At the end of March, a message showed up in my inbox with a curious subject line. Of course, the key to getting someone to open your email is a good subject line. This one did its job.
A woman was introducing herself, telling me she worked for a large Christian television network, and was writing in regards to a blog post I’d published about tithing. Would I be interested in sharing more details about the story and possibly allowing them to film it for use on their television stations and social media channels?
I get emails like this from time to time. Some of them are real and some of them are not. It’s pretty easy to spend five minutes on the internet to figure out which is which. This email, this person, her company: all real.
Even though the email did not contain the specifics of the tithing story she was referring to, I knew immediately what she was referring to. I’ve written about tithing quite a bit. I’ve written about our journey to get rid of our debt, to be obedient with our finances, about what we believe in regards to money.
I don’t write about every aspect of our lives, but I do write about money.
Even with a handful or more of posts to pick from, I knew exactly what she was talking about. And because I knew without asking, I knew why she wanted to use it.
Late summer 2017, Chris and I separated. You probably know the story: he couldn’t stop drinking, and I refused to allow him to stay home and lie about it anymore. So he left. About a month later, the police got involved, and he ended up in rehab. It was scary for a million reasons but one of them was because he lost his job and income.
Each week that passed, God was meeting our needs and putting people in our lives who were His hands and feet. We were never truly alone. I kept most of the stories from that time to myself, recording them in a bright pink and blue spiral notebook, but not sharing them on the internet.
Eventually, I chose one story to write about. A story about writing a tithe check for $150 even though I was worried and scared about the following week. I knew in my heart if I was only obedient when it was easy, I was not actually being obedient. I was just doing something that was convenient. So I wrote the check and left to visit Chris in rehab.
A few friends from church came to rehab that day too; as we were leaving, a friend wordlessly held out his hand and passed me $300. I tried to refuse it, but he just drove away.
I wrote about the experience, not to show off, but to tell of God’s attention. To remind myself and others that we are never not seen by our God. Telling the shortened version here still brings me to tears. I know I will never be able to share of all the goodness God showed us through others during that time. That blog post was a feeble attempt that said, “Look at God.”
But in the wrong hands, that story has a hint of the prosperity gospel. On the outside, that story might look to some like obedience equals wealth. That I did something good and God rewarded my faithfulness.
The reward of obedience is obedience. We don’t do it for some promised outcome or payout. But there are some Jesus followers who believe God promises us health and wealth if we’re faithful. They believe we can earn something from our obedience. They believe the Bible promises us comfort and luxury and answered prayers in return for tithing and following God’s Word.
I believe that is absolutely wrong.
This post isn’t a sermon on the prosperity gospel, but it’s important to remember God doesn’t owe me (or you) anything for being faithful. Tithing doesn’t ensure my health or safety. Tithing doesn’t mean I get a tenfold or twofold return on anything. God actually says I’ll have troubles and heartache and struggles. Just like everyone else.
When the email came in March, I knew why my story was appealing to a large Christian network. It could, with the right twists of scripture and emotional music, be sold as the health and wealth principle. It wasn’t a far leap, especially if you already live in that lie.
I responded to the email with questions. How would my story be presented? What were you hoping to teach with it? Do you have examples of other stories you’ve filmed? How would it be used? How would filming work during a global pandemic?
I prayed and emailed back and forth with the producer a week before I mentioned the proposal to Chris. He asked questions, I shared what I knew, we both prayed and talked about it more.
I watched the video segments they had already created and aired. I studied the scripture verses they were basing our story on. I googled “Prosperity Gospel” and the preachers associated with the show. I googled people of faith I respect to see if they’d been on the show or network. I watched YouTube clips and scoured Twitter feeds.
I wrestled with God too. I’m an Enneagram Eight who relies heavily on what my gut tells me is right and wrong. The constant stomachache I had as I prayed and pleaded and researched didn’t stop me from asking God if I was supposed to do this even though it felt wrong. I am quick to react, and I know that is not always in my best interest or the best interest of those around me.
This would be good for business, God. The story of our marriage and addiction recovery is for your glory, is that why I’m being asked to share? Could this all be for your good? It would be fun to be on TV, God. That feels fancy. Can I trust them to tell the story with scriptural accuracy? Do you want me to do this anyway? You can use anything for your good; does that mean this too?
It’s important to know: I wanted to be on television. That just sounded fun.
I looked at the email a million times. I waited on God to make it clear I was supposed to accept the offer. Finally, I asked for some outside help.
Being vague, I sent a text message to a friend asking about a phrase used in one of the emails. Is it tied to the prosperity gospel, I asked. It’s sitting funny with me, and no pressure, but I’ve been asked to share a story about tithing for a large Christian TV network, and I’m SICK with what I might be endorsing if I say yes.
She said her gut said yes, but she wasn’t completely sure. So she shared a name and phone number with me. He’s my go-to for theology questions, she said, he’ll know.
to be continued…
(You can find part II here.)