Sunday, September 3, 2017

Casting stones and removing timber

Pastor Joel Olsteen had a rough week -- from a PR standpoint.

I don't know how he felt personally. He says he didn't pay much attention to the gale of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere. Maybe he ascribes to St. Teresa of Calcutta's (Mother Teresa's) philosophy on pride and ego: "If we were humble, nothing would change us -- neither praise nor discouragement. If someone would criticize us, we would not feel discouraged. If someone would praise us, we also would not feel proud."

This week, social media posters pelted Olsteen, the Christian televangelist and Pastor of Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas. They were appalled at his apparent lack of empathy for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Lakewood congregation occupies the former Summit Arena/Compaq Center and previous home of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Why did Olsteen and his follower have "no room in the inn" to welcome local Harvey survivors?

Olsteen said his facility was water logged and unsafe to accommodate refugees. He also said many leaders in his congregation were storm victims, some stranded in their own homes.

Those bashing the wealthy megachurch pastor, his massive congregation and sprawling Christian complex were most likely themselves not Christians. Or at least they were unfamiliar with the teachings of Jesus.

The Jewish Messiah had a lot to say about judging, criticizing and other oral afflictions. Here are a few of his choicest Gospel moments:

When a righteous crowd prepared to pepper an adulteress with rocks in order to kill her for her sexual sin, Jesus said, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7) The crowd quickly dispersed.

Then there was the time the Nazarene carpenter made this analogy: "How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:4-5)

Ouch! In other words, you better be sinless BEFORE you consider advising someone else how to avoid temptation. The truth is Jesus' message is profoundly truthful and powerful. Consider this: how much credibility does a fat guy have telling a drinker, gambler or workaholic to step away from his or her excess.

Likewise, unless I've been donating until it hurts to support storm victims I have no right to comment on someone else's charity or lack of it. And don't forget, devastating floods submerged the lives of millions across the globe this week, killing more than 1,200 in Asia and Africa. There's someone in my family or community that's under water with debt, or illness, family strife or addiction. I have so much work to do and so many people to help. How could a practicing Christian find time to boast or heckle?

Simply put, Jesus said, "Stop judging that you may not be judged." (Matthew 7:1) Great advice especially for Christians trying to actually walk the talk. He also told us donate to those in need invisibly -- in secret with no fanfare -- telling no one of our philanthropy. (Matthew 6:3-4)

Maybe Olsteen was helping displaced Houstonians in quiet, secretive ways. Only God knows his heart. Who am I to judge? For the record, I am a very judgmental person who is learning to bite my tongue off rather than offer condemnation. It's a struggle but worth it. A heavy lift but the true way to peace.

Christianity is damn hard to live up to. St. Mother Teresa once made this observation: "Gandhi felt fascinated at knowing Christ. He met Christians and felt let down."

I often have to ask myself -- if Jesus met me right now, would he say, "You hypocrite"?

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