A Widow, Osteen, and Piper: The Gospel in Focus

telescope-sam-1This morning I shared a cup of tea with an elderly widow from my church.  Later, I caught a few minutes of a Victoria Osteen sermon.  This evening I happened upon a two-minute John Piper video.

The widow told me how she found comfort and purpose in knowing Jesus when her husband suddenly passed away ten years ago.

Victoria Osteen told me that I will find comfort and purpose when I think positive thoughts, say good things, replace what doesn’t work in life with what does work (huh?), be determined in all I do, believe that my miracle is right around the corner, and focus on realizing my hopes and dreams—getting the best in life for me. . . me . . . me.

John Piper told me that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him—in the midst of loss, not prosperity.”

The widow and John Piper pointed me to Christ and his glorious Gospel.  Victoria Osteen didn’t.

The widow’s singular, trusting love for her Savior and Piper’s articulate, passionate cry against the false prosperity “gospel” of our day could not have more dramatically highlighted how irrelevant, corrupt, and dangerous Osteen’s message is.  It is irrelevant in that her message has nothing to do with biblical spirituality, corrupt in that it is a complete distortion of the Gospel, and dangerous in that it propogates a self-absorbtion that leads many down the broad road to destruction.

I began my day gleaning from the beautiful and simple life-long faith of a woman who has known the Lord for over seventy years.  Her life has been marked by both suffering and blessing.  She has learned the secret of being content in plenty or in want: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  She told me that Jesus is her everything.  She has walked the road of loss and found Him to be her All.

On the other hand, after listening to Osteen, apparently getting the good life is everything.  The focus of her gospel is not Jesus, but rather on self and what one hopes to attain by mixing a bit of “faith” with good ol’ gumption—favorable feelings, possessions, and circumstances.  Where is the Christ to be adored?  Where is the Christ to be served?  Where is the Christ to be worshiped?

Here is the short Piper video I came across this evening.  I won’t try to restate what he communicates so well, but what I will say is this:  Tonight I give thanks for the faithful example of a widow and the poignant words of a preacher that have put the Gospel in proper focus—on Christ—and have spurred me on to love and adore Him all the more.   And tonight, as I lay my head down, I will be asking these questions:  Whom do I love above all else?  Who is the center of my world?  Who is the focus of my faith?  Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

Flowers and My Boy’s Heart

A few weeks ago I planted flowers in the flower beds of our front yard.  I choose two different types of flowers.  Honestly, I don’t know their names.  One type was white; one was red.  I chose the white flowers because I used the same kind last year, and they flourished in the Texas sun.  I chose the red flowers because they were pretty and contrasted with the white.  I wanted a little variety.

The white flowers have established themselves just as I expected.  They are hardy, healthy little plants, and I’m looking forward to them spreading out as the season progresses.  But, the red flowers look pitiful.  Several of the plants have completely shriveled up and died, some look sickly, and others have struggling, puny blooms.  All of the time and effort I put into planting those once- pretty red flowers had gone to waste–or so I thought.  God had another plan for my flower beds.

Yesterday evening, my twelve-year-old son made a bad choice in a discussion he and I were having.  The choice he made was part of a sinful pattern that my husband and I have noticed in his life.  My son’s sin grieved me, and as I woke this morning I prayed for him and for myself–that I would have wisdom to know how to confront him about it today.  The Lord answered my prayer and gave me an idea.  I ran off to my early-morning exercise class, and then I stopped by Home Depot.  I picked up some flowers–exactly like the original white ones, except in pink and purple.

When I returned home, I left the flowers in the back of the van so that my son would not know I had them.  Then, my husband and I sat down with our son at the kitchen table to speak with him regarding what had happened the night before.  We discussed the sinful pattern we have noticed, Scripture that addresses the issue, and his need for repentance.  Although we are grateful that our son received our confrontation respectfully, we know the sincerity of his repentance is ultimately a matter between him and the Lord.

I then told my son to follow me, and I led him to the flower beds in our front yard.  I asked him, “Which of these flowers look healthy and strong?”

“The white,” he replied.

“How can you tell?”

“Well, they are growing, and they have flowers and good leaves.  They just look good.”

“Which of these flowers are not doing well?” I then asked.

“The red ones.”

“How can you tell?”

“Some of them are all dried up and dead, and the others just don’t look good.  Am I in trouble for the plants?!  Mom, I’ve been watering them like I’m supposed to!” he exclaimed.

“No, don’t worry.  You’re not in trouble for the plants,” I smiled and reassured him.  “But, you have made a good point.  All of the flowers, the white and red, have been watered.  They have all received the same sunshine, and they are all in the same type of soil.  The problem is not with the water, soil, or sunshine.  It’s with the plants.  The red ones are not good plants.  I should’ve never bought them.”

