Monday, March 17, 2008

still let the spirit cry

Before going to bed tonight, I was flipping channels in the hotel room. I came across Joel Osteen’s (best known for his books Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You) broadcast, where he preaches to 30,000 people in person and likely millions more via TV. He seems to be a fabulous motivational speaker and self-help author, but as far as pastoring, he doesn’t use the Bible much except as a source for illustrative examples. I figured this method of preaching would get some people riled up, so I went searching. Indeed, there are plenty of people willing to vent at Osteen and call him a “false teacher” and, frankly, something of an inconsistent coward (most prominently referenced is his appearance on “Larry King Live”, where he dodged questions King knew many ministers had previously taken head-on).

The second part of the program I saw was a member of Osteen’s ministry team broadcasting from Israel and explaining the clear signs he sees that we are definitively in the world’s last days, according to Biblical prophecy. The formation of Israel as a nation in 1948 was familiar evidence to me; unfortunately, the Six-Day War has apparently also become a mine for signs and a lens for interpreting prophecies, such as in Hosea and Daniel. The list of signs continued with passages from Isaiah describing how God would call his people out of all parts of the earth to return to the promised land, and followed somewhat predictable lines of selective interpretation.

Everyone who knows me knows I’m all for encouraging people, and even for using the Bible as support and authority and inspiration in those times that comfort and encouragement are needed. I’m also not given to rants in what should be a meditation. The promise of success is a powerful force for hope, but how unbalanced is the message “You can do it, because you’ve got greatness in you!”? It’s even true, but there’s some denial of the reality of life embedded in it. …I really shouldn’t go on with this, because it could take a long, painful time to sort out in a public forum my issues with “prosperity gospel” preaching and “end times” prophecy.

* * *

The title of this entry is taken from the hymn “Soldiers of Christ, arise” by Charles Wesley. Here are three excerpted verses:
Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armor on,
Strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son.
Strong in the Lord of hosts, and in His mighty power,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror.

Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole;
Indissolubly joined, to battle all proceed;
But arm yourselves with all the mind that was in Christ, your Head.

From strength to strength go on, wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down and win the well fought day.
Still let the Spirit cry in all His soldiers, “Come!”
Till Christ the Lord descends from high and takes the conquerors home.
The main Scriptural basis for the imagery comes from Ephesians chapter 6, where Paul describes the battle that is part of being a Christian. The call is not to war against unbelievers, but to battle corrupt spiritual powers. This is a hard notion to swallow in today’s Western world, but many of us have had times when we feel we are not wrestling with ourselves alone. Endurance is key, as is preparation. We “soldier on”, to use a relevant idiom. And when our strength fails, even before then when we still feel like we can stand firm, our hope is in God. As Psalm 121 says,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
That trust is what will carry us into next Sunday, and through the rest of our lives, until we meet God.

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