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.