2006-02-19 - True of False?
We were recently driving through a major intersection in a large city, and saw one of the ubiquitous "will work for money" signs, this one held by a middle-aged man. Our family are 100% behind helping those who are genuinely in need. But investigations have shown that in many cases, the signs are just part of a scam. Some allegedly "homeless" people have been tracked to their nice homes, where they are enjoying pensions that are in excess of what is paid to many in public service. Not surprisingly (if you are familiar with the criminal justice system), some had been seen using the donations for illegal drugs. In one study, only 1 out of 8 was a legitimate. (See Profiling a Panhandler)
Most in the investigations have been just scamming naive people, people who would be better stewards, if they were helping through legitimate and accountable organizations. Similar results have been produced in other investigations and studies.
Our rescue dog Shiloh was with us, and while she rarely barks at people (Roosters and cats are another matter!), when she saw this man, she barked ferociously, and continued for several minutes after we left that intersection. In contrast, when she saw a poor, frail-looking elderly lady on a scooter, bravely (crazily?!) trying to cross a pedestrian crosswalk on an 8-lane road, Shiloh looked at her with a sweet look, and didn't utter a peep. It was if she had an internal fraud alert system, that could detect cons or scams. Wouldn't it be nice if we all could?
In fact, we Christians should be able to detect spiritual fraud. When we hear a message that is unBiblical, our spiritual fraud alert system should go off. If we hear that a preacher is supposedly "inspired," but he or she promotes a prosperity or "name it and claim it" message, we should not have to think twice, about that being wrong. If a celebrity claims to be a Christian, but is living with a partner outside of marriage, or posts revealing pictures of himself or herself online, we should realize there's "something wrong with that picture."
So - how do we make sure our fraud detectors are in good working order? As Paul reminded the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, we should test all doctrine against the Bible. Simply put, if it conflicts with the Bible, it's not from God. Case closed. Some things are black and white. Also we should study the word under sound teachers, and in the fellowship of mature believers. Another effective weapon: Anyone who has salvation in Christ, also has the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can and will guide us. And finally, pray, pray, pray!
I have recently been involved in an interesting conversation with some well-meaning folks who seem to confuse discernment with being judgmental. But while it is not our job to judge someone's heart toward God, it is part of our job as Christians, to judge doctrine, spiritual fruit and to be discerning. And if we see someone going astray doctrinally, it is our responsibility to help them. In fact, we aren't a very good friend, if we just let it go.
And when we, a celebrity - or anyone puts the name Christian on themselves, we/they are representing Christ, whether they admit to it or not, whether they do it well or badly - and they have a responsibility to be careful about their decisions. When Richard and I trained to be Billy Graham crusade counselors, we thought it was smart, that the teachers would tell classes to remember that when they were Graham counselors, they were representing the ministry - and in fact, they asked that no one take a bumper sticker if they intended to cut someone off in traffic etc. Likewise, we represent our Lord, and sometimes that's a scary thought!
If you aren't well-schooled in this area of discernment, I encourage you to read for yourself, and to be "…accurately handling the word of truth" as Paul instructed in 2 Timothy 2:5. Some relevant areas to check out, include 1 Corinthians 5, Matthew 7:15-23, Ephesians 4:14-19, and Galatians 1: 6-10.
Janice P. Moser
All scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.