Which best seller is better?
“What kind of God wants you to be poor and miserable?”
If there’s anyone who can ask that question and get a positive response, it’s Oprah Winfrey. Though her beginnings were meager – born into poverty in Mississippi to a single mom, raised in an inner city Milwaukee neighborhood, and then sent to live with her father in Tennessee – she rose through the crowded ranks of media voices to become a cultural icon. Through her signature program – named for her, broadcast in the late-afternoon slot across America for 25 years – she became one of the most influential thought leaders of the 21st Century. Her titles include “first black multi-billionaire” and “greatest black philanthropist in American History.” She is a voice of authority for millions.
That clip is the lead-in for a 30-second commercial on Sirius (satellite radio) pitching the Joel Osteen channel. Oprah attended Lakewood Church in Houston – regularly cited as America’s largest church – to experience the effects of Osteen’s up-beat message. Often (accurately) linked to the “Health and Wealth” movement within Protestant Pentecostalism, Joel seldom navigates into the defense of theology, preferring to keep it positive – all good, all the time – and motivate his listeners to pursue their personal aspirations.
“God wants you to have a big life,” Osteen reminds his flock. “That is his blessing. God has a big dream for your life.” Who couldn’t get on-board with that kind of promise? In a world that seems to be full of trial and travail, the author of books like Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps…, Become a Better You: 7 Keys…, Good, Better, Blessed, You Can, You Will, The Power of I Am, and Think Better, Live Better must have found the answer(s). With publisher advances of $15 million, the evidence is clear: it works (for him). In America, success sells…
Sirius satellite may have some competition in the “modern theology” niche; the Fall Season has launched in American prime-time with a slew of new offerings. Among them, God Friended Me has landed in a coveted Sunday evening timeslot on CBS. The plot is clever: a young man – son of a pastor, mom died when he was eight in a car accident after beating cancer, now an outspoken atheist producing a podcast denying the existence of God that he hopes to be picked up for national syndication – receives text alerts from God, asking him to accept Him as a friend. Once he hits “accept,” he receives heads-up messages about random people in advance of some tragic twist, allowing him to intervene as hero.
The best seller in history is the Bible, and the first words written that would become part of that 66 book collection – claiming to be “inspired by God” – were these: “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East… (Job 1). The 42 chapters that follow the introduction would never find their way into a modern motivational podcast. Was Job just a “negative thinker?”
Now hear this, from the Savior who knew that his followers wouldn’t always be popular: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:10-12). God promises prosperity and happiness, in heaven; it may not happen here.
If we need a friend, God has already friended us. Proof, before Facebook: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you…” (John 15:13-15). If you need a friend, check out Jesus’ offer:
- accept the promise of His redemptive sacrifice as the ultimate act of friendship; then,
- do what He commands, to realize the full value of the relationship.
Modern people need to hear some good news: maybe that Good News isn’t modern…