>There’s a co-worker of mine with whom I have conversations a lot, mostly because he doesn’t really do any work and likes to socialize. He’s an older guy and we tend to talk about semi-serious stuff from time to time. On one particular day, the conversation turned towards televangelists. He said that from time to time he and his wife will watch, “that guy down in Houston.” That guy he was referring to was Joel Osteen, and I told him that I had some issues with some of the things that I’ve heard him say. With a surprised look, he said, “We’ve never really heard him say anything all that controversial.” To which I responded, “Yeah, that’s part of my problem.”

I’m not saying that a person has to be controversial to mix things up and be interesting; however, there was one morning that I was flipping through the stations and he was on so I stopped for a little bit to listen to him. He was talking about joy. That’s a great subject to look at, especially in relation to Paul’s admonitions in Philippians. Joy is not happiness, but a sense of the peace of God that pervades one’s entire life. However, throughout the 5-10 minute segment that I was watching him, I heard him say several times that God wants us to be happy and joyful. He said the words “joy” and “happy” probably somewhere between 15-20 times in this segment, but never really said anything about God, and absolutely nothing about Jesus Christ.

I’m not an overly critical person when it comes to preaching. After all, I haven’t preached all that much myself. However, I have a problem with Osteen’s message because it is not comprehensive. Jesus said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). A cross wasn’t a pretty necklace, like it is today. It was an instrument of death – quite possibly the worst type of death that has ever been invented by man. Osteen’s gospel doesn’t preach this side of the Christian life. Yes, there will be hard times as a follower of Christ. Yes, ultimately, all things will be redeemed, but preaching a gospel that declares we will all be happy and life a good life here on earth is simply misleading.

Will Willimon, Bishop of the Northern Alabama Conference of the UMC, writes, “The story caused offense when it was first preached in places like Nazareth; we should not be surprised that it continues to offend. In fact, we preachers ought to be troubled when our handling of the Bible never offends!” (Shaped by the Bible, 63). He is writing in reference to Luke 4:16-30 in which Jesus begins his public ministry in Nazareth by teaching in the synagogue. Once the people realize what it is that he is really saying, they get seriously ticked off and try to throw him off of a cliff!!! This is Jesus we’re talking about here, not some guy who is on the television just trying to get people fired up for a cause. If the gospel pleases everybody, then is it really the gospel?

Jesus came that we might have life, but life as we define it is not how Jesus has defined it. Life is about being in a relationship with the Creator. This is something that we can’t do on our own, but only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By the power of the Spirit, through the grace of God, we have life. Anything short of this is lacking.

Just some musings from a traveling pilgrim.

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