Joel Osteen and In-N-Out

If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating an In-N-Out Burger, you are missing out on one of the little, artery clogging,  pleasures of life.

As for the name, it’s about as basic and simple as you could get.  You come in, get your burger, and go out.  Fast, easy, and well.. tasty.

Inside of you is hunger, outside of you are tasty burgers for your enjoyment.  You go there, get one, and satisfy your hunger. There are no burgers inside of me, so I go out, where there are burgers.  Simple. Not exactly deep theology here.. right?

Can you imagine the absurdity and utter confusion of getting that basic premise wrong?

Would it be absurd? Would it be mocked?  You would think so, but I recently saw this obvious error applauded and treated as if it was the deepest, most philosophical, life-changing truth imaginable by no lesser names than media mogul Oprah Winfrey and “christian” Pastor Joel Osteen.

Before you think I unfairly listed Osteen as “christian” (in quotes), let’s watch his latest appearance on Oprah’s “Lifeclass”:

Did you catch the quote?

“You’ll never rise any higher than you see yourself.” – Joel Osteen

Hmm.  So, how high I rise (externally/out) is based upon me (internal/in) and how I see myself (internal/in).

So the answer to the external is from within.. how I view myself, and as he states later, what words I speak about myself.

You’ve got to see this… Joel Osteen’s view, his teaching in the role of “Pastor” is that the external is determined by the internal (You, your view, your mindset, and your words).

Sounds good, and boy, does it sell.  Oprah has built a multi-billion dollar media empire. Joel Osteen “Pastors” the largest church in the United States, it’s also helped sell books like “The Secret” and spin up careers of Oprah’s other Lifeclass speakers.  But what does scripture say?  Is THIS the message of Christianity, that the internal controls the external?  That it’s IN that controls OUT?

The written word of God, inspired by God the Holy Spirit is clear.. it’s not the SOLUTION that’s in us, it’s the PROBLEM!

(I’m going to intentionally quote a LOT of scripture this week. I want the sheer weight and volume of scripture which speaks to this core issue to blow you away.  While Joel Osteen doesn’t quote a single verse, here is a mere sampling of God’s word on the issue. Read them all now, or later, but they’re here for your reference.)

1. Men are born in sin:

  • Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
  • Genesis 8:21 – the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
  • Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
  • John 3:6 – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”

2. As all men have sinned, they are slaves to sin:

  • John 8:34 – Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
  • Titus 3:3 – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
  • Galatians 4:8-9 – Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
  • Romans 6:6,16,17,19,20 – We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed… For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
  • Romans 7:14 – For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

3. The heart of sin is UNABLE and UNWILLING to do good. It is, in fact, HOSTILE to God:

  • John 3:20 – “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
  • Romans 8:7-8 – For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God
  • Colossians 1:21 – And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds
  • Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb;
  • Ephesians 2:12-13 – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • Ephesians 2:3 – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
  • Proverbs 15:9 – The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord
  • Proverbs 15:8 – The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (c.f. Proverbs 21:27)
  • Proverbs 28:9 – If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
  • Isaiah 64:6 – We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
  • Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please [God]
  • Romans 8:7-8 – Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
  • Psalm 10:4 – In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
  • John 3:20 – “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
  • Isaiah 65:1 – “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
  • Isaiah 64:7 – There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
  • Romans 3:10-12 – “no one seeks for God.”

So, if we are born in sin, slaves to sin and hostile to God, unable to do good works… is the heart a good place to be looking?

Yes, for those in Christ, He has changed their heart of stone into a heart of flesh.  But.. where does that come from? IN or OUT?

Our righteousness? OUT! It is an external (or what some call “alien”) righteousness. Our only hope in life and death is the external/OUT righteousness of Christ!

“The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without.  This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith, as it is written in I Cor. 1:30:  “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”  In John 11:25-26, Christ himself states:  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me…..shall never die.”  Later he adds in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  This righteousness, then, is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant.  Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say:  “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.”  Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh[Gen. 2:24]—so Christ and the church are one spirit [Eph. 5:29-32].  Thus the blessed God and Father of mercies has, according to Peter, granted to us very great and precious gifts in Christ [II Pet. 1:4].  Paul writes in II Cor. 1:3; “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

– Martin Luther

So, do you see the completely backward message of Joel Osteen? Not only is it not biblical (Did you hear a single mention of Jesus, or a single passage of scripture in his dicussion?) it’s the polar OPPOSITE of biblical Christianity.  And he’s telling unregenerate sinners (who the bible says are slaves to sin and UNABLE to please God) that they are blessed and victorious?  That’s not just incorrect, it’s rank heresy. He’s speaking peace and victory to people who in their unregenerate state are destined for hell.  Smiley face and sweet voice or not.. that’s the cruelest act I can think of a man committing, and to do it while presenting himself as a “Pastor”?  God have mercy!

