Tossing Folks To and Fro
Last Friday (February 3), Joel Osteen kicked of an event called “Night of Hope” at the Blaisdell Arena in Hawaii. It tours from place to place and is scheduled to go on for a few more months. At the Night of Hope, Joel made some interesting statements. “I think, for years, people have been pushed down by religion, and I don’t say that disrespectfully, but they’ve been shown a God that you can’t measure up to.” I wonder if Osteen is speaking of preachers who load others down with legalism. This is commonly pointed out by pastors like him. A contrast is made between those who say, “You can’t do this or that or that or even that” and guys like Osteen who tell you that God is happy with you, loves you, and just wants you to be blessed already. Think about it though. Preachers who throw down legalism aren’t presenting a God that you can’t measure up to. “Religion” (I assume he means self-righteousness) doesn’t present a God that can’t be measured up to. Legalism presents a set of rules that enable you to manipulate the actions of God – if you do this, then God will do that. And just like Osteen’s views, self-righteousness presents a set of rules that must be followed or else blessings won’t come.
Scripture does present a God that can’t be measured up to though. That is why the second person of the triune nature of God became a human being and “measured up” to God’s law, endured God’s wrath, died, was buried and resurrected three days later on behalf of those who would believe. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) appears to present a standard I can’t meet. I can’t help but wonder what exactly Jesus’ role is in Joel’s worldview. Joel continues, “And so, my goal is to make God good and let them know, hey, I tell them all the time, God’s smiling down on you right now. You’re his child. He’s got a great plan for your life. You can overcome mistakes, and to me, that draws people TO God.” If Joel wants people to know God’s goodness, then he needs to tell them them the good news. God’s love is displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). If you believe the gospel, then you are a child of God, and God sees the righteousness of Christ in your place. That is GOOD news. For Joel, it seems the good news is that you are His kid, He has a plan for you, and you can overcome mistakes. In other words, the good news is central to you. I don’t hear anything there about Christ. I realize that Jesus is God. But the majority of people will agree that a “god” exists. Using a general term like that is meaningless if not defined correctly. I don’t see anything about Joel’s statement that can’t be said of the god of any other religion.
He goes on to say, “I don’t go up there and talk about money. I talk about: God wants you to be blessed and have good relationships and be healthy. And I think the opposite is: some people want you to, think that you’re supposed to be poor and broke and suffer to show that you’re a Christian, and that’s just not the way I read the Scripture. I think that God wants us to excel and be the best at what we can do and have happy families. You know, prosperity, to me, is more than money. It’s health and good relationships … peace of mind.” He is right in one regard, Scripture doesn’t say anything about us proving our Christian faith by being broke, poor, and suffering. On the other hand, let’s take a look at the 3 things he mentioned.
1) God wants us to be blessed.
I have no idea if he is speaking generally of all humanity, or specifically of Christians. Generally, no, this isn’t true. God blesses those in Christ. Anyone outside of Christ is considered an enemy to Him because they are in sin and are lawbreakers in regard to His perfect law. God isn’t up there wringing His hands and hoping that everyone everywhere will be blessed. Those who are in Christ are blessed, and they are in Christ because God gave them the faith. Whatever God wants, He gets. “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6) And no man can hold His arm back. Specifically, those in Christ don’t work or perform a certain way for blessings. We have every spiritual blessing in Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). It’s not that every blessing is at our disposal and we have to unlock it through submission. It’s ours already by faith. We have it.
2) God wants us to have good relationships.
We should try to be at peace with all men (Hebrews 12:14), but the gospel won’t allow that. It offends people. It’s important to note that we shouldn’t be the offense. The gospel should be the offense. “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52) Jesus told His disciples they’d be hated for the message of the gospel, and that it would cause their own families to hate them. The same is true of us today. Telling someone the gospel oftentimes offends people because humanity is dead in sin and their natural minds are hostile toward God (Romans 8:7).
3) God wants us to be healthy
Well I guess Paul wasn’t faithful enough to activate the health that God apparently wanted so much for him to have. “but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14 and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. ” (Galatians 4:13-14). I guess God didn’t get what He wanted with Epahphroditus either. Paul says of him, “For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.” (Philippians 2:27) Where is the Scripture that God promises us health?
He told Hawaii News Now that he doesn’t go out of his way to preach that homosexuality is a sin and doesn’t judge anyone. The news source brought up the accusation that Osteen preaches a “watered down” message. He responded: “Our message is God is good. He’s on your side and he wants you to live a blessed life. Part of message too is that even if you’ve made mistakes you can get to where God wants you to be… I think I do talk about the negative things and adversities but the Bible says it’s the goodness of God that leads people to repent. I believe there’s enough pushing people down. I like telling people you may have made mistakes, but God can forgive you.” If you have “made mistakes,” you can get where God wants you. So, if you sin, just repent and try harder not to next time. And God can forgive you. Just ask “God” for forgiveness for your “mistakes.” This isn’t the gospel, because the gospel talks about the life of Jesus Christ, not you reaching a goal. Again, how is this distinctly Christian? I have a friend in Alcoholics Anonymous. He isn’t a Christian. He was telling me about some of the 12 steps of that program. It is important for them to first realize they have a problem and become “god reliant.” It doesn’t matter what their version of God is, just that you realize that you can’t control your alcoholism and need the help of an omnipotent being outside of yourself. My friend believes in a god. He prays to him. He relies on him. He has joy over him. Here, Joel Osteen sounds like an AA sponsor. What’s the difference between what Osteen is saying, and what my non Christian friend believes?
Needless to say, the folks there were overjoyed. Some couldn’t believe they go tto meet him. Unfortunately, they came for a night of hope, and were given a yoke of slavery. It was nothing but a Night of Hopelessness.