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The Poverty of the American Dream

Jesus taught us how to love and serve, but what has happened in the last 2,000 years to make us forget the main focus of our Christian identity? Diving deeper into Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel could give us some answers.

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The American Dream: a large and extravagant suburban home, the perfect 9-5 job and a family like The Cleavers, where all of life’s problems are solved in a half hour.

This is the type of life many strive for and this is the type of life Joel and Victoria Osteen promise to their Texas congregation.

Joel Osteen is senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, the largest Protestant church in the United States.

Osteen’s main platform is that God’s one true desire is for us to be happy, as he and his wife stated during a recent Sunday service.

In this video, Victoria Osteen declared to their congregation, “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God — I mean, that’s one way to look at it — we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. … That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy.”

What?

Apart from being completely covered in the sugary-coating of American optimism, this idea is entirely doctrinally wrong and has understandably caused uproar in the Church.

For 20 years, Osteen has preached this Prosperity Gospel.

John Piper, a renowned author and preacher at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, explains this interpretation of the Bible and why it is so wrong in this video.

This understanding of the Bible is wrong in many ways.

1 Timothy 6:10 says: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (NIV)

From the very mouth of Christ comes the rebuttal to the Prosperity Gospel.

Money causes many people to stray from Christ but Osteen still thinks it’s a good idea to preach that worldly happiness is found in money. In his book, “Your Best Life Now,” he states, “You were born to win; you were born for greatness, you were created to be a champion in life, and abundance, he wants you to live in abundance. He wants to give you the desires of your heart. … God is turning things around in your favor.”

Osteen focuses more on the American version of succeeding than the actual teachings of Christ.

I think that many Christians have lost sight of the true meaning of the gospel and traded it in for an Americanized version that says we are to view “self” as the single most important entity in the entire universe.

The most puzzling question for me is, what version of the Bible are they reading?

Page after page of the Bible is filled with the words of Jesus telling us to forsake everything except for him and even to comparatively hate our own families.

It tells stories of followers of Christ who lived lives filled with torture and misery, yet still Osteen preaches of worldly prosperity.

Did you know that 26 percent of the World still lives in extreme poverty?

According to relevantmagazine.com, “American churches on average spend 96 percent of their offerings to pay for the facilities, staffing and production costs of the weekly experiences,” and of the 4 percent left over only a little over half of that goes to any number of charitable organizations.

Something seems wrong with that number.

We’re worried about not being able to stuff that last new shirt into our already overflowing closets, while children are literally dying of starvation in Africa.

We get mad if someone else gets the promotion at work that we wanted, while 12-year-old girls in Cambodia are being sold into prostitution because a seemingly nice man told them there was work to be found in the city and their families don’t have anything to eat.

We are so concerned with our own happiness that we forget we have the truly remarkable chance to bring Jesus, and life, to the people of this world.

Matthew 16:24-26 is quite clear about the type of life we will live once we truly belong to Christ when it says: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’”

This means to give up your worldly identity.

The identity that is found in money, occupations, houses, cars and a spouse is fleeting and will only bring happiness until the next big thing comes.

Christ wants us to pick up his identity and forget about the next best thing because the next best thing will never be good enough.

We can chase after our own happiness for our entire lives and still feel so empty because we’re not filling ourselves with the only thing that can truly bring peace, joy and comfort; and that’s Jesus.

As Christians, we have a life-changing choice to make.

We can either be rich by the Osteen standard of pursuing our own happiness and ultimately reaching spiritual poverty, or we can stand up for our right to be self-sacrificing, people-serving children of God.

As David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., and author of the New York Times best seller, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream,” says: “The price is certainly high for people who don’t know Christ and who live in a world where Christians shrink back from self-denying faith and settle into self-indulging faith. While Christians choose to spend their lives fulfilling the American dream instead of giving their lives to proclaiming the kingdom of God, literally billions in need of the Gospel remain in the dark.”

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Chelsie Bartley

Chelsie Bartley

Chelsie Bartley is the Creative Editor and a staff journalist for MBU Timeline. She majors in journalism. Chelsie is a student worker for the Office of Alumni Relations and is a Community Leader on campus. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in a non-profit doing events, marketing and design work. Apart from writing, she enjoys eating new foods, exploring St. Louis and being outdoors.

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