Sean Lucas, on why Osteen's Lakewood Church has over 15,000 people in attendance and is far more multi-ethnic than most churches in the United States.
'I think the driving reason that Osteen is hugely popular is that he sells hope. Books like Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You provide
a message of hope that my life does not have to be the way it is right
now; that God is powerful and able to change my life; that God is
profoundly interested in my life and is near to me. And while that
message of hope is packaged in the code language of the prosperity
Gospel and positive psychology (like the phenomenally successful book
by Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier), at the end of the day, people leave Lakewood feeling as though there is a greater meaning and purpose for their lives.
As I thought about all this, though, I couldn't help but think about John Piper's question from God is the Gospel (and other places): do you delight more in the fact that God makes much of you in the Gospel or that the Gospel frees you to make much of God? The fault in Osteen's
message is that it overplays and wrongly prioritizes the fact that God
makes much of us (and God does make much of us: as I read in my morning
worship today, God cried out to a wayward Israel, "How can I give you
up, O Ephraim?...My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm
and tender" Hosea 11:8).
The biblical priority is that God in the Gospel rescues, delivers, frees and sustains us to make much of God.
He is the great good in the Good News--and it truly is amazing: that
God would save his wayward children for the fame of his name; would
shape worshippers who will find their deepest satisfaction in making
much of God; and would gather together a worldwide body of worshippers
who hallow his name!
And that is the great hope: not that our
material position would be better or our relationships grow stronger.
Rather, our great hope is that the steadfast, committed love of our God
is transforming us into worshippers who find our hearts satisfied in God himself.'
I've recommended Josh Harris' Stop Dating the Church since it came out. He's posted on an issue I find all too common - college students who have little interest in the local church. These are friends who love Jesus but live under the (false) assumption that they don't have time or need the local church. Josh posts on why that's not true and what might be leading students to think that way:
Today I think many people justify their attitude toward the church
based on what is common. The author I read essentially said that it's
uncommon for college students to be strongly rooted in one church. It
wasn't his experience and since he's closer to his college buddies than
any of the people at churches he hopped between it's proof that his
wandering was time well spent.
What isn't addressed in this description is the question of whether
this approach is pleasing to God. Could it be that such a lax attitude
toward the church is a form of selfishness? Could it be that it's
arrogant for a college student to view the life and community of a
local church as offering him little more than a free meal? Is it proud
for a 20-year-old to assume that he doesn't need to spiritual
nourishment, mutual encouragement and support that a church provides?
Is what someone describes as noble searching and exploration really
just disobedience to God's clear commands?
And could it be that some of the best reasons for being part of a
church is not just for what you can get out of it, but what you can
give to it? The writer whose article I read stated that he didn't miss
much in the years he spent wandering from the church. That's debatable.
But even if it's accurate, I would venture to say that the church
missed something from his absence. How could a local congregation have
benefitted from this young man investing his gifts and talents in their
This post from Tim Chester is really quite helpful. It's one thing to join God in his mission of putting broken things back together, but it seems off to say that the way we do that is by 'becoming Jesus' to our particular context. Tim does an excellent job of explaining why this approach at least has the potential to do more harm than good.
If much of what is commended in the name of incarnational ministry is good then why worry?
1. Incarnation as a for mission offers no boundaries.
Should I become transgender to be incarnational among transgender
people? Indeed people readily play games with how like they culture
they can become. Missional kudos is measured in terms of identification
with the (sub-)culture. ‘I have a tattoo.’ ‘I smoke pot.’
2. Incarnational mission creates a ‘be’ rather than ‘tell’ approach
to mission. The rhetoric is often of ‘ simply being with people without
an agenda’ (an agenda like calling them to repentance!?).
3. Incarnational mission equates culture with ‘artefacts’. The focus
becomes on what you wear or do. ‘Should I get a tattoo?’ ‘Should I wear
a shell suit?’ ‘Should I go clubbing?’ But culture is more than
artefacts. It is worldviews and values. And these are where the real
gospel encounters take place.
4. Christians are not only called to adapt to culture, but also to transform culture.
Grace creates deep humility and towering confidence.
The cause and hope of such humility and confidence is a God who rights all wrongs, makes good out of evil and loves his enemies.
We have a deep need for that kind of humility and confidence - but our deepest need is to know that we are loved by this kind of God.
We'll start tomorrow morning at 9:30 in prayer for the gathering. If you can't make it to pray, pray on your own and we'll see you at 10:00 when we kick things off. Oh, and don't come alone - this would be a great week for you to bring someone who doesn't normally show up in a church on Sundays.