and promoting the sanctity of human life and strengthening the family through biblical principles.

Due to lack of Mentors and funding, Alpha House has to turn away clients every day. Here’s more information on service opportunities and the free training that’s available.

Live-In Adult Foster Care

A Christian family that runs a small foster home in Grand Rapids area is looking to employ someone to care for six residents, some with special needs. “This position offers a nice private room and bathroom in lower level of home. We are looking for a qualified individual or couple with up to two children to take care of 6 enjoyable residents in our home.” More details here.

We Need More Xenophobia

Xenophobia is “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”

And we should have more of it in our churches.

Wait, let me explain.

In chapter 3 of The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul says that “God is the ultimate object of our xenophobia. He is the ultimate stranger. He is the ultimate foreigner. He is holy and we are not.”

In that chapter, Sproul is at pains to remind us that “holy” primarily means “separate” not “pure.” When we say “God is holy” we are first and foremost communicating His difference to us. As Sproul says, He is “a cut apart…transcendent…above and beyond us…exalted loftiness…an infinite cut above everything else…so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us.”

Mysterium Tremendum
Sproul commends Rudolf Otto’s special term for the holy, a term Otto devised after studying people’s reactions to the holy. He labelled it “the mysterium tremendum” or “the awful mystery.” He called it “awful” because of the fear and dread with which the holy fills us, overwhelming and overpowering us with a sense of our creatureliness. He called it “mystery” because of its strange attraction. We run from it and run to it. It repulses us and attracts us. “We can’t live with it and we can’t live without it.”

This is an appropriate and rational xenophobia. It is an understandable reaction for sinners before such a God of consuming fire, especially for sinners without a mediator between God and men.

Xenophobic Churches
To come back to my opening words, we need more of this kind of xenophobia in our churches. Our worship, prayers, and sermons should at times provoke and reveal a fear and even hatred of God, especially among unbelievers who don’t know Christ. There should be times when such hearers are acutely aware of God’s otherness, that He is the ultimate foreigner, that He is the mysterious stranger, that He is holy and we are not.

As Sproul says, although death is scary and reminds us we are creatures, “Yet, as fearsome as death is, it is nothing compared with meeting a holy God.”

God With Us
But we don’t stop there; because God has not stopped there. He saw the distance, the contrast, the difference between us and Him; and He bridged it by becoming us. He took human flesh and blood, a human mind, a human will, a human soul, a human conscience, a human existence, human suffering, and even a human death.

Through Christ, He is no longer God above us, but Immanuel, God with us. From transcendent to immanent. From the ultimate foreigner to the ultimate friend. From Creator to creature. From infinite to finite. Not only “God with us” but “God like us.”

And that’s an even more awesome mystery than Otto discovered.

It’s also the cure for all the other xenophobias that traumatize our world.

Positive Negativity

Positive is always good, negative is always bad. According to Joel Osteen. In the opening pages of Your Best Life Now, he says:

“In each of these areas, you will find practical suggestions and simple choices that will help you to stay positive in your lifestyle and believe for a brighter future…To do that, you may have to rid yourself of some negative mind-sets that are holding you back, and start enlarging your vision, seeing yourself as doing more, enjoying more, being more.”

Here and elsewhere, Joel Osteen challenges our passivity, our defeatism, our fatalism. He calls us to rid ourselves of negativity and build more positive thought habits.

So what’s wrong with that? For some people, it’s exactly what they need to hear. We’ve all met them haven’t we? Sometimes we’ve been them. Recognize this description from Osteen?

“Many people go through life with low self-esteem, focusing on the negative, feeling inferior or inadequate, always dwelling on some reason why they can’t be happy.”

A pretty miserable existence isn’t it, both for the person and those who have to live, work, and worship with them.

They do need to be confronted with their unhealthy and unhelpful negativity, and called to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. That isn’t a call to false optimism, but a call to true realism.

However, Osteen goes further than this, way further, and sees all negativity as bad and positivity as only good. That is not biblical, truthful, or helpful.

Good Negativity
First, some negativity is accurate, true, good, and beneficial. It is right to examine ourselves for sin and ignorance, to repent of it when we find it, confessing it, humbling ourselves, and seeking forgiveness. This process of spiritual humiliation may not be a pleasant experience for us, but it is pleasing to God and necessary for any progress in the Christian life.

False Positivity
Second, some positivity is false and harmful. For example, if you tell a small man with short legs that he can do anything, even leap a 20 foot gap between buildings, his positive self-image is going to be splattered all over the pavement in short order.

Similarly, if you tell a sinful woman that she is essentially good, and can do good and be good unaided by God, then she will positively go to a negative eternity with a lie in her right hand.

No Foundation
Third, Osteen says that in his book “you will find practical suggestions and simple choices that will help you to stay positive.” But his proposed suggestions and choices are neither biblically accurate nor scientifically proven.

Over the last 20 years, a popular new science called “positive psychology” has produced many studies and books that claim to have found empirically proven ways to happiness. Although they won’t admit it, and they probably don’t even know it, many of them line up with the Bible’s teaching. But Osteen’s teaching lines up with neither the Bible nor science. Its only and shaky foundation is his own enthusiasm and sales skills.

Fourth, Osteen’s positivity is completely unrealistic. For example, he says:

“I’m confident that if you will take these steps along with me, you ultimately will be happier than ever before, living with joy, peace, and enthusiasm—not just for a day, or a week, but for the rest of your life!”

