Memorial Day weekend is over. It’s traditionally been the start of summer, though the summer equinox is still three weeks away. After sitting on the porch for a while this morning I’m inclined to say it’s officially summer. We’re going to end the month of May with 100 degree-plus temperatures and start June with the same. So far, we’re in the running for the second hottest month of May on record, although we still have a couple of days to go yet. It seems hotter weather is becoming the norm as each year seems to be in the top two or three warmest years. However, it probably snowed somewhere justifying the claims of “climate deniers”. Such blatant disregard for God’s creation and the future of my grandkids makes me want to throw up.
I was perusing the news feed this morning, as is my habit. It seems things go on as usual, and there were a couple of things that simply broke my heart. How some people in the world treat other people really gets to me, even though I’ve come to expect a daily exposition of xenophobic tribalism, misogyny, and oppression. I could get really depressed and complacent about it, but fortunately it only steels my resolve to love others better. I’m responsible for my actions today. I know who I serve and I try my best to show it in my actions. I really want to live loving God and loving others. As Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody…”
I guess that’s why I got so upset when I came across an article from the New Orleans newspaper, The Times-Picayune about Louisiana televangelist, Jesse Duplantis, asking for donations for a new $54 million private jet. Now remember, I live in Fort Worth, Texas, the “buckle of the Bible belt”, so I shouldn’t be shocked by such revelations. After all, Kenneth Copeland Ministries is only a few miles away with his “compound”, armed security, and a private jet or two. It’s a “Prosperity Gospel” televangelist kind of thing. Still, this story got to me. Duplantis’ claim that if Jesus were here today, “he’d have a jet” made me so angry I was fit to be tied (for a while, anyway). At the risk of sounding self-righteous, I’ll tell you why.
I am a follower of Jesus, which earns me the religious designation of “Christian”. I’m extremely uneasy with that religious title today because of stories like the one I read this morning. More importantly, I really want to live out of the faith I have today and sharing the “Good News”. I guess that makes me an “evangelical” (from the Greek “euangelion”, the good news, from “euangelos” bringing good news, from “eu- + angelos” messenger – Merriam-Webster) Christian. I’ve found a relationship with God that works, and I want to share it. As St. Francis said, “Preach often. If necessary, use words”. Since the majority of communication is non-verbal (just ask my wife when I let out a heavy sigh…), I hope my actions speak louder than my words. I hope my actions shout out the relationship I have with God today.
I guess that’s why I’m so angry today. I’m sick and tired of my faith being co-opted by the likes of the Duplantis’, Copelands, and Falwells of this world. I’m not some right-wing, gun-toting, “America first”, pseudo-patriot portrayed by the media (and often rightly so). I’m not some “wolf in sheep’s clothing” religious charlatan praying on others with a promise of prosperity if you’ll just send in money today. It sickens me to think of those that do. I left the faith for many years because I didn’t want to be associated with that type of “Christian”.
Today I find my heart broken when I hear of stories like the one about Jesse Duplantis. The God I’ve come to know isn’t a Santa Clause-god, making a list and checking it twice, waiting to shower good little boys and girls with all kinds of financial blessings, content to leave the rest of us with a lump of coal. The God I’ve come to know isn’t some petty little dictator who demands perfection from His subjects. The God I’ve come to know isn’t interested in self-righteous piety or earning my way into His good graces. That’s why my heart breaks every time I read a story like this one.
The God I’ve come to know has simplified my life and definitely changed my understanding of prosperity. I don’t have a private jet, nor do I need one, but I’ve become indescribably rich. Jesus said He came to give me life – abundantly. That has come true for me today. I often hear that God “wants me to be happy”. I not sure I entirely agree. I do believe He wants me to live joyously – regardless of what’s going on. I believe He wants me to love Him and love others. I believe He wants me to trust Him and to live freely. It’s all pretty darn simple! When I get wrapped up in my own plots and plans He patiently showers me with boundless grace. I don’t have to be perfect. I just need to be me. I like the me I’m becoming.
I must confess that sometimes I’m as judgmental and self-righteous as the “church” I complain about. Yet, I know there are thousands of other followers of Jesus who are living out their faith in wonderful, if imperfect, ways. I’ve experienced their grace many times over. They show me what God is like. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the “wheat from the chaff” if you know what I mean. Sometimes my frustration with so many churches is that even good church leaders fail to share about their imperfections. What I hear is impossible standards for me to live up to.
I guess that’s why I’d rather be labeled something other than “evangelical” Christian even if that’s what I am. I’d much rather be thought of as a follower of the Rabbi, Jesus. He turned the world, and my thinking, upside down and gave me a new pair of eyes to see the world with. He did it free of charge and didn’t even ask me for my last ten dollars. Now that’s a deal! Oh, and by the way, the Jesus I know still prefers donkeys to private jets…