Sifting for Lies

Last night Chris turned the tv to Joel Osteen’s preaching while I was knocking about the kitchen getting ready for bed. I was listening, responding with the occasional snort and scoff. Chris said, “Stacey, what he’s saying is right. He’s not wrong.” So I sat down on the couch, next to my less critical husband, prepared to defend my assessment.

At first I was worried there was no hard proof for my accusation. Osteen was encouraging the football stadium filling congregants to do their work, whatever they do, unto the Lord, and to do everything for the glory of God. Of course there’s no problem there, in fact, it’s a vital message in the Christian life. But then, he said (paraphrased), “When you excel in the workplace, that is the best witness,” with an unnatural emphasis and satisfaction at his last words, as if to witness Christ to others was the only reason you offer all your work to the Lord. I grabbed onto this small shred of evidence, and told Chris, “Can’t you see where he’s headed? What he’s telling people to do is right, but the motivation is wrong. It’s as if the only reason to excel is to evangelize.”

After listening a little longer, Chris agreed. I went on, “And he doesn’t put any value in the work itself, done for God. There’s no encouragement that our suffering is united to Christ’s so that we may be glorified with him. It’s right there in Romans, Chris, why don’t they notice it?” Chris said Protestants don’t really talk about suffering that way, which is true, but silly. It’s in the Bible. They get everything they believe from the Bible. Right?

As Osteen went on, it became glaringly obvious that he was exhorting people to excell not only that they might be a good example of Christ to others, but so that others might “see something they want in [Christians]” and we should work hard without holding back so that “God doesn’t hold back a great release” from us. Evangelism wasn’t his only motivation, reward here on Earth was also a motivator. He talked about promotions, commendations, recognition, superstar basketball players earning over half the team’s goals. He talked about working hard and doing out best so that others notice, we are blessed in return, and others envy that blessing and want to become a Christian so that they can be blessed as well. That’s twisted.

He ought to have said that our work offered to the Lord is valuable as it is, regardless of its usefulness to others. He ought to have said that regardless of anyone else noticing or rewarding us, God will reward us in the next life. He ought to have said that we should expect nothing of a return for our labor from this world, no promotions, no raises, no envy, but instead will normally receive hate because Christ was first hated. If we are so blessed, we thank God, but never expect it.

As Chris said, Osteen’s message does nothing for the factory worker doing a repetitive and thankless job. It does nothing for the teenager working at McDonalds where there is little hope of promotion or recognition. It does nothing for my dad, 18 years in a job that takes advantage of him and loathes a higher standard, denying pay raises whenever possible, who wonders what God’s plan is for his life and why his current situation seems to be fruitless. I worry about the despair that results from a message like this. How many people in that stadium will fall away from Christ because they don’t see the results they expect and lose any value in their suffering? There’s so much truth in what Osteen says. Is it enough to mitigate the lies? Does he still point the way to Christ?

I’ve become pretty critical when listening to Protestant messages, always sifting through it to find the lies. Besides trying to find where they go wrong, I’m trying to find where I’ve gone wrong. I have no idea what I’ve believe in the past because I thought it was standard Christian beliefs. I don’t know where it all comes from. I’m always evaluating. Maybe this is a failing on my part and I should ease up on the Protestants. They do love God, after all, and do His work. Perhaps this is a step in my journey. I’m still watching to see that my current path is the right one.

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6 Responses to Sifting for Lies

  1. Ragamuffin says:

    I’m not sure that he even had the motivations wrong, he just had them in the wrong order of priority (and omitted the best ones). I don’t think this is a situation where you work diligently ONLY because it glorifies God in and of itself or because of a heavenly reward. All of the reasons he mentioned and that you mention are legitimate. But they need to be placed together in context and in the proper order.

  2. donintexas says:

    I thought the whole point of Osteen’s message was that people of the world look at Christians with a cynical eye. When we are sloppy in what we do, or we act in disgraceful ways, we feed into the world’s view that Christians are really all just hypocrits. The world — those that don’t know Him — make judgements about Him when they see how we act. Joel’s point was that when we live and work in excellence, people take notice. And to Joel that is whwat’s important… that the world take notice. Why??? Because it is our responsibility to “preach the good news to everyone” If everyone thinks we are lazy, sloppy, and have a bad attitude, they won’t listen to us and they surely will not want what we have. Joel says live in excellence and be joyful. If you do that, you will influence more people for Christ. Sounds like good advice to me!!!

