Gullible Christians

There have been far too many articles written explaining why Christians have thrown their support behind Donald Trump. There’s nothing about his lifestyle, attitude, demeanor, language, or actions that should be appealing to anyone who professes a commitment to the “narrow way” Jesus called us to follow. Yet, polls make it clear that it was Christians who provided the margin of victory in his election and even today polls show that the majority of Christians continue to stand with him.

Why?

There are many reasons but let me offer one that I’ve not heard from anyone else. I’m not professing to any political brilliance or unique insight. In fact, I’ve always lived by the concept that if you espouse an idea no one else holds, then it’s probably wrong. But I’m going to throw caution to the wind, as they say, and put it out there anyway.

The first thing I need to say is that Donald Trump is nothing more than a con man.

A con man like Victor Lustig who lived in the early part of the 20th century. He is known for selling the Eifel Tower to a scrap metal dealer for $70,000 (a handsome sum in 1925), a box (several of them, actually) that printed genuine hundred-dollar bills, and even conned gangster Al Capone out of thousands of dollars.Snake Oil

Lustig has long been considered at the head of the list of con men. But now, Donald Trump has taken the art of the con (pardon the pun) to even greater heights. Rather than scamming a scrap dealer out of thousands of dollars he is scamming the entire country (probably even Russia at the same time).

He won the election with promises to accomplish whatever people wanted to hear. If health insurance was your concern, then he was going to replace Obamacare with a plan that would cover everyone for less money. If jobs were an issue, then he promised to reinvigorate the coal industry, bring foreign jobs back home, and provide money for big companies to invest in employees. If worry about safety kept you awake at night, then he promised to eliminate terrorists, crack down on drug dealers, and throw more people in prison.

“Step right up, folks, I’ve got the miracle cure for whatever ails you.”

You can hear the medicine man hawking his elixir every time Trump holds a rally or press conference.

Everyone knows he lies incessantly. He tells people what they want to hear, and they leave happy, and he forgets he even had the conversation. He tells people what they need to hear in order to give their support.

Unexplainably, Christians are his most passionate supporters.

I think it’s because Christians are the most gullible people in the world. The dictionary definition of gullible is “easily persuaded to believe something.”

Let me provide examples of Christian gullibility.

  • Jim Jones. The infamous cult leader who led 918 of his followers to commit suicide, began as the pastor of a Methodist Church. Many of his followers thought they were following a Christian teacher, even to the point of killing themselves.
  • Joel Osteen. Tens of thousands of people gather to hear him preach every week and hundreds of thousands buy his books. Osteen is nothing more than Norman Vincent Peale on steroids. He has taken the notion that everything is good because God is good and turned it into a multitude of devoted acolytes who line his pockets with gold.
  • Prosperity Preachers. They twist Scripture to support some cockamamy doctrine that God wants all of us to be prosperous. They then use that teaching to sucker people into sending them millions of dollars, even though they spend it on private jets and luxurious houses. The real doctrine they preach is that God wants them to be wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
  • Christian Businesses. I learned years ago not to do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business. It is often used as a gimmick to make people feel like they are doing something spiritual when they buy their product or utilize their service. Over the many years of my life, I’ve been cheated more times than I can count. However, the clear majority of those times it was by a professing Christian. Even in the work I do now, I have a policy of not doing a job until I’ve received payment primarily because I’ve been cheated by Christians I wanted to help.
  • Amway. This company deserves special consideration because they turned soap distribution into a multi-billion-dollar business with the help of a Christian-infused pyramid scheme. When I was a teenager, I was recruited by a man to sell Amway. I paid the fee, ordered some soap, and got to work. He wanted me to contact all the women in the church where my father was pastor and get them to sign-up. It was one of my first lessons about doing “Christian business.” I’ve heard folks describe Amway meetings as revival meetings, complete with Christian testimonies and altar calls. However, I’ve never met anyone who actually made money as an Amway distributor, but Christians keep signing up.

The reason I know Christians are most gullible is because I’ve been one of them. It’s built into our beliefs. We want to be giving, help the underdog, minister to the needy, and care for the poor. Those are all good things. But in doing so, we have allowed ourselves to be gullible.

Neither am I suggesting that Christians are the only ones who are gullible—there are gullible people all over the place. It’s just that Christians seem to excel as this skill.

Every pastor has a file cabinet filled with stories of people who came to them or the church for assistance only to learn that they are running a scam. It happens every day. The reason is because we are gullible. We fall for con men often.

Donald Trump understands this as well as anyone. He knew if he promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion, Christians would flock to his side. He allowed preachers to gather around him with anointing hands because it made a great photo opportunity that would make its way to churches around the country.

He’s selling snake oil and Christians are drinking it by the gallon.

Victor Lustig convinced Al Capone to give him $50,000 to invest in a sure-fire project that would double his money. Lustig took the money, stuck it in a closet for two months never intending to invest, and then returned it to Capone explaining that the investment failed but he wanted to return his money. Impressed with Lustig’s honesty, Capone gave him $5,000.

Trump is running the same con on Christians, and they are so gullible that they praise his honesty and continue to provide support.

I have little hope that things will change. At this point, Christians are so far out on the limb in support of Trump that they would have to swallow too much pride to turn away. In fact, in order to cover the fact they were scammed, they say things like pastor Robert Jeffress recently proclaimed that Trump’s immorality doesn’t matter. I can’t think of one previous pastor of the church he pastors who would have said anything resembling that remark.

We should all be aware of the danger. Sons of some of the most influential moral Christian leaders of the past, i.e., Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, have become some of the most gullible.

