You are probably aware of the latest splash in the religious world, attempting to make a mark in Christianity. Joel Osteen has had a meteoric rise as he has become well known through his book, television show, and television interviews. It is reported that he is the leader of the largest church in the United States, found in Houston, Texas with a membership that fills the citys former sports arena, The Summit. If you have not watched his program, allow me to describe the general flow of one of his sermons.
Every sermon begins with some sort of heartwarming story or quaint joke, what most people in the communication field understand to be an “ice-breaker.” The story or joke has no bearing on the lesson that he is about to give nor does it have any real application to the point he is going to make in the worship service. This “ice-breaker” is strictly for entertainment value, putting a smile on the thousands of attendees at the arena. Meanwhile, the whole congregation has been standing for this story, leading to the next scripted part of every lesson presented.
Joel Osteen raises his Bible and asks everyone in the audience to raise their Bibles in the air. He, along with the congregation, chant the following words:
“This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive; Ill never be the same. In Jesus name, God bless you.”
Every sermon then proceeds into preaching about the need for positive thinking. The audience is encouraged to have positive thoughts about their jobs and about their dreams if they want to achieve their goals in life. Joel Osteen admonishes the congregation to “think happy thoughts” so that they can do better. Joel Osteen says that this type of thinking has worked for him in his life. He openly states that he has been able to get better parking spots, a first class seat on a crowded airplane, and priority seating at restaurants because of his ability to think positively. His bestselling book preaches the same message, telling the reader if they will simply thinking positively about the things they want that they will receive them from God.
To back up this message, Joel Osteen declares that “God is a positive God” and that “there is nothing negative about Him.” There are not Bible scriptures offered to prove his declaration that God is a completely positive God. Rather, Joel Osteen tells a dozen warm stories during the lesson to show that good things can happen to good people if we would just simply think positive thoughts. In essence, if our lives are not the way we would like them to be, simply think happy thoughts and God will make things change for us. At times, Joel Osteen will reference the Bible, usually only one time for every 12 stories told. In this instance, to prove that God is a positive God, he loosely quoted Colossians 3:2 this way: “Set your mind on the higher things.” Joel Osteen went on to argue that the “higher things” were the positive things. Therefore, he asserts that if we simply set our minds on the positive things then we will be blessed richly by God.
I could not find any major translation, nor minor translation (and I have a lot of translations) that rendered Colossians 3:2 in this way. The NIV reads, “Set your mind on things above and not on earthly things.” How convenient that Joel Osteen decided to not paraphrase the rest of Pauls words in that verse. A full reading of this verse would have been a direct contradiction to the argument Joel Osteen was making in his sermon. God did not command us to think happy thoughts about this world, about our dreams, and about our jobs and He will bless us. God said the opposite. God said to stop thinking about the earthly things and start thinking about the heavenly, spiritual things. The New Living Translation (NLT) renders Colossians 3:2 in this way, “Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.” But Joel Osteens message and book teach to let our minds be consumed about the things down here on earth.
Should we suppose that if Jesus would have simply thought “happy, positive thoughts” that His outcome of a horrific crucifixion would never have come about? Should we assume that the murder of the apostles in the first century could have been avoided if Peter, James, Paul and the other had simply known to keep thinking happy thoughts? Would the thousands of Christians who were persecuted for the cause of Christ been able to avoid such torture if they would have been thinking about the positive things of life? Thinking happy thoughts belongs to fairy tales found in Peter Pan, not in the scriptures.
Paul told us what we are supposed to think about: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8; NRSV). Paul was not speaking about thinking about our dream vacations or our dream jobs. Especially when, just a few verses earlier, Paul said, “For our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20; NKJV). Especially when, in the verse just before this, Paul said, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shameÃ¢â‚¬”who set their mind on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19; NKJV). Paul said that those who have their minds on earthly things are enemies of the cross of Christ.
Do not be deceived, friends. God never said that thinking happy thoughts will get us what we want in life. In fact, if our minds are focused on the things of this world, then we are enemies of Christ and do not have our citizenship in heaven.
Lord willing, I intend to write another article about Joel Osteens teachings in the near future.