I am sure many people are familiar with the ‘health and wealth’ message that Joel Osteen preaches. I never had given it much thought in all honesty - it seemed like he was just a jolly guy who liked to write self-help books about how to be happy. Harmless. Now, having listened to some of his sermons, read his blog and thought about the things he is saying, it is quite apparent that it is not as harmless as I had hoped.
Here are some comments left for him by his fans:
"Joel, I read The Secret. Its wonderful to see someone preaching to the universe that all is possible and that to get it you must believe in God. All things are possible for him! Thank you for your heart and your voice! Bless you!"
"Until I read this, I was in the settle for beans & rice mentality…never no more! Abundance is now in my vocabulary!!! Today is my day & I will eat steak according to His will!"
So what about it? What’s wrong with this picture? Take the first example: “All is possible, and to get it you must believe in God.” This person is basically saying that they think they can get whatever they want from God, as long as they believe in Him. It is all about getting something FROM God. Treating God like some giant vending machine.
The second quote is a response to a blog post of his, saying that God has more than beans and rice in store for you on this earth; that He has a steak dinner waiting:
"Don’t settle for beans and rice when God has a steak ready for you! Don’t get stuck in the land of "Barely Enough" or the land of "Just Enough." Keep praying, believing, expecting, hoping, dreaming, working and being faithful until you make it all the way in to the land of "More Than Enough!" He wants you to set a new standard for your family. He is an overflow God, a God of more than enough. And as you follow His leading, He’ll take you into the land of abundance that He has prepared for you!"
(Can I just comment on the abundance in this quote - abundance of exclamation points that is…)
Immediately after writing this, he posts this verse, supposedly to support his statements:
"And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)
In actuality, this verse utterly and completely contradicts what Osteen said. Osteen claims, in his blog, that God is going to give us tons of good things in life if we have enough faith. We give faith, God gives stuff. More stuff than we need - as he says, “the land of More Than Enough!”. What Paul does say though, in the verse supposed to back this idea up? Paul says “having all that you NEED, you will abound in every GOOD WORK.” We will be given all we NEED, not all we WANT. In the end, all we need to do the GOOD WORK of God is Christ Himself. Not a fancy car. Not a bigger house. Not a perfectly healthy body. We know from scripture that Paul himself dealt with some sort of affliction - I am sure he had more faith than I could ever imagine having, and that did not cure him of it. God is not to be manipulated, and that is exactly what preachers like Joel Osteen are teaching people to try to do.
"If only you believe, God will give you the desires of your heart."
If the desire of our heart is knowing Christ then this is true. But that is not what they mean. The desires of our heart could mean anything - more money, a husband, good-looking children, an easier life…whatever. But it is all temporary, material, STUFF. Meaningless. We are explicitly told that if we truly believe in the Lord, we will be persecuted, and we will suffer for our beliefs. Just because our sins have been forgiven does not mean the effects of them have been erased. That is YET to come when Christ returns. Evil, pain, suffering, poverty, death, illness still exist in this world and while they do we are called to take part in it - not focus on obtaining more THINGS for ourselves, but giving our entire lives to Christ, meaning getting down and dirty with those who have no hope - washing feet of our enemies, and suffering with the world as Christ suffered. How can we show the love of Christ if we are not suffering with everyone else? A love that does not cost anything is not a true love, it is a false love.
Another thing: how can men like Joel Osteen, who preach solely about having positive outlooks, look into the eyes of a mother watching her child die from cancer, or an old homeless woman in the slums of India, or girl forced into prostitution and preach their “gospel”? How can they tell them to simply, “have faith and God will rescue you from your current affliction?” “Have faith and he will save your child?” No. That is wicked. Bad things happen to people who love the Lord. It should not be a surprise. Stephen, one of the most faithful men in the Bible, was stoned to death for his faith, not given a mcMansion with an endless pool. Instead of telling people to cheer up, those of us who have been given relatively easy lives MUST GO and give of ourselves to them, and encourage each other with truth. We must weep with those who are suffering and give to those in need, not seek our own comfort and happiness. This kind of thinking is OPPOSITE to what the Bible teaches. Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God -not the kingdom of ME so that I can GET the Kingdom of God.
In one of his sermons, Joel compares Jesus’ salvation to gasoline. “Fill up on Christ! Christ will put you on the highway to heaven!” he says joyfully. As if Christ Himself is just the means to an end, not the end itself. Christ HIMSELF is the goal. He is not some sort of cosmic fuel that we use until we get where we want to be. HE is where we want to be! Or He should be.
Forgiveness is a difficult thing. It is difficult to forgive others and even harder to allow ourselves to be forgiven. We like to beat ourselves up and self flagellate. We like to hold grudges against others because it gives us something to feel superior about. It makes that person indebted to us in some way - because they hurt you, they owe you.
