There's a new Instagram account that shows the value of preacher's sneakers. It went from 0 to 60 (more like 68 thousand followers) in less than 2 weeks.
Of course I'm amused by the work of its creator, conflicted by the questions it raised, and annoyed by the extravagance of fellow preachers.
It reminds me when a few years ago, the private jet of a famous prosperity-gospel-preacher ran off a runway.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
But to replace the old jet, the preacher launched a fundraiser to pay $60,000,000 for a new Gulfstream G650. He suggested to his listeners that they all commit to giving “$300 or more.” The jet he wanted was the fastest plane ever built. But after receiving immediate backlash, the preacher ended the fundraising.
Sadly, the church as a whole looked like a greedy machine.
At that point in time the preacher had an estimated net worth of $27 million dollars, which was 200 times more than the $29,640 average annual income of the people in his hometown. And as all this information came out to the public, people were flocking to social media to criticize and accuse.
And just like this week with the preacher's sneakers, I was tempted back then to join the choir of stone throwers.
Personally, I don’t agree with this one preacher's methods. I’m not a follower of his teachings or reader of his books. Nevertheless, it would be unfair of me to assume that all that he has done is bad; to write him off as evil or fraudulent.
It is possible that he has helped more people in the name Christ than me. I'm sure his ministry has created more jobs than I have with mine. Also, his messages might have inspired and encouraged thousands across the globe. And while researching I discovered that this specific "get- a-new-plane-ministry" has donated more than 60 million dollars to help the poor, at home and abroad.
Yet I still wanted to judge him (and I had Bible verses to support those judgments.)
However, to judge him is to bring judgement on myself.
Oh my gosh yes, I want to ask all famous prosperity-gospel-televangelists to stop asking for so much money. I want them to move out of their million dollar mansions and turn them into shelters for the homeless. I wish they would sell their fancy cars and give the money to the widows and the orphans in their congregations. And I want them to stop promoting the message of western prosperity which makes us look cheap in the eyes of those who don't believe in Jesus.
Seriously, with the $3,520 dollars that one of the preachers spent on a pair of Jordans' I could restore the home of a single mother in Puerto Rico.
And that would be good and godly.
And we need way more of that.
But in spite of that... it is I who needs to STOP.
Before I demand that they give more to the poor, I should give more of myself.
You know, the log in my eye and so on.
I don’t have a mansion but I eat three meals a day. So even though I can’t feed hundreds, I could probably feed a few on a weekly basis. When I get invited to preach and receive an offering, maybe I should ask Jesus if I can give it back to the needy in whichever city I am in, instead of spending half of it at the airport on the way back home.
You see, the problem is not wealth.
The problem is the love of money.
And I love money.
So I have a problem with wealth.
As the apostle John wrote, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
It sounds ridiculous to me that a preacher “needs” a 60 million dollar airplane to preach the gospel, or that the guys in the Instagram account require fancy shoes to somehow connect better with the crowd.
But it might also seem ridiculous to a father of 12 in Niger that I would “need” an iPad to preach my sermons or the newest iMac to write this article.
There is nothing wrong with growing your finances. But there's a line to how much money we as leaders should spend on ourselves. I don’t know where the line is, but it might be somewhere between people going to bed hungry and pastors going to bed inside their own airplanes with $500 slippers.
Does that sound fair?
* I’m honestly asking you because I don’t have a clue were that line should be. Comment below por favor.
My wife and I enjoy giving to others and having nice things for ourselves. God has been good to us and we are extremely grateful. I just hope that we keep moving towards being givers instead of getters, creators instead of consumers, lovers instead of takers.
Yes, it is difficult to “defend” our faith when stories like these go viral. And trust me, I am all for the body of Christ returning to the way of the cross and the way of the first century church. But maybe I need to focus less on how these other ministers spend their money and instead focus on Jesus’ invitation to me: “You lack one thing. Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
These words haunt my selfish soul. They were spoken by Jesus to a rich young ruler. And the Bible says that Jesus loved that rich young ruler.