False teacher much?

So, the takeaway here is this:  Get the In-N-Out right, your only hope is OUT, through the external/alien righteousness of Jesus Christ through faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins.


The Christian Bookstore is a Minefield

“What should I read?”

I get this question almost every week.  As someone who typically reads a book a week on average, I appreciate that people value my opinion.  I love to read, I love to learn, and I love to discuss what I’m learning. I like to work through what I’m learning with people much smarter than I, and I enjoy passing on what I’ve learned to those it may help.  In short, I want to study to show myself approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth!

So, here’s how the conversation typically goes:

“I’m looking for a good book (possibly inserting category of book here).  What have you read lately that you like? What do you recommend?”

The problem with the question above is that the three parts don’t often work together.  If you’re looking for a book on a subject I don’t read much about, or have much interest in (like eschatology in my case), then it’s hard for me to make a recommendation.  Secondly, what I’m reading may not be a good fit for you. Maybe I’ve recently had great discussions with a Hindu at work and have decided to spend a couple of months working through vedas, agamas, or puranas in order to interact with them and present the gospel in their context. I certainly wouldn’t recommend any of them if asked.  Or, I might be reading a book on a subject that isn’t applicable or interesting to you at this season in your life. Finally, what do I recommend? That’s tough if I don’t know you well, what you’re struggling with, where you need growth, or what your interest are.  With that, here are some basic recommendations:

1. Know why you’re reading before you decide what to read:

Have a game plan and a goal for your reading.  Most voracious readers I know read intentionally.  Find a subject that interests you and read deeply. Read footnotes, read the source material for those footnotes.  Invariably, you’ll end up down the road having read multiple books.

2. Read primary sources:

If you want to know what Islam believes, the proper source is the Koran, not Fox News, and probably not your favorite evangelical pastor.  Strive for accuracy and truth as you engage subjects, and try to understand various sides of the issue.  There are very few things less effective (or attractive) than someone who believes what they believe because they believe it (and have no ability to see it in the larger context in order to defend or present it).   In this regard, I rarely trust even “big names”.  I’ve seen respected pastors and academics misrepresent and absolutely butcher beliefs which differ from theirs.

3. Categorize:  Finally, I recommend you keep the lines of your categories well-defined and guard against encroachment.   If you want to read something for “spiritual development”, understand what scripture says about your current state (fallen), your problem (sin), the solution (the atoning work of Christ) and the continued work ahead (scriptural study, prayer, and the daily battle of sanctification).  Find books which use these terms and work from these biblical categories.  If you don’t, you’re going to end up with some extra-biblical (and often non-biblical) “solutions” to “problems” which are not really the core problem at all.  THAT is how you end up off mission and far removed from scripture.

As I start to read, I read in several categories:

The Bible:  I know this is the pat answer, but only the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, word of God.  The word used in scripture is theopneustos; literaly “God-breathed”.  If you’ve got something you think is more worth reading, we need to talk. 😉   I would challenge you, if you are an adult who has been a Christian more than a year or two and haven’t read the entire bible, you need to get after it. Seriously.  The “M’Cheyne” bible reading plan takes about 10-15 minutes a day and will work you through the ENTIRE bible once, and the New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs a SECOND time.  You spend more time than that on facebook. You can do this.

I list the bible separately from the categories below.  I’m not a proponent of “solo scriptura” or ONLY reading the Bible, but understand that anything not found in the Bible is not theopnuestos.  It may be good, it may be accurate, but it’s always at risk of leading us away from the gospel, and that default is usually law. Be careful.

1. Pure leisure:  These are good airplane books. Good books to read while sitting and waiting for the kids, on the beach, or well.. in the restroom.  These books are almost never scriptural or academic.  Examples of things like this for me might be Readers Digest (yes, I’m probably the only person under 70 on the planet that loves RD!), comedy books by guys like Bill Bryson, or even an old Calvin and Hobbes book.   I’d say this makes up less than 5% of my typical reading, but I do enjoy it!

