(This is an update of an earlier post)
Yes…the spelling in the title is correct. I am going to reluctantly revisit the airplane incident with Joel and Victoria Osteen that happened in December, 2005. One of the most visited posts I have ever written was in regards to the tepid apology that Mrs.Osteen issued after the incident. I finally removed the article after it became merely a feedback repository for partisan shots. The comments became a back and forth series between those who support the Osteen’s and their ministry versus those who do not. It became a spectacular exercise in missing the point. The ministry of Joel and Victoria Osteen was never the focus of my article. I became so frustrated and dismayed with the discourse that I removed the post. This article is an attempt to stay on point.
My argument was never about the Osteen’s ministry, mega-churches, celebrity Christians or any of the issues raised by many of those who posted feedback. My focus was on accountability for everyone in the body of Christ and our responsibility to respond with graciousness and humility. Immediately after the initial story was reported I wrote these words.
“I pray that the Osteens will handle this in a way that demonstrates the humility and grace of Jesus. We all make mistakes. It is how we respond to them that can make a difference. Repenting and repairing by asking forgiveness is a very good way to practice damage control.”
A couple of days later a letter was posted on the church website from Victoria Osteen.
Regardless of how some have portrayed the situation, please know that it was truly a minor misunderstanding and did not escalate into what you saw or read in the news. Contrary to those reports it was my choice to remove myself from the situation. Nonetheless, it was a most unfortunate event and I truly regret that it happened.
The last thing I would ever want to do is let any of you down. And I promise you that I did not act in any way that would cast a bad light on you, my family, Lakewood Church or our Lord Jesus Christ. I value the position that God has placed me in and I can assure you that I will always walk in love and integrity. While I am not perfect, I will always seek to be a peacemaker and seek the high road.
I was disappointed in Victoria Osteen’s response. She never wrote the words “I am sorry” or “please forgive me” for this incident. I wonder if either of those phrases would have altered the course that has now resulted in an ugly trial.
The Federal Aviation Administration fined Victoria Osteen $3,000 for interfering with a crew member. Ms. Osteen paid the fine in August to put the issue to rest, her attorney Rusty Hardin told the Houston Chronicle. She believes “very, very strongly” that she did nothing wrong, Mr. Hardin said.
But the reality is that something happened. There was a disagreement that was strong enough for the family to leave the plane and delay the flight for over two hours. No matter how minor or major the misunderstanding that event inconvenienced a lot of people. So it seemed to me that some words of contrition to the passengers would have been helpful. When you are a visible and vocal representative of Jesus, whether it’s at a megachurch or a mini mart, you are representing Jesus everyday and every moment. I can guarantee you that if I display unseemly behavior the first thing that will pop into the minds of those who know me will be “I wonder if that is in his wonderful little Christian books?”. One of my biggest fears in writing books (and these daily ramblings) was that I have put myself on the line for the rest of my life. My actions will be evaluated in light of what I have written and said. Fair? Probably not. But it is a fact. And I accept that with humility and deep soberness.
But the reality is that simply announcing “I am a Christian” does exactly the same thing. Your failures likely won’t make the news but they may do a lot of damage. Here is the lesson for all of us. When we inevitably fail we need to remember the five R’s of reconciliation.
- Review – evaluate your actions prayerfully in the light of the Holy Spirit
- Repent – trust God to resolve your sin by depending on His Spirit
- Repair – seek out those who have been affected and ask forgiveness
- Reject Excuses – don’t negate the power of forgiveness by saying something like I am sorry but I was having a bad day. Just say I am sorry or please forgive me. Period.
- Rejoice – in a gracious God who forgives us time after time after time.
Can we do anything less if we truly stop and consider His grace to us? Because of Christ I am redeemed and their is no condemnation for me from God. But I still face the consequences of my actions. I squirm a bit when I write articles like this. I look in the mirror and I see a deeply flawed man. I also hesitant because I have been hurt by mean spirited people who would not recognize grace if it bit them on their pew coverers. And I can count on someone writing a response to me with a lot of ALL CAPS and they will use the verse from Matthew to let me know I am a judgmental jerk.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I think we have so broadly applied this teaching that we have ceased to hold ourselves, and others, accountable in how all of us represent Christ. Remember that Jesus was addressing the religious people who talked about godliness but acted entirely differently. I am to evaluate myself by the standards of God’s Word, and yes, the standard should be higher for me because I have publicly identified myself as a follower of Christ. I want others to hold me accountable. I would prefer they do that with grace. In fact, I was confronted a couple of years ago by a person who informed me that my actions did not match my public testimony. I was deeply saddened by my actions but I was also grateful. I was able to repent and ask forgiveness of that person and others. That is the standard we set for ourselves as Christians. I know. I am a small fish and it was not a news story. But I had claimed one thing and portrayed another. I had damaged the precious name of Jesus. This courageous person called me on my response and because of grace the situation was completely resolved. I cannot judge the motives or heart of Mrs. Osteen or anyone else. I do believe that she could have diffused this situation with a different response. But my focus is squarly on myself and how I respond when I face frustrations in life. I would hope that is the focus of Christians reading this article.
I pray that I will offer a loving and grace filled response. But the reality is that I may need to humble myself and seek forgiveness. Both glorify the name of Jesus. Please let that be the takeaway from this writer.