The Problem with Joel Osteen

By now most of us have heard the harrowing accusations against Joel Osteen, probably the most popular and wealthiest Christian Pastor on the face of the earth. I want to be sure I emphasize Christian for one simple reason - he’s from my tribe. Not my tent, but my tribe. So, I think it’s appropriate to speak up. If you don’t know, Osteen pastors Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, where Hurricane Harvey dumped over 50 inches of water last week (in comparison, Hurricane Katrina drenched New Orleans with 20 inches). His failure to act, or move quickly brought tons of condemnation on his head.

It’s easy to point fingers and flip Tweets at those with whom we disagree.

Osteen and Company were accused of failing to open their facility, which holds 16,000, to flooding victims. Whether the accusations are accurate or not is not my focus here. I’m not writing to heap on more burning coals or douse them. It’s easy to point fingers and flip Tweets at those with whom we disagree. Some people are walking caricatures, making easy targets, aren’t they? Amidst all the finger wagging and name calling what ends up happening is we start feeling good about ourselves, even when we should be doing more, because let’s face it, we’re not as bad as he is! Maybe the unsavory taste of Joel Osteen lies in this little truth…we can all be a Joel Osteen!

 Clowns. If we're not careful, we can all look like one at the most inopportune moment. This is an old film image that I scanned, taken at a small circus years ago.

Clowns. If we're not careful, we can all look like one at the most inopportune moment. This is an old film image that I scanned, taken at a small circus years ago.

Slow to act can be just as horrible as not acting. And in something as catastrophic as Hurricane Harvey, the missteps get magnified. But what about the blunders we make every week? Every day? I think, when someone like Joel Osteen slips up, we feel better about ourselves; we use it as personal leverage, elevating ourselves in our own minds. But God doesn't look at the outward appearance, no, He calls us to live from the heart, a sacrificial, serving heart and to think soberly of ourselves, with a right judgment.

Are we any better than Joel Osteen?

Speaking of heart, I heard comedian Kevin Hart pledge $25,000 - way beyond my capacity - to disaster relief in Houston. A noble gesture, he challenged others to copy. Then Sandra Bullock donated a cool $1M. Now, having net worths of $120 and $200 million, respectively, does help. In doing so, they created a huge contrast to the apparent stinginess of Osteen. But what about me? What about you? What have we given and what do we give when we see others hurting, desperate and in need? Are we any better than Joel Osteen?

I’ll put it honestly, when God provides one person with an ark He anticipates others being able to get aboard; whether it’s a 16,000 seat stadium or an extra sandwich at lunch. God calls us to be generous, because God is generous, lavishly so! I’m not advocating socialism, forcing distribution. I’m calling for voluntary gratefulness in giving.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

What’s important from God’s perspective isn’t the amount of money a person gives but the level of sacrifice, birthed from a grateful heart. And the heart, our motives are only seen by God.

Jesus tells the story of a poor widow who gave two, small copper coins for an offering. Most would look and shrug their shoulders in disgust. What good will that do? But Jesus’ perspective is drastically different than ours. He sees the heart, not the just the hand. Later, in chastising the religious leaders, he rebukes them for giving a tenth of their herbs from their gardens but neglecting the more important and weightier aspects of God’s Kingdom, mercy, justice, and faithfulness.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you give 10% of your mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23

If God calls us to both, giving of resources while being merciful, just and faithful, maybe we all fail epically? I think we do. When we compare ourselves to those who have stumbled do we not set ourselves up as the standard? Jesus condemned the religious for precisely this!

Sin always looks more heinous when seen in someone else.

Sin always looks more heinous when seen in someone else. The Bible doesn’t differentiate, it calls all of us sinners in need of a loving, lavishly generous God who gave His only Son up to slaughter so we could be forgiven and live. We all suffer from the same shortcoming, selfishness.

I’m a huge believer in personal, reflective evaluation. Taking time, regularly - even daily, to meditate on our motives in light of our actions. We must check ourselves before a right and proper standard, I suggest a holy, righteous, loving God, not Joel Osteen. It’s here we’ll realize we all fall short. It’s not an excuse; it’s reality. We won’t always get it correct and we shouldn't feel condemned. Maybe we should be slower in worrying about the people around us?

As Hurricane Irma churns the Atlantic with 150 mph winds, with the devastation from Harvey still gobbling up resources, we could potentially see 10s of thousands of people without electricity, sanitation, food, and shelter. It will matter to them what we do, whether with money, resources or volunteering. Will we be quick to act, or will we make excuses and dilly dally? Will we merely send our “good thoughts and positive vibes” as men and women scramble to put their lives back together? Maybe the problem with Joel Osteen is he looks a lot like us?

*As I finish this, First Responders are gearing up to face the wake of Hurricane Irma. My deepest respect to those who put themselves in harm's way for the help and benefit of others.