  3. Chris says:

    Ragamuffin,

    It became clear to me after watching Joel Osteen speak for a while that he had an unhealthy emphasis on excelling in the workplace as a sure sign for others that you’re a Christian or that there’s at least something special about you that will inspire others to want the means to what worldly success you have.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying to people, “If you work hard, then God may grant you worldly success so that you may further His work.” But Osteen appeared to be telling his listeners that, “if you work hard, then God *will* grant you worldly success, and then you can draw others to God because they will admire and desire your worldly success also.” Those are two drastically different messages.

    Osteen said absolutely nothing about working in obscurity and without any worldly success to show for it. In fact, that didn’t even seem to be on his radar. Work, when it is done out of love for God, can become sanctified, whether you’re a boardroom executive or an assembly line operator. Worldly success in the workplace is not a “sure sign” of God’s favor, nor is working forever in obscurity a “sure sign” of God’s lack of favor — those worldly “indicators” are irrelevant.

    Here’s a good link that I read a while ago:

    http://www.opusdei.us/art.php?p=34109

    I re-read it again today after watching Osteen last night, and it sits in stark contrast to Osteen’s message. Yes, Osteen got a few things right, but his message was like seeing the frame of a painting clearly with the fine details of the painting being badly smudged. As Stacey said, I started off thinking, “hey, he’s actually making a lot of sense here!” But, after a while, it was clear that something was definitely amiss.

    My father-in-law seems to have a similar theology of work as that espoused by Osteen, and, ever since I’ve known him, he’s had a terrible time making sense of his perceived “lack of favor” at work. He thinks, like Osteen, that God should have “blessed” all his hard work with some worldly success, but still he works in obscurity, unthanked, and suffering numerous injustices at the hands of his managers. Sometimes, I wonder if my father-in-law is in danger of losing his faith because his outlook on such things is so oriented towards this belief that God wants to bless his “favorites” with worldly success.

    Osteen promotes this same theology of work, and I think it’s spiritually detrimental to anyone who buys into it.

  4. Stacey says:

    Ragamuffin,
    Yes, we should also want to be an example to others, but not ONLY an example or even primarily an example. And I really don’t think we should ever do our work so that we can receive EARTHLY rewards. Like I said, there’s a lot of truth in his message, but I agree, the priorities are messed up. I worry that those major omitions and those tiny additions may be enough to drive people to despair. And like I’ve said before, I admit being badly critical of Protestantism, looking for any unbiblical or unChristian ideas I should change in myself. I know I need to stop that, but I kind of have a history of not trusting Protestant authorities. It’s hard.

    Don,
    Yes, a lot of truth is in what Joel says, but he also is missing a large portion of that truth. The portion that tells us our labors and sufferings are united to Christ’s so that we may become like Him and be glorified like Him at the resurrection (Romans 8). Joel places total emphasis on the evangelical message (not a surprise really) of giving our work to God, instead of any notice given to value in the work itself when anyone else doesn’t notice. Like my dad. He has been in his job for 18 years, they don’t notice his hard work or praise him or say “Hey, it’s because he’s a Christian”, instead they abuse him for it to get as much work out of him as they can. Now he’s left wondering why he hasn’t seen any fruits to his labors, including evangelical fruits. He should never expect these things.

    Ragamuffin rightly points out that evangelism is not a bad thing, but only that it is not the whole picture. I add that part of the picture is a lie, the one that tells us to expect material rewards. I agree with much of what Osteen says about working in excellence and giving it all for the glory of God, but I disagree that the glory of God is strictly an evangelical act. I’m guessing you agree with him?

  5. Chris says:

    donintexas,

    Yes, you are right, it’s important that Christians be mindful of the fact that the world always judges us, and so we must be “wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.”

    But, really, what does it matter if the world takes notice of us or not? Jesus worked in obscurity for most of his earthly life. Surely there must be more to work than just making sure we give the world a good impression?

  6. Ragamuffin says:

    Actually, I don’t really agree with Osteen on much of anything. I don’t think he really teaches the whole Gospel. He’s Norman Vincent Peale and Dr. Robert Schuller with a Texas twang. I was just pointing out that if you take each of the points he made, they aren’t untrue in and of themselves. It’s just not a complete picture and the relative importance of each reason he gives is out of order.

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