Today I had a conversation that got me thinking about forgiveness and reconciliation. How can we possibly allow ourselves to forgive those who have hurt us, and allow ourselves to be forgiven in turn? The ultimate and perfect example of forgiveness and reconciliation is modeled for us by Jesus Christ.
What is forgiveness anyway, and what is the point? I have never really thought about this much - forgiveness always just seemed to be when I got to the point when my blood pressure didn’t rise upon thinking about the person who wronged me. But I don’t think that is really what it is. Maybe that’s an effect of it, but it’s not what it truly is. Forgiveness is when you cease to hold something against another person, even if they deserve your wrath for ages upon ages. This is what Christ did for us on the cross - He forgave our actions against Him, and they are no longer held against us. It is as if they never happened. We deserve God’s wrath, just as that person who hurt you may deserve yours, but by Christ dying in our place, He took that wrath upon Himself and it died with Him. We must allow our wrath against others to die.
What then is the point of forgiveness? Forgiveness allows reconciliation to happen. Sometimes it does not - if you forgive a person, but they never know, or they still hold on to their hatred of you, then it will not happen. But if the forgiver forgives, and the forgiven accepts that he is forgiven, then those two people can be reconciled to each other. Reconciliation cannot happen without both people taking a risk - one to stop being a victim and to forgive, and the other, to give up their pride and BE FORGIVEN. Allowing ourselves to be forgiven by each other and by God is not easy, because it means that we must accept that we NEED forgiveness, which is in essence saying that we messed up, and no one likes to admit messing up. I know from experience. Every time I continue to mess up, I STILL hesitate going to God and accepting His forgiveness. I don’t like swallowing my pride, but the freedom and absolute joy that result from being forgiven is beyond compare. Knowing without a doubt that what you dis is not held against you, even though you deserve it, is the most humbling and wonderful feeling.
When we allow ourselves to be forgiven by God, Who never withholds forgiveness, we are then reconciled to Him. We can stand before Him holy and perfect and nothing can be spoken against us. Our Accuser, Satan, who stands and points fingers, will have nothing at which to point.
This same thing happens when one person forgives another, and that person accepts the forgiveness. Those two people are able to reconcile with each other, and all enmity between them is washed away. God desires for us all to forgive each other, as He forgave us. He also wishes us to accept forgiveness from others, just as we ought to accept forgiveness from Him.
Allowing ourselves to be forgiven by God gives us the strength to forgive others and to accept forgiveness from them as well. This does not make it easy. When you are hurt by someone, it does not feel right to forgive them, because they deserve wrath. But what good came from that? What reconciliation ever occurred from holding grudges? God, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Heal our friendships and relationships by allowing us to forgive and be forgiven.
Sometimes I get into a funk. I am in one right now. Generally I can pinpoint the cause of my moods or emotions but there are times I can’t. That used to drive me crazy. Now, I have just accepted the fact that there are times when you just feel off. When nothing seems to matter very much. When God seems far away or not present at all. When you feel completely alone even when surrounded by people. When your thoughts are aimless and seem to not even belong to you.
I used to beat myself up about this. I would lament my state and feel entirely guilty for not being as prayerful, social, happy or driven as I normally am. But over the past few years of going through MANY funks, I have come to realize that things do not always have to be perfect - that I do not always have to feel on top of my game. That I WILL go through these times, but it does not mean that it is forever, even though it feels like it. It is okay to just cry about nothing.
The funks always pass and I realize that God was there the whole time even though I couldn’t see it. Of course, this doesn’t mean I just let myself wallow for forever. I have the tendency, once I get into a funk, to just remain there and not attempt to come out - to just ignore it. There is nothing wrong with just being in a funk for a while but if it last for a really long time, I have to start pushing myself. I think what happens is that a cycle begins. A cycle implies that you are repeating the same things over and over and over again. To break the cycle you have to do something different - sometimes this is as simple as going for a walk and chatting with some fishermen, or having coffee with a good friend, or picking back up the Bible and reading the right psalm.
I am not sure why many of us are inclined to begin these destructive cycles, but we are, and instead of pretending like they don’t exist or just letting them continue, it’s important to acknowledge them and then begin to break through them.
Once, I was in a funk for 3 years straight. That was terrible. I hated everyone and myself. I let that funk actually BECOME who I was. I would spend nights on roofs or under bushes crying for mainly unknown reasons. The funk had completely taken over my life and I didn’t even realize it. But that was not who I really was - I am a generally happy person who finds joy in the smallest things. It took breaking that cycle to remember that. That particular cycle was broken when I did something different - when I went to Italy. Although, even there I remained in my inner funk until I had a horrible back injury and couldn’t move. This shook things up and actually made things far worse until various pieces lined up to finally break the cycle. This is a topic for another day. I suppose my point is that sometimes it is okay to feel off, and be sad for no reason, but not to let the “offness” overcome you.