The shit list

ultron.jpgBig Man brought up an interesting and very valid question in the comments for yesterday’s post about my use (perhaps even overuse) of swearing in this blog. I mean, the very title has a foul word in it, so I’m pretty much in people’s faces from the get-go when it comes to cursing. I’m not going to stop using blue language, but aside from the title of today’s blog, I’m going to see if I can get good and irritated today at various groups and people without resorting to the language. Hey, we all need some time off. I might even take tomorrow off in terms of trashy lingo, too, and talk about some things I really like. 😉

So, what’s today’s topic? I’m going to call out some individuals or groups that just really get under my skin (and all of you should expect a visit from my angry robot above to set you straight). As a former Catholic, let me start with…

The leadership of the Roman Catholic church

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not a Catholicism hater and I’m not in favor of promoting all the Protestant-Catholic antipathy that even managed to spark warfare between the two major portions of Christianity in Northern Ireland. Yes, I have referred to myself as a “recovering Catholic” but the fact is, I believe that a person can come to faith and salvation every bit as easily in the Catholic church as in a Protestant one. For me personally, I went to church often enough as a Catholic, but I don’t think I was born again until I started going to a Protestant one.

Why? Because I was bored out of my skull most of the time and being fed like an infant non-stop. Paul tells us in the Bible that we often need to start our faith walk with milk before we can move on to the meat, but the problem is that Catholic leaders seem by and large to want to keep feeding parishoners milk forever. I’m not talking about the priests or even pastors, but almost every pope who ever lived, the vast majority of cardinals, and most of the bishops as well. Catholic mass is based on ritual, repetition and very little actual learning. Sermons are typically 20-minutes at best, surrounded by a litany of the same set of prayers and lots of getting up and down from one’s knees.

Contrast that with a Protestant sermon that could easily run nearly an hour…or perhaps well over an hour, in addition to all the hymns and opening prayers and such. The difference? Catholics get fed a few brief readings and a tiny bit of insight from the priest, and they are hardly ever encouraged to read the Bible on their own time. It’s not that they’re discouraged from it either, but rarely are they told, “OK, make sure you read this stuff in prayer yourself and do it often.”

And don’t get me started on all the rules that Catholicism implemented on its own, like, oh, the confessional. Jesus’ atoning death for us was so that we could go straight to God to acknowledge our sins and ask forgiveness and gain strength to move on…not for making us go to a priest and be given a certain number of “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers to say.

And the “infallibility” of the pope drives me nuts as well. When one pope might say one thing and then that gets overruled later by another pope, how can we take it seriously that any pope is speaking with God’s absolute authority on matters of faith?

OK, I’ll end my rant here. Again, Catholics are fine…Catholic leaders often scare me.

Word of Faith movement

My wife and I went to a church recently that seemed nice at first. Young people mostly (well, relatively speaking), good music that glorified God and rocked (often literally), and a very social atmosphere in addition to getting into the Bible and delving into the power and importance of the Holy Spirit.

Then this small start-up church started to go wrong, and we finally realized it had gone off the deep end into the questionable world of the “word of faith.” Also referred to by things like “name it and claim it” and “prosperity ministries” and “health ministries,” this is a dangerous place for a lot of churches to go. The principle is that the strength of your faith should bring you financial security and health. Now, I’m not saying that’s entirely wrong, but God doesn’t intend for all of us to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Wise, yes…but healthy and wealthy aren’t always on the menu.

Paul suffered a “thorn in his side” (some kind of unspecified physical ailment) and despite asking for it to be taken away from him, God said no. If someone as spot-on and faithful as Paul doesn’t get everything he wants, why would the rest of us? And if you think Paul was rich…or wanted to be…you’ve got another think coming.

Yes, blessings can come to us through God, particularly when we remain strong in our faith. But it is also Satan’s job to keep the born again folks from spreading the gospel, so he throws wrenches into the works all the time. The thing with being born again is to lean on God for our strength and for our ultimate protection from being torn down to the ground. To expect him to be a cosmic ATM for us is both unreasonable and disrespectful.

