A Very Cynical Post!

All_Dogs_Go_to_Heaven_1989_DVD_CoverIt seems popular today to get our theology from films, such as Heaven Is For Real, Noah, and The God Story,. I thought that if we are going to get our theology from Hollywood instead of the Bible (since those films contradict the Bible), we would open the vault a bit. I think we need to reexamine the theological truth of the movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” I would guess it has as much merit as the other movies we mentioned. Let’s see what kind of nuggets we can glean from this movie:

  • The default location of the after-life is heaven, even if your life was lived badly.
  • Everyone gets a life-watch which is a pocket watch representing the person’s lifespan.
  • When the watch is wound up, it sends the person back to earth.
  • When the watch stops ticking, this new life is over and the person goes to hell.
  • When the watch stops ticking, you can still come to earth but you are in ghost form.
  • If you give up your life for someone else, you gain a place in heaven.

These are not exactly Biblical truths but who cares, they are in a movie and it must be right and beneficial to watch, right? The truth is that I can get the same theological value out of “All Dogs Go to Heaven” as I can from watching “Heaven Is For Real.” Plus it gives me hope for Molly and there is a sequel! Sorry, I have grown so cynical.

Osten: “God Wants To Supersize Your Joy”—So What’s Wrong With That?

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The following is by Rev. Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington D.C. and is used with his permission. This was originally posted on The Daily Caller on May 1, 2012

On Sunday night [April 29, 2012], 41,000 fans packed Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., to hear a message of hope, inspiration, and encouragement from Joel Osteen. Most paid about $20 (including fees) for the privilege.
Osteen sold out the stadium—a feat the Nationals rarely accomplish. But did he have to sell out to do so?

Osteen is the latest embodiment of the American Religion—Revivalism. For centuries now, preachers have known how to fill stadiums or circus tents and send people home with hope in their heart and a skip in their step. Osteen promises you will leave a transformed person—at least until his tour comes around again next year, when you can be transformed again.
Osteen’s message is a positive one for a difficult time. Every one of us has seeds of greatness inside, potential that has not yet been released, buried treasure waiting to be discovered. If you were a car, you would be the fully loaded and totally equipped model—”with pin stripes,” he says, gesturing to his suit.

Before God created you, he planned great things for you. As you stretch your faith, “God is going to show up, and show out, in tremendous ways. … If you don’t step into your destiny and release your gift, then this world will not be as bright as it should be.”
That’s a pretty positive message. What could be wrong with that?
The biggest problem with Osteen’s message about God is that it is really a message about me. God is a potential, a force, a co-pilot, waiting to be tapped and deployed. I may have a net below me, but I am the one that has to take the first steps on the wire:
Taking steps of faith is imperative to fulfilling your destiny. When I make a move, God will make a move. When I stretch my faith, God will release more of his favor. When I think bigger, God will act bigger.

God is as big as I think him to be.

Yes, this is the American Religion: a program, a plan, five simple steps to help me be all that I can be. This is the religion of the bootstraps, where “God helps those who help themselves.”
By the way, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that is a quote from the Bible. It’s not.
And that’s the second problem. Osteen’s message is not biblical. His promise that his audience will be taught the Bible—from a preacher who has admitted that teaching the Bible isn’t his strength—is fulfilled with a smattering of verses. These snippets are at best torn out of their context, at worst fabricated.

There’s this stretch: “God is saying to you what He said to Lot, ‘Hurry up and get there, so I can show you my favor in a greater way.’” In Genesis 19:22, the Angel does tell Lot “Get there quickly, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” God waiting on Lot to step out in faith so he can bless him? Not exactly. It is God telling Lot to flee to Zoar, a city of safety, so he can rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Osteen bolsters his bootstrap religion by quoting Jesus: “Roll away the stone, and I’ll raise Lazarus.” This, Osteen says, is a “principle,” “God expects us to do what we can, and He will do what we can’t. If you will do the natural, God will do the supernatural.”
One problem. Jesus does command them to roll away the stone, but no such quid pro quo is found in holy writ. This foundational principle is one of Osteen’s own making.
It is not primarily the details of Osteen’s biblical sunbeams that are problematic. It’s the overall message. What’s missing is any sense of human sin. Osteen leads his crowd in a mantra at the opening of his performance: “This is my Bible. Tonight I will be taught the word of God. I can do what it says I can do.” Again, bootstraps.

