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:
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.]
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.”