But the scariest thing about a church that is heavy into the word of faith movement is the way that they can sometimes throw their people to the wolves. The church we were in did that. Heaven forbid you should be sniffling and coughing and say, “I think I’m coming down with a cold.” That was against God and you should be saying “I’m not sick.” If you can’t pay your bills, you need to pray harder and God will meet all your needs.

Now, I admit, I’ve hit tough times and cried out to God in prayer, and have seen just the perfect amount of help (often money) come out of nowhere. But it’s neither a sure thing nor is it something that is there to make me rich. Jesus led a pretty humble life in terms of wealth and possessions.

But as I was getting at, the worst thing about churches that go so far into this area is that they have this way cutting off folks who don’t drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak. If you aren’t getting ahead in life or feeling better, particularly after they’ve prayed over you as a group and spoken in tongues or anointed you with oil or whatever else…then it must be your fault. You aren’t faithful enough. You must not be really born again. And then you get slowly shut out or even asked to leave, because you aren’t really a child of God as far as they’re concerned.

And that just makes me sick that churches that are supposed to be supporting and lifting their members up would just turn away from someone and get such a holier-than-thou attitude.

Joel Osteen

I’m not sure whether to be mad at the “smiling pastor” or to grieve for him. Years ago, when his father, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Texas, died, his son Joel stepped up to the pulpit. His church was big and popular and he televised his sermons and I loved him. He was young, personable, and spoke really well. He was often modest, noting that he had always wanted to stay behind the scenes until his dad died and he felt called to the pulpit, and he spoke about God and Jesus in ways that were so positive and uplifting.

And then his church got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. He got more and more popular. And suddenly it became about him. People still love him. He’s getting huge book deals. He shows up on TV. But I’ve checked out his sermons in recent years, and I don’t know when I last heard him mention Jesus at all. He’s life a self-help guru now. Not a pastor. He seems reluctant to whip out Jesus’ name or speak the simple truth that we need Jesus for the sake of our souls. He sold out.

Thing is, he probably never meant to. Probably doesn’t realize he has. But I knew several years ago something was going wrong when the Web site URL for his church suddenly changed from lakewoodchurch to joelosteen. And it reminds me of something my father-in-law, a reverend himself, has always said: “If Satan can’t push you, he’ll pull you.”

In other words, if he can’t knock you down off your faith, he’ll give you money and success and let yourself destroy yourself. It happened with Jim and Tammy Fay Baker, two people who might not have always been perfect but whom I think started out with the right intentions. It’s happened with others as well. And what Joel Osteen found was that he drew more people to him the more he talked about lifting ourselves up and the less he talked about giving ourselves to God and putting our faith in Jesus Christ. And so he kept talking more and more about what people wanted to hear and less about what they should be hearing. And he’s getting paid well for it. And his church is a mega-church that, as far as I know, puts all other mega-churches to shame in terms of its gargantuan number of members. But I wonder how many people in that multitude are getting lost spiritually, or being led down the wrong path.

I hope he finds his way back. And soon.


13 Responses to “The shit list”

  1. 1 Don in Texas
    March 17, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    There is still a Lakewood site. You seem like a guy who understands the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you know that, and you listen to Joel, doesn’t it make perfect sense that he isn’t going to teach you something you already know? Joel preaches to his church… You and I are viewers who watch him do this on TV. His congregation is saved, as are about 80% of his viewers — they don’t need to be taught who Jesus is. (The last time you bought a book, did you need an education on your ABC’s or did you need to be taught how to read?) Of course not. Many preachers today, spend so much time preaching salvation to the saved. Salvation should be taught to the lost and ‘How to live a better life” should be taught to the saved. Don’t get Joel confused with an evangelist — he is a pastor.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    March 17, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    You make some good points, Don.

    First, by way of apology, I should have double-checked the Lakewood site. Last I had been there, typing in the lakewood URL redirected to http://www.joelosteen.org or http://www.joelosteen.cc or something like that, and I found that incredibly disconcerting. I am pleased to see that has changed and again, I apologize for any confusion there.

    While I understand your point that perhaps Joel Osteen doesn’t need to preach salvation to his congregation, where is the effort to teach his congregation to spread the gospel? Jesus is still at the center of what we do and why. And unless something has changed very recently, Joel Osteen is very focused on “making a better you.” But it feels to me like it’s not so much about making a more spiritually aware or spiritually connected you. In essence, I feel like he’s a spin on the prosperity ministries and that he is NOT preaching the Word very often. I’ve seen him from time to time on TV, and I don’t see him preaching or teaching the Bible.