I went on.  “You see, honey, the white flowers are the good choices in your life.  Good choices–choices to do what is right–are blessed and flourish.  The red flowers are the sinful choices in your life.  They are no good.  No matter what other “spirituality” you surround them with, they are just no good.  Sin is ugly, and it must be rooted out of your heart.  Now, what I want you to do is remove every single red flower plant from the garden beds in the front yard.  Take them out, and throw them away.  As you take each one out of the ground, I want you to think how you must remove the sinful choices you have been making from your life and then pray for God’s forgiveness.”

“But, Mom, then those spaces will be empty!”  he said.

“Don’t worry about that,” I said as I inwardly smiled.  “You just tell me when you have taken out the unhealthy plants.”

After awhile, my son came into the house and said politely, “I’m done, Mom.”

“Not quite.  Come with me.”

I took him back to the flower beds.  “Honey, in the Bible when God tells us to ‘put off’ sin from our lives, He then tells us to ‘put on’ what is right instead.  For example, the Bible says, ‘Let him who steals steal no longer, but rather let him work with his hands so that he can give to those in need.’  You need to put off your sinful choice, and begin putting on the opposite good choice.  You need to remove the sin, and plant the opposite godly choice.  So, in the back of the van are plenty of flowers–exactly like the healthy white ones we already have, but in different colors–and I want you to plant them where the red ones once were.  As you plant each new flower, pray that God will make you a man of integrity in all you do and say.”

My son got busy, and soon all of the new flowers were planted.  He was was happy with his work, and I thanked him.  Some of plants were in the wrong places and unevenly positioned, but I decided not to correct that.  Those things weren’t important; I didn’t want to distract from the importance of what he had done–removed “bad” flowers and planted “good” flowers in their place.  I didn’t preach at him anymore, either.  I just wanted to leave him with his own thoughts about the morning’s conversations and experience.

My husband and I are praying for our son, that the Lord would grow him to be a young man wholeheartedly devoted to Him.  Please pray for our son, if you think of it.  But, more importantly pray for the children and young people in your own life.  Pray that God will give you great wisdom to teach them to be holy and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This spring, maybe buy a few flowers to plant.  Let at least one die, and then plant another.

To encourage a friend with this post, please click “Share” below. 

Resolving Conflict, Part 1: The Best Place to Start

No one is a stranger to conflict.  It is a universal human experience.

Conflicts in personal relationships can be complicated, consuming, confusing, and sometimes catastrophic.  Addressing conflict in our lives is necessary; resolving conflict biblically is absolutely necessary.  When we learn to resolve conflict according to the wisdom of God, we yield beneficial results.  But, even more importantly, when we deal with conflict God’s way, we reflect the glory of His Gospel.

You see, the greatest conflict of all history is our conflict with God.  Likewise, the greatest reconciliation of all history is our reconciliation to God:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)

Our Problem

In this passage of Scripture, we are described as weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God.  We were completely helpless, undesirable, and incapable of restoring our relationship with Him.  In our dead spiritual condition, our hearts were set toward sin and against God, and we faced condemnation for our opposition. Our condition separated us from the Father, and we could not be reconciled to Him by our own initiative.  Apart from Him intervening, we had no desire or ability to do so.

God’s Solution

Christ died.  Christ died for the ungodly.  Christ died for us . . . not because we were lovable or deserving of rescue, but because He has an infinite love for us that defies human wisdom:  God incarnate willingly and sacrificially laid down His sinless, perfect life for His enemies.  Christ stood in our place and bore the wrath we deserved for our sin.  He who knew no sin became sin for us.  The Innocent One died for the unjust.

The Result

The result of God’s solution is truly amazing:  We have been justified, we were reconciled to God, and we are saved by his life.  The power of our sin and guilt was obliterated by Christ’s death.  Though once alienated from our holy Creator, we are now in a loving relationship with Him because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place.  His payment was accepted, our sin was covered, and we were reconciled to God.  In addition, the power of Christ’s life keeps us in a restored relationship with Him for eternity.  Because of Christ, God declares us righteous, we are at peace with God, and eternal life is ours.

As we look at biblical conflict resolution in the next few posts, I pray they will not be received as a re-packaged self-help guide (decorated with Scripture) to merely “fix” our relationships or to make them “easier.”  Instead, my goal is that we understand the biblical principles for conflict resolution to be anchored in the Gospel, and that we then apply them to our lives as an outflow of having personally experienced the reconciling love of the Savior:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11)

At the cross of Jesus we are reconciled with God.  Are we guilty?  No more.  Condemned?  No more.  Enemies?  No more.  In this restored relationship we receive the grace and wisdom to mend fragile and broken relationships with others.  Our vertical Relationship informs all that are horizontal.  So, as we begin the journey of resolving conflict God’s way, will you first join me in faith at the cross?  It is the best place to start.