2. Classics:  I think there is great value in reading the great classics, both great American authors and great historical authors:  Mark  Twain and Ernest Hemingway are favorites of mine. One of my 3 favorite books of all-time is “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. I’m glad to see schools getting back to some of the classics. If you haven’t read “Lord of the Flies”, you’re missing out.  If you’re interested in how to get started reading some of the classics, let me know. I’ve got shelves of them and would be happy to let you borrow one!

3. Spiritual Development/Self-Improvement:  Yes, I bundled those two together on purpose.  If there is a landmine for the Christian, this is it.  There is more nonsensical garbage (is that direct enough?) in this area than any I’ve seen.  Look, your problem is sin, the solution is Christ, and the ongoing work is sanctification.  If you get the problem wrong, you’re going to get the “solution” wrong.  Go into Walgreens thinking you have athlete’s foot when you really have skin cancer and you’re going to waste your time, and the results could be fatal.

How do we get this wrong?

I feel empty, like I’m not growing. My kids are horrible and I feel “unfulfilled”. So, I go to the local Christian bookstore and see a book that speaks directly to my “need”.  (Which is a subjective/FELT need. Your view of your need may not jive with your need as defined in scripture): “3 Steps to Living Your Best Life Now, and How to Have Better Kids!”  It’s got a nice, smiling pastor on the front of it.  Bingo!   The book then gives me 3 steps, which all boil down to the seemingly comforting and simply  “Just begin to put God first in your life” and “just love on other people”.  Huh.  Sounds familiar.  Wait, I  know!

“And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV)

So, how’s that working out for you?  I’ll give you a hint; you aren’t doing it. You never have, and never will.  Really? ALL your heart? ALL your soul? ALL your strength?  And you love your neighbor as yourself?  There’s a word for this requirement; LAW.  Guess what? You can’t do it, and Jesus knew that. Paul spoke of this in Galatians; If you attempt to live by the law, you inherit the entire law, and are separated from Christ. Ouch.

So the entire “solution” laid out by smiley-happy guy is guaranteed, in scripture, to lead to your failure and land you in hell.  Nice, huh?

So the solution to the problem of sin is repentance.  Have bad kids? Guess what, your kids are fallen little people being raised by fallen big people.  Your spouse is awful? Well, your marriage is a union of two fallen people sinning against each other… maybe we look to repentance to each other and to God, and show the grace that He has shown to us?  I know that won’t sell many books, but it sure sounds a lot more like the gospel than “Just begin to…” and then a list of law, no?

In short, you’re going to view the problem as sin, and the solution to be EXTERNAL to you  that has been DONE (grace/gospel), or you’re going to view the problem as your felt needs/better life and look for the answer INSIDE yourself through things you need to do (law/works).  In theological terms, the real solution is extra nos (outside of us), in other words, it is an alien righteousness. Read the books on the shelves of your Christian bookstore (or your church bookshelf) and see if they point to the problem as sin with an external solution of the gospel and grace, or if they ID the problem as not living your best life (often hidden as “God’s plan for your life”) and the solution as works, or “to do” steps.

4.  “Christian Fiction”:   There is, apparently, an entire genre of Christian fiction that I’m not much aware of. I’ve read “The Chronicles of Narnia” and nearly everything C.S. Lewis ever wrote, but I’m not very current on these areas and must admit I’ve never read an “Amish Christian Romance”.  I’d view these as leisure reading with the possibility of some theology and “Christian” undertones thrown in. I’d be careful of what this message is, and our natural default is law and generic “be nice to people and the good guy wins in the in end” spirituality. I would include in fiction (thought it’s often marketed as “theology”) any book which unveils some new “mystery”.  Seriously, do you actually believe that the pastor at your local seeker-church has been given special revelation to unveil a truth in scripture which the church hasn’t understood in 2 centuries?  You figure the odds are better that he’s reading something into the text that isn’t there? A good example of this is, well, anything written by Mark Batterson. Circle Maker? Good grief.

5. Theological books:  I know, I know. Theology is “boring” it leads to dead, dry Christians.  (None of which is true)  But theology is, literally, the study of God.  I bet you know and read a TON about your favorite sports team, celebrity, band, etc.  Why is it considered so “dead” to learn more of God as he has revealed Himself to us?  I, seriously, can’t think of anything more thrilling.  God has chosen to reveal Himself to His creation through a book.  We are a people of the word, and of words.  Spend time understanding them!

As I close, I’ll just say that I’m really, sincerely, deeply saddened by the what I see in most “Christian book stores”.  The absolute garbage being devoured by people who may not know better is truly a tragedy.  As an example, I’ll look at the current Amazon Top 20 “Christian” Books in part 2… stay tuned!