Thursday, May 29, 2008

Widening the Narrow Gate

As I have evaluated who I am, I think I am a pretty decent verbal communicator. I think my ability to think quick, and effectively is something that God has blessed me with, and is a blessing to others through teaching, encouraging, getting coffee and even preaching. I am pleased with that.

However, I am just a terrible writer - which is why blogging is so very hard for me. I write how I talk. Choppy, using dashes and parenthesis and exclamation points all the time, since I want to have emotion and passion in my writing. I have read much of what I have written and, at best, I give myself a C+ (because we all think we are above average - see Garrison Keelior!)

Every now and then, someone writes something that is EXACTLY what I am thinking and feeling, but could just never put into words. Below is one of these thoughts. Leah Grimes in a Hopester for a few years now, and quite honestly, and amazing writer. She has written something today that has really encapsulated my own thoughts about the "happy" gospel.

If you like what she has written, then let me know, and I'll pass it on. If you disagree with her, and love Joel Osteen and his message, then write a comment to me, and I will defend it. I agree with her 100%, so don't go find her to pick a fight. Get on your theological boxing gloves and you and I can go! (in a nice, Minnesota, Norwegian way - which means we will just ignore each other with massive passive agressiveness and then each die of stomach ulcers very young!)

Enjoy a great piece of writing about a controversial subject

~ Trike

Widening the Narrow Gate
by Leah Grimes

“[My goal] is to give people a boost for the week” –Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church)


In my personal opinion, Osteen (along with countless others) presents a gospel that few could find offensive, and even fewer could reject. Over the past decade, Osteen’s message of “happiness” “positive thinking” and “financial prosperity” has attracted a loyal following of “itching ears” across the nation and around the world.
Though I refuse to judge the heart and motives underlying this man’s message, I find myself incapable of ignoring the implications of such teachings…

Basic logic would dictate that very few people would object to a gospel which promises happiness, success and wealth in return for being a “good” person and thinking “positive thoughts.” Recent nationwide surveys affirm this logic.

Yet I wonder…Since when has the Gospel of Jesus Christ become so inoffensive to the world? Since when has the narrow gate that few would find (Matthew 7) become so wide and easily found?

I wonder how many first-time attendees at Osteen’s church (and churches all across the nation for that matter) walk away from the weekly sermon saying, “That was a hard teaching.” Yet this was the exact response that Jesus Christ elicited from His own followers in John 6, “On hearing it (Jesus’ teaching), many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’ ...many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

The American church, in general, continues to cowardly tip-toe around every portion of Scripture that may be considered even slightly offensive or controversial. Preachers have resorted to producing neutral sermons that offend none and encourage all. The focus has shifted from the cost of discipleship and total transformation to church growth, attendance figures, and filling the seats. We have adopted a numbers-centered mentality…if we entertain, if we make people “feel good,” people will come back and the church will grow. "We now seek to comfort sinners, not to convert them."


Following stagnant church attendance in the 1960’s and 70’s, Evangelical leaders resolved to make the American public “feel good about going to church again” by proving that church was “worth their time.”
The game had changed. No longer were congregants asking “what can I offer God and this church?” but rather “what can God and this church offer me?” Sermons began sounding more and more like self-help messages…decorated with the occasional humorous antidote, movie clip and feel good family story. Please hear me correctly… Self-help teachings (Think: how to manage finances, how to have a healthy marriage, etc…), humor, stories, and illustrations all have their appropriate place within the body of Christ.
Yet it is my firm belief that every man, woman, and child that sets foot within the four walls of any church, is above all else, in desperate need of the message of salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, not a 3-point sermon on “How to become a better person” or “How to experience success in life.”

Through the atoning death of Jesus Christ at Calvary, we, who were by nature objects of wrath were made alive in Christ even though we were dead in our sin (Ephesians 2). The redeeming Gospel of Jesus Christ is the means through which dead people are made alive…not through which bad people are made better or unsuccessful people are made successful.