The phrase “snake oil” originated with Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. They brought a medicinal product that was made with oil from a Chinese snake, and it actually had beneficial properties. However, an entrepreneur, Clark Stanley, used rattlesnakes to create his own medicinal oil which was eventually proven to be useless. In fact, his product didn’t have a drop of snake oil. Before he was exposed, he sold thousands of bottles to gullible customers.

P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Baily Circus reminded us “there’s a sucker born every minute.” After more than 100 years, the Barnum and Baily Circus folded the tent last year. Yet, the circus didn’t really shut down, it simply moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Con men always leave bruised and battered people in their wake. Our country will survive, and we’ll find a way to regain our integrity and reputation in the world. However, I’m not so confident the American church will be as fortunate.

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Fight or Flight

As a writer, I spend a great deal more time writing for other people than for myself. I’m not complaining because it pays well, and it also forces me to research stuff I would never think of on my own. During some recent research, I learned something about the brain.

I’ll readily admit I know little about the physiological aspect of the human body. However, I do know enough about the brain to recognize when people are using theirs or when they have left it in the garage. This recent research led me to the discovery of how the brain reacts in frightening situations.

Specifically, I wanted to know what happens when a police officer, soldier, or any person is confronted with the possibility of death. For example, when a police officer responds to a shooting situation and hears gunfire or sees an armed suspect. The sympathetic nervous system is activated, caused by the sudden release of hormones. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Perhaps you have heard of this condition labeled as “fight-or-flight.”Fear

What is happening is that tiny part of the brain that controls emotion asserts itself over the much larger frontal cortex which controls rational thought. You can imagine what happens when emotions are more powerful than reason. I was surprised that the conditions of tunnel vision and tunnel hearing are common for a person in that state. In other words, their attention, both sight and sound, are narrowly focused, to the point they miss out on everything in the periphery.

This can be a good thing if there is only one source of danger and that danger is the object of your focus. However, it also means you fail to consider other pieces of information. There might be other dangerous people in the area, or you might be focused on the wrong thing, or there might be an even greater threat.

This condition can be exacerbated for the person who frequently faces the threat of danger. If a cop is frequently in dangerous situations or a soldier is in combat for an extended period, then the ability to cope with everyday life is reduced.

I described all of this to suggest our country might be in a prolonged period of stress and danger. I’m not a historian or psychologist, but it might be correct to say that this period of stress began in September of 2001 (you remember what happened then). Here’s how it has gone since then. We spent an intense time learning who attacked us and then watching our military exact revenge on two countries.

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Three Months of Christmas

Christmas Story – 2017

When I was kid… Don’t you love it when an old person begins a story with those words? You prepare yourself for a lecture about the good old days and when times were simple and better followed by a lecture about the terrible condition of the world today. I know you don’t want to hear that and neither do it.

But, when I was a kid one of the best things about Christmas happened sometime in October, perhaps as early as September some years. It was the arrival of the annual Sears Christmas Catalog. It later became known as the Sears Christmas Wish Book, but it was originally called a catalog.Sears

We actually received two catalogs from Sears every year. Earlier, perhaps in the spring, I’m not sure, we received a large one about the size of a big city phone book. It had everything imaginable for a family and home except for toys. Without the toys, the big catalog was of little interest. I’ll confess when I got older and became a teenager the big catalog had a little more fascination for me. The section with women’s underwear was the closest I ever came to dirty magazines at our house.

But about two-thirds of the pages of the one that arrived in the fall consisted of toys. It had pictures of every toy we had ever heard of and thousands of toys we didn’t even know existed. Each toy was represented with a bright colored photo followed by a paragraph or two description of what the toy was all about. The special toys were featured in photos with kids playing with them.

We always knew that catalog was on the way when the weather started to cool down for the winter. I don’t know about other kids, but in our family, we were not allowed to look at the mail before Daddy and Mama. It’s not clear if they were hiding stuff from us but I never gave it a second thought; that’s just the way it was.

When the Sears Christmas Catalog arrived, Mama would bring it to us. It had a brown wrap around the outside and tearing that away was as exciting as opening any gift. My sister and I would study it for hours. I’m sure I spent more time with it that she ever did. I say I’m sure about that, but I don’t really know. I never paid much attention to what she was doing when I wasn’t involved. I do know that I spent many hours with the book. So much so that by early December the pages in the toy section were dog-eared and crinkled.

Thumbing through the pages was living in a fantasy world where every dream can be a reality. I drove the electric race cars around the track that looked like it stretched for miles. I was a fearless driver, but my car never flew off the tracks. I picked out colors for all the cars and trucks I wanted.

I also remember playing with the largest Erector Set you could buy. An Erector Set was a fascinating toy for a kid. It consisted of thin metal slats with a row of drilled holes arranged like button holes on a shirt. I understand they still have them today but now they consist of a bunch of plastic pieces rather than all metal. It had a box filled with small nuts and bolts that you could insert through the holes and attach the metal slats together. With a vivid imagination, you could build a house or a windmill or some other structure. The catalog always featured the sets with small electric engines to be used for trains, large cranes, or other movable pieces. In my mind, I built complete cities using the sets that could be ordered from Sears. It was kind of like Sim City without the electronics.

There was always a piece of notebook paper, and a pencil stuck between the pages of the catalog. It was there so I could make a list of the things I especially wanted from the catalog. I don’t remember ever believing in Santa, so I was making the list for Mama and Daddy. There were many entries and almost an equal number of erasure marks on my paper because I knew I had to narrow it down to one or two items. Over the three months exegeting that catalog, my favorites changed numerous times.

The reason my list could only contain one or two items was because