    The Bible is about more than salvation, and there is plenty there to teach the congregation besides living a better life for themselves.

    Just my opinion though, as a person who sees how he presents himself on TV appearances, on the televised sermons, and in his books. If he is so much more than that day-to-day and week-to-week with his congregation, my apologies there, too…but his public face seems to be too centered on dealing with people’s hopes and dreams and not enough about their connection to and communication with God.

  3. 3 dee
    March 18, 2008 at 2:13 am

    I am not sure what sermons you have been listening too, but Joel’s messages are full of scripture and help me put God’s principles to work in my daily life. His messages have helped me trust God more, believe in the promises found in His word and see myself the way that He sees me – Forgiven and More than a Conquerer. He may not preach verse by verse and give me all the Greek and Hebrew, but he does encourage me to live everyday for Jesus.
    He also closes every show with an invitation to “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior” He give a prayer of salvation and encourages everyone to join a local bible believing church. I have read a lot about Joel and there are critics out there. I am not sure why you – and others – focus on what he is NOT doing instead of what he IS doing.
    I don’t claim to know it all, but I do think that there will be a lot of people in heaven because of what Joel is doing.
    As for the website… I would think that it is probably under joelosteen.com because that is who people know and the name they are looking for. I did not even remember the name of his church. He is not the only one that does that… joyce meyer, T D Jakes and more. I don’t think just becuase a minister has a website with his name on it makes him egotistical… I just think base on what I hear and see in Joel’s preaching that it is just a way to reach and minister to more. Again, perhaps we need to extend some grace and not so quick to judge.

  4. 4 Deacon Blue
    March 18, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Dee, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m all too human and that I can be as judgmental as the next person. And maybe I’m not being as clear as I could be or saying things quite right. But I still can’t shake the feeling when I hear Joel Osteen that there is something missing compared to when I first got interested in him. Somewhere as his church grew to ever more massive size and the book deals rolled out, something got lost, and I’m sure of it. It’s hard to put my finger on it though and truly pinpoint what’s wrong.

    I don’t think that Joel himself is egotistical. (BTW, I’m not big fan of anyone putting their name before their church, but I don’t have much experience where it comes to Joyce Meyer or T.D. Jakes, so I can’t comment on how I feel about them…there’s no point of context). But I contrast him with someone like Charles Stanley, and I see such huge gaps between them. I know that different pastors have different strengths and comparing them directly isn’t fair. But just in general terms, I listen to Charles Stanley, and I can feel the Word coming through. Joel Osteen is more interesting to listen to, but when God or Jesus are mentioned, it seems to be overshadowed by a focus on personal achievement. God should always be first, and it seems like he often isn’t in Joel’s approach anymore.

    I’m not against personal achievement. But I just feel like when he speaks, I’m hearing a motivational speaker with a Christian spin, and NOT a pastor who is motivational.

    Again, this may simply be a matter of personal taste. But what worries me is that I didn’t feel this way in his early days as pastor of Lakewood. He seemed on fire for the Lord. I don’t feel that from him now.

    That people feel good in his congregation doesn’t surprise me. And I’m not saying no one is getting anything out of it or that the members of his church are somehow less saved than anyone else. But I know human nature, and the fact that we want to hear things that make us feel good. And I just have this concern that just won’t let go of me that Joel Osteen (not through malice but because of the frailties of human nature) is preaching what feels and sounds good but NOT the more difficult and sometimes less-pleasant-to-bear aspects of our responsibilities to God and to the gospel.

    I am not out to injure Joel Osteen. I am not envious of his success or of a mind that with money and fame comes instant corruption. But I think there has been a subtle but significant losing of the way going on here. And I think that rather than people simply patting him on the back, someone needs to be taking him aside and asking him to do a serious re-evaluation on what is driving him now. Because less and less do I feel that God is truly in Joel’s drivers seat these days. I think he’s been moved to the passenger side.

