Saturday, December 29, 2007

Joel Osteen and Ourselves

I remember when I first came upon one of Joel's televised sermons on late night TV from his Lakewood Church. I actually thought it was pretty good. He held up the Bible at the beginning and had the congregation say with him that the Bible is the inerrant and irrepressible Word of God. His sermon included Bible passages and he seemed passionate about what he was saying. So I tuned in for a few weeks in a row until I started to realize that what Joel was preaching was not in line with what God's Word is really all about. Joel was preaching a self-help version of Christianity in which you can make your life better by making smarter decisions and being a positive thinker. Somehow my optimism in life can have a greater impact than God's strength and purposes. There was also an underlying prosperity gospel message but it took a backseat to the simple idea of happiness.

I then read about his recent comments from his interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace. In this interview, Osteen actually told Wallace, "But just, you know, as a pastor, I'm not trying to get everybody saved, that's not my main calling, like Billy Graham's." When asked about why he won't talk about sin and deal with the hard issues of the day, Osteen responded, "Sometimes when you take strong stands, if you're not called to do it, you're dividing the audience you're trying to reach." Sadly, he was asked about Mitt Romney and if a Mormon is a Christian. " Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his savior, and that's what I believe, so, you know, I'm not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are."

That is shocking stuff...especially when you consider the size of the audience that Osteen reaches through his church, his TV time and his books. You are not trying to get everyone saved? That isn't your calling? I can guarantee that your calling is not reaching #1 on the NY Times Bestseller List. And he doesn't feel called to take strong stands? We are all called to do that. Jesus even tells us we will likely be persecuted for it but we will be blessed because of it. Of course, you don't want to take a strong stand when your popularity has become more important than God's truth.

But isn't that a reality for all of us? We should be deeply concerned about Joel's message and the fact that he is leading people on a path that has much more to do with themselves than with God. However, the more personal lesson is that we have all, at one time or another, chosen popularity over the sometimes divisive truth of the Bible. Joel should serve as a sober reminder to each of us that we must strive to give everyone we meet a clear presentation of the Gospel through our words and actions. We must love everyone but not be afraid to offer them God's truth. Love is not sparing the feelings of another so they will keep liking you. Love is offering them hope and truth in spite of the risk that they may not like you.