Jesus attracted massive crowds when He performed miracles while in the marketplace. Many began to follow Him, enticed by the prospect of blessing and healing. Yet it is when Jesus began to speak of the cost of discipleship that many deserted the faith. In Mark 10, a rich young man approached Jesus, asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The Word of God says that “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

If you listen closely…you will hear a desperate world crying out to the church, “What must I do to have peace?!?” “What must I do to have joy?!?” “What must I do to find purpose?!?” “What must I do to inherit eternal life?!?”
And what is our response? Do we, like Jesus, stand upon the very Word of God and boldly challenge the world to pick up its cross and follow Christ?
Do we encourage them to be a better person? To join a church? To read the most popular Christian book by the most popular Christian author? To listen to KLOVE? Do we offer them a “diet” version of the world that they have spent years addicted to, and yet have still been left wanting…or do we offer them a drink without cost from the spring of the water of life (Revelation 21).


I am a very young woman; I know very little…yet what I know, I offer freely as a platform for greater thought and discussion. For the past 23 years (much to the credit of my parents’ discernment) I have been blessed to attend churches that cling to the Truth of the Gospel and preach it boldly, with conviction. Yet I know that many have not been as fortunate.

I do not wish to seem ignorant of the many battles currently plaguing the modern-day church. The difficulty of competing for the attention of congregants (especially the youth) in an increasingly distracting world should not be underestimated. The need to be relevant, savvy, and entertaining often seems great. It is therefore incumbent upon my generation to find a way to be relevant while refusing to compromise the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a young girl I was given the following charge…everyday these words fall with greater urgency on my heart…

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist.” -2 Timothy 4

**Disclaimer: Joel Osteen is admired by many as an influential pastor. I have nothing personal against the man. He just served as an example.
**I want to credit Jim Elliff for inspiring many of the thoughts found in this note.


Anonymous said...

Excellent - hit the nail on the head. Challenging yet loving. An example of truth in love. Attractional models are not bad in an of themselves. Creating an attraction simply appeals to the need all people have. The need to be accepted, the need to belong, the need for purpose. The church also has a need - the need to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ requiring that we acknowledge our sin, our need for a savior AND that we "repent", "turn" from our wicked ways and follow Him. This is a bit incomplete - in short - great thought and thank you. (steve dahl)

Victoria said...

I agree 100%!!!!! As a matter of fact, I happened upon one of Joel's weekly sermons on tv one night, and the first thought that I had was, "how does he pastor a church that size?" Way to hit it on the head!

Ms. Quarter said...

Perceiving a need to be entertaining and relevant is a slippery slope for churches. It seems that once that happens, it's easy to begin relying upon man rather than the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel is no longer the centerpiece it should be. There's a lot online about this very issue, and a lot of examples of churches that get it wrong. Thank you for being an example of a gentle rebuke without condemnation.

Aaron said...

Beautifully written, and a golden heart behind it. I do have one critique though. Be wary as to not create too extreme, and therefore false, dichotomy. The way is narrow not necessarily because the message was convicting, but it is narrow because to actually ACT on these words are a monumentous and seemingly impossible (therefore abandoned) task. Discipleship to Jesus is costly because it requires a bonofide changed life; a faith that has “gone public,” not only so in confession, but also in action. If I confess allegiance to America, but pass on military secrets to Iran, I’ll be executed for treason. Love is the kiss of internal convictions, public confession, and real-life obedience and moral transformation. (Rom 6, Gal 2:20, Phil 1:27, etc.).

These truths naturally lend themselves to the question, “What next?” What is/are the solutions to life’s problems that give me a conceptual framework to build off? Or put differently, we DO encourage them to be a better person. We encourage them to “stop being idolatrous, start trusting Jesus to meet your needs, and START LIVING LIKE IT. And here’s some suggestions as to what that might look like….”

The issue to me seems less tied an “either/or” scenario (though it can be that to be sure), and instead is a “both/and.” We both convict and comfort, we bandage and we cut, we rejoice and we weep. I would caution against a hyper-expectation of suffering or asceticism as equally as I would caution against the idolatry of comfort. Like Paul writes at the end of Philippians, trusting in Jesus in this moment is the discipline of learning contentedness (faith in action) in whatever situation we find ourselves in, either abundance or wantonness. Trusting in Jesus means peace, patience, joy, etc when I have a lot, just like it means peace, patience, etc. when I have less than nothing.

Toe the line.

Anonymous said...

More blogs please. July first is tomorrow... Thanks Steve for your leadership.