  5. March 18, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    For an old white dude you sure think a lot like this young black dude. Seriously.

    I had a weird experience with one of those properity churches. I’m in service with my wife and the preacher’s wife (who had delivered the message) starts asking for offerings of a specific amount. Once she got some poeple to get up at the first amount, she reduced the amount to get more people to come up. Then, when some people (including me) still refused to come up and give the money, she started calling us out individually and questioning our faith in God. Did I mention that this was after the original offering? Then the pastor actually chastised his ushers for allowing some people to leave the church while the money was being demanded, noting that they should have barred the doors. That was just a crazy experience.

  6. 6 Deacon Blue
    March 18, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    LOL…old! You’re sounding like my wife (who at 35 is only 5 years my junior and calling ME old, so there’s some irony for you). Maybe playing the video games keeps my mind young-ish.

    As for the race thing, I’m a mutant. Not colorblind (who the hell is) and not without a few racial hangups (mostly involving Korean video store owners), but I’ve never been good about just sticking to the “approved white thoughts” list that I guess I was supposed to embrace. Which is probably good, or my black wife either wouldn’t still be here or would be batting me upside the head all the time.

    That story of yours about the offerings is freaky, man. I mean, I know about how some churches follow up the main collection with separate ones for the “building fund” and/or the guest speaker, but I’ve never heard of specific amounts and open guilting of folks…jeez! Locking the doors to keep people from leaving I have heard of (or in your case, the pastor WANTING to lock the doors)…my wife went to a few churches in childhood where they kept you in until the service was over. Nothing like hostage-based Christianity.

    As a side note (regarding some of the earlier comments defending him), I think I now realize why I’m so hard on Joel Osteen…because I only just realized that he is an almost undercover version of the “word of faith” movement-style pastor. Don’t know why I didn’t ever see that before. It’s not that he’s failing to preach God or Jesus so much as he’s twisting things to be about personal empowerment and advancement…very selfish and carnal things…and he’s being so subtle about it is almost feels like trickery (even if it isn’t intentional or true).

  7. March 19, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I found my way to your site via The Field Negro. I’ve been reading your site for over a week now and never commented. I really enjoy reading you site.

    As a fellow Christian, I am tickled that you cuss. I feel like kin folk in here. lol

    The Word of Faith movement has been on my hit list for years. I hate any teaching that causes people to people that they are poor because they are praying hard enough. That’s the biggest sack of shit that has ever permeated Christian “doctrine”. I absolutely loathe it and I’m 100% positive that God does too.

  8. 8 Deacon Blue
    March 19, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Welcome, Timi…lots to talk about around Deke’s dinner table here, and glad my language hasn’t ruined your appetite…oh, and pass the potatoes, woulda please?


    There’s so much to despise about the Word of Faith movement (and despise and loathe are words I don’t like to whip out very often) but I think one of the biggest things is people go to a Word of Faith church and may feel great because of all the self-empowerment talk, and they think that because they feel good, it must be a church where folks are headed off to heaven.

    But I can’t shake Jesus’ own words on this in Matthew 7:22-23. People will say in the judgment day, “Lord, Lord, did we not do wonderful things in your name.” And Jesus’ response:

    “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.”

    If we’re on fire for our own prosperity or health or success and not fired up for the Lord, shit, we ain’t on the right path.

    Thanks, Timi, hope to see some more of you from time to time.

  9. March 20, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Thanks for this post, Deacon. What you’re talking about reminds me of a sermon from my old church:

    “Don’t see God’s hand (money, blessings) if you’re not willing to seek his face (knowledge of him, wisdom from him, service to him.” And service requires sacrifice.

    I saw blurb today introducing a news segment. “Learn how to take care of children and ailing parents without sacrificing yourself.”

    It’s like sacrifice is a four-letter word. But there’s no such thing as serving the Lord and serving others without sacrifice.

    Too many want (and teach) about getting the blessings without establishing the character development (through obedience, sacrifice, and service) that must come first.

  10. March 20, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    oops… “don’t SEEK” (not “see”)

  11. 11 Deacon Blue
    March 20, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Too true, Hawa…too true. And so sad that so many people (including Christians) have trouble giving and sacrificing even for their immediate family.

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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

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March 2008

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