What does the Bible say we can do for ourselves? Our best works are like filthy rags, the prophet Isaiah teaches (Isaiah 64:6); we are like sheep gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). Paul says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and includes himself in this “all” as “the chief of all sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The big problem is that we don’t want what’s good for us, and when we do, Paul says, “The good that I want to do, I do not do” (Romans 7:19).
Ring true? It does for me. That’s why the stadium will be full next year. Self-esteem doesn’t help me, it just leaves me with more me, digging deeper within.

How about Jesus? Surely he’s more upbeat than Paul or the prophets? Well, he does offer this simple recipe to happiness: “Sell all you possess, give it away to the poor, and follow me.” You done that yet? Yes, he does say that our faith makes us well, but he is the healer our faith looks to. He also tells the paralytic to take up his bed and walk, but only after he has healed him.
What we want is the excitement and encouragement and affirmation of the stadium—”God is waiting for you to act.” What we need is the truth and compassion of Jesus—”Come to me you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”

After the adrenaline boost, I hope some of those 41,000 find their way through the desert to some place where they can get a drink of water.

Earlier Sunday, 45 worshipers (about 0.1% of Osteen’s crowd) gathered at Christ Reformed Church in Logan Circle—and other churches in this city—to hear a message of sin and salvation, the Good News of a God who loves those who are his sworn enemies. They responded to God’s word with prayer, song, and confession, and received the benediction of a God who pardons sin full and free.

There was hope and inspiration too, but of an entirely different sort. Admittance was free.

Discerning Revival

There is a lot of interest in these days concerning Revival.  The people of God desperately need it and many are humbly seeking it.  But I am afraid in seeking it we latch on to anything that might resemble it. If it looks anything to what we think revival might be then we call it revival.  But is it revival? Clearly revival is a work of the sovereign God.  He must initiate it and He must inspire it.  Too many times what we “call” revival is nothing more than a man induced emotional event.  And those things will be exciting at the time but will quickly fade once the high is over.  However, real revival produces real and radical changes both presently and permanently.

The problem that I see is our discernment of revival.  I desire to see a genuine moving of God in the hearts of apathetic people.  And I understand that I stand in need of such a work of God.  But we must be able to tell the difference between the work of God and the work of man.  And that is not done with human reasoning, feelings or emotional leanings but with the Word of God.  God’s Word is the means by which we gain discernment of the reality of things.  The lens of God’s Word must examine all things spiritual.  So what does the Word of God say about revival?  Let’s examine Psalm 119.

In verse 25 the psalmist says, “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: Quicken thou me according to thy word.” Revival does not and will happen without the preaching and exposition of the glorious truths of the Word of God.  There can be an emotional, exciting, and exhilarating time without the Word of God but there cannot be revival.  So when I hear that a revival is going on and the Word has only been preached 1 night in the last week then I am skeptical about revival happening there. It is the Word that God uses to melt the cold and hard hearts of his people.  Not preachers or singers but the Word.  The Psalmist says “Quicken me according to thy word.”  The Word is what is used to bring life to our deadness and if we set the Word aside because it is not as exciting as some supposed personal revelation given to the evangelist or not nearly as entertaining as the singing group then revival is not going to happen.

If we trace every real revival work of God, we will discover it happened as the Word of God in a substantial way was expounded to the people.  And the result of revival is that they want more of the Word.  Not more gimmicks, singing, or excitement but more of the Word.  A love for Jesus is so revived in their hearts that they want to hear more from Him and more about Him.  When I hear, “There is revival going on and the Preacher is outstanding” then I doubt revival is going on.  Hearts that are revived to Christ see nothing of value except him.  Preachers, singers, churches, jobs, pleasures, nothing matters except him.

Psalm 119 has more to say about Revival and we will try to examine those in future posts.