In an important article from the New York Times, an argument for deep community as an answer to many suicides warns about lonely people we should watch out for… Click here
Category Archives: seeking understanding
Years ago I was confronted with the prevalence of “health and wealth” teaching in Eastern Europe. It poured in with the many teachings, both good and bad, following the collapse of communism. When ideas could be freely sought, hearts and minds opened. Mix this with a desire to have more after a long dark era of neglect and lack, add a dash of Western media and – presto! Many embraced openness to what is referred to as health and wealth teaching. It came largely from America.
Positive thinking, a close cousin of “health and wealth” seems to have merged with “health and wealth” into some very popular teaching in the US and now, it seems, in Eastern Europe as well. A colleague of mine has discovered that this (very popular in the US) teaching has made its way into local churches. I’m grateful that this work of reading, thinking and analyzing from a position of Biblical scholarship has been made available to us. Here is…
A Review of
Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential By: Joel Osteen
Osteen observes that although most people at some point have a hope of a great future, few actually realize it. Most end up living ordinary or average lives. Your Best Life Now offers seven steps to improve your life. The seven steps focus on having a positive state of mind regarding yourself and your future. The goal of these steps is that you will be happier now and for the rest of your life. In particular he emphasizes throughout his book the positive effects that it will have on your: financial status (raises and promotions), family life (especially a better marriage), and physical health. This is his understanding of what it means to start living at your full potential.
The seven principles focus primarily on thinking and speaking positively about one’s self and one’s future in order that God would bring these positive hopes into reality. God desires to give to people abundance, that is, “God’s best.” Speaking and believing that God will do these things is the way to get God to make them happen. He defines “God’s best” as things like a nicer house, a promotion, a better marriage, and physical healing. However, having a negative attitude or speaking negative words will prevent God from giving you this abundance. He emphasizes the things we must think, feel and do in order to receive God’s favor. Two examples illustrate this: “Understand this: God will help you, but you cast the deciding vote;” and, “God has already done everything He’s going to do. The ball is now in your court.” Osteen declares that God’s abundant blessings are only available to us if we follow his seven steps. His evidence consists of personal stories, anecdotes and examples of people in the Bible. Osteen does briefly mention that following these steps does not always bring about positive results. Everyone will face trials. During this time one needs to rely on sustaining faith, which is trusting God when things don’t make sense. However, we are to stay positive and God will bring us more abundance than before. In the final section, “Live to Give,” he states that this abundance is received, sustained and increased through our generosity to others.
Osteen has a way of fostering a positive mind-set in his readers. His upbeat tone, confident declarations, enticing promises, and engaging stories are enjoyable. It is easy to see why his writing is so popular. Who wouldn’t want more money, better health and a stronger marriage? He offers hope to people. He also give some attention to helping others by being generous with our time and money.
However, despite these positive contributions Osteen’s book is ironically discouraging, and quite dangerous for Christians. While Osteen is often viewed as being encouraging, in reality he is devastatingly discouraging for Christians. This is because of his neglect and distortion of God’s grace. His repeated commands throughout the book: “keep a positive attitude,” “don’t give up,” “keep doing the right thing,” “put the past behind you,” “keep getting up in your heart,” “have a good attitude,” and many others are rapid fire commands without offering any strength to do so. You simply must have the self-strength to do it. But what of people who consistently fail at these commands? It becomes even a greater discouragement. In the Bible God is always seen to give grace and strength in order to fulfill commands – not so in this book.
Furthermore, he says that in order to get the favor (i.e. grace) of God we must do certain things. So, if someone cannot obey Osteen’s commands, they are doomed to a life without the favor of God. This is the exact opposite of what grace means. Grace is when God gives his favor to those who have not done anything to deserve it. Jesus died for sinners who were helpless, not those who did something in order to deserve it. Therefore, his teaching is the essence of legalism. He teaches people to obey his principles in order for God to give them His favor. It is not the Christian gospel of grace, and is thus discouraging and dangerous.
It is dangerous in other ways as well. Aside from his legalistic teaching, Osteen promotes desires that are not appropriate for Christians. He repeatedly tells people to seek abundance from God financially. A number of personal stories of financial blessing illustrate his call. He adamantly says that this is something we should set our thoughts on, pray for, hope for, and speak positively about. This emphasis on hoping for financial prosperity stands in stark contrast to biblical teaching. In 1 Tim 6:8 Paul says we will be content with food and clothing, but Osteen tells people to long for promotions, bigger houses, better cars, and raises. 1 Timothy 6:9, warns against desiring to be rich, but Osteen encourages the desire to be rich. In his teaching Osteen turns God into the means for attaining health and wealth.
