Sick Day Mystery Worship: Sunday Morning Religious Programs

Sick Day Mystery Worship: Sunday Morning Religious Programs November 19, 2014

I’m rarely ill, but last weekend reminded me that I am nonetheless not invincible. Honoring my shut-in status, I turned on the TV for my church, choosing local broadcast TV offerings.

At 9 am, the glamorous, perfectly perky blonde Victoria Osteen burst on the screen, reminding us that she “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” quoting Philippians 4:13.

The broadcast segues to a promotion of Joel and Victoria’s soon-to-come Night of Hope (January 2, 2015, American Airlines Center). There, the promotion affirmed,  we can see why Osteen is called “America’s pastor.”

Back to Joel and Victoria on stage, he flashes his famous smile and tells us how much he loves us. After a few “dumb blonde” jokes, Osteen begins with what is apparently his mantra,

Hold up your Bible. Say it like you mean it. This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today, I will be taught the word of God. I boldly confess; my mind is alert, my heart is receptive, I will never be the same. I am about to receive the incorruptible, indestructible, ever living seed of the word of God. I’ll never be the same, never, never, never, I’ll never be the same, in Jesus’ name. God bless you.

He then speaks of the coming days, where God will show us unprecedented favor, favor never seen before in the history of humanity.

To experience this powerful favor, all we have to do is get in agreement with God, for Osteen declares a direct correlation between declaring favor and receiving favor. It’s time to “zip up the defeat and start speaking victory.”

At this point, eight minutes into the broadcast and five minutes after Osteen took the stage, the viewer is treated again to information about the Osteen’s coming Night of Hope. The next 22 unrelenting minutes offer praise to Joel Osteen, interspersed with shots of the lovely Victoria with her gym-toned bare arms reaching skyward.

Multiple testimonies of slim, attractive people spoke of the greatness of the Osteens in this seemingly endless loop of Joel-and-Victoria-praise. Frequent reminders appear to purchase the limited number of tickets still available to this life-changing, you will never be the same (or sick or poor or overweight?) event.

Yes, Joel and Victoria Osteen do live the blessed life of unprecedented favor. No question about it.

Staying tuned to the same channel then gave me Keith Craft, of Elevate Life Church in Frisco, telling me what a privilege and honor it was for him to come into my bedroom or living room. Frankly, I would never invite him into my bedroom, so was glad my sick self had settled in the living room.

After that warm greeting, Craft began to speak of our “best days.”

Craft insists that on this day, we can elevate our lives by opening our minds to God, thinking like God, and living the way God intends us to live, i.e. as our best. I was intrigued to notice that he quoted the exact same Scripture that Victoria Osteen found so useful, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Craft calls on people to be idealists, insisting they can have the ideal marriage and job if they will be the ideal people–their entire future is dependent upon their ability to live into their ideal states.

The secret to having the best days? They begin in us first, and then begin to happen through us and eventually because of us. The key is enthusiasm, which Craft, quoting the Greek roots of the words, contends means “God within us.” If we can find our internal enthusiasm, we can shape everything around us. We can “Decide who I am, who God is, and what can happen because those two things are facts. I can make miracles happen. I can be like God.”

After endless repetitions of the word “best,” Craft tells his congregation to go to their notes where he does a quick exposition of Psalm 112, interspersed with a rapid fire reading off his mobile device of the “Parable of the Talents” from Matthew 25. From there, he leaps into Genesis 1:28 with much emphasis on taking dominion of the earth and subduing it.

Then Craft authoritatively announced the summary statement of what a well-done, blessed life looks like:

F+M+U+M=PARD

Fruitful+Multiply+Understanding+Master equals Prosperity Abundance Rulership Dominion.

He says, “I am prophesying over you now:  Life can be HARD or PARD. If you use well what you’ve been given, you will be given more and in abundance!”

The TV show ended with an invitation to give to the ministry and to purchase Craft’s book, which is guaranteed to help us release the forces that will make us unstoppable.

