A pastor in my area has a television show that airs locally and, for all I know, nationally. I happen to know that it airs internationally because I caught it while I was in Rome, of all places, and was so bewildered that I actually sat down and watched a few minutes of it despite knowing better.
His show irritates me. He promotes his books on it constantly. And what irritates me is not that he promotes the books – anyone who writes a book really ought to be encouraged to do as much self-promotion as possible – but what he says when he promotes them. I’ll share part of what I heard on the show of his when I watched in Italy:
“And this book [the book he had authored], I mean, this book is going to just open the doors. It is going to unleash the power of God in your life. And you will be amazed. I will tell you it is worth every penny. And you might be saying to yourself right now, well, I don’t have enough to afford it. What I have to say in response is, are you saying that you don’t have enough money for God? Because what he asks for is faith the size of a mustard seed. Are you willing to give God that mustard seed? Are you willing to allow God to work in your life? Honor him by taking a step of faith to see what he’ll do.”
I’ll tell you why I get so upset by this. It’s because, when I watch it, I think of my grandmother who is now with the Lord. And I think about how, in the last few years of her life – when her memory wasn’t the best, and she was sweet and kind as ever and still deeply, deeply devoted to Christ – she would have heard a man like that, and would have felt guilty that she was withholding her “seed.” And she would have called and signed over her entire tiny income to him thinking that it would be a spiritual failure to do the contrary.
I know this because it happened to her – not with that particular pastor, but with wolves who called and would say things like “ma’am, if you love the Lord…” And I can’t help but think that the God I love, the protector of orphans and widows, would be disturbed by this behavior too. Because it’s predatory. And more than being predatory, it’s inaccurate. It is a fiendish lie.
You never, ever, ever have to pay money for God’s love, or His blessing, or His grace.
God’s love is free. Christ died on the cross and rose again so that anyone – anyone who wanted – could have free and unfettered access to Him. He gave his attention in equal measure to the well-to-do and the poor and destitute. What is required for a relationship with Christ is this: the desire for a relationship with Christ. An acknowledgement of who you are, and who God is, and what a gulf separates the two. An understanding that Christ bridged the gap with Himself.
Yes, God calls us to be generous with what we do have. But He never said that we had to have money to be closer to Him. You want God to work in your life? You want God to do amazing things? Give Him your faith. That’s what the “mustard seed” parable is about, after all: a little bit of faith can accomplish a lot. The mustard seed is not a winking symbol for faith-which-really-means-money. You do not have to stick a few bucks into the holy vending machine to get God’s most significant work started in your life. And for a pastor of God’s word to imply otherwise is disingenuous and disturbing.
And I wonder how this sort of inane message gains purchase – who can really read the Gospel and see “pay-to-play” written in it? – but then I realize exactly how it does. If we allow ourselves to believe that God’s work in our lives can be purchased with money – if “faith” becomes “how much we are willing to spend” – then we believe that God can be bought. God can be purchased. And God is in our control then, subject to the sovereignty of our purse strings.
But that is not the God I know. The God I know granted salvation to a repentant naked thief on a cross, granted forgiveness to a traitor who denied Him three times, granted acknowledgement to a tax collector, granted salvation to anyone who wanted it – all for the low, low cost of nothing but belief.
Anyone who profanes that message is doing God Himself a disservice.