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9/14/2006

SHOW ME THE HAPPY

TIME Magazine has written about religion yet again. This time it's a piece called Does God Want You To Be Rich? - all about prosperity doctrine, or the teaching that God wants us to be happy and have stuff.

It's an interesting article, slanted at times, painfully accurate most, holding a mirror up to the evangelical church in America.

It would be easy to jump in the parade and march to defeat the theology of Osteen and company, to call the prosperity preachers kooks for selling Jesus as a perpetually smiling Percocet popping grandpa with deep pockets. But TIME's finger is pointing in my chest too I think.

So some folks teach a God that wants us to have stuff and lots of it, and be beautiful and successful in the big house and nice car kind of way. How's that really any different from a church or Christian who...

  • says we're to "worship God with excellence" and this means having the best lighting and best performers and best digital mixing console and best...?

  • has to dress up on Sunday morning, whether in slacks and a tie or in Diesel jeans and designer t-shirt, or they feel wrong (or less cool) somehow?

  • says God only wants ten percent of my income and wants me to spend the other ninety percent on me and mine.

  • demands "energetic", "positive", or "practical" teaching at all times in church? (Practical, meaning I can use this to fix something like my finances or my kids right now in four easy steps.)

  • says "it was a total God thing" only when the house sells quickly or the paycheck is enough for the bills or the doctor says the test was negative - but never when the house sits on the market for two years, the paycheck isn't enough and the doctor says, "It's cancer"?

    Aren't all these branches off the same tree: Viewing faith as a means to my ends and God as an always-pampering servant of mine.

    And non-Christians/non-religious/atheists aren't off the hook either I suppose. (Why do I feel the need to add a smiley here for clarification of tone?) I wonder how all this applies to you. I think it does. Think about why you're not religious/not Christian/atheist for me. Religion seem too narrow minded for you? Too unkind? A real God wouldn't be like the Christian God? One way and all that junk? Well, if there is a God, I mean just imagine there is for a minute, why would He have to be the kind of God you want Him to be? Is it possible that there could be a God who said through Jesus "The way is narrow that leads to life" and "not everyone will find it" - is that possible, even though it makes you unhappy? If God is really God, isn't it likely and logical that He'll do or say something sometime eventually that we humans, that you, that I, just don't like? Don't think so? Well, I wonder if you're a prosperity preacher in atheist/universalist/non-religious clothing then. I wonder.

    The pursuit of happiness. It's the thing that can make a church spend a million on a sound upgrade and the thing that keeps some others away from "organized religion" altogether. God forbid God be or do anything that makes us unhappy.

    Yep. With this big finger in my chest I don't feel much like picking on Mr.Osteen this time. Looks too much like the rest of us...to me.
  • 31 Comments:

    Anonymous Todd said...

    The lines are fine between God's will, God's allowance and God's doing. If we say that God's will is for us to be happy and wealthy, why then are there fewer people happy and wealthy than there are? If God allows people to be happy and wealthy, how does He choose to "bless" those fortunate few? If God's actively involved in making people rich, He is a biased and unfair God.

    Rather than adopt a Jabez (I went old school; circa 2000) philosophy, looking to God to increase our wealth, I believe we should adopt a "poor widow" mentality (Mk 12:42), looking to God for ways to share our "wealth."

    Great thoughts Shaun.

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

    Does God want us to be rich? That's an interesting thought. It's like asking why good things happen to bad people and why bad things happen to good people. Does God WANT us to be rich? I wouldn't think so. Really if you think about it what is money in this day and age? Money is power right? We go to expensive schools to get a high degree to get what?...money. Money can be a dangerous thing, you gain false friends who are looking for a hand out or you gain suspision of every friend afraid their gonna ask you for a hand out. Then again there is also the love of money. It's not money it's self that is evil it's the LOVE of it. Does God want us to be rich well let's consider it. When your rich do you need to worry about your needs? How about your wants? When you're rich do you have to worry about not getting a bill in ontime because your check has gotten in the bank yet. When we're rich in spirit do we need God? Do we need those fruits of the spirit when we're rich of our ownselves?
    So what happens when your poor not only in bank account but in spirit too?

