While watching TBN one day, I noticed that one of the programming highlights at the end of the show I was watching featured three two-second TV series clips all grouped together. The first one showed Pastor Joseph Prince from New Creation Church in Singapore; the second showed Pastor Joel Osteen from Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas; and the third was of an interview with William Paul Young, the author of The Shack and host of the TBN show, Restoring the Shack. I immediately thought, “Oh wow, these are the three people in Christian Ministry I follow the most and the only three TBN shows I record—I must be on the right track with this book!”
As someone who grew up between the early sixties and the late seventies, all I really knew about God was that He wasn’t too happy with me. I came from the “fire and brimstone” atmosphere of “repent or burn,” and for the first fifty years of my life, I can’t remember ever taking a step or even drawing a breath without a crippling sense of fear and condemnation.
I must have sung “Amazing Grace” and “Just as I Am” at least ten thousand times in the “dungeons of condemnation” we called churches then, but I honestly can’t remember ever really hearing the words, despite the fact that I was singing them. The continuous message of condemnation I was getting—from parent and the pulpit—was on the opposite end of the gospel spectrum, and I had been so stuffed with it that there was no room left for anything else. The sheer volume of these daily messages of fear and condemnation—combined with the force and intensity with which they were delivered—was such that nothing else could penetrate. The condemnation message had been too densely packed.
I first heard Pastor Joel Osteen about twelve years ago, but as positive of a message as his was, and as much as I wanted to believe it, I just wasn’t buying it—or more accurately, I just wasn’t able to receive it. In fact, I was even skeptical of Joel and thought that he might just be “in it for the money” as they say, because his depiction of God was so contrary to the one I knew.
You see, regardless of what Pastor Osteen said, I knew that God was mad at me and that He wasn’t going to bless me until I finally “got it right,”—something that in over forty years of trying, I still hadn’t been able to do. The thick roots of fear and condemnation had been growing inside of me for decades—numerous massive, gnarly-looking roots that so densely packed my mental soil—my soul—that they bulged outward, up above the ground, thus preventing the seeds of Joel’s messages of hope from ever taking root.
After all, I was listening to several other popular pastors on Christian television as well, whose contrary messages only confirmed what I already knew—God was going to withhold His blessings and send me back out for another year-long hike in the wilderness unless I “fixed myself” once and for all. So much for “Just as I Am” and “Amazing Grace.”
But then one day, a few years ago while watching TBN, I stumbled across Pastor Joseph Prince’s show and heard something radically different than what I’d been taught my entire life. Despite having accepted Christ nearly five decades earlier at the age of ten, for the first time in my life, I was finally hearing the true gospel of grace preached—it immediately resonated.
I began watching Pastor Prince regularly and recording his episodes, and after a while, I could feel his messages of grace beginning to take root. As the roots of grace grew in my soul, they gradually overtook the roots of condemnation, first slowly starving them to death and then absorbing what was left of them for nourishment. I could see that God’s grace through Jesus Christ had virtually swallowed the crippling sense of fear and condemnation I had carried my entire life, causing me to quite literally see condemnation as grace’s food.
With a soul now fertile with God’s grace, a new sense of freedom in Christ, and a profoundly different view of God, I began carefully protecting what I had been given. I avoided any type of condemning message—from people or the pulpit—that prompted people to focus on themselves and their shortcomings and listened only to those who highlighted who Christ is to us and who we are in Him. Over the next couple of years, Pastor Prince’s grace message continued to grow inside of me, and my life began reflecting that growth.
It had been several years since I had watched Joel Osteen on TBN when I noticed that his show was coming up. Since I knew he had a more positive message—and, for some reason, I no longer felt the level of skepticism toward him that I used to feel—I decided to watch it. When Pastor Osteen spoke, I was stunned to find that my skepticism towards him had completely vanished, that I was able to fully receive his anointed message of hope, and felt the truth in his every word deep in my spirit. Just as Pastor Prince’s messages of grace had done a few years earlier, the seeds from Joel’s messages of hope were taking root.
A few days later, I realized that hope—in God—is a seed that can only take root and grow in soil that’s been fertilized with His grace. The more I listened to Joseph Prince’s messages of grace, the better I was able to receive Joel Osteen’s messages of hope. What was surprising, though, was that the more I listened to Joel Osteen’s message of hope, the more powerfully Joseph Prince’s messages of grace manifested themselves in my life.
Later, however, the Lord showed me that my understanding of hope and grace was somewhat compartmentalizing. Although both were having powerful, positive influences in my life, I found myself viewing them as if they operated independently of one another—as if each was stored in its own separate jar to be pulled out and used for different challenges. I wasn’t bringing them together for the full synergistic effect.
My wife Debra and I had seen the movie The Shack based on William Paul Young’s book, The Shack, and we later began watching his TBN series, Restoring the Shack. In the series, Mr. Young talks a lot about “relationship” and expounds on the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But whether or not he intended it—for me, at least—his teachings pulled hope and grace together into a relationship as well, thus providing an added element of anointment to them. In other words, whether intentional or not—and whether or not we “consciously” realize it—Mr. Young’s anointed messages in his TBN series, Restoring the Shack, illustrate the power of hope and grace in relationship with one another—a relationship that makes them immeasurably more powerful than they are when viewed as operating independently.
Hmmm…I wonder if this is the reason God brought Pastor Prince and Pastor Osteen together into a “relationship” for the “Hope and Grace” ministry?
Today I know that the hope and confidence I have in God is a result of having been given this powerful revelation of His grace and His love. But the final, “critically essential” revelation of God’s grace I would receive didn’t come from where one might expect. In fact, it came from the last place I would have ever expected, and it took a very long time for me to get there—more than fifty years!
Sometimes our journey from condemnation to grace can be long and difficult—sometimes even brutal! But just because it was for me, doesn’t mean it has to be for you. Nonetheless, my path and journey are laid out over the course of this book, which also reveals the aforementioned “critically essential” revelation of God’s grace I received—and from where it came.
In this age of pride and self-importance, the obsessive pursuit of status, splendor, and pleasure, not to mention the unprecedented array of addictions this “soul-sickness” has brought to life—all of which reveal a deep sense of fear, condemnation, and emptiness—it’s clear that there’s an ever-expanding void in the hearts of mankind. Anyone who stumbles across a short news segment can see this.
But there really is a place in this world where you can find freedom from all of the fear, pain, heartbreak, and despair; a place where the need to be perfect—and to be perceived so by others—no longer exists
It’s called “The Sanctuary” and I believe this story can lead you there.
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