Monday, September 24, 2012

Joel Osteen is an embarrassing "Christian" spokesperson

If I ever see another interview with Joel Osteen representing “Christianity” on a major TV news program, I think I might hurl. 

Please do not be deceived by his winning smile, designer suits or immense popularity. Despite the tens of thousands of people that attend his weekend services at Lakewood Church in Houston, and the multitudes more who watch on TV, and the millions who have read his books, Joel Osteen’s message serves up nothing more than an ear-tickling, feel-good theology of “affirmation without salvation,” a phrase borrowed from Dr. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Osteen is painful to watch on such interviews as given recently on CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.” He was introduced as “one of the most recognizable faces in Christianity in America today.” Yet, he is unable to give clear answers on decisive issues. He fumbles around for words and refuses to take a bold stand for biblical truth. You don’t hear him mention the name of Jesus in these interviews. You don’t hear him speak of the gospel. You don’t see him pointing people to the cross. 

While he may be the darling of the masses and the face of Christianity for mass media, he makes a terrible and embarrassing spokesperson for Christ. 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17). 

One thing Osteen says he doesn’t do is preach against sin. He doesn’t like to be negative, so he just avoids issues that might make people feel bad. You’re sure not likely to hear him preach as both John the Baptist and Jesus did, urging their listeners to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). 

“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:22). 

Think about this. Let’s say you go to the doctor for a routine physical. He finds that something’s wrong with your heart. But instead of telling you about it and telling you what you need to have done about it, he just smiles and says everything’s great. You’re going to be fine. Just keep on being the best you that you can possibly be. 

You’d call that doctor a fraud. He’s not doing his job, and he doesn’t need to be practicing medicine. Pastors are called to be shepherds of the flock that is under their care. Often that means encouraging them in the faith. Sometimes it means rescuing them from danger and pleading with them to turn from the error of their ways.

The Scripture is our authority, and gives us the authority as we preach the word to “correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4). That time has come indeed.

There are plenty of strong, yet humble, Christian shepherds who are not afraid to speak the truth in love. Joel Osteen is not one of them.     


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stay in Class and Keep the Faith

Just because you sign up for a class, it doesn’t mean you automatically get credit for it. I had a friend in college who signed up for five classes one semester, a fairly typical 15 hour load. But Rodney wasn’t real interested in going to class. 

We had one class together, Economics 101. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 a.m. with Prof. Ostrosky. We met in Edwards Hall, in Capen Auditorium on the campus of Illinois State University. There were more students in that class than in my entire high school. So if you missed a class now and then, it’s not like anyone noticed. But you kind of need to show up once in a while to know what’s going on. Like when the tests will be, and what information you’ll need to know for the tests. That kind of thing. 

Well, we had a test coming up and Rodney wasn’t exactly prepared for it. The night before as I was fervently studying (at least the way I recall it), Rodney was at a loss. It was just too late to cram for what he didn’t even know he needed to know. The tests were always multiple choice, so Rodney made a choice to go all “C.” That’s right, figuring he would at least get a few correct, Rodney decided to mark every answer “C.” 

As it turned out, he did get some right. When I told this story Sunday morning, I said he got six right. But I think it may have only been four. Either way, you can’t really expect much more. However, when Rodney found out that 12 of the answers on that test were “B,” you can imagine his frustration. Even 12 out of 20 is still a failing grade, but he was upset that he went with all C’s instead of B’s. 

Mind you, he wasn’t thinking, “You know, I really should have gone to class more. I really should have read the book. I really should have studied for this test.” No, he was mad because he picked “C” instead of “B.” 

It wasn’t long after this that Rodney dropped Economics 101. In fact, it wasn’t long before Rodney dropped three other classes, as well. By the end of the semester, Rodney was carrying just three credit hours. And it seems like one of those was bowling. He was a good guy, but not surprisingly, that was Rodney’s last semester at ISU. 

He signed up for the class, but he didn’t get credit for the class. 

Many “good” people sign up for salvation, too, but not all get credit for it. Just because you raised your hand at the end of a sermon or walked an aisle and shook a preacher’s hand, signed your name on a card or even got wet in a baptistery at some point in your life, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re saved. 

On the day of judgment there will be many people standing before God who think they’re good and going to heaven. They’ll have their church attendance records in hand, their contribution statements on file and many of their good deeds accounted for. But instead of hearing, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” they will be shocked and mortified to hear, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). It will not just be a few and not just some. The Bible says “many.” 

You may be able to keep up religious appearances for a long time. You may have fooled everyone around you and even deceived yourself. But the Lord knows your heart. He knows whether you’ve truly repented of your sins and surrendered your life in faith and obedience to Jesus as Savior and Lord. He knows if you’re walking faithfully in His ways and His will, according to His Word, or not. He knows those who are truly His. 

And those who do belong to Him will endure to the end because He will keep them from stumbling. They won’t give up, drop out or fall away. 

If you’ve wandered from the Lord, or never really knew Him, the time to come back is now. Run to Him while the day of His favor and salvation remains.    

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Truth about God and Eternal Life

For the first time in a long time, I actually mowed the yard twice last week. Praise God for the rain! And we pray, like my first year college roommate Swannie said to the ladies serving at the cafeteria, “Keep it coming!” And for those of you keeping score at home, my lawnmower battery finally gave up the ghost after six-plus years of faithful service. So I shelled out some cash for a new one, and the next time I mowed, and also for the first time in a long time, I was able to fire up the mower and finish the entire yard without a single mechanical incident or operator-induced error. Nice. 

