Well, I’ve got a lot on my mind I suppose. Ever since I heard Joel Osteen speak the other night at the Valley View Casino Center, my mind has been a bit busy processing the whole experience. Through some mixture of luck and providence, my friend happened to meet Osteen downtown before the event. When Osteen heard we were planting a church in San Diego, he graciously offered free tickets to the event. For this I am thankful, and even though I didn’t speak to Joel, I was able to meet his wife and thank them for the tickets.
There are a few reasons I never thought I’d go to a Joel Osteen event.
1. I like having ‘Christian street-cred’ as it were. I guess this is more of a confession than something I’m proud of. I’m part of that generation that identifies with others through shared consumer experiences (gaming systems, ipods, clothes, books, music genres). We tend to get along with others who’ve bought the same stuff as us. Groups that consume certain things usually don’t like groups that consume other things. (Metal heads think artsy folk lovers suck at life; mac users question the character of PC users; etc).
All that being said, I know that my social points in this culture tend to go up or down depending on which concerts I go to or which books I’m reading, or how many people liked my last status on facebook. It’s ‘cool’ in young Christianity to have read every Donald Miller book, to be disillusioned with the Church, to be at odds with the Republican party, to own at least two pairs of Tom’s shoes, and most of all: to abhor T.V. Evangelists.
That being said, with the risk of losing my ‘cool’ points, why would I ever go to see the TV preacher with probably the biggest following in the world? Well, hopefully it’s because I’m finally seeing ‘cool’ as illusory, fleeting, cheap and… well, uncool. But it probably had something to do with free tickets.
In all honesty, I think Christians need to be able to interact with spheres within Christianity that are different than they’re own. We may not agree with everybody, but at least we can learn from each other. I went to hear Joel Osteen last night, knowing that I disagree with much of his ministry and knowing that I would lose ‘cool’ points, because I believe it’s important to listen to others so you know where they’re coming from… and possible even to see which areas of their heart/teaching have not yet been gripped by the Gospel.
2. When you’re watching Osteen on T.V., you can change channels… this is not the case in person.
3. The main reason is because the Gospel is about more than just my personal finances and dreams. The Jesus I serve called his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross every day, and follow him. He preached that if we spent our lives on what our foolish hearts want, we’ll lose our lives. Conversely, if we are to spend our lives (labor, recreation, family, free time, effort, energy, treasure) on Jesus, that’s when we’ll find what it truly means to be alive.
The prosperity Gospel is so appealing because it’s laced with truths from Scripture. The truth is, God does love us. The truth is, God does want the best for our life. The truth is that God does have joy for us and a special plan for our lives. The breakdown of the prosperity doctrine is the assumption that WE know what’s best for our lives now. It’s the idea that God’s greatest purpose and joy is to help US reach our OWN dreams and desires for our lives. The prosperity Gospel fails because it assumes that the Gospel is ALL about ME.
I guess I just believe that the Gospel might actually be God’s story instead of our own. His dream might be better than my own. My money actually might be his, not my own.
The truth in Scripture is that God does bless his followers. I think where Osteen tends to go wrong in his teaching is assuming what God’s blessing will look like : usually more money, better health, or success in your field of work. There are many examples in Scripture of God blessing people monetarily, healthwise, and in their jobs. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Naaman, even some guy named Jabez. But Scripture also teaches us that blessings come in other forms.
Actually, the new testament encourages believers to rejoice especially in their sufferings. In the new testament, there were both people who sold everything they owned for the sake of the kingdom, and people who kept the homes and land they owned as resources for the kingdom. Their were Christians in courtrooms and high places, and their were Christians being persecuted and martyred. Who was God blessing then? Who is God blessing now?
Has God blessed the Christian in the U.S. that now has enough money to pay for his mortgage and the two cars and new boat, or has he blessed the Christian in southern India who fears for his life in the next outburst of violence against the Way? Which of these has God blessed more? Who am I to say? More importantly, who am I to tell God the manner in which he may bless me? How arrogant is it for me to assume I know what I need more than God knows?
Am I preaching a Gospel of poverty? I hope not. I hope I am not making the point that we should seek out suffering and persecution… and that we should run off and leave all that we’ve known like that guy from Into The Wild, simply to die in the woods alone. What I’m saying is that it is time that the church began to believe that it’s real treasure lies in Christ. Paul says in Philippians 3 that whatever he once counted as gain, he now counts as loss. But that’s not the end. He’s able to count it all loss because he’s found something of greater value. “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…”
Whether I have much or little, let me be content in the fact that I know Christ, and that he has made me thoroughly loved and acceptable to God. Let this be the source of my utmost joy – in sickness or pain, in riches or poverty, in failure or success. “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
Ephesians begins with the claim that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. Blessed: past tense. Many times the prosperity Gospel is to preoccupied with the “next blessing” God will drop in our lives that it fails to emphasize the treasure that has already been given to us in Christ. We’ve already been given more than this entire world could ever offer… and yet we so often overlook that in search of “a blessing.”
God, let us once again find joy in YOU, not just in the gifts you give us.
God does love you, want to bless you, and lead you in his plan for your life. But take Jesus at his word:
“…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6 in the sermon on the mount).
I’m ending this because it’s turning into more of a rant than a blog. I hope one day that it can be said of me : “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (phil 4)