Do You Hate Joel Osteen?
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in them and they in God.”
1 John 4:15
My ministry used to be very aggressive towards religious Christians. Over the years, I’ve grown in love for them—but, the hurt that self-righteous Christians caused me left a huge open wound in my soul. When I say “religious Christians,” I’m not trying to disrespect anyone, but instead, pull the curtain back and expose a cancer in the Christian community. I’m talking about Christians, yes, they could even be believers (although, I’m guessing some are not), but these Christian have certain characteristics that keep the lost, lost, and new believers stuck in fear and condemnation.
Religious Christians have a heart of extreme coldness and judgment, not just towards non-believers, but other Christians as well. “*Gasp*! Did you see what she wore today?” Or, “How dare they talk about that in the pulpit!” And even, “They skipped church, again? I bet they are going to hell now. I’d never miss a service! Backslider!”
They think it is their calling in life to pick apart the lives of others in such a way that there is no breathing room, or room for growth in Christ’s ways. These are the people who say, “You are getting what you deserve!” when all you want is some mercy. They have no grace, no unconditional love, no true forgiveness, and no hope for the lost; just judgment and a set of rules for everyone to abide by.
Religious Christians want to give lessons to everyone on how not to sin. This is maybe their favorite thing to do. Oh, and if you do sin, you’ve insulted them. “Don’t you dare curse in front of me!” “You’re gay? You better stop that immediately, or you are going to hell!” “You didn’t get baptized? Well then you’re not really a Christian!” They act as if they have a heaven or hell to throw you into. And when you sin, you’ve insulted the “godliness” in them.
Which, sure, as Christians we have a buzzer that goes off in our hearts that notices sin–and the Holy Spirit is pressing that button. Now, the real us doesn’t want to sin because Christ died to remove the punishment for our sin, and He lives in us. That event at the Cross hurt Jesus greatly, so we should take sin seriously, but not focus on it. Instead, we should focus on who is now in our spirits–Jesus Christ Himself!
For the religious Christians, their ratio of sin-inspection-to-grace is 90/10. It’s all out of whack, and this is a repellent to a new believer. It doesn’t convict, but condemns. They are trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit and they can’t—none of us can. When this happens, all this does is create tremendous fear and frustration in a weak, or new Christian.
But their judgmental attitude is not just for new believers—it’s for current Christians as well! And when they have that same attitude towards the mature Christians it creates severe conflict. For the religious Christians, NOTHING IS DONE OUT OF LOVE, it’s all conditional, based on you “shaping up,” like them. This is why we must remember what Paul said when he wrote to Timothy:
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9, my emphasis added). Yes, we are holy—we restfully strive to do what God approves of—but only because of His purpose and grace! WE’VE NOT EARNED ANYTHING…this is all free, because of what Jesus has done.
Religious Christians also enjoy showing off their “level” of repentance, church attendance, and church work. Listen, I’m all for these things. Do them, please. These are a huge parts of my life. REPENT OF INCORRECT BEHAVIORS AND MINDSETS! GO TO CHURCH! DO STUFF FOR JESUS! These are good things! But we must ask ourselves a question when doing anything for God:
“Why am I really doing this?” The answer should always be, “Because I love God.” If there is a hint of anything else, water it down. Keep things in perspective. Remember, where you are at in your faith is not because of YOU. It’s God who has worked in you (See Philippians 2:13). Never let anything you do or don’t do take precedent to showing Christ your appreciation of what He’s done for you by allowing Him to live through you.
Further, religious Christians attack other churches and preachers who aren’t like them. Oh my goodness this is such a bad thing. Sometimes they even call others “non-Christians,” “false teachers,” or “anti-Christs.” This might be one of the most dangerous things to do as a Christian—which is placing yourself on God’s level by judging the hearts of others. We don’t have this ability, either.
