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Learning from Joel Osteen

Joel Olsteen and his wife pose for a photo with Oprah Winfrey sometime during their interview with Oprah (Courtesy of Harpo Studios/George Burns)"The world belongs to those who give it the greatest hope" (Teilhard de Chardin).

I watched Oprah Winfrey's hour-long interview with Joel Osteen last Sunday evening.  Osteen's Lakewood Church is familiar to me, as I grew up in Houston and watched his father's church grow into one of the first multi-racial congregations in our city.

Some say that he is a minister for our day, adapting his methods to the high-tech, media-driven culture we are called to reach.  Others argue that he adapts not just his methods but his message to our relativistic, pluralistic world.

Osteen came closest to that precipice last night when he answered Oprah's question about many ways to God.  He said that Jesus is the only way to God, but that there are many ways to Jesus.  I'm not sure if his answer was post-denominational or post-Christian.

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How would Tim Tebow defend Christmas?

Tim Tebow Christmas cards"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."  Granted, but are there times when doing "something" makes things worse?

Case in point: Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee recently made national headlines by calling the State House's 17-foot spruce a "holiday" tree.  When critics complained, he urged them to volunteer to help needy people instead.

In response, the Providence Catholic diocese held their own tree-lighting ceremony.  At the State House event, a group of carolers singing "O Christmas Tree" burst in during a children's choir performance.  One critic of the governor said, "He's trying to put our religion down.  It's a Christmas tree.  It always has been and it always will be, no matter what that buffoon says".

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Is Mormonism a cult?

The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Credit: Splorticus via en.wikipedia.org)Robert Jeffress made national headlines recently with his assertion that Mormonism is a "cult" and a "false religion." Peter Wehner, a political commentator whose blog I read regularly, immediately criticized what he termed "the theological and political errors of Pastor Jeffress."

What are the facts behind the firestorm? Is Mormonism a "cult?” The answer depends on your definition of the term.

If by "cult" you mean the popular caricature of a manipulative group that practices mind control and exploits its members, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clearly does not qualify.

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Separating church and schools

A prayer banner has been on display inside Cranston West High School since the late 1960s.On June 2, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that New York City can block religious groups from using public school facilities for worship services. This ruling is significant far beyond its immediate context.

Churches hold worship services in public places with greater regularity than one might think. This strategy follows biblical precedent—Paul spoke in Athens "in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day" (Acts 17:17; cf. 19:9-10). Many churches begin in public school auditoriums or classrooms, including the last congregation I pastored. City parks are often used for worship and outreach events. Thousands of believers gather in public facilities each year to observe the National Day of Prayer. The appellate court's ruling could place all such meetings in jeopardy.

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Casey Anthony and the justice of God

Casey Anthony cries next to her attorney Jose Baez after she was acquitted on first degree murder charges of her daughter Caylee (Credit: Reuters/Red Huber/Pool)"An acquittal can never be appealed. This case is over forever. Journalists and historians can have their verdict, but the legal system is finished with it." According to CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the Casey Anthony murder trial is now closed and can never be reopened. But was justice served? That argument is only beginning.

Since the jury acquitted Caylee Anthony's mother of her daughter's death, the story has dominated the national news. Did Casey get away with murder? Or was she put through three years of pain while awaiting trial for a crime she did not commit? The jury sat through 33 days of testimony and considered more than 90 witnesses and 400 pieces of evidence before concluding that the prosecution did not prove Caylee's death to be a homicide. If the district attorney did not prove that the little girl was murdered, her mother obviously could not be convicted of murder no matter how bizarre her behavior in the weeks following her daughter's death.

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