Kingdom Economics!

I have often looked at the idea of consumerism and seekers in church as a problem. But I am beginning to see there is an element of truth in it. Don’t misunderstand me.  Humanity is what humanity is.  People looking and searching for that which they see value in and that which they believe will bring them happiness is a given.  We are all consumers and seekers and that is the way God made us.  Of course, the fall has made us unwilling to see the value in what is really valuable and has made us all to willing to settle for less than best.

One error is with the merchants.  The problem lies not with those who are buying but with those who are selling.  Business is not what merchants would have it to be so they peddle interferer products knowing that they will be easier to sell.  The one thing they are to be selling is too expensive. The price is too great. And most are not willing to pay the price to have it. So they sell other less expensive and less costly items to their shoppers.  Knowing the default of the customer is to buy the least costly items instead of the item of great cost. At least at the end of the day, they can say that have done something. And they had a lot of customers.

Look with me at Matthew 13:45 and 46, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

Notice the merchant is seeking good pearls. His life is consumed with finding pearls; excellent pearls, beautiful pearls, precious pearls, valuable pearls. That is what the world is doing—searching for value, meaning, beauty, satisfaction, and happiness.  But because of our sinfulness we are too quick to settle for things of lesser value, superficial meaning, fading beauty, fleeting satisfaction, and temporary happiness.

And because the cheaper things in life are easily sold, the church or the merchant peddles lesser-valued goods and people buy them like there is no tomorrow.  And when they realize the depreciated value they just go and buy more.  So the church has to keep its innovatory stocked with new items to sell.  And right now self-help items are big sellers. So we stock our church shelves with better this and better that and it is flying off the shelves.  The crowds are big and business is booming. The tragedy is that none of those goods make anyone better, its just snake oil.

When the merchant in the parable found the one pearl, he had to have it.  No other pearl would do.  It was all he could think about and it was all that he wanted. It came at a great price but he was willing the pay. In fact, the pearl so captured his heart he was willing to pay twice, three times, ten times what the merchant was asking.  He felt that what the merchant wanted was a bargain, even if it cost him everything. The pearl was so desired that the merchant was willing to sell his entire stock of lesser-valued pearls to have this one pearl.  To have this pearl was the only thing that mattered.

Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven is like that. The Kingdom is comprised of shoppers who have been searching for that which is valuable, satisfying, and which brings lasting joy.  And they have bought many items in their search only to realize they have not found it yet. But when they see it, they know, this is it and they will do anything to have it.  And they give everything up so that they may own it. That is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.  When God’s chosen see Jesus, their search is over. He is what they have been looking for and they did not even realize it.  And no matter what number is on the price tag, they do whatever is necessary to have it.  Nothing is off limits; they will hold nothing back in order to have Him.

But the sad truth is that many churches are too busy selling trinkets to meet the demand of the masses while failing to ever show the pearl of great price.  They have given up trying to sell it. It is too expensive and it not profitable enough to mention it.  Far better we sell something than watch people reject this one pearl because they are not willing to pay the cost. They feel successful because their stores are crowded.

But selling trinkets to those who are easily satisfied with junk is what the kingdom of the world is like. Selling the only thing of any value to those few who have been brought to see the value of it and willing to do give up everything to have it, that is what the Kingdom of God is like.

Osten: “God Wants To Supersize Your Joy”—So What’s Wrong With That?

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The following is by Rev. Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington D.C. and is used with his permission. This was originally posted on The Daily Caller on May 1, 2012

On Sunday night [April 29, 2012], 41,000 fans packed Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., to hear a message of hope, inspiration, and encouragement from Joel Osteen. Most paid about $20 (including fees) for the privilege.
Osteen sold out the stadium—a feat the Nationals rarely accomplish. But did he have to sell out to do so?