This act of religious Christians actually caused me to get asked to leave my former church. How? Here’s how: As a Christian alcoholic who was also addicted to porn, money, video games, and was living a life completely abusing the grace of God, I needed some gospel baby food—badly. The full on, hard core teaching of having someone tell me how horrible of a person I was—a “steak dinner” teaching—I could not eat. I had not grown any Christian teeth. It was impossible to listen to a mean preacher (back then, that’s what I’d call them). I needed some serious grace in my teaching! I already knew I sucked at life! I didn’t need some dude with a tight suit and comb-over beating that into my head! “YOU CAN KEEP THAT CRAP TO YOURSELF!” was how I thought.
My problem was pride. I took absolutely everything personal when it came to Christianity and how I needed to change my life. Then one Saturday morning, I woke up hungover, again, and I felt like I needed to read a Christian book (in hindsight, this was the Holy Spirit nudging me). The problem was, I didn’t have one. So I got off the couch, after binge-eating Chinese food (that’s the best hangover remedy—SALTY FOOD—then you get fat and swollen; what an awful, demonic cycle); I dragged myself to Wal-Mart and picked up a book called Everyday a Friday by Joel Osteen.
This book was just what I needed. Oh my goodness, if you only knew. This single book was the spark that God used to light the fuse in me which set off who I am today! You would not know who I am, or ever heard of this ministry, had I not been obedient to the Holy Spirit that Saturday morning!
Heck, even I wouldn’t fully know who I am in Christ and the potential on the inside of me if I didn’t get my butt up that day and began to read Joel’s book. Joel made God look good again. He made me want to change—everything. He made me want to get to know Jesus better. Why? Because he never said how bad of a person I was, but instead, how good! And why was I good?…Simple, because of my faith in Jesus. He made it so easy to understand. And that’s what the gospel is, easy to understand, good news.
Joel’s simple, encouraging teaching, nursed me back to life—saved my life, actually. His teaching made me want to go back to church! It made me want to forgive absolutely everyone! It made me want to begin seeing the good in life, and in myself, not the bad! His teaching made me want to begin using my gift of writing for God, rather than against Him! It made me want to have a goal of being an author! It made me want to pray for those who’ve harmed me, and actually bless them! Oh so many wonderful things his style of teaching stirred up in me!
His simple, baby-food-style-teaching, made me want to change my entire life—absolutely everything! It also calmed me. That roaring, aggressive, frustrated person on the inside of my soul, he was learning a new way of living from this smiling preacher with corny jokes. Joel was helping me to renew my mind with who God really was, which is a loving, good Father.
In the process of this life change I even started to go back to church! Here’s the problem: I voiced how much Joel had done for me one day to my former pastors, and they immediately began to rip him apart. This upset me greatly because it was Joel’s teachings, not theirs, that made me want to change my entire life for God. After they knew I was learning from Joel, they began to attack him in their sermons. They started to tell the congregation about how “non-gospel” he was. This hurt me, and it was starting to cause a rift in my soul because Joel had helped me get out of a deep, dark pit—these two preachers did not—they only made things worse. Instead of encouraging me, they barked things at me like, “You ain’t living right!” Or, “Any man of God would get his house in order!”
Eventually one of them asked me out for coffee, and while he was sitting across from me at the table, he said, “Why don’t you get plugged in at another church?” Isn’t that crazy? How the devil works even in the inner-circles of church? Here I was, someone on the brink of suicide, everything around me is falling apart, and I start to enjoy Joel’s teachings and the local pastor of my church tells me to leave? Yeah. That happened.
The devil wanted me to hate that man, and the other preacher too, and I almost fell for it! But then God taught me what was really going on. Religion. Not relationship, but religion. This preacher was blind to what the lost really need, which is unconditional love and grace.
The fact of the matter is that I love Joel, but I also love Billy Graham, and I love David Jeremiah, and Joyce Meyer, and John Piper, and Phillip Yancey, and Tim Keller, and Todd White, and Charles Stanley, and Andrew Farley! I LOVE ALL OF THESE TEACHERS! God has lead me to each one just when I needed them! They all believe in Jesus, they just have a different style than one another! WHICH IS A GOOD THING! It’s the religious Christians who pick apart other teachers, preachers, and people who are simply trying to be who God called them to be!
