Sunday, November 11, 2007

Astonishing

Some of you have really enjoyed the Osteen posts, so I thought I'd oblige you with a quick related thought I had while sitting through an incredible sermon at All Souls Fellowship in Decatur this morning.

The pastor was talking about the book of Genesis, when God came to Abraham and told him that Sarah would give birth to a son in her old age, long after it was physiologically possible for her to do so. Sarah, who heard this as she was sitting near the entrance to the tent, laughed to herself, as if God couldn't really make it come to pass. God responded: Why did you laugh? Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Using a bit of Hebrew translation, the pastor went on to explain that the word for "hard" in Hebrew doesn't necessarily just mean "difficult." It has a connotation of wonder and astonishment, like the feat in question is so unlikely to occur that utter surprise and amazement would be the only fitting response if it were accomplished. The pastor repeated the question in a different way: Is anything too wonderful or astonishing for the Lord?

Using the question as a springboard, he urged the congregation to raise its expectation of God's faithfulness and to look at our own salvation as a testimony to the God's miraculous power and his ability to break into normalcy and bend our reality to make implausible things become truth. As Paul put it, he uses the weak things of the world to shame the wise, and in doing so he displays astonishing power and control. The pastor said that if we are not taken aback by the absurdity of the work of God in bringing sinners like us unto himself and entrusting to us the keys of his Kingdom, then we think too highly of ourselves.

As I sat there, I thought about how diametrically opposed that line of reasoning is to Osteen's idea that since we are "children of the king," we're entitled to privileged treatment. Joel's image of the believer is that of a prince raised in a pristine household, never knowing the squalor outside the castle walls and never acknowledging how fortunate he is to be inside the gates. This is the image of the prodigal's brother, who sensed entitlement because he was faithful in duty, but whose heart in the end was farther away than the one who had just returned from squandering his inheritance and wallowing in the pig sty (Luke 15).

The image of a man in relationship with God in scripture is that of an adopted son, a beggar with no royal lineage and no strength to offer. Look at Israel, God's chosen people. He picked them not because they were the strongest, but because he would be shown strong through their weakness. Our adoption is the utmost privilege, one we should not belittle by using it as a means to gain petty, earthly advantages. Unlike the native son, the pompous prince, we are aliens looking for a grain of mercy. When allowed to feast, we know what it is to be spiritually hungry and thirsty. We have been saved, rescued, retrieved from the pound. And like a dog given a new home, we are eternally grateful. We deserve nothing, but through grace we've gained everything.

Osteen's image of our relationship with God is conducive to thinking too highly of ourselves. Of course we should not let humility become a stronghold of the enemy, who wants to tell us that we're not worth anything because we're so sinful. And I think Joel is strongest in his ability to get people thinking about the fact that God is on their side and has our good at heart. But we should not be so arrogant to think that we can claim interest on a loan we can't afford; we should be astonished and amazed each day he allows us to wake up with breath in our lungs, and even moreso on the days when he chooses to make use of us.

2 comments:

Drew said...

I thought of this topic when reading Acts today. In chapter 8, verses 20-23, Luke writes 20Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." This puts the wall of champions and millionaire club in perspective.

Tyler Seabolt said...

I like it. How often do we ourselves "piggyback" improper principles on things that are just, good, and righteous?

Isn't this what leads people to call Christians hypocrites?

If given the change, what do we really say to those of us who are doing this? Nothing? Something?