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    God gives wealth to some folks. Scripture is clear on that one. That's not the issue. Does God want all CHristians to be wealthy and happy (from "happenstance", circumstantial good feeling), beautiful and successful (the way our particular time and place defines it)? That's the point of contention for me.

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

    On this earth it can't happen due to our fallen circumstances, hey it's our fault. Let's talk Heaven. There we'll be rich in Christ. We'll be beautiful. There's also confusion about happiness and joy. Happy comes from being glad about your circumstances. Joy comes not from ourselves. I know this has NOTHING to do with anything. I'm just rambling.

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Brody Harper said...

    I think the main thing is to define rich. God wants us to be blessed, yes, but does "blessed" mean rich? Money has never mattered to God. And it shouldn't matter to us either.

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    What do you mean "mattered?" He's used rich people and used riches, so in that sense, it mattered to Him. It should matter to us in that we have it for a reason. It's not a non-issue to be ignored right? It matters.

    Does it matter, for instance, that I took your money last night in a poker game? That matters to me. It matters to me that now I have your money in my wallet and, yea, that matters. Did I mention I have your money and you don't? I won it. I beat you. I don't know if I'm being clear here but you lost it to me - your money that is. It's mine now. Cause I won it...by beating you. Last night. Like a mole in that game at Chuck E. Cheese. Wack! I was the hammer. You were the mole. A mole that gave me it's money when I beat it. Does that matter? ; )

    9/14/2006  
    Anonymous Stephen said...

    Brody, you say that God "wants us to be blessed". Based on what? Why do you think that?

    I keep remembering an interview Dan Haseltine from Jars of Clay did recently with Christianity Today where he says this: "We just spent some time in Rwanda, and real violence makes me ask those questions too—the all-out violence of man to man. We visited this church in Rwanda where they'd set up a memorial to what happened in the genocide in '94, where 800,000 people were killed in less than a hundred days. Five thousand people died in this one church, and they'd left the bodies there; now it's just bones.

    Gary Haugen from International Justice Mission was with us. He was the head of the UN investigation into the genocide, and he had actually visited this church in '94 and had to go through the bodies and do the forensics of the situation. He was describing the way people would get up in the morning, and they'd kill, kill, kill, then stop, have lunch, go back, kill some more, and then have dinner. Very systematic. It began as these quick killings, and then it turned into something more primitive as the restraints came further off. It began to be torture and humiliation and mutilation. It takes a long time to kill 5,000 people in a church. Think about being in there with your family as these murders get closer and closer, and to hear the screams.

    I'm sure those people weren't praying, "God, please help me have a better car, or please increase my land." It was, "God, please stop the hand of our aggressor," and it didn't happen. That prayer wasn't answered for anybody in that church. And this wasn't the military doing this violence; it was their neighbors. That kind of stuff really sent me into a spiral: "What is going on? How does this fit in?" It does two things. It causes a bit of a crisis of faith, and at the same time, it also makes me realize there has to be a God, because my own sense of justice does not have a context for this. Only God's greater story of redemption can fit something like this into it, for 800,000 people to die, you know? God promises that there is redemption, so where is it?"


    So if God "wants us to be blessed", what does it look like? Like Shaun said, why don't we call them blessings when "the house sits on the market for two years, the paycheck isn't enough and the doctor says, "It's cancer"?

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    Stephen, blessing is all over the bible. The beatitudes are eight blessings for everyone in the "kingdom" Jesus preached.

    The Greeks had an island where they believed the gods vacationed. The island contained every known animal, fruit and terrain. It was paradise. A person there never had to go anywhere else for anything. All they needed was there on the island. The Greeks named this island "blessed" - the same Greek word used in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus pronounces the people in His "kingdom" blessed and says the kingdom is in us and is here and is coming still. Kingdom people are blessed - having all they need, spiritually and physically. Need, not excess

    How's that hit you?

    Shaun

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Brody Harper said...

