Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where's the beef?

Sometimes I turn on my television or radio to have some background noise whilst getting ready to go out somewhere. Yesterday morning I was channel surfing when I came across a sermon from Texan pastor Joel Osteen. Osteen is a preacher, author, televangelist and senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, which is believed to be the largest church in the United States.

There is plenty of critical comment online about Osteen. Many of these critics raise valid concerns about Osteen's teachings. For me to add to them I would be saying the same thing as them but in different words.

The gist of Sunday's message as I understood it was this. God wants Christians to live full and effective lives. This is their destiny and purpose. Often they're not living out this destiny because influential figures in their lives, such as parents, teachers, sports coaches, and the like have spoken negativity into their lives, telling them that they will never amount to anything. Because they don't know any different, so this is how they live. To this we can add the schemes of the devil, who uses these things as part of his strategy to nobble Christians and keep them weak, timid, and fearful.

Some Christians struggle in their faith because their image of God has been distorted by poor relationships with God or other male authority figures in their life. Even though they may understand intellectually that God is a God of love, justice, and holiness, who wants all of humanity to be reconciled to Him, they may perceive Him to be cold, distant, and capricious, who will only accept them if they measure up to His impossible standards. It seems valid to say that there may also be an element of spiritual warfare in these struggles.

To be generous to Osteen, his positive messages offer a corrective to these incorrect views of God. Some Christians do need to hear that God loves and cares for them, as he so strongly emphasizes. Having said that, in his messages there never seems to be any acknowledgement that millions of faithful Christians around the world are suffering hardship and persecution for their faith. 

Instead, he talked about success. When Osteen took over from his late father as pastor of Lakewood Church, people told him that he couldn't do it. If the size of his congregation and his following is any indication, it would appear that he has proven them wrong. He also mentioned the former drug dealer whose life turned around when somebody told him that he could leave his life of crime and use his sales skills in a legitimate job. That was actually an uplifting story.

Osteen lost me thereafter. He talked about how you can have a nicer house if you want it. This almost sounds like the erroneous "name it and claim it" prosperity teaching that other televangelists propagate.

Then he quoted the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13; "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

This verse is not a promise. It has nothing to do with God empowering you to succeed in life and live out your potential. In context, Paul meant to say that the grace of God sustained and enabled him to serve Him faithfully in spite of his very difficult circumstances. He suffered much for the gospel, and knew that one day it would cost him his life. It should not be read or used as some sort of positive thinking affirmation as Osteen seems to think.

Osteen isn't my cup of tea. Yes, God is a God of love, but that's not the whole picture. From what I have seen and heard of Osteen there is no mention in his messages of sin, the cross, the holiness of God, repentance, the need for forgiveness, and the consequences for anyone who rejects Him.

Encouraging messages have their place and are probably needed sometimes, but not all the time. God is loving, but He is also just. Any preacher or teacher of the word must remember that. To emphasize one side of His character at the expense of the other gives a skewed picture of Him, which can potentially be very damaging spiritually. We need to know God as He really is, and not as we perceive Him to be. 

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