And thus ended my morning of TV worship. My illness remained unabated, despite all these assurances that I can have my best now if only I would think better than I am thinking and follow more carefully the advice of these accomplished ones. Time for a nap.

[Note: the above article is slated to run in the November 21, 2014, edition of the Denton Record Chronicle.]

Additional Thoughts

The Osteens are slick, beautiful, professional and accomplished motivational speakers. That they hide their real occupation behind the tax-protected status of the church as they pick and choose the small pieces of the Bible that support their health-wealth-prosperity mind-set that has served them so well says volumes about their true characters. Keith Craft comes across as a Osteen wanna-be with little of the charm, polish or charisma that might launch him into the big money hopes that accompany his goals.

As they and many other like-minded ones channel Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” or someone else’s wildly popular “The Secret,” some with real problems may indeed find that a more hopeful outlook on life, coupled with careful action, cleaner living and more than a few lucky breaks may indeed help them break free from their chains. That is a good thing.

To equate what they are doing with message of Jesus is a bit more problematic, particularly when such ones clearly live extraordinarily well on the backs of money given by those who are not doing particularly well financially.

But there is nothing new about their message or their methods. And when they are gone, weary of the game, or found out when the character flaws or exigencies of life finally catch up with them, others will rise to take their place.  They offer easy answers to nearly impossibly difficult questions, and people love it.  The rich love them because their riches and whatever means they used to gain them are validated; the poor love them because they think, “I can be as beautiful and beloved as they are.”  This is just human nature.

But it is hardly the way of the cross; it does not call us to love our enemies, and go the extra mile for them, or to give away all we have to the poor and follow Jesus. It does not insist we forgive the unforgivable, or even acknowledge that our own forgiveness came at a cost.

The core of these messages suggest that the intractable problems facing most of humanity–disease, malnutrition, oppressive political systems, poverty–can be overcome by thinking positively places the blame for these problems squarely on the shoulders of those who suffer. Works fine for those few who do live the more charmed lives. But it ends up increasing the suffering of the less fortunate. I, personally, don’t call that kind of message “Christian.”


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  • Larry

    Dr. Thomas: As you know, I am a Joel Osteen fan. He motivates people to do good, for themselves and for others. For the low self esteemed, he’s likely great. I find his message similar to the foundations of religion: “Do good and pay up poor man, and, as long as you believe in god, you will have ever lasting life and enjoy the “kingdom” (read: golden palace) of god.” …I’ve always thought religion was simply a way to prevent revolt against the rich (then, kings) and, the buy in for the poor is: “…in this life you will be poor but keep believing, keep paying tithes or taxes, and keep loyal to your ruler (put forth by god, of course), and you will be rich in the after life.” …Joel Osteen is not much different from some of our ‘great’ leaders. He seems to be, as you pointed out, not original, but certainly falling in line with religion(s).

    But….the “christian” part of it, not the religion part of it, has me inquisitive. So, for a minute, forget church and religion and turn to service. Service to the forgotten, the poor, the deformed, the dying, the “not rich”, the mentally ill, the rich man… The suffering rich man, blind from money and beauty and blind from his perceived wicked ways. We shouldn’t judge. As Christians, if that is even a thing that isn’t tainted anymore, we shouldn’t judge, we shouldn’t be jealous of great bodies or great smiles or positive messages or wealth. We should only provide true knowledge (nearly impossible to do) and service, free of judgement. None of us are good at this. We are all specialists of judgement of course, but only a very chosen few are true christian servants of good. I’m certainly not one of them.

