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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Joel and Victoria Osteen's Night of Hope: Chicago, IL August 6th

I‘ve had two days to ponder what I witnessed Saturday August 6th at US Cellular field in Chicago.  Joel and Victoria Osteen:  A Night of Hope rocked the crowd, bringing them to their feet throughout the evening in cheers, praise and tears.   Even though some sections of the Cell were empty, that did not dampen the spirits of the over 30,000 that attended.  It was a beautiful, summer evening and people were dressed casually as you would expect, and most of the crowd came supportive of Joel and his HOPE message The security was casual as well — no bags were checked at the gate as people filed in to receive a program and a souvenir pen emblazoned with the title of the event..

 Let’s face it.  The man is a great motivational speaker.  If you just wanted to feel good about your life that was the place to be. No negativity allowed.  Some had brought their children and several I saw were in wheelchairs.  He certainly encouraged people to have hope.

 After having seen what all the hoopla was about, I must admit my opinion of him has not changed.  I am under-whelmed.  Joel is a good business man.  He knows what people want to hear and he gives it to them.

 If someone had come looking to change their life through Christ, they would have received no instruction or encouragement to do so.  The idea was that “You have the power to change yourself and live your dreams”.  Through hard work, through Christ, through transcendental meditation…the how was not all that clear.

As I looked around, I wondered if all of these people came on their own as his fans or did the Osteens ensure a large crowd through the seven local Pastors they presented to give brief spiritual declarations (each Pastor seemed to bring his own cheering section)—each having huge church memberships.  In my opinion, there was a little of both.  The crowd in my section seemed to come from one of the many large churches in the area that I soon realized had been bused in from around the Chicago and Indiana area.  I went out to make a phone call and saw bus after bus after bus in the parking lot.   Then I looked on the program and I realized the Joel and Victoria have a national network of Pastors in various cities whom they appear to rely on to help fill these venues.    Anyway, each pastor made a declaration for 2011 for Chicago (isn’t 2011 almost over?).  Throughout the night Joel encouraged the crowd that 2011 was their year to change or do whatever new dream they wanted to accomplish in their life.

 I was glad I attended for a few reasons.  First, if you are going to criticize someone as I have done on this blog, you ought to hear them out for myself.  Until now, I have only heard snippets of conversations that I have expressed disappointment over.  Now, I can say that I have heard the great evangelist for myself. Second, I got to see how he creates this network of support throughout the country for these events and I got chance to observe the types of people that follow his message.  Some of whom do not go to church on Sunday and have walked away from standard religion.

  To be fair, he puts on quite a show.  The music was first class; he called the musicians “his own rock band”.  No sloppiness here.  The singers were first rate and musical numbers were well done.  A member of his congregation Cindy Cruse Ratcliff gave a beautiful rendition of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” while pictures of her family flashed on the jumbotron.  God had helped her family through infertility issues and they had been led to adopt.

 Joel’s mom had come out before this and had given her testimony as a cancer survivor.  The doctors gave her weeks to live and she is still here 20 years later.  Thank God!  Who’s not going to cheer for that?  Even I had to clap on that one. 

 The message of the night was clear, FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF.  Yeah!  (the crowd cheers).  GET RID OF ALL THE NEGATIVISM.  GOD IS NOT ANGRY WITH YOU. (Although Psalms 7:11 says He is angry with the wicked every day)… but  Yeah!  FIGHT FOR YOUR DREAMS.  GOD IS FOR YOU, AND IF GOD IS FOR YOU WHO CAN BE AGAINST YOU!   Yeah!  WHY CAN’T GOD USE YOU?   Yeah!...LOOK AT ALL THE MESSED UP PEOPLE IN SCRIPTURE GOD USED, HE CAN USE YOU TOO?....Huh?  GOD USED LIARS, PROSTITUTES, MURDERERS, and GOSSIPS….  Yeah!  This last point was met with rousing cheers.  I also noticed that very few people brought their bibles with them.   

Now back to biblical reality.  This is like the false prophets of old crying peace, peace when there is no peace.  Although it is great to get people verbally praising God in a stadium, if they leave thinking that God is ok with the sinful life they are living, have you really accomplished anything by making them feel good?  Even worse haven’t you lied to them and deceived them, by sending them off into the night smiling at how much God is going to use them, even though they haven’t even bothered to repent of their sins.  OOPS!  There’s that word…

 Throughout the night (at least while I was there as I had to leave early so I could get up and preach the gospel).  The words “sin”, “repent” “salvation” were strangely missing.  I can’t say whether this was consciously done, but neither Joel nor Victoria used these very biblical words the whole time I was there. No distinction was ever made between saved or unsaved, saint or sinner, nor was an attempt made to rightly divide the word of God and apply scriptures to the proper audience.  Victoria, in her second sermonette of the night mentioned “mistakes” several times and used a story about the unconditional love her natural father when she broke a window as a teenager to drive home her point.  Yes, she was hard-headed and wrong in her actions but her father forgave her and didn’t rub her face in her wrong.  Your Heavenly father will do the same for you. 

 Well if salvation was based on mistakes only and not sins that little analogy would be true, but the very nature of sin the is turning of the back to God, it more than merely missing a mark.   C.S. Lewis noted that sin is man’s way of saying to God, “go away and leave me alone”.   Sin is stepping over the Law of Christ.  If it were not important, Jesus would not have died for our sins.  Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2).  The word was not mentioned.  He mentioned that he was not into “beating people down”.   Neither was Christ but  he also told people the truth.

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