This is going to be ridiculous.
Let’s just get that out of the way. This is going to be a veritable roller coaster of ideas that will likely enrage a few people. But that’s not why I have been avoiding writing about prosperity ministry.
I honestly didn’t have a good angle into it. And I don’t do well in my own life with this issue. I’ve bought four pairs of Puma this year. I have nice stuff and sometimes focus on it too much. I haven’t spent enough time with the idea of prosperity ministry and didn’t want to just pass off a thin shell of words and metaphors as my feelings on the subject.
But recently, some people questioned my discussion about the minister that owns a Rolls Royce. In being challenged about that issue, which I love, I sat down with my Bible and my head. My goal was to find examples of how Jesus had embraced abundant living. Not just in the spiritual sense but also in the financial sense. Let’s be honest, it’s not the spiritual sense that has caused a divide among us. No one ever says, “I don’t like that pastor because he always talks about us having an abundance of peace and joy!” Not at all, we say, “I don’t like that guy because he believes you should pray over Hummers and God will provide them automatically.”
But what does the Bible have to say? More specifically, what does the life of Jesus have to say about money and blessing and putting thick ice in your grill? You’d be surprised:
28 Looks at the Bling of Christ:
1. Water to Wine
Jesus allegedly turned water into wine. I think it was actually Cristal Champagne that he made. And He wasn’t quiet about it. He shook it up and made it pour out like Kevin Garnett celebrating the Celtics’ NBA championship.
2. His Birth
A lot of people don’t know this, but the “manger” where Jesus was born was not some dirty barn. It was actually a hip Soho hotel called “manger.” It was like the “W” hotel of Bethlehem. Very hip, very cool. Instead of candles and free wine in the lobby, they actually had animals, which at the time was very fashion forward of them.
3. John’s Message
It’s hard to find in some translations, but what John said about Jesus coming soon wasn’t, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” What he said was like that time Oprah gave everyone a car, “Are you ready for a wealthy savior? You’re getting money! And you’re getting money! And you’re getting money!”
4. The Threads
It sounds a little weird that John wore clothes of camel hair, but at the time, camel hair clothes were actually made my Zechariah Armani, a small Jewish Italian boutique. The first question people usually asked John when he was baptizing folks was “who are you wearing today?”
5. The Dove
When Jesus gets baptized, the Bible says there was “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lightning on him.” Let me translate please. That just means God “made it rain” like Lil’ Jon. It wasn’t a dove, it was just cash raining down.
6. The devil
When Jesus is offered splendor by satan, it looks like He replies “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” I know, it’s weird that when faced with loads of splendor Jesus responds by saying life is all about worship and serving. I mean why didn’t he say, “I don’t need your loot, God wants me to live abundantly.” Actually, I think in some unedited versions of the Bible that is exactly what he does. His full response is simple and kind of like Rick James, “I’m rich devil! I’m rich devil!”
I admit, the first thing Jesus promises to Simon and Andrew is not stuff, it’s the ability to impact lives. But maybe he said more than just “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” I think he rolled up in a yacht like one of those infomercials that promises easy cash through real estate investment. And then he played the theme song from the show Deadliest Catch, Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive, because he knew no fisherman could resist that. And then he had the foundation for a really nice pyramid scheme.
7. The Poor in Spirit
Yes, Jesus said “blessed are the poor in spirit and the persecuted” but he really meant, “blessed are those that have a Playstation 3, in their car. Holla!”
It may appear weird that Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.” I mean, were the prophets known for being super rich? And I’m going to be like them? And I have to wait until heaven for my reward? But actually, like Belinda Carlisle sang, “Heaven is a place on earth” and whenever I see the word “persecute” I pretend it’s the word “favor,” which helps.
I understand that it says, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” But Jesus meant, “once you’ve got yours, you can give to others.” I mean, I like nice things, and as soon as I have them, I will be ready to let people borrow them. I can’t take people water skiing if I don’t have a water ski boat, can I? What do you want me to be, some no water ski boat owning hobo?
Fine, Jesus does say, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” And that’s good advice, which is why I only trick myself out with diamonds. You ever see a moth try to eat a diamond? And I have a panic room in my house. So if someone breaks in, is loud enough that I hear them and slow enough that I can run to the room and engage the locking system, it’s all good. Thanks Jesus!
11. Money and God
I agree, you can’t serve both God and money. And that’s a good rule for people that struggle with that. I mean it’s odd that Jesus goes so far out of his way to label the possible divide that exists between money and God, but I’ve got things under control. That rule is for others.
12. Life and Birds
This is getting a little tougher. Jesus says, “Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?” Yes and no. I mean Jesus didn’t know about the things they were going to do with denim some day when he said that. The stitching and the designs and the button flys. Do I “need” a $200 pair of jeans? Yes, I think I do.
13. Seek First
Finally, a verse that says it’s good to get rich. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” I know that when I obsess on the second half of that sentence it makes it seem that I am done with the first half. That I finished seeking and am now ready for “the stuff.” It only seems that way because I have. I sought, now let’s see some stuff please.
I have a sneaking suspicion that when Jesus says that the “Father in heaven give(s) good gifts to those who ask him!” he and I have a different definition of good gifts. By gift, I mean a Land Rover Defender. I think He might mean things like “peace, joy and wisdom.” Let’s call it a draw. I’ll compromise with a Land Rover Discovery instead of a Defender and Jesus can make me really peaceful.
15. House on the Rock
Although the analogy of the house that stood through the storm sounds small and simple, it was probably a mansion. The rock it was built on was probably the coast of Malibu.
