In one of the more obscure scenes of the original movie "Rocky", Rocky Balboa is told by his loan shark boss Tony to collect money that is owed him by a schlub working on the dock. Rocky is told to collect the money or break his thumbs. Rocky finds the man at his job, working on a forklift, and jumps on the guy and demands payment. The man begs and pleads with Rocky, tells him that he is good for the money, to not hurt him else he won't be able to care for his family.
Rocky shows mercy, he extends some grace, lets the man go, and does him no harm.
Rocky later is scolded by Tony who finds out Rocky didn't collect, and didn't hurt the man. Tony tells Rocky that when he doesn't follow instructions, he makes Tony look bad, hurts his reputation and his "business".
That sequence is not an important part of the storyline, but it served an important purpose. It helped show us deep down inside who Rocky really was. While Rocky started off as a two-bit leg-breaking thug, he really was a loving, compassionate guy. He was NOT the norm. He was willing to grant grace to a man who needed grace, even though he knew he would take heat from his mob boss.
Why do I bring this up? Let me explain.
A few weeks ago I posted a video of Ed Young asking his church members for their bank account information so he could auto withdrawl their tithe. This video has been seen by many, and been the subject of much discussion in the Christian blogosphere.
In that sermon, Ed Young pulled out just about every possible tithing trick that preachers have used to extract money from their people.
But there was one tactic that he did NOT use - but one that Mac Brunson used, ironically, on the very same day at First Baptist Church Jacksonville, on 10/10/10. Brunson was preaching out of Haggai.
It was the tactic to tell people that if you do NOT tithe, God is going to TAKE it from you anyways! Mac Brunson characterized God as some sort of heavenly mob boss, a loan shark, and like Tony from Rocky, God is going to "collect" from those Christian schlubs who won't pay him back what he is owed, or don't give money to the church building projects.
So the question is: Who is God? Is he like the loan shark out to get the money that us cheapskate Christians won't pay him back with? Is God sending out his holy hitman preachers to break our thumbs so-to-speak if we don't fork over the cash? Or are these preachers totally misrepresenting the character of God?
Here is what Mac Brunson said in his sermon:
"Let me tell you the third thing about God, and it is this: God collects on what he is owed. God collects on it. In fact watch this, he says 'I'm going to collect on it personally, and I'm going to collect on it materially...He says 'When you don't honor me and do what you're supposed to do and bring to me what is mine, you personally will never be satisfied with what you got.' Never enough clothes, never enough food, never enough this, never enough that, never enough wages".
This is a mischaracterization of who God is. Mac is taking scripture from Haggai, where God is speaking to his nation, Israel, who he has commanded to rebuild the destroyed temple...and he then applies this directly to Christians in 2010.
But Brunson didn't stop there. He continued:
"And your money is devalued, and devalued, and devalued. He says 'You look for much and behold it comes to little.' Why is that? Why is it I can't get ahead? Why is it that we can't seem to make something? Why is it that we can't move up? We're keeping all of this and we're using all of this for ourselves. He says you're not using it for what God intends you to use it for. And he says the reason you look for much and behold it comes to little is because when you bring it home, "POOF", I blow it away."
Unbelievable. Brunson is painting God as some sort of vindictive evil genie who will purposely blow your money away, hurting you and your family if you don't give as he prescribes, to the church. He also assumes that the path to getting ahead, to "move up" is to give money to God (i.e. the church). This is prosperity gospel. This is law, and not grace.
Brunson doesn't stop there. He goes into more descriptions of the vindictiveness of God:
"Let me tell you something [finger pointing], God collects, God collects. 'Well, this broke down, and that broke down, there's a leak in the roof, the kid's wrecked the car, and we lost in that investement, and this happened and that happened and the other happened, and we just can't seem to get ahead, and we keep investing in what are good things and solid things and everybody else seems to be getting ahead but I can't get ahead.' And why is that? It's because I've not learned to do what God called me to do with my STUFF."
There you have it. The reason you are so behind in your bills, that you have all these unexpected extra expenses and home repairs, and even the reason your kids wrecked the car - it is all because God is collecting from you the cold hard cash that you own him.
Then he closes it, by comparing himself to an Old Testament prophet, by saying:
"...but you know what happens? This is what happens. God is good. He sends a preacher to needle the people. Can you all identify? He sends a prophet by the name of Haggai and a prophet by the name of Zecchariah."
And apparently, in this passage if there is anything good about God, it is that God has sent to FBC Jax a prophet by the name of Donald McCall Brunson. Not that God is merciful and kind and loving to his people. No, his kindness and goodness is displayed by the sending of a New Testament prophet/preacher to "needle them". Unbelievable.
What makes all of this particularly troubling is the timing of these comments. Brunson preaches this just one week after he only gets about 1/2 of the million dollars he was trying to raise on 10/3/10 to finish the auditorium renovations. The message from this sermon is clear: you people have been called to tithe and are not so God's judging America, you've been called to finish the auditorium renovations and you haven't done it, and thus you are subjecting yourselves to God's Moose and Rocco who will come and collect it anyways, or maybe God himself will just "blow it all away".
Either way, the message is: God collects. You are indebted, and the way you pay your debt is in COLD HARD CASH given to the preacher's church. God wants it and he wants it NOW. And he WILL collect on it.
Nope. That is not what the Bible teaches. God is loving and merciful and patient...and we as Christians are called to be generous givers, meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people. We are not to give under compulsion, and we are free from the law and the Old Testament punishments under the Jewish theocracy. God is absolutely NOT holding the hammer over us to see whether we give 10% to a church or give to a building renovation fund.
And God is NOT ready to go "POOF" to waste your money in the wind. God is not like Tony the Loan Shark.
If there is a "POOF" sound to be heard, perhaps it is the sound of Christians blowing their money away by giving it to their mega church. And perhaps the ones who are loan sharks collecting money from God's people are actually the pastors who misuse scripture to coerce God's people to give more money to their church.