Osteen is the latest embodiment of the American Religion—Revivalism. For centuries now, preachers have known how to fill stadiums or circus tents and send people home with hope in their heart and a skip in their step. Osteen promises you will leave a transformed person—at least until his tour comes around again next year, when you can be transformed again.
Osteen’s message is a positive one for a difficult time. Every one of us has seeds of greatness inside, potential that has not yet been released, buried treasure waiting to be discovered. If you were a car, you would be the fully loaded and totally equipped model—”with pin stripes,” he says, gesturing to his suit.

Before God created you, he planned great things for you. As you stretch your faith, “God is going to show up, and show out, in tremendous ways. … If you don’t step into your destiny and release your gift, then this world will not be as bright as it should be.”
That’s a pretty positive message. What could be wrong with that?
The biggest problem with Osteen’s message about God is that it is really a message about me. God is a potential, a force, a co-pilot, waiting to be tapped and deployed. I may have a net below me, but I am the one that has to take the first steps on the wire:
Taking steps of faith is imperative to fulfilling your destiny. When I make a move, God will make a move. When I stretch my faith, God will release more of his favor. When I think bigger, God will act bigger.

God is as big as I think him to be.

Yes, this is the American Religion: a program, a plan, five simple steps to help me be all that I can be. This is the religion of the bootstraps, where “God helps those who help themselves.”
By the way, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that is a quote from the Bible. It’s not.
And that’s the second problem. Osteen’s message is not biblical. His promise that his audience will be taught the Bible—from a preacher who has admitted that teaching the Bible isn’t his strength—is fulfilled with a smattering of verses. These snippets are at best torn out of their context, at worst fabricated.

There’s this stretch: “God is saying to you what He said to Lot, ‘Hurry up and get there, so I can show you my favor in a greater way.’” In Genesis 19:22, the Angel does tell Lot “Get there quickly, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” God waiting on Lot to step out in faith so he can bless him? Not exactly. It is God telling Lot to flee to Zoar, a city of safety, so he can rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Osteen bolsters his bootstrap religion by quoting Jesus: “Roll away the stone, and I’ll raise Lazarus.” This, Osteen says, is a “principle,” “God expects us to do what we can, and He will do what we can’t. If you will do the natural, God will do the supernatural.”
One problem. Jesus does command them to roll away the stone, but no such quid pro quo is found in holy writ. This foundational principle is one of Osteen’s own making.
It is not primarily the details of Osteen’s biblical sunbeams that are problematic. It’s the overall message. What’s missing is any sense of human sin. Osteen leads his crowd in a mantra at the opening of his performance: “This is my Bible. Tonight I will be taught the word of God. I can do what it says I can do.” Again, bootstraps.

What does the Bible say we can do for ourselves? Our best works are like filthy rags, the prophet Isaiah teaches (Isaiah 64:6); we are like sheep gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). Paul says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and includes himself in this “all” as “the chief of all sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The big problem is that we don’t want what’s good for us, and when we do, Paul says, “The good that I want to do, I do not do” (Romans 7:19).
Ring true? It does for me. That’s why the stadium will be full next year. Self-esteem doesn’t help me, it just leaves me with more me, digging deeper within.

How about Jesus? Surely he’s more upbeat than Paul or the prophets? Well, he does offer this simple recipe to happiness: “Sell all you possess, give it away to the poor, and follow me.” You done that yet? Yes, he does say that our faith makes us well, but he is the healer our faith looks to. He also tells the paralytic to take up his bed and walk, but only after he has healed him.
What we want is the excitement and encouragement and affirmation of the stadium—”God is waiting for you to act.” What we need is the truth and compassion of Jesus—”Come to me you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”

After the adrenaline boost, I hope some of those 41,000 find their way through the desert to some place where they can get a drink of water.

Earlier Sunday, 45 worshipers (about 0.1% of Osteen’s crowd) gathered at Christ Reformed Church in Logan Circle—and other churches in this city—to hear a message of sin and salvation, the Good News of a God who loves those who are his sworn enemies. They responded to God’s word with prayer, song, and confession, and received the benediction of a God who pardons sin full and free.

There was hope and inspiration too, but of an entirely different sort. Admittance was free.