Read the whole thing

That is, the Gospel. Start with Mark, thought by many to be the primary source, and first edition that forms the basis for the other two synoptic gospels Matthew and Luke. Don’t read any book that tells you that one of God’s purposes is to bless you with material goods. The book that is now the No. 1 “Hardcover Advice” on the New York Times bestseller list is a case in point. Joel Osteen’s gospel of material goodness (“Your Best Life Now”) is, well, something that will result in damnation if taken by itself.

Two kinds of pastors get me riled beyond reason. One type would be liberal Episcopal priests and Presbyterian “Church” (USA) types who ignore sin and the suffering of the cross. The others are the boosters such as Osteen, the “Buddy Jesus” types who tell us that every day, in every way, God is going to make our lives better in a material way. All we need do is ask.

In an outstanding essay, the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, got me spun up. Turns out he’s an expert of my favorite Synoptic Gospel, that of Mark. Reading Mark is akin to taking a head-first dive into a mountain lake. It’s refreshing, but you’ve really got to get moving once your immersed. Mark is bare-bones Jesus, repentance, and Kingdom come now. Right now.

Mark 10 has some lines that would seem to tell His disciples to simply ask of Jesus for anything they would want:

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Well, there’s the hazard in cherry-picking your verses. Jesus Himself is asking what we want. Or is He? Not exactly. The dialogue continues:

41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Here, as throughout the Gospels, Jesus is telling us that being His disciple means the way of the cross. It means poverty of material goods but immense wealth in the Spirit.

Look, as Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof sang to God, “Would it change some vast eternal plan…If I were a wealthy man?” No, probably not. And who among us would rather be poor? But that is not what Jesus was and is about. The proof of that is right there in Mark 10: “whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

Let me conclude by taking this excerpt from Michael Spencer:

Rather than telling us about your best life now, Jesus talks over and over about persecution, sacrifice, voluntary poverty and laying down the images and symbols of success for the lasting worth and influence of the Kingdom of Jesus. People who believe the Father of Jesus Christ gives life meaning don’t hand him a list of goodies and demand that he fork over the stuff. They read the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer, and the example of Jesus with their hearts open to what these things mean in their most obvious sense. No games or exceptions.

The IM has it right, and it’s right there in the Gospels for all with eyes to see.

The final word is also from Mark, 8:34, where Jesus tells His disciples that they had better not be in this for the money:

And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Those of us who have the courage to do this will, indeed, will find themselves living their “Best Life Now.” Just not in the way the Osteens of this world tell us. In the way that God has told us.

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2 comments

  1. Great post JL and one I totally concur with!

    It takes courage to follow Christ today, in obedience to His commands. There are too many subdued people in churches today that are receiving this ‘easy believism’ and a ‘wishy washy gospel.’

    When you look at the old time preachers you can see they had the right message and lived it out!
    GBYAY

  2. Interesting reading, John. I’ve been blogging on this topic myself recently. In particular, I’ve been realizing the need to focus more on God and less on ourselves.

    That quote from Michael Spencer really captures the essence of what is wrong with the message Osteen and many others are instilling. Their gospel of “worldly prosperity” really does seem to be a major contradiction to what Christ taught us.

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