Joel Osteen is preaching in Yankee Stadium this Saturday. His sermon will be aired on his personal SiriusXM satellite radio channel, which begins operations this week. The channel will feature live call-in shows hosted by Osteen and his wife, as well as rebroadcasts of his past sermons. He preaches to 40,000 each week in his Houston church. His 2,650,000 Twitter followers include Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Ellen DeGeneres, Justin Bieber, and Oprah Winfrey.
There are numerous ways to interpret Osteen’s remarkable popularity. Some say God is blessing his ministry; others say his message lacks the biblical insistence on repentance and mirrors the relativistic culture of our day. Whatever your view of his work, you have to agree that his team uses media effectively. From Charles Fuller’s radio broadcasts to Billy Graham’s televised crusades to Joel Osteen’s upcoming “Night of Hope” in New York City, ministers have long sought to use the latest technology to communicate the timeless truth of Scripture.
The upside is obvious: getting the word to as many as possible. But there’s a downside as well: our relationship with God can become second hand. God wants us to know him intimately and passionately. Depending on the faith of others, even those we most respect, can keep us from the One we are called to love with all our hearts (Mark 12:30).
Consider an analogy. According to The New York Times, children who learn to write by hand rather than by typing read more quickly and are better able to generate ideas and retain information. Even as adults, memory and learning ability are enhanced when we write information rather than typing it. The more fully we engage the information, the more it informs and shapes us.
Here’s how engaged God wants to be with us: “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16). How can we know him in such intimacy? “Touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (vs. 17-18). Paul concludes: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
Visualize this science experiment: lay a magnet and a handful of nails on a table. Move the nails toward the magnet until they are caught in its field and drawn into contact with it. Now separate the nails from the magnet. Rub one of them on the magnet long enough for it to retain some magnetic force. Move the other nails toward it and watch the attraction at work. But is the nail as strong as the magnet? Is its power as enduring?
My first church job was serving as a part-time youth minister while in college. Because I was the tallest and youngest member of the staff, I was assigned the task of changing the letters on the church’s roadside sign. I’ve not forgotten one message I was asked to post: “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved?”