Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hillsong United Conference (pt. 1)

If you are familiar with contemporary Christian worship, then you have more than likely heard of Hillsong United the youth ministry of Sydney’s megachurch, Hillsong

Recently, Hillsong United held its annual conference here in Houston, TX at Grace Community Church (not to be confused with John MacArthur’s church. The weekend was packed with workshops, breakout sessions and concerts, all led by members and pastors associated with United.

My girlfriend and I had the opportunity to attend, thanks to my brother who works at The Houston Chronicle. Our first stop was in a workshop titled “Agents of Change”. According to the program guide, Hillsong youth pastor Chrishan Jeyaratnam would be exploring “some of the fundamentals of what it takes to create a great culture within our youth ministry”.

Speaking before a large audience, Jeyaratnam urged everyone to encourage our youth to believe in themselves and follow their dreams by speaking positive words of faith into their lives. This was the basic principal laid out in his message. He briefly stressed the importance of evangelism but never really explained exactly what he meant by it. In today’s wide wacky world of evangelicalism, this could mean anything.

What caught my attention were his comments on how to deal with young people who are falling into temptation and sexual sin. According to Jeyaratnam, there are two ways to prevent sinful behavior.

“It's really easy see a problem and jump on it by telling young people, 'you know what, you shouldn’t be sleeping around, you‘re sending yourself to hell, you‘re going to catch an STD'.”

Rather than "preaching against something", and this something being sin, his advice is that we “speak life” into their situation and use positive words.

“You can come into the situation and preach life into something…and encourage them to be who they are called to be.”

However, Ezekiel makes it clear that we are to “warn a wicked man to turn from his way” and if he continues in his sin, he “shall die in his iniquity” (Ezekiel 33:9). If we see someone blindly walking towards the edge of a cliff, the loving thing to do would be to warn them that the path they are on leads to a 1,000 foot fall and ultimately to their death.

Addressing the issue of sexual sin in the body of Christ, Paul orders the Corinthians to expel a brother who is willfully sinning. This sobering demand of excommunication only emphasizes the dreadful effects of sin and the urgency to discipline someone who is living a lifestyle that leads to death and corrupts the fellowship of believers. This principle was used to teach the offender a lesson and differs vastly from the Jeyaratnam’s idea to “speak life” into someone who is caught in sin. By disobeying the scriptures in this matter, he may actually be “speaking death” into a person.

He spent the final 12 minutes stressing the importance of “just having fun” in the youth ministry by telling stories of stunts and pranks pulled by fellow believers back in his church. Using John 10:10 to support his claim, he blames the enemy for stealing our fun and says Jesus came to give us an abundant life! Paul had a different approach for the youth of his day. He realized the trials, temptations and tribulations that lied ahead for young Timothy so he exhorted him to train himself in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7) and to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). A far cry from simply “having fun”, Paul’s standard for Timothy were not bound by his age. In fact, Timothy was called to be an example in his speech, life, love, faith, and purity for all believers (1 Timothy 4:12).

While what may have seemed like an innocent and heartfelt message from Jeyaratnam, pastors and teachers who simply pamper the youth will only bring them grief in the end (Proverbs 29:21). Instead, let us promote young people to absorb themselves daily in the reading, preaching and teaching of scripture (1 Timothy 4:9). And in due season, may they grow up to be like a tree planted by the streams, flourishing and growing in the Word of God and yielding fruit for His kingdom (Psalm 144:12, Psalm 1:3).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Distracted or Discplined?

If you’ve been following the recent assault suit involving Joel and Victoria Osteen, it would be easy to realize that the accuser, Sharon Brown, hardly had a case against the co-pastors of Houston’s mega church, Lakewood. A jury obviously felt the same way as they rejected a lawsuit against the two.

On Trial
While it’s easy to suggest that this is a victory for Joel and Victoria, I think it’s safe to say that, victory or not, the aftermath of the negative publicity could have long lasting effects on Lakewood, and more importantly, Christianity as a whole. An argument could be made that this should not have even made it to trial in the first place. Jesus said in Matthew 5:39 not to resist an evil person. He even goes so far to say if someone sues you for your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. As Christians, we must avoid disputing and striving but this is beside the point. I want to focus more on the comments that were made after the verdict was announced.

Whose Reputation is at Stake
In a recent article, the two, specifically Victoria, commented her faith and the battles she faced.

“Victoria Osteen, who was sued by a Continental Airlines flight attendant for allegedly assaulting her during the boarding process of a flight to Colorado in December 2005, said her spiritual strength enabled her to get past what she described as initial shame and humiliation.”

If you continue reading, you’ll notice a reoccurring theme; Victoria was not concerned about the shame and humiliation that the whole ordeal could possibly bring to the Christian faith. She was more troubled about her spotless image so perfectly portrayed on the television.

"When I came here that first Sunday after that happened, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.”

In fact, she was so worried about her reputation in Houston, she hesitated to go out in public because she felt that people would stare and look at her in a shameful way.

"I'd go out in public," she went on. "I'd go into a restaurant, and I felt like people would turn around and look at me and they would be thinking all this stuff."

Keep Your Day Job
But then she tells the Lakewood congregation that she prayed for her accuser and “gave it to God” but goes on to say that when we pray for somebody, we “shouldn’t talk about it”. Keep in mind she was behind the pulpit and preaching to thousands of people.To take it even further she was quite sure that the case was a distraction trying to pull her down and, as a result, this distraction must not be “sent from God”. So was this Satan trying to distract her from preaching a man-centered gospel and deceiving thousands of people every Sunday? Even so, was God not on the throne when this “distraction” was sent to her? To suggest God had nothing to do with this is to deny His sovereignty.

New Beginnings/Old Message
And to put the icing on the cake, Mr. Osteen himself makes the following declaration,

"We got in the car that night (after testifying) I just felt like I heard new beginnings," he said. "It's a new beginning. It felt so good. I believe God is saying it's time for new beginnings, it's time to step into a new season of God's favors, it's time to be set free from things that have been holding you back."

So whose victory was this in the end? Was this simply a distraction that worked itself out to be a “new beginning” and a “new season of God’s favors”? No matter what the outcome. Joel and Victoria managed to turn this into a self-centered message of receiving God’s favor and in the end, its Victoria Osteen, not God, who got the glory. And this is the same message heard every Sunday morning from the pulpit of Lakewood Church.

Silence is Golden
But perhaps Victoria would have done herself good had she listened to God in the first place.

"The truth is, I didn't want to come back (to preaching)," she said. "The truth is, I wanted to stay home. I wanted to forget it. I thought: `You know what, God, maybe you are trying to tell me this isn't what I'm supposed to do. Maybe you're trying to tell me I need to sit home."

Maybe she was right.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hometown Heresy

What do the Houston Texans, Houston Astros and Joel Osteen have in common?

Well to begin, all three make their Houston homes in arenas where thousands flock to be…entertained. While we expect the two major sports teams in Houston to entertain the masses (although one can argue that the past few years have been anything but entertaining), a church would be the last place to expect such a spectacle. Yet, attend Lakewood Church on any given Sunday and that’s just what you’ll get…entertainment.

Throughout the spiritual landscape of Houston , more trouble looms on the horizon. From the Gospel light message heard every week at Lakewood Church, to the postmodern message endorsed at “Christian” coffee shops like Taft St. Coffee, does Houston indeed have a problem?

As a result of my frustration with the lack of spiritual substance in my beloved hometown of Houston, I offer this blog as a meeting place for other Christians whom share in my grievances and feel the need to “write and urge” other Houstonians to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”.