    I believe that God wants the best for us in that specific time in our lives. And speaking of houses and cancer. The doctors did say my mom had cancer. I had a house that did sit on the market for quite some time, and looking back on both of those situations (since we are talking about those) yes I believe that God taught me and my family a great deal. We can honestly look back and say, "God had our best interests in mind." Were we pissed when the house wouldn't sell? Sure. Was my mom freaked out when the tumor was cancer? Sure. Can we look back and be able to identify with people in those same situations with a better understanding of what God is doing on this planet? Absolutely. I was taught a great deal during both of those times. Can I consider learning a "blessing" from God. If you can't I think there is something wrong.

    I am saying that actual, physical money, has never been on a high priority list with God. Money comes and goes. (As I have learned FOUR WEEKS IN A ROW at poker night with Shaun) God gives and He takes away. I am saying it is where our mindset is in plenty and in need? Is money a big deal to you when you have it? Is it a bigger deal when you don't?

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Amy said...

    I just don't know if it's possible to remove ourselves from the equation when thinking about God. I mean, Muslims worship Allah because he is Allah. He really doesn't offer them a whole lot in return. But you could still say that they have the belief that what they are doing is right. If they live according to the Qur'an and the Hadith, they are getting it right. And the Muslim way of life seems to offer some advantages, especially to men. But middle class American women who convert to Islam, may receive the benefit of not really having to deal with men, and finding a great place to hide. Christians believe in a loving God, and that does seem to offer us a lot as well. Even when something goes differently than I like, I can say God will use this, He's teaching me, etc. If I go live as a missionary in a developing nation, I can feel good about myself. I mean it's really hard to determine our motives, don't you think? Our feelings always end up in the equation somehow, don't you think?

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    Totally, Amy. I wonder if that's not why Jesus spent so much time teaching about the "inside of the cup" and warned against just keeping the "outside of the cup clean." The inside's some messy stuff for sure.

    Shaun

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Brody Harper said...

    Also. In response to Shaun mercilessly winning my poker money for the fourth week in a row...

    I know Shaun and I also know that his entire rant about winning my money and it needing to matter to me was in jest, but I also feel there can be a valuable lesson included within.

    Shaun said:
    "Does it matter, for instance, that I took your money last night in a poker game? That matters to me. It matters to me that now I have your money in my wallet and, yea, that matters...."

    Although I know this is a joke, I think that I can honestly say, no. Does the miniscule amount of money I "gave" to Shaun "matter" when placed side by side with an evening of hanging out with friends, discussing life, laughing, and taking about struggles? Is friendship a "blessing" from God even if it costs a little cash?

    I think that is where I am coming from when I say money doesn't matter. There is a bigger picture out there.

    Next week your money can stop mattering Shaun!

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Mark said...

    First things first, where's poker night? The fact that I'm in California isn't going to be an issue, is it?

    Now, on to more imporant things.

    It's hard to look at trials as blessings. I've had two surgeries this year and am still recovering from the second. I missed my favorite summer activities because of it.

    Yesterday, bwteen a doctors appointment and dinner at some friends, I got pulled over. Right by my church before mid-week Bible study started. For tinted windows. Didn't even know I was violating the law, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. Anyway, does this feel like a blessing? Certainly not.

    This real hit home. Can we accept the good from God and not accept that bad as well? We certainly try, don't we?

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Seth Ward said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    Poker night's at my house every Wednesday. Hop a plane and let me take your money...I mean join us. $5 buy in. (Ooooh, big spenders.)

    I'm tracking with you now, Brody. I get what you're saying.

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Brody Harper said...

    and that ladies and gentlemen... is called taking the high road... (or more commonly known as not coming up with clever enough ways to trash-talk back.)

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    Not being ABLE to come up with something clever enough with which to trash talk back

    9/14/2006  
    Blogger Rachel said...

    I'll be honest in admitting that my summer with all of you at TPC yielded a few uncomfortable moments when figures or ideas I'd grown up knowing and listening to were taken apart. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED being part of the TPC community. You guys are my family. All that to say...I've never thought of Joel Osteen as a negative figure in the charismatic movement, which is why I was surprised to see him pictured.

    I've heard the "prosperity gospel" more times than I can count. It irks me to no end that it seems to be what the media chooses to focus on. What about the immense good that those same ministries have done? Apparently that's not as fun to pick apart.

