There is a prominent ‘pastor’ who preaches prosperity and blessings emphasizing one’s own verbal power to speak ‘into being’ God’s blessings in a pre-prescribed fashion. A ‘blessing’ by their definition seems to be plenty of money and often other material things and is often considered to be a result of God granting a person ‘favor’ either from God or in the eyes of man. Based upon his sermons, one only has to have the right mental mindset to take hold of God’s blessings and achieve ‘Your Best Life Now.’ Joel is polished, bright, lean, and attractively packaged. He and his wife travel on a private jet and have a personal net worth of $40,000,000. In short, he is a marketing and branding superstar.
As I was reading through Isaiah 53 today, I was struck by a description of Jesus. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.”
Now I want to be very careful about condemning another person who says they are a Christian. I want to be very clear that I do not stand in judgement of him, because that is God’s job. That said, we are called to look at a person’s fruits and the Bible tells us to test the spirits. There is an extra burden upon a teacher of the Bible to be accurate and precise with God’s word and to wield it with extreme caution. To err in representing who God is constitutes heresy and is very dangerous both to the individual and to the body of Christ. We must examine what the Bible says and compare it with what the individual says that the Bible says.
The depth and breadth of Joel’s preaching is focused on claiming blessings and receiving things from God as though He is some sort of karmic vending machine. This ideology presents several problems for the church. One of the first concerns is not just the avoidance of many of the major tenants of Christianity, but that by omission he also causes a converse dilemma, a negative space if you will. IF someone is poor, needy, and broken then the implication is that they must not be in a right relationship with Christ. So, the ‘haves’ within the Christian community have a better relationship with God than the ‘have nots;’ those very people who need Christ the most. It’s important to consider that if we apply this blessing metric to Christ, He himself would have been considered an abject failure at claiming his blessings and envisioning his position in God’s kingdom on earth. He was impoverished and despised. His ‘favor’ among men of power and influence was severely lacking. I wonder if Joel had met Jesus in Nazareth what advice he would offered our Savior?
Additionally, this errant theology provides its’ supplicants with an opportunity to seek their own will instead of God’s will. It is not unlike the ‘divine right of kings’ which was the belief that a king was granted the wisdom of God upon ascending to the throne, and therefore was faultless. It is the ever so slight shift from, “I am a Christian and I am seeking His will,” to “I am a Christian therefore my will is God’s will.” That seemingly slight degree of change is to buy the same lie that Satan sold to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:5) “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” As humans, we are tempted to assume God’s position. We want to know good and evil and to determine what is good and evil for ourselves, outside of guidance from our heavenly father.
Joel Osteen’s February 27th blog is entitled “Overcoming A Lack Mentality.” Here is a direct quote from his message: “It says in Deuteronomy that God gives us the power to get wealth. There are seeds in you right now that can bring abundance: gifts, talents, skills, ideas, creativity, favor. God didn’t leave anybody out. You’ve got to get up every morning and remind yourself, “I am a no lack person.” See yourself strong, healthy and accomplishing your dreams. Keep the right image in front of you. You are blessed. You are prosperous. You are well able. And yes, you may need some kind of assistance right now. But if you’ll have this attitude and keep pressing forward, before long, instead of taking a handout, you’ll be giving a handout. Instead of borrowing, you’ll be the lender! Don’t settle where you are; don’t settle for lack. Press forward past a lack mentality and switch over to a blessing mentality!”
I can’t think of a more troubling ‘devotional.’ “God gives us the power to get wealth?” Where in this passage did Joel mention pursuing Christ? Where did he ask us to run the race that God has set before us and to store up treasures in heaven? 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Friends, our attitude should reflect Jesus Christ’s and not Joel’s. Our life’s work as Christians should not be one of ‘what can I gain?’ but one of ‘what can I give to my Father?’ Certainly, God has anointed Davids and Esthers among us. He even made Solomon a very wealth king all to bring glory to himself. But, we are not all Davids and Esthers who desire to know God and to meditate on his word and his law. God also permits Sauls and Nebuchadnezzars and I’d rather not spend seven insane years eating grass like a ruminant for God to bring me to my knees (see Daniel 4:33).
I suppose what we really need to ask ourselves is “what is my desire?” Paul writes about desire in Romans 8:5-8. “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Compare Paul’s words with Joel’s “See yourself strong, healthy, and accomplishing YOUR dreams.”
Jesus wants to save us from ourselves and from our sin. Even when he disciplines us, his goal is to restore and redeem us. What other God would have made clothes for his children so that they would be warm and covered before he meted out the punishment of banishing them from the Garden of Eden?” (see Genesis 3:21) He has a plan for us and it is to bring glory to Him so that others might find Him also. We can expect that if Jesus himself arrived on earth, unattractive and shabby, and that he submitted himself to persecution and suffering, we too will experience those same things. Paul writes in Romans “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It isn’t your dream or my dream that matters! It is God’s plan and God’s kingdom and our trust in him that is the essence of our life here. Because ultimately, Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us and he wants us to be with him in eternity.
While Jesus submitted himself to death to save us from our sins, Joel’s ideas differ a bit. In an interview with Larry King he said, “I want people to leave church FEELING better than they did before.” Jesus admonished us to repent and sin no more. But when asked about sin in an interview with Piers Morgan, Joel said, “I teach about how we can become better. How we can overcome.” I’m a little bit of a farm girl here folks, and I’m going to put this in country terms: You cannot milk a bull!
Jesus is not concerned as much about our feelings as he is about our soul! It breaks my heart to know that the wounded and the needy approach the throne of Jesus as Joel sees him and they buy that message with their tithes and offerings. If we have first asked ourselves what we desire, then we must ask ourselves, where is our treasure?
We must examine God’s word carefully and find out for ourselves who He has revealed himself to be. In this way, we will know the sound of his voice from the cacophony of false prophets. In this way, we will know the difference between the truth and a beautiful sounding lie that some innate part of us longs to be true. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15) I encourage you to examine the words of your spiritual leaders and the fruits of their lives to be sure that they are indeed following Christ. We also need to examine our hearts and our own fruits to be sure that we are honoring and glorifying God with our lives.