Updated: Jan 7
The other day I was having a conversation with one of my friends about a video I made for Instagram. In the video, I was discussing a news article about the plumber who found thousands of dollars hidden in the walls of Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. In a nutshell, the story goes as follows:
A plumber was hired to do some work at Osteen's church and as he removed some insulation, envelopes stuffed with cash came falling out of the walls. (1)
Although having envelopes stuffed with money falling out of the walls of your church is sketchy enough, the timing of the event adds another layer of sketchiness to it. In 2014, Lakewood church reported $600,000 ($200,000 of it in cash) to have been stolen from their safe in an apparent robbery (2). These funds of which were fully insured.
In my past life, I used to be a pretty sketchy guy myself. Now I’m not accusing Osteen or anyone associated with him of being involved in any kind of insurance fraud or anything. All I’m saying is that I know what insurance fraud looks like. And it looks like claiming there was a robbery, then stuffing the cash in your walls, and then collecting the insurance money.
This isn't the first questionable situation that Joel has found himself in. But being found in questionable situations isn't actually my problem with Joel. We have all been found in some questionable situations that we honestly didn't intend to be in. I have been arrested and charged with crimes I didn't personally commit, just because the person who committed them was in my house at the time. Like I said earlier, I was a pretty sketchy guy and I also used to associate myself with some pretty sketchy people as well. Praise God for His saving grace.
My problem with not only Joel but also with pastors like him goes beyond just ending up in questionable situations. My problem is with his questionable intentions, questionable leadership, questionable fruits of the spirit, and above all, questionable doctrine.
Now before I continue, I would first just like to say that if you are somebody who listens to Joel Osteen, you love his speeches, you feel empowered after listening to him and you truly feel as if God is using him to reach people with the message of Christ, I completely understand your position and love you as a brother/sister in Christ. The people I know who listen to Joel are some of the kindest, most positive, loving, and encouraging people I've ever met. On the flip side, many of the people who are on my side of the fence when it comes to Joel Osteen can be some of the most critical, judgemental, self-righteous, puffed-up-with-knowledge, prideful people I have ever met.
Good doctrine doesn't always equal good character.
Bad doctrine doesn't always equal bad character.
But God’s word is God’s word. We are not to add to it, nor take away from it. And this brings me to one of my issues with Joel. Not only do I believe that Joel’s intentions are to continue in his lavish lifestyle, but I believe that he is preaching a watered-down gospel in order to do so.
In my opinion, Joel is squeezing God’s people for every dollar he can get out of them. Part of me believes that he isn’t even aware of what he’s doing. I also don't believe he’s as bad as Kenneth Copeland, but let's take a look into why I have come to the conclusion that Joel is, whether intentionally or unintentionally, a Wolf in sheep's clothing.
In my forthcoming book “The Secret, A Gateway Drug to Spiritual Heroin”, I discuss a bit more in-depth the issues with the prosperity gospel, but for those of you who are unaware of what the prosperity gospel actually is, here's a quick description:
The Prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Protestant Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one's material wealth. (3)
Wouldn’t it be nice if this was true? That financial blessings and good health are the will of God for every single believer!
There was a quote I heard from Pastor Phil Morgan once that goes like this (and I’m going to say this in my best Australian accent):
“If the gospel you are preaching cannot be preached in every corner of every country in the world, then you are preaching the wrong gospel.”
That sounded more like a drunk British accent… but anyway.
Think about the situation in China, where churches are being demolished and Christians are being forced to gather in hiding. Think about the Churches in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Islamic countries where Christians are being beheaded just for not converting to Islam and renouncing their faith in Jesus. Think about the poor, impoverished rural sections of developing countries without a hospital for miles and the devoted Christians living in those areas of the world. Are they stuck in those situations because they aren’t “speaking positively enough”? Do they not have enough “faith” to bring prosperity their way? Imagine them believing the gospel of “health and wealth”. How long would their faith last if they truly believed that the promise of the gospel was that you are to be financially blessed? The gospel being preached in these countries is far from the gospel being preached at Lakewood in Houston Texas.
What a weak Christianity we are being fed here in the United States.
What does the Bible actually say about the Christian walk? Does it say we will be blessed with health and wealth?
The bible actually says the opposite. In the Old Testament, God had a different covenant with His people. Israel's blessings were based on their obedience. It went like this:
“If you do X, God will do Y”
If X = Obey God’s commands, then Y = bless you with children, livestock, wealth, etc.
If X = Disobey God’s commands, then Y = take away the blessings God has given you.
We are not under this covenant as Christians. We are not the nation of Israel. We are under the new covenant through Christ. We are modern-day Christians, not Old Testament Jews.
The prime example of this is the verse Jeremiah 29:11, which Joel has placed right in the middle of Lakewood church for everyone to see. It says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Many people, not just Joel, take this verse as a verse that can be directly applied to us today. As if this verse is God directly speaking to you and me through the pages of the Bible. The problem is that this verse isn't written to us. It was said by Jeremiah, telling the Jews that they would be living under the Babylonian rule for at least another 70 years, but not to worry, God had plans for the nation of Israel, plans to prosper them and give them a future. It's a powerful story, but this was not written to us today.
So let’s get into what the New Testament actually says about the Christian walk:
2 Timothy 3:12 - In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
John 15:18 - If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me (Jesus) first.
John 16:33 - I (Jesus) have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Matthew 5:10 - Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Jesus
If “blessed” is to always mean financial blessings as pastors like Joel insists it to be, then why would Jesus say that being persecuted is also considered to be a blessing?
The reason is that the prosperity Gospel takes words that are meant to be spiritual and gives them material meanings.
For example when Jesus says in John 10:10 (and I’m paraphrasing) “I have come to give you life more abundantly”, prosperity preachers take that to mean an abundance of wealth. Jesus means it to literally mean life. Because we are spiritually dead without Christ. We are dead in our sins. When Christ talks about “life more abundantly” we have to remember that Christ is looking at the universe through a spiritual lens, not just a material one.
And believe me, you would much rather have the abundant life that Christ has in store for you than any kind of worldly abundance that is being promised to you from the stage of Lakewood Church.
YOUR BEST LIFE NOW:
One of the objections I constantly find myself receiving when I bring up the lavish lifestyles of pastors like Joel Osteen is that “They make all their money from book sales”.