April 29, 2015
Back in 1967 actor George C. Scott starred in a movie entitled “The Flim Flam Man.” “Flim flam” is a euphemism for “con man.” It’s one of my all time favorite movies. He played the role of a con man with integrity… sort of. He only cheated people who were themselves looking to make a quick, maybe even illegal, buck.
In the past two weeks Ellen and I have personally heard from two different places looking to make some money off of naïve, and in some cases greedy individuals. The first was from “a friend I’m sure” in a third world country. I had to laugh because the email began “Dear.” Not “Dear Bill,” or “Dear Mr. Little.” Just “Dear.” Anyway, they went on to tell me that there was a giant sum of money waiting to be claimed and they needed my help. Imagine of the 7 billion people in the world they asked me! I feel so… honored. All I had to do was… you know how this goes right? I had to send a check for some amount to a particular place and the information for claiming my “prize” would be forthcoming. I don’t want to tell you the specifics lest you claim it before I do. Oh yeah, I have some property to sell you in the Everglades.
The second communiqué came via Ellen’s cell phone. The recorded message went something like this: “This is the IRS calling. We have been trying to get in touch with you. We are bringing a law suit against you and you need to call this number _________ immediately.” This same con is being circulated via the internet. As it turns out there is no claim to any benefit to this con for us outside of getting bilked out of personal information for the purpose of stealing identities.
Like all of us, I could go on listing the things I have had stolen over the years and the “quick buck” opportunities I have been privy to. But we all have our tales to tell. The moral of the story is this: There are people in this world whose singular desire is to create schemes to maliciously, illegally and immorally hurt you, those you love, and to bring about your demise. I know… hard to believe right? And what’s even more distressing? Some of them are in the Church!
Years ago, Ellen and my son David (who was 3 at the time) used to visit a nursing home each Sunday afternoon and spend time with one woman in particular who had virtually no family. One week she showed Ellen a letter she had received from a well known television preacher (charlatan?). The letter explained that his ministry was going to fold if he he did not get financial help from her immediately. It was the advent of word processors and information merging so the letter was addressed to her “personally.” She didn’t know anything about technology so she assumed the letter had been written by him to her! She was upset that she had only a small amount of money to live on and she could only send him what remained and it wasn’t much. Since the letter was “personal”, at least in her mind, she thought he might be disappointed in her and that his ministry would cease to exist because of her. Even now all these years later the memory of that letter just blisters me. Wolves in sheep’s clothing!
Is it any wonder that scripture warns us about these people? Why is it that many of the NewTestament letters are written fully or partly to warn against false prophets and teachers? BECAUSE WE ARE NAÏVE! I know we don’t like to think that… but we are! I can’t imagine one person reading this who, if honest with themselves, can’t think of several occasions where they have been sucked into something that they later realized was bogus. Or at least not what it was cracked up to be. WE ARE NAÏVE! If you think you cannot be deceived, you already are.
A few of the MANY verses that deal with this subject.
Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
Acts 20:28-30 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.
Don’t get me wrong… I have my own issues… but be on the lookout for these wolves in sheep’s clothing. Below I’ve listed just a few things to be wary of.
Signs of a false prophet (not everyone in these categories is false):
- They are independent of any larger organization.
- They do not have a legitimate, independent auditing system. If you support a Christian ministry ask them who audits their books. Then look that organization up. If it’s their own organization, then stop supporting them.
- They have a “new idea” that no one else in Christendom has.
- They surround themselves with “yes men.” Or they have no one to whom to be accountable.
- They have a theology that raises red flags for you.
- They encourage you to send resources to them but they never tell you to support your local church or other Christian organizations.
No doubt there are many more. I don’t want to discourage Christians from giving. But giving NEEDS to be well thought out, and frankly… GENEROUS.
We have an obligation in the church to:
- Be informed by knowing the truth.
- Use our resources wisely.
- Protect those who cannot protect themselves.
Don’t get sucked in by charlatans. You know the saying: “If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.”