"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."
- II Corinthians 4:7
Judging by the recent past, the record isn't good for high-profile Christians.
Remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, popular hosts of the PTL Club - until some unseemly behavior and lining of their own pockets with offerings from their followers brought the ministry down?
Similar stories clouded other televangelists, too, after they used their charm as well as their faith for personal gain from funds intended for their ministries. Thousands of faithful "financiers" grieved, not so much for the loss of money as for the loss of faith in those they thought were only doing God's work.
People are said to have "feet of clay" if they reveal a flaw or weakness after they have lived an otherwise exemplary life. This figure of speech comes from Daniel 2:33-34, which describes an image with "feet of iron and clay," representing a kingdom that is "partly strong and partly broken." The above human examples each began with a strong image, and ended more broken than whole.
In contrast, I'd like to nominate a current, high-profile candidate whose feet appear to be made of more iron than clay. Besides his success as an author, pastor, and public speaker, 52-year-old Rick Warren is using those iron-clad feet to do phenomenal work both in and outside his California church.
After becoming instantly wealthy by selling 15 million copies of his book The Purpose Driven Life in the first year alone, this is how he and his family have chosen to use the money:
"First, in spite of all the money coming in, we did not change our lifestyle. Then, about midway through the second year, I stopped taking a salary from my church. Next we set up foundations to ... plant churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation (P.E.A.C.E.) and, finally, I added up all the money my church had paid me in the past 24 years, and gave it all back. It was liberating to be able to serve God for free."
Warren knew he had to ask the same question of himself that he had asked his readers: "Am I going to live for possessions and popularity, or am I going to be driven by God's purposes for my life?"
Has Warren continued to think more of his "purpose" than the glitter of personal gain?
If you saw the recent documentary about Rick and Kay Warren's visit to Rwanda, you might share my optimism that this is a "purpose-driven" man. Instead of building mansions for himself on earth, Warren and his wife have accepted Jesus' promise to wait for one of those "many mansions in my father's house" (John 14:2).
In the meantime, the Warren's are setting up programs in Rwanda to assist AIDS sufferers, build centers for that country's share of the 12 million African orphans created by this terrible disease and, with the invitation of Rwanda's Christian President Paul Kagame, help meet the country's spiritual needs as well as relieve their physical suffering.
s Warren receiving accolades for these decisions, popularity in spite of his promise not to seek it? Not quite. Although his church is supportive of the ministry, many in the Christian community are questioning his theology, his apparent elevation of physical needs above the spiritual, and what they detect as "New Age teachings" in his writings. Warren counters by saying he sticks to "the essentials of faith," while focusing on "loving people into the Kingdom." It's clear that Warren believes, "True religion is this ... to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27).
As to his critics and the mistakes he knows he is making, he also agrees with the Apostle Paul, who reminded his followers that if we didn't have "this treasure in earthen vessels (feet or bodies of clay)," we might think the power in our ministry came from us instead of God (II Corinthians 4:7).
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.
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