    Back to Joel who seems to be guilty of being a modern human trying to do good. He’s selling his beliefs, his brand, his message, much like many preachers and religions and he happens to be really good at it. If we were to read your blog, which I’m a fan of, and observe, does it have a message or branding? You bet. Are your pictures atop showing “prettiness”? You bet. It’s not the same, of course, but to some it could be a way to see your brand, your message, your…oh, I digress, but I just wanted to say, each of you have a message and a brand and you are putting it out there for judgment that should not occur but modern humans are judgment specialists. I do the same thing. I have a message and a brand and I’m certainly hoping someone is “buying it”. Are we all “not Christian?” How do we succeed in the modern world where we “need” money to benefit the future of our families but we are judged poorly if we are not poor, living a selfless life, and washing the feet of the less fortunate? What if we can make a living out of doing good for man, nature, god, etc., selling our brand of course, bringing in some dollars for a good family future, but also changing lives in a positive direction? Joel seems to be doing that, to me. The Thoughtful Pastor seems to be doing that, to me. Others, doing good in a modern world seem to be doing that, to me. I just don’t understand the judgment and jealousy towards these good folks like yourself…but I may be missing something. Oh, and I’m happy to hear you are recovering well from illness. 🙂

    • These are good points, and I appreciate your raising them. I am not saying that the Osteens are not doing good–my problem is their hiding behind the tax protected status of the church for their motivational speeches. Getting rich doing motivational speeches is a time honored and reasonable way to make a living, so matter how little impact they may have in the long run. But the church, for me, is to be the fullness of Christ lived out in this work, and involved as its core the shaping of disciples who will follow Jesus all the way to the cross.

      And yes, I have my “brand” and am working on books that I hope will sell, so am happy when people read my blog and find usefulness here and hope that will at some point translate into a means to make a living as a writer. But if/when that happens, my work and income will not have the tax breaks given to the church. I’m a “for-profit” enterprise. To call what the Osteens do as “non-profit” strikes me as disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst. As for the Osteen’s physical beauty–they are among the small percentage of people who are gifted that way, and they’ve made the most of it. Good for them–but let us not suggest that they would have made their success without such gifts, nor that others can suddenly become so physically beautiful because they have learned to “zip up their defeat” of having been born with fewer attributes that most people see as beauty.

    • I didn’t hear judgment and jealousy, I heard a bunch of false teaching being exposed. Jesus didn’t come to give us a life of prosperity and ease on this earth. He came to save us from our sins by dying on the cross to take the punishment for our sins.

  • Larry

    Dr. Thomas: As you know, I am a Joel Osteen fan. He motivates people to do good, for themselves and for others. For the low self esteemed, he’s likely great. I find his message similar to the foundations of religion: “Do good and pay up poor man, and, as long as you believe in god, you will have ever lasting life and enjoy the “kingdom” (read: golden palace) of god.” …I’ve always thought religion was simply a way to prevent revolt against the rich (then, kings) and, the buy in for the poor is: “…in this life you will be poor but keep believing, keep paying tithes or taxes, and keep loyal to your ruler (put forth by god, of course), and you will be rich in the after life.” …Joel Osteen is not much different from some of our ‘great’ leaders. He seems to be, as you pointed out, not original, but certainly falling in line with religion(s).

    But….the “christian” part of it, not the religion part of it, has me inquisitive. So, for a minute, forget church and religion and turn to service. Service to the forgotten, the poor, the deformed, the dying, the “not rich”, the mentally ill, the rich man… The suffering rich man, blind from money and beauty and blind from his perceived wicked ways. We shouldn’t judge. As Christians, if that is even a thing that isn’t tainted anymore, we shouldn’t judge, we shouldn’t be jealous of great bodies or great smiles or positive messages or wealth. We should only provide true knowledge (nearly impossible to do) and service, free of judgement. None of us are good at this. We are all specialists of judgement of course, but only a very chosen few are true christian servants of good. I’m certainly not one of them.

