Thursday, January 27, 2011

Joel Osteen: the Perfect Neighbor

"Save yourself from this wicked and crooked generation." - Peter at Pentecost

I got to watch Joel Osteen being interviewed by CNN's new pundit Pierce Morgan. How Pierce ever got the job as Larry King's successor, I'll never know. From "America's Got Talent" to CNN, that's quite a switch!

Interviews and stuff like this are interesting to me, and I'm not exactly sure why. But I believe I got a glimpse into what just might be going on in me while I watch. As the interview went on and on and on (due to infinite commercials. One included a snake tempting an Eve character - I had to switch channels due to the sensuality. But oh the irony!), I kept waiting with pent-up excitement for Pierce to ask Joel and his wife a difficult question. He did ask a few and his wife, who seems like sort of an accessory to the Joel show, bailed him out of a few slightly difficult situations. Like calling homosexuality a sin for example.

As the interview went along I found myself genuinely liking Joel. He seems like a really nice guy: gentle, kind, shy and down to earth. He's the kind of guy I'd like to be my neighbor. He'd laugh at all my really sad puns, invite me over for coffee and perhaps even take me shopping for a new Bentley (that's low Philip). I know he'd read my blog and leave comments, which would greatly help my self-esteem (hint, hint).

I really like Joel. His wife oozed my sentiment: "I like my little Joely, he's got such a sweet smile and is sooo cuddly!" She didn't actually say this, but she would have if prompted.

"So what's wrong with the guy?" I'm thinking.

Let's break it down. What is his basic message? "Be true to yourself and follow your heart." Hmm. "God wants to bless you!" Hmm.

My pastor friend has given me what is called the "Gospel Grid." It's helpful in understanding the key components that make up our faith. You may be familiar with it. If not you're probably not saved (ha!). It goes like this: one vector represents God's holiness and goes up from the horizontal plain and another goes down and it's called our sin. The cross bridges the gap between the two vectors. (Are they "vectors?" If not you have to give me points for my mathematical style.)

The way the grid should work is that as we move along the horizontal plain from the time of "new birth" our view of God's holiness and our view of the depth of our own sin should grow in both directions, thus making the cross bigger and bigger until its huge! In my case the cross is huge at about 80 or 90! And if you wind up a spiritual guru like Joel, the cross should be all you can talk about.

Unfortunately Joel didn't talk about it at all. I may have missed it as I was switching around watching some of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (what a show by the way!). But the only time he even mentioned sin, was when Pierce asked him about homosexuality. Joel really couldn't avoid it, it'd get him into too much hot water with his constituency, but boy did he wish he could say it wasn't a sin. It was pretty evident.

So what's wrong with Joel? On the horizontal plain, not too much really. He's a much better guy than I am. On the horizontal plain he probably beats me hands down.

What's wrong with Joel is probably similar to what was wrong with Gandhi except that Gandhi at least would have been repulsed by all the riches. So maybe Gandhi would have beaten Joel in a match of morals. I don't know.

So I'll ask it again, what's wrong with Joel and Gandhi? I'll go ahead and say it: their audacious and inexcusable pride before a living God. They believe and believed that they could and can bridge the gap to God.

I think the same thing all the time. I reduce the Good News to practically nothing when I think, "I'm a pretty good guy, God forgives me and why wouldn't he want to bless me?"

I forget that I am in a "wicked and crooked generation." I am "wicked" in that I defy God's law and want nothing to do with him. I am "crooked" in that everything that I believe and have been brought up to believe about morality is backwards.

I think good morality is about me being good. It's not. It's about me being perfect. Only one God is perfect. Only one God can save. And we are desperately wicked. Our deepest suspicions of our depth of brokenness and sin are never deep enough.

My thinking has been so hijacked by me and the world around me that it's been a long hard road to a realization that I am in fact "wicked." But with this growing realization, I'm beginning to see that I am in fact "righteous" through the Cross. Ironically it's a really encouraging place to be, for here and only here is there real hope.

If you're like me, and have a hard time seeing what's wrong with such nice guys like Joel. Just take it on faith, there's a lot wrong. Heck there's a lot wrong with you and me. You might say there's a "hell-load" of stuff wrong (for didn't Jesus experience Hell/God's full wrath on the cross?), we just need the Spirit's eyes to see it. He's who prompted Peter to say this at Pentecost.

May we "save ourselves from this wicked and crooked generation." Cling to that cross. Cling tight...

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