To paraphrase a little, “If you will take these steps, then you will be happy, joyful, peaceful, and enthusiastic for the rest of your life.” These kinds of cast-iron, unqualified guarantees litter the whole book. If he’d said “you can” or “you may” be happier, etc., then that would be more acceptable. But he doesn’t; he says “you will.”

This totally fails to take account of the fallen world and the fallen human condition. Yes, we are called by God to grow in gifts, in grace, in joy, peace, and other fruits of the Spirit. But what happens when our teen is killed in a car crash, our husband gets ALS, age devastates our minds and bodies, our best friend dies of cancer, our daughter is raped, thousands are killed in acts of just war and evil terrorism, and so on?

Take a few simple steps and you will be happy, peaceful, and enthusiastic for the rest of your life? That may be true of Joel Osteen’s world, but it’s not living in the real world. Such a shallow and false message can only lead to disillusionment and demoralization.

Some well-founded and biblically grounded negativity can help us prepare for these inevitable days of pain and suffering, and get us through them to the place of eternal and unmixed positivity.

This is the second post in a series on Joel Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now.” The first post was A Book That Begins With A Lie.

Time Magazine Pulls The Oldest Trick in the Book

It’s one of the oldest political tricks in the book. Create such an impression of momentum behind a certain candidate or policy that everyone else jumps on board to avoid being left out or left behind. It’s a deception that plays on common human weaknesses; the desire to be on the winning side, the fear of being on the “outside,” the instinct to avoid unpopularity, and the yearning for approval.

And Time magazine is attempting to pull off this sneaky ruse on Evangelical Christians with an article headlined, How Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds On Gay Marriage (full article requires subscription). In it, Elizabeth Dias (sexual orientation undisclosed, as usual), marshals multiple pieces of “evidence” for this revolution in Evangelical morals and ethics. She begins:

“If evangelical Christianity is famous for anything in contemporary American politics, it is for its complete opposition to gay marriage. Now, slowly yet undeniably, evangelicals are changing their minds. Every day, evangelical communities across the country are arriving at new crossroads over marriage.”

So, what’s the evidence for this unstoppable tsunami of change among evangelicals?

1. One poll
Dias quotes one poll of young people which claimed to show that among young evangelicals, “support for gay marriage jumped from 20% in 2003 to 42% in 2014.”

2. One megachurch
She cites one megachurch, EastLake Community Church outside Seattle, which she says is “one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to support full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ people.” And she claims, “It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of this move” given that “EastLake is in many ways the quintessential evangelical megachurch.”

Much later in the article Dias admits that “EastLake has lost 22% of its income and 800 attendees in the past 18 months, and it anticipates that those numbers may continue to climb.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement from even Eastlake’s evangelicals.

3. Anonymous leaders
She portrays evangelical leaders as accepting of gay marriage in private, yet still maintaining opposition in public.

“[My article] is a deep dive into the changing allegiances and divides in evangelical churches and communities over homosexuality. In public, so many churches and pastors are afraid to talk about the generational and societal shifts happening. But behind the scenes, it’s a whole different game.”

But she doesn’t give any names.

4. Two discussions
She references discussions between two evangelical leaders (Andy Stanley and Bill Hybels) and their congregations “about how to navigate the changes they are seeing in their pews.”

5. Two meetings with LGBTQ “Christians”
She says “Hybels has been meeting privately for the past year with LGBTQ congregants to learn to better understand their stories,” and “Stanley met together with both LGBT evangelical advocates and SBC leaders for a closed-door conversation about whether their different views on gay marriage put them outside the faith.”

6. One friendship
She points to Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, who “has developed a friendship with LGBT activist Ted Trimpa and the Gill Foundation, and they are working together on topics like passing anti-human-trafficking legislation.”

7. One college hire
Wheaton College’s hire of a celibate (underline that) lesbian as a student counselor is also said to herald significant change. In fairness, Dias does acknowledge that Wheaton also allowed converted ex-lesbian Rosaria Butterfield to speak to the student body, although Dias presents this as contradicting the hiring policy!

By the way, #4-7 above should be a solemn warning to us about how gay activists will wickedly distort our best intentions and twist our sincere attempts to reach out to gays and lesbians. Doesn’t mean we should stop talking and end friendships, but be aware of how our love and goodwill may be turned against us.

8. One gay choreographer
I know, this is getting ridiculous, but apparently “Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University hired an openly gay choreographer to assist with a campus production of Mary Poppins last spring.” Dias admits that the University defended itself “by saying he was an independent contractor, not an official employee.”

9. Three “Gay Christian” activists
The well-worn names and well-refuted teachings of gay activists, Matthew Vines, Brandan Robertson, and Justin Lee, are presented as the clinchers in this case for an evangelical revolution.

That’s it?

Yep, that’s it. One poll, one megachurch, unnamed leaders, two congregational discussions, two meetings with LGBTQ’s, one college hire, one gay dancer, and three gay activists.

That’s Dias’s strongest case for this alleged bandwagon of evangelical change. Rather unimpressive bandwagon isn’t it?

I don’t buy it, and neither should you. Yes, there are some worrying signs here and there of evangelical capitulation. No doubt, some evangelical leaders will jump the shark to maintain popularity with the world. However, don’t fall for this trick of “Everybody’s doing it (or thinking it).”

We don’t let our children off with such arguments, especially when the evidence is so flimsy. So let’s not allow this childish case to shake our commitment to biblical morality.

Not now. Not ever.

But there’s one line in Dias’s piece with which we can all agree: “For everyone on all sides, the Bible itself is at stake.”