By the way, I don’t know how you mow your yard, but I seem to never mow the same way twice. I have a general pattern I usually follow to start, but I always end up taking a different route. It may not look like the golf course at Pebble Beach, but as long as the grass (and weeds) get cut, it doesn’t really matter how I got there. 

In contrast to that philosophy, however, stands the matter of salvation. Many people say that there are numerous ways to get to heaven. They say that it doesn’t matter what pattern your life takes, which route or religion you follow, or how you live, since all roads lead to heaven. Usually they’ll say something like, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something…as long as you’re sincere…as long as you have faith.” But the object of that “faith” or sincerity of belief doesn’t require definition. Any religious “god” or generic view of a “god” will do. 

I read a survey recently which revealed that 77% of Protestant pastors firmly believe that Christianity alone contained the truth about God and eternal life. The article didn’t specify which pastors identified themselves as “Protestant,” but generally speaking the term refers to non-Roman Catholic varieties of Western Christianity. 77%. That’s a strong majority if you’re talking election results, but that also means that 23% of Protestant pastors do not firmly believe that Christianity offers the only way to heaven. I don’t know about you, but I find that problematic. 

If this survey truly reflects the beliefs of these pastors (for the record, I’m not a big fan of surveys), then on any given Sunday nearly 1 of every 4 pastors preaching in Protestant churches are not convinced that the message of the gospel is the truth. And the survey showed that a significantly less number of church-goers believed in the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not a surprise. 

Here’s why, among other things, I find this troubling. If there’s any other way for a person to go to heaven besides through faith in Jesus, then His sacrifice on the cross becomes completely unnecessary. The pain and suffering and humiliation Jesus experienced through the crucifixion becomes a waste if there’s another way to be saved. 

Not only that, but we make Him out to be a liar, because Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Essentially, we invalidate the message of the Bible altogether if Christianity does not offer the only avenue to eternal life. 

Now I realize that truth doesn’t fit in with our culture’s attitude of accommodation toward other religions, including those of Muslim background. Have we not bent over backwards to be sure not to offend our Muslim neighbors? And this in light of the horrific acts of terror committed against this nation eleven years ago? I don’t get it. 

What I’m saying is that we who claim the name of Jesus – especially in the pulpit! – need to stand boldly on the truth of the gospel more than ever before. Without apology. Without compromise. If the message of the cross is offensive, so be it. Better to be hated by the world and remain a friend of God, than to cozy up to the world and lose your soul.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Once For All

The little Baptist boy went with his young Catholic friend one Sunday to the Catholic church. It was quite different from what he was used to. With nearly every thing the priest did and every symbolic act, he would ask, “What does that mean?” And his friend would explain why they did what they did.

The next Sunday the same two boys attended the Baptist church together. Like his friend the week before, the Catholic boy was curious about what was taking place. At one point during the service the Baptist preacher stepped up to the pulpit, took off his watch and laid it down on the pulpit in front of him. The Catholic boy asked, “What does that mean?” The Baptist boy responded, “Oh, that don’t mean nothing.”

Seems preachers are always getting a ribbing for long sermons. Personally, I don’t even wear a watch, but the church here is kind enough to have a big clock mounted directly in my view at the back of the sanctuary. Like that could stop me.

This past Sunday I’m sure I preached for 40 minutes. Maybe more. And believe me, I could have gone longer. I love studying God’s Word. If I had three hours to preach I’m sure it would not be enough to adequately showcase all the gems found in the text.

But don’t worry. I’m not actually planning to go three hours this Sunday. Just know that I could. Which really ought to make you thankful for 40 minute sermons. This past Sunday morning I mentioned there were five areas in which I believe the church at large has compromised with the culture in distorting the grace of God and denying the lordship of Jesus Christ. I only got to one. Hopefully we’ll get to the others soon. 

But there’s another point I should have expanded on from the text that I didn’t get to. We were looking in the book of Jude and focusing in on verses 3-4. Here’s verse 3: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” I can’t re-preach the entire message here (unless you’ve got 40 minutes to spare), but I want you to take note of the phrase “once for all.”

This phrase is used at least six times in the New Testament referring to Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice for sins. It means there’s no other sacrifice ever necessary. You can’t add anything to it nor subtract anything from it. His death is all-sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins, our redemption and righteousness. Nothing else is needed.

In Jude verse 3, this phrase means that the gospel of our faith which has been delivered to the people of God is likewise all-sufficient. There’s no other word needed. You can’t add anything to it nor subtract anything from it. God’s Word, His truth, His message as delivered in the Holy Scriptures is fixed and complete.  

In our day, as Jude’s day and as in many generations before and since, it seems certain people want to edit the Bible to fit the times or their preferences about God or to justify their lifestyles. So they, in effect, take a Sharpie and mark through the things they don’t agree with, and write in the margin the things they want it to say. Friend, may I warn you from the Word of God that is dangerous and deadly ground. 

The authority of the Bible is not up for discussion or debate. It’s not a document to which we need add amendments, edit for content or alter in any way. Rather, it is true and unchanging, pure and holy, living and active, convicting and enlightening. And it’s able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

May the saints of God take the responsibility to cherish the Word of God dearly, study the Word diligently, live out the Word obediently, teach and preach the Word boldly, and fight for the faith untiringly.