A number of months (even years) ago, I saw an interview on TV with Joel Osteen. I had never heard of him before, but I was struck by his smile and his natural presence on the screen. He had a charming way of putting you at ease, and projecting an image of wholeness, success, and satisfaction with what he has done with his life.
I suppose you have to have a knack for presenting such images to the world when the title of the book you’re pushing is “Your Best Life Now”. It would serve no good purpose for Joel Osteen to show up for an interview in (my personal favorite) worn down flannel and frayed blue jeans when he’s trying to sell an image of owning and operating a ‘best’ life. We finicky North Americans want to see suits and ties with our mental image of ‘best’. Not flannel and jeans. (That is, of course, until you’ve been introduced to the “Duck Commander” series by a brother in law who cares).
I alluded in my sermon this week to a magical belief system that so many of us take to Easter. “Believe this”, we think… “Confess that”, and presto-change-o we’re “saved”. With the simple repetition of a biblical phrase, we too can rest assured that our best life lies eternally before us, (and so it follows that the one we’re living is inconsequential).
I call this the Guidepost guide to life. Every year, my mother subscribes to the magazine “Guideposts” for her children. This is a magazine that’s filled with inspirational stories about people (mostly famous) who have overcome some great obstacle on their way to realizing some important life dream, or goal they have for themselves. For the most part, they are inspirational stories and they reflect the founder’s (Norman Vincent Peale’s) motto “the power of positive thinking”.
Many Christians have been influenced by this model. Many in the church have reaped great benefit from these stories and the supporting framework they encourage. The only problem (as I see it) is that they are fundamentally non-Christian, and even at odds with the gospel (as I understand it).
In other words, Christ did not die so that his followers could pursue fame and fortune in the face of hardship. The meaning of the cross is not that we can overcome any obstacle, no matter how great.
Lent is not a time to consider the power of positive thinking as we pursue our ‘best’ life now… it is rather a time to humbly, reflectively, painfully redefine the term ‘best’ in light of self-sacrifice to the point of death (even death on a cross).
“My God, My God,”…what do you ‘believe’ in?