God gave each of us a unique style, voice, and testimonial for a reason—to REACH others for Christ in different ways! Just because Joel is so positive doesn’t mean he’s not preaching the gospel! HE IS! There is nothing not positive about the good news of the gospel! The religious Christians attack him all the time, and I’m tired of it! Sure, we are gonna be wrong sometimes, so what. That’s why we need Jesus. As fellow believers, we are supposed to cover up those wrongs with grace and love, not have a sermon on how wrong they are, or write a hate-filled article on them comparing their preaching to atheism—that is such crap! THE LOST ARE WATCHING! STOP IT!
Peter says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). My friends, we have to love each other deeply, we have to. We have to remember who is perfect. It’s not us because we still have a thing called flesh. It’s Christ in us. Joel is not the anti-Christ, and he’s not taken anything away from the gospel. He just teaches differently, just like we all do. Here’s the biblical way of how you know if someone is preaching the gospel, or not: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God” (1 John 4:15).
Joel acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, and he does this all the time. I began to read a book once, where the man started off the introduction by saying the opposite—that there is another way besides Jesus—I immediately tore it up and threw it away. The true Christian teachers are the ones who say, “Yes, place your faith in Jesus to be saved,” it’s just, we all have a different flavor of teaching this message. We must celebrate that! Imagine if we all had the same way, look, voice, and expression of Christ’s Good News! That’d be boring! So be glad that the different teachers are doing what they are doing, and how they are doing it! If you don’t like it, start your own teaching and then let’s talk about your style.
Because of Joel, I am a life that was changed. If you are too religious to understand that, then I’d double-check my faith in Christ if I were you. I’m not saying that’s you, but there are people out there who believe if you’ve learned from Joel, you’re not saved. Hogwash.
I began reading, watching, and listening to Joel in 2011, and my life started to change dramatically. With gentleness, respect, and encouragement, he helped renew my mind. For the first couple years, I read all his books, watched him on TV each week, and soaked up everything he had to say. At that time, my life was absolutely crazy and I thought my heart was rotten. I couldn’t believe how nice this guy was as a preacher, I had never seen that before. I was used to feeling like I just got beat up after a sermon, not healed up! He was so soft, confident, and inspirational…I needed that desperately. When I began to learn from Joel, I was like a parched flower in the middle of the desert and a tsunami of God’s goodness had just washed over me…it was amazing. If I ever met Joel face to face, I’d say, “Thank you. You’ve helped me greatly.” His easy-to-understand, truthful, digestible gospel, helped me to grow.
After a few years, I no longer listened to Joel on a regular basis. I had a firm foundation of God’s goodness, and it was time to move on to deeper teachings. But make no mistake, he was the one who got my roots planted in the soil of how good God really is, and I’m forever grateful.
He inspired me to start my own ministry. Sure, my style of teaching is more aggressive in getting people to take a deep look within themselves as to how to make positive changes—to actually begin to live out Christ—but, I’m not Joel Osteen, I’m Matt McMillen. A person who is an absolute failure without Jesus, yet, infinitely successful with Him. But I still like to think that I have a little bit of Joel in my writings, each time I say the word, “friend.” He’s who I got that from. It always made me feel good, so now, I do it as well. Sometimes I’ll still flip him on Sirius XM, once or twice a week, just to hear his country accent and kind voice—but I’ve already got his friendly foundation of the gospel built deep into my soul.
I’ve learned just how important I am to God, because of Joel.
So if you are reading this, and you dislike Joel, you may as well dislike me because he’s helped me become the man I am today. Be easy on Joel. Pray for him. Think of him with love (that’s one thing he taught me). But really, be easy on all teachers of Christ’s wonderful news! And please, begin to remove any religious Christian judgments, if you’ve got some, and just love them.
That’s what we are all called to do.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, I want to thank you for leading me to Joel’s teachings. And not just his, but all of the teachers you’ve used to get me to the point I’m at today. I pray that I can do the same for those who are reading this, those who want to make an impact on this planet for you. Strengthen them with your love and confidence! They can do it! If I can do it, through Christ, so can they. Amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days For Jesus, Volume 2. Get your copy here!