These errors are explained by his poor understanding and use of the Bible. Throughout his book there are numerous citations of Scripture. However, the majority of them are flagrantly removed from their context and grossly misinterpreted. One example is Jesus’ parable about the wineskins (Mk 2:21-22). In context, Jesus is explaining the change in history that happened because he came. Osteen, however, interprets it saying, “Jesus was saying that you cannot have a larger life with restricted attitudes.” He merely uses this passage to support his idea that we need to have a better attitude in order to get God’s best. This kind of distortion of the biblical message is rampant throughout. He admits that the Bible is not source of authority in his principles, but rather the experience of him and his family. So, he largely misinterprets and includes the pieces of the Bible to say what he wants to say.
In summary, while Joel Osteen may be a Christian, his book ought not to be considered Christian literature. The book is better categorized as motivational or inspirational, but certainly not Christian. It perverts the Bible’s message of grace. The biblical Gospel is that God helps the weak, sinful and discouraged, before they do anything to earn it. He does not help them by giving them money or wealth, but by giving them His own presence through the forgiveness of sin. A Christian heart is one that longs for God above all, despite our financial or physical health, or lack thereof. Our best life is not now, but will be when God completes His work of redeeming undeserving sinners and renews the world.
– Kevin Walker
After lunch recently with a dear friend, we were walking out to our cars and he asked about the condition of our organization’s funding. I smiled and said…
“We have never been broker, but I have never trusted God more, never been at such peace.”
“How is that?” He asked.
“Well, I can only tell you that I trust God more now, I guess, than I ever have.”
“What has changed?” was his reply.
“I guess I would have to say that God has developed my faith as He met me as I have disciplined myself to abide in Him and dwell in His word.” Then I told him about some of the Scriptures that I dwell on regularly… here they are…
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. (Isaiah 43:1-4 ESV)
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1 ESV)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1 ESV)
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14 ESV)
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:33 ESV)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5 ESV)
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10 ESV)
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.  He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV)
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19a ESV)
 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34 ESV)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7 ESV)
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:10-13 ESV)
Lack of contentment is a window into my soul. Fear can be a window into areas of unbelief in our life. If, as you have read through these Scriptures, you have allowed God to bring you faith, ask Him to show you which areas of your life you need greater faith.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
NOW… Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,… (Ephesians 6:13-18 ESV)
take up the armour daily!
For years I have understood and taught about the imperative of prayer in relationships. Recently published results from some FSU (I know… right?) research gives evidence of such…
“Praying for a romantic partner or close friend can lead to more cooperative and forgiving behavior toward the partner, according to a new study co-authored by a Florida State University researcher.”
I was on a train and I was reading when my phone rang. I answered and had a brief conversation, put my phone away, took a sip of coffee and continued reading. After a couple of minutes, the other person in the compartment, a twenty something male spoke up…
“Are you English?”
“No, American, from Virginia, here on business. ” I answered heading off the next two questions. I smiled and returned to my reading.
“Oh, what do you do.” He pursued.
I finished the paragraph, mark and closed the book.
“I ride trains, drink coffee and ask questions.” I set my book aside and took another long sip.
The point of this obtuse answer is kind of a filter. How one responds to this will tell me where the conversation may go. My job then is to listen carefully to the inquisitor who has been very brave to begin a conversation. I will allow him a couple of questions which will then provide me with my own questions so that I can discern who this person is and how we may connect, if only for a few moments before one of us gets off the train.
An old friend is a college professor and he understands the importance of good questions. If you understand the importance of good questions, John Wilsey provides some good reminders HERE.
This is an adaption from an illustration I heard recently in church…
You and Jesus are walking down this path under the trees beside a river. At one point the path goes by a small patch of beach. There, on the beach is a dead fish. Jesus steps off the path to the wee bit of beach and picks up the fish. He looks at it with compassion and the the blows a long gentle breath on the fish. The fish begins to move and then is jumping around in Jesus hand.
Jesus steps into the river and lets the fish go where it will live and thrive… not on the bank where it was laying dead, he puts it in a place where it will thrive. He put back in water to live.
When Jesus breathes life into us, we need to get in the water so we can thrive and live.
I suggest that the best water is the water of discipleship. If your community doesn’t make disciples, learn how and help your community get off the dry bank of church attendance and begin making disciples. Churches that are not engaged in the transforming work of biblical disciple-making are just dried up.