    Back to Joel who seems to be guilty of being a modern human trying to do good. He’s selling his beliefs, his brand, his message, much like many preachers and religions and he happens to be really good at it. If we were to read your blog, which I’m a fan of, and observe, does it have a message or branding? You bet. Are your pictures atop showing “prettiness”? You bet. It’s not the same, of course, but to some it could be a way to see your brand, your message, your…oh, I digress, but I just wanted to say, each of you have a message and a brand and you are putting it out there for judgment that should not occur but modern humans are judgment specialists. I do the same thing. I have a message and a brand and I’m certainly hoping someone is “buying it”. Are we all “not Christian?” How do we succeed in the modern world where we “need” money to benefit the future of our families but we are judged poorly if we are not poor, living a selfless life, and washing the feet of the less fortunate? What if we can make a living out of doing good for man, nature, god, etc., selling our brand of course, bringing in some dollars for a good family future, but also changing lives in a positive direction? Joel seems to be doing that, to me. The Thoughtful Pastor seems to be doing that, to me. Others, doing good in a modern world seem to be doing that, to me. I just don’t understand the judgment and jealousy towards these good folks like yourself…but I may be missing something. Oh, and I’m happy to hear you are recovering well from illness. 🙂

    • These are good points, and I appreciate your raising them. I am not saying that the Osteens are not doing good–my problem is their hiding behind the tax protected status of the church for their motivational speeches. Getting rich doing motivational speeches is a time honored and reasonable way to make a living, so matter how little impact they may have in the long run. But the church, for me, is to be the fullness of Christ lived out in this work, and involved as its core the shaping of disciples who will follow Jesus all the way to the cross.

      And yes, I have my “brand” and am working on books that I hope will sell, so am happy when people read my blog and find usefulness here and hope that will at some point translate into a means to make a living as a writer. But if/when that happens, my work and income will not have the tax breaks given to the church. I’m a “for-profit” enterprise. To call what the Osteens do as “non-profit” strikes me as disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst. As for the Osteen’s physical beauty–they are among the small percentage of people who are gifted that way, and they’ve made the most of it. Good for them–but let us not suggest that they would have made their success without such gifts, nor that others can suddenly become so physically beautiful because they have learned to “zip up their defeat” of having been born with fewer attributes that most people see as beauty.

    • I didn’t hear judgment and jealousy, I heard a bunch of false teaching being exposed. Jesus didn’t come to give us a life of prosperity and ease on this earth. He came to save us from our sins by dying on the cross to take the punishment for our sins.

  • The entrepenurial church: Jesus is the product, wrapped in cellophane rather than swaddling clothes; he doesn’t bleed, get spat upon, or whipped. We love you, but don’t come to our home. Worship will be “awesome” and our IT team will make sure of it! Just swipe your card on the iPad as you leave, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing.

  • The entrepenurial church: Jesus is the product, wrapped in cellophane rather than swaddling clothes; he doesn’t bleed, get spat upon, or whipped. We love you, but don’t come to our home. Worship will be “awesome” and our IT team will make sure of it! Just swipe your card on the iPad as you leave, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing.

  • Reblogged this on Heaven-or-Hell.

  • Reblogged this on Heaven-or-Hell.

  • I wasn’t ill until I read this blog. Reading about Joel and Victoria Osteen make me want to puke. How vile and disgusting. Talk about the theology of glory. I try to expose false teachings and contrast them with true biblical teachings in my blog.

  • I wasn’t ill until I read this blog. Reading about Joel and Victoria Osteen make me want to puke. How vile and disgusting. Talk about the theology of glory. I try to expose false teachings and contrast them with true biblical teachings in my blog.

  • Bitania Bereket

    I visited Elevate yesterday. The sanctuary was dark. It had a night club feel to it. The music was too laud. A guest speaker preached about the importance of missions and serving others I met Pastor Kieth asked the people to raise /donate /contribute 25K for Irma “victims”. Church is a big business. I met Pastor Kieth and Pastor Shiela briefly as a first time visitor. I was also giving a free t-shirt and a CD with that says VIP. I was encorges to come back, join a small group a bible study and eventual serve.