Thursday, October 6, 2011

Poverty is not a character flaw.

Special thanks to my awesome Core Group ladies for inspiration for today's post.

Most people in the church world, and even those outside it, have heard of Joel Osteen.  He has multiple megachurches and has become a millionaire through books, speaking engagements, etc.

If you listen to one of his sermons, or read one of his books, it becomes apparent why he has such a huge following.  He is a prosperity, or "health and wealth" preacher, meaning he tells people what they want to hear.  Mainly, that, "God wants YOU to be RICH."

That's a pretty nice thought, right?  He even provides seminars on how you can "unleash your inner champion" and do all these different things to let God rain out his blessings upon you.

Needless to say, I think this sort of Santa-Jesus teaching is a bunch of crap.

For one thing, God never promised to make us have perfect health and rock-solid finances.  He promised to take care of us.  If you have a roof over your head (even if it's a homeless shelter's roof) and food on your table (even if it's from the soup kitchen), you need to be thanking God for your blessings.  If you look at the Bible, Jesus and the Disciples weren't exactly living in the lap of luxury.  But, as they travelled, they ate, and fellowshipped, and gave thanks to God for the blessings he had provided them.

Maybe that's the problem with our cushy modern lives.  Maybe God has spoiled us a little too much.  If we were living in some war-torn, famine-stricken country, we wouldn't be stressing so much over whether or not we could afford to get our kid a PSP for Christmas.

And I am guilty of this; I am so, so very guilty of this.  I stress when I don't get to put as much as I would like into my savings account each month, and I forget to thank God for my healthy son and husband, and our good jobs, and our (mostly) running cars.  I stress about paying the mortgage and forget what a blessing a mortgage is compared to rent.

Worse than our spiritual ingratitude, is the flipside to prosperity preaching.  If God promises us health and wealth for or faithfulness, there becomes an unspoken assumption that those who are not similarly blessed must be struggling because of their own faults.

This attitude even extends to the majority of American Christian churches, particularly in the way outreach is handled.  In a lot of churches (most, but not all), outreach to the poor is a long-distance project.  Maybe you take up a special offering, or you do a canned food drive, but most of the people who occupy the pews will not step foot in a shelter.  If you do, it's imperative that you maintain an air of separation.  You can ladle food onto plates, smile, and say, "God bless you," but you don't actually socialize with these people.  After all, most of them are probably drug addicts, or criminals, or have some sort of mental illness.  Good, wholesome people don't choose this life.

It just makes me want to shake people until they get it through their heads that no one chooses that life.  But that's a hard truth, and people are happier not believing it.  We've gotten so comfortable that we've lost the attitude of "there but by the grace of God go I", and we've adopted this cultural view that the homeless and destitute are wholly responsible for their situation.

A friend of mine works with a woman who, not long ago, became homeless.  She was blessed enough to have friends to stay with but, had she not, she would have been out on the streets.  Not a drug addict.  Not schizophrenic.  A young woman with a job who just fell upon hard times, as so many in the US have.

So, yeah, I get a little irritated when Osteen says that it was God's hand that his plane ticket got upgraded to first-class.  Because, somewhere probably only a few miles from the Compaq Center, where he tells his 47,000 congregation members that they just have to speak their blessings into being, there's a single mother deciding whether to buy groceries or pay her rent on time.

And as she prays urgently to God for Him to take care of her family, a stadium full of comparatively wealthy people listen to sermons on how standing up straight and smiling on purpose can help them with their real estate investments.

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