America is a rich young nation. And Jesus loves this rich young nation.
It’s because he loved that rich young ruler (as well as he loves us) that he invites us to a greater surrender.
The invitation to the rich young ruler was not so that he would go from wealthy to impoverished, but from slave to free. From being a puppet owned by his possession to being a follower of Christ, who owns his possessions for the sake of the Kingdom... and others.
There is something I discovered during my eight years of pastoring in Raleigh, North Carolina; people in America have enough of God to not need him anymore.
There is another thing I discovered in my eight years of living in Raleigh, North Carolina (and even now in Puerto Rico) I have to fight this temptation just the same.
Maybe it was not just the fact that the rich young ruler had to give all his money away, but also that he had to give it to people who could give him nothing in return.
I know I like giving when there is some kickback. Even if the return is not the full value, I want something... anything!
A picture on Facebook saying that I’m so generous, a donation receipt so I can get a few bucks back in taxes, a kiss and a hug and a thank you letter... anything!
So I know this from experience; the easiest thing is to accommodate the words of Jesus to fit our lifestyle instead of surrendering our lifestyle to accommodate the words of Jesus.
And that is precisely what the rich young ruler did. He knew the law. He obeyed the law. And he had a heart to "please God".
But he lacked one thing.
And because of his great wealth he chose to not accept the Rabbi’s invitation.
What a shame.
As the rich young ruler was walking away, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples (understandably) were astonished by these words and asked him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replied, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
What is this, “impossible thing for us” that becomes, “possible with God?”
Well, it’s NOT, “I can have whatever I want because ‘all things are possible with God!’”
Quite the contrary actually.
The heart of Jesus is for us to be able to say, “I can give away everything. Be saved from Mammon. Yes, it is impossible for me but not impossible for God.”
How bizarre that we have turned this very statement into the declaration we use to ask for success and possessions.
“I can have a new car, because nothing is impossible with God.”
“I can get the hot wife, because nothing is impossible with God.”
“I can be Instagram famous, because nothing is impossible with God.”
It is true that those things are also possible with God (except don't pray for a hot wife that's just weird and maybe go to the gym little) but reading these words in context is necessary.
Jesus was speaking to the moment.
A wealthy, godly man had just rejected a direct invitation to give his possessions away. And Jesus was aware that this would be hard for anyone in any scenario, so he reminded us again of a supernatural equation.
Impossible + Us = Possible with God.
Society and culture are begging us to be more successful. Bigger, better and richer is the ultimate goal for those who are hungry for recognition. Our materialism is gasping for more and our vanity is desperate for exclusivity.
Despite that, it’s possible with God to surrender lands and titles. To give away our time and our best efforts. To be generous with our money, our talents, and our shoes.
Yes, it is an “impossibility” that a rich man, a rich society, a rich country would give all to the poor and follow Jesus. Especially when you can find so many Bible verses that prove that God wants to bless us, prosper us, empower us and make us a success.
But we chose in Christ to give it away.
This is the privilege of the cross.
I know this might not be good news to the rich but it is definitely good news to the poor.
John D. Rockefeller, the Ohio native who started Standard Oil, was a billionaire in the early 1900’s. And he’s still considered the richest person in modern history. When a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.”
When what we already have is never enough, then never enough will become our god.
This idol must come down.
Let us not lack that one thing.
As prophet/comedian/host-of-the-Late-Show-on-CBS, Stephen Colbert said, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
I admit that most of the time I don’t want to do it.
But I want to change; so I’ll start with forgiveness. I forgive every church leader who has asked for millions of dollars to expand their personal kingdoms.
And I forgive myself for pretending like I wouldn’t do the same.
Carlos A. Rodríguez is a pastor, an activist, and a communicator. He's the CEO of The Happy NPO and the author of Simply Sonship, Drop The Stones and the upcoming Proximity. Together with his wife Catherine, they have three gorgeous children have moved to Puerto Rico to continue relief efforts all over the Caribbean post hurricane Irma and Maria. Support their non-profit work here at TheHappyGivers.com