    I go to a university that was perhaps the originator of the whole idea of the prosperity gospel. I've cringed in my seat many times during chapel. But other times I've seen God's heart shine right through many of these men who people so often criticize.

    You have a great point Shaun. The finger points squarely back in each of our chests. Self inspection is vital if we're going to do this thing called life together...unfortunately it just takes the media calling out our faults to wake us up.

    Rachel

    9/15/2006  
    Anonymous Stephen said...

    Shaun, I do agree that blessings come from God. I guess I disagree most with those who say we deserve blessings.

    You said "Kingdom people are blessed - having all they need, spiritually and physically.". So what about the Sudanese that Dan talked about? Were they not "kingdom people"? Or what about the Christians starving in Chinese prisons? Do they have all they need physically? I'd rather say that God is sovereign and that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. After working for TBN for two years, I got absolutely sick when I heard people saying that the verse "By His stripes we are healed" means that you won't ever be sick. How far away is that from your statement?

    BTW, any extra seats at the poker table?

    9/15/2006  
    Anonymous Carolyn Long said...

    Shawn,
    Once again, I visit for just a minute with no time to stay and feel like I have to tear myself away. Loved this blog....so true and to the heart of the matter. This blog is painfully from the heart of Christ. His words always make us look within, as do these. Keep up the good word!
    Carolyn

    9/15/2006  
    Anonymous Ryan G. said...

    Someone told me once that God will trust everyone with failure, but he trusts very few people with success. The context was financial.

    No one can serve God and Money. I believe when given the opportunity to have a lot of money we tend to put God on the back burner. Very few people pray for God to provide for thier needs when things are going well.

    Does God bless us? Yes, all the time. Does that blessing involve money? wealth? A new FJ Cruiser? I don't believe so.

    Do we find any examples of God blessing someone in the NT? In Acts the people who had some extra gave it to the church for the benfit of the community.

    Good topic. I struggle with this bigtime.

    9/15/2006  
    Anonymous hollybird said...

    I had a chance to visit Uganda and spent a week ministering (and mostly being ministered to) in a village called Ntaala. These people had huts made of mud and dung, no electricity, no running water, no medical care, no nothing! Yet, they were rich. I came away from that week knowing in my heart that they were more wealthy in many ways than I will ever be. They understood that God was providing them with what they needed. Their faith was immense. They asked us repeatedly why Americans needed so much "stuff" that wasn't necessary for living. I have thought differently about wealth ever since that trip. My shopping has decreased significantly, to say the least. I just don't need it anymore. I now look at wealth in terms of people, relationships and God's word, rather than money. We have a saying in our church that we use a lot (God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.). In the midst of their disease infested village, those people got that! They truly knew that God is good, not because of any THINGS that they had, but because they had HIM. My goal is to be just like that... truly satisfied with just having Jesus. There is no better prosperity than that, in my book. This is not to say that I have it all together by any means. Certainly not! But my daily prayer is that I yearn for more or HIM, and not more of anything of this world. That's different for me, and the more I pray, the more Satan tempts me to give in and compromise. He's tricky that way... he doesn't play fair.He deals off the bottom of the deck!(catch that poker pun?)
    In my heart, I truly believe that if we, as the body of Christ, can get the concept of satisfaction in the Grace of God, then our world will be forever changed for His glory.
    Thanks for this post, Shaun. You have really made me think.

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Chad said...

    My humble opinion is that God is more concerned with sanctifying us into the image of His Son and will use any means to do this. This includes taking away those things in our life that we put our faith in other than Him. God doesn’t promise prosperity in the New Testament but he does promises trials, tribulations and persecution if we are salt and light. We may receive material blessings but we are in no way guaranteed this. The amazing thing is that in the midst of the trials and tribulations the joy, peace and fullness of being “on the anvil”.

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    So what about the Sudanese that Dan talked about? Were they not "kingdom people"? Or what about the Christians starving in Chinese prisons? Do they have all they need physically?

    Yes, they do. I;m not saying we won't ever be naked, or imprisoned, or hungry as "kingdom people." What I DO believe is that I will be hungry, naked and imprisoned when I need to be.

