|Raul and his two sons, Raul and Obed at his recent 25 year anniversary celebration in Guadalajara|
It was spring of 2006. I was walking with my friend and longtime ministry partner in Guadalajara, Raul Arteaga. His son had been in a horrible accident a few weeks earlier that had left him paralyzed from the waist down and unable to exert much control over the use of his arms.
I was there to offer comfort and encouragement to a family that in those days, was living in stunned depression.
As we walked, he said he had a question. "Hermano David" he asked, "do you think my son is not getting better because I lack faith?"
The question stopped me in my tracks. How could he think like that I asked? If I know anyone with a deep and abiding faith, it's Raul. The thought that he might lack faith scares people like me. If Raul is lacking at a level that would bring disaster and destruction on his family, then I really have no hope.
I remember looking back at Raul and offering the soundest rejection I could of his question. I asked where that was coming from and he said more than a few pastors in those early days of his son's paralyzation had insisted that God would indeed heal his son, if only he had sufficient faith and claimed the power of God in this horrible situation.
Each day Raul got up with the power of God. He went to bed every night praying for a miracle and that the next morning he might wake up and see his son standing again. A lack of faith was not keeping his son from walking again.
I was reminded of those days as I read about the recent theological dust up at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Osteen and his church are well known in American Christianity, preachers of what in short hand is known as "Name it, claim it" theology.
In short, this theology believes if you have enough faith, and speak what you want, in God's name of course, it will be given to you. Beyond being biblically suspect and bereft of a true theological basis, this understanding of God and how he works is more than misleading, it is evil.
It is also a theology that leads us to believe it is all about us, not Jesus, not others, simply us. That was on full display as Osteen's wife Victoria stated this past weekend that our worship makes God happy when we do it for ourselves, not Him.
Here's why this sort of me first theology is so dangerous. If you do not get the desired outcome, the only reason must, by definition be due to a lack of faith. There really is no other way of understanding this. A boys inability to recover and walk after his spine was totally shattered is not because of a tragic accident, for which there is no medical fix, it is because of a lack of faith.
The evil of this theology comes forth as we delve a little deeper, understanding that a name it claim it theology, a theology based on us, places the blame for a continued lack of recovery on the faith of the father, and his lack of faith.
Sadly, many are embracing this type of theology, not just here in the US, but in Mexico as well. Because it is more focused on us and our needs, and because it seems to offer people control over the arc of their lives. A belief that I can somehow "trap" God into doing for me what I want and claim is a potent aphrodisiac.
Traditional mission in my area is struggling to confront this type of understanding of Jesus. The idea of a of Isaiah 53, of a suffering servant, is not a popular message to people longing to be empowered to live a better life.
Unlike many who are angry at Joel Osteen and his church for what we heard this week, I am curiously pleased. Joel is slick, and able to evade and parry the jabs from those who question the theology of Lakewood Church. Thankfully the 37 seconds of video we have of his wife giving a full throated defense of their "It's all about me" Gospel understanding shows us just how self-centered this church, and their leaders are.
There should be no further debate on the issue. Absent a full denunciation of Victoria Osteen's widely seen words, everyone should now know that for the leaders of this church, it ain't about Jesus, it's about us.
I doubt you can make much of a case that Jesus was as self centered as the Osteen's claim we should be. And I know that you can't make a case that the bible teaches that worship is all about us. Unless of course, you support Lakewood Church and the other many adherents to this empty theology.
The Osteen's Donald Sterling Moment
Victoria Osteen says "Worship is not for God, you're doing it for yourself"