16. The Centurion
When Jesus tells everyone that the Centurion who asked him to heal his servant had a lot of faith, what he meant was “Look at his job title and money. Clearly this man has a lot of faith for all the favor that has been poured on him!”
17. Lay My Head
What Jesus said was true, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” That’s because, when you’re super rich, you can buy this sleep pod where you kind of sleep standing up in a cushion of tangerine-flavored air. So technically speaking, spot on Jesus.
18. The Sick
In our culture, people that are poor are looked down on. The class system may feel subtle at times, but the poor are considered a second class citizen. They are outcasts. Which makes it hard to explain why Jesus says he came for sick, not the healthy, the sinners not the righteous. The outcasts. I choose to believe that what he meant was that He came for rich people that had exotic diseases they caught on vacation. Like “Cayman Islands itch” or “Rodeo Drive rash.”
19. No gold
I’m not gonna lie, this one was a bit of a challenge. In Matthew 10 drops some crazy sentences like “Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.” Woof, that’s a tough one. But here’s the thing, Jesus knew that when you go to a foreign land it’s good to protect your money with one of those strap on wallets you wear around your stomach. I wore one in Costa Rica, worked like a charm. So it’s not that you shouldn’t take gold, it’s that it shouldn’t be in the belt. And he only wants you to take one tunic because he knows you’re going to buy some new ones when you get where you’re going. Tunics that say things like “Spring Break 39 BC!”
“All men will hate you because of me” is a pretty strong statement. I mean, I expect favor at work, favor at home, favor everywhere. Maybe Jesus meant to say, “All men will hate you because you’re going to get that promotion and the corner office!”
I’m not sure Jesus actually multiplied the fish and loaves in that story. I think He probably had a personal collection of caviar from Whole Foods that He traveled with and the bread was actually a Sun Ripened Tomato Basil Herb loaf.
22. The Temple Anger
Jesus didn’t chase the folks out of the temple because they were selling things. He chased them out because he didn’t like their Buy One, Get One Free promotion. He ran in and said, “A robe for 14 shekels? You need to mark this up and make bigger profits! Diversify!”
I agree, in the technical sense of the word, kids are the poorest people on the planet. They don’t own anything. They are completely dependent on their parents for everything and Jesus told us to be like them. I think He meant rich kids. I think He wanted us to be like Ricky Schroeder in the show “Silver Spoons” or like a hotel heiress. Just rich and happy and childlike.
24. Rich Young Ruler
Jesus turned away the rich young ruler because he didn’t have enough cheddar. Enough cash. Enough loot so to speak. It’s like Luda said in the Fergie song “Glamorous” “Brother gotta keep enough lettuce, to support your shoe fetish.” That dude didn’t have enough lettuce.
Again, the Bible is leaving out details. That donkey that Jesus rode in on was a top of the line jackass. I mean, just plush. Really nice, long ears. The kind of doleful brown eyes you can just lose yourself in. That was the Bentley of donkeys right there.
Jesus called out that widow that gave all because He secretly knew she had more money than she was showing and He was happy she was hoarding some of it. She liked nice things.
One of the last things Jesus did before He was crucified was to get a really nice pedicure with all the other the disciples. They loved them some spa days!
28. The Camel
Yes, Jesus mentioned that it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle than it is a rich man to enter heaven. Turns out that the Hebrew word for “flea” is “camel.” And that Greek word for “Grand Canyon” is “needle.” So yeah, it’s pretty easy.
Wow, that was fun and completely ridiculous as promised.
What do I really think about prosperity ministry? Hard to say because I get it so wrong, so often. And I honestly think that sometimes we get it wrong on the opposite direction. Maybe not as often, but I think sometimes we get prideful about refusing good gifts and we deny ourselves some of the things God is trying to give us. I wrote about the shame we sometimes manufacture when it comes to owning stuff. It’s kind of the “oh no, I could never have something like that” attitude. As far as prosperity though, I think that guys who preach stuff and money and possessions do a horrible job of underestimating how much God wants to bless us. I think the shiny happy preachers of stuff don’t go nearly far enough in expressing how good and majestic and generous God really is. They are showing me a glitter covered post card of the Swiss Alps. God, on the other hand, wants to give us the actual Swiss Alps.
That’s my biggest issue with prosperity ministry. I think it shrinks God down and it limits His love vocabulary. Maybe what He wants to give me has nothing to do with stuff. Maybe He wants to express His love through peace and joy and sunlight and hearing the song “Footloose” randomly on the radio when you commute to work.
I don’t know. When I sat down to write this, I realized I had two main problems. The first is that I couldn’t find a single example where Jesus fixed someone’s problem with money. I could not find where He healed a situation with more stuff. I know you will tell me that Abraham was rich and Joseph had a really nice coat, but what about Jesus? I could not find a passage in His life where a possession was the solution. The second problem was that I could not get around the idea that being prosperity focused did not make it easy for me to keep the number one commandment, which is love God. And it didn’t make it easier to love others. It almost felt like I was trying to rewrite those verses and reorder them to say, “Love yourself, Love God and love others.” I can’t be first though. I have to be last.
God wants us to have great things. He might bless you over and over again with worldly possessions. He might not. He might keep you moving from check to check for the rest of your life. Because the truth is that the math we sometimes use, “Good Me + Good God = Good Stuff” just doesn’t add up. People die. Houses burn down. Cars crash. Life falls apart and if you trust in that formula all of that adds up to bad God.
And we don’t serve a bad God.