    Thanks for the chance to clarify. I definitely do not want anyone thinking I believe Christians are never sick, hungry etc.

    BUT, this opens up another can of proverbial worms doesn't it? When my family couldn't make rent - when I was little - was that A)What God knew I needed or B)the laziness of my church, not meeting my needs on God's behalf or C)both. I think C. I think seeing the laziness of that church, feeling the sting of their apathy, has shaped my writing and thinking and benevolence today. Without that difficulty I may not be who I need to be today. Somehow what man intends to harm, God turns to good. Agree?

    Which brings up another thought in my head. In Genesis the first blessing is pronounced upon a man. God promises to "bless" Abraham. He says his descendants will be as many as the sands on the beach etc. AND - and this is the part I missed most of my life - AND Abraham "will be a blessing to all nations." The physical realm prosperity I DO undeservingly experience isn't ultimately and only for me. It's to be passed on through me to others.

    So, one reason why there is suffering in the world could be because the prosperous buy SUVs and plastic surgery and McMansions and aren't being a blessing to all nations. That's one answer. (Of course, God still set it up that way so He's not exactly off the hook. There's still no easy answer.)

    Thoughts?

    -SG

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger TiNA said...

    Great thoughts! Mine might not be exact in your train of thought, but it is what is on my heart ot say.
    Living in Orange County, California it is so tough not to get caught up in the "American Dream" race. Hollybird is so right in her observations of how the poor can be so rich in spirit. I also just got back from Africa (though Rwanda) and saw the great faith over there. As I came back to SoCal... my eyes were opened. I am grateful for those who supported me financially to go on this trip. I see others like my pastor and business leaders in the community who give more than they take. I came back to find the company I had been working at the past 3 years dissolved and doors closed. When I walk into orchestra rehearsal at church I have gift certificates for groceries sitting there. It is amazing the power the rich can have... but if used in God's ways, it has so much more potential than if used in the world's ways. Some are rich and some are poor... but my goal is to be rich in spirit no matter what my checking account says. Thanks for letting me put in my two cents.

    9/15/2006  
    Anonymous hollybird said...

    Scripture tells us that all things work together for good for those that love God, who are called according to His purpose. What it doesn't say is that "good" does not necessarily mean without trials or suffering. Shaun is right... we are promised tribulation here on earth.It's all part of the deal. But, He CAN use it all- the good, bad and the ugly- for HIS good. I know this full well. I was the victim of a trauma several years ago that left me heartbroken, beaten, and feeling completely alone. Now, years later, I am seeing how beautiful that experience has turned out, as God is letting me use it for His glory to help others in that same spot. No, it's not about the size of our checking accounts or our material possessions. For me, it's am I using what I have (materially and physically) to further His kingdom? Hard question to ask most days. Thank Goodness for a God of Grace!

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Mark said...

    While I see your point, Shaun, why is it everyone knocks on SUV's all the time? There are legitimate uses for those things.

    (Man, your poker night is cheap. The group I used to play with was $10 buy in.)

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger GrovesFan said...

    Shaun,

    Since you'll be on a cruise during a Wednesday night next spring, will you still have poker night? If so, count Scott in (and me too unless it's guys only. In that case I'll play crazy 8's with the kids). Of course once Scott buys in, he'll have no money for betting! He only gets $5 a week for allowance. Perhaps though, since we'll be on vacation, I could see clear to making it $7.50.

    Beth

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger graham old said...

    Great post, Shaun. I'm not convinced that self-reflection should cause us to give free pass to those who've distorted the teachings of Scripture - and made a fortune for themselves in the process. However, you've highlighted a step that I too ofen skip over.

    Cheers.

    9/16/2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    'The blessings of God and the fullness of the Holy Spirit do not consist in our searching for fullfillment in strange tongues and other outward manifestations, but in becoming purified streams, through which the living waters of the Holy Spirit can flow to the thirsty souls around us." Words of John Sung who often prayed "Lord, purify and mold me in such a way that the living waters may pour forth like the torrents of Niagara." May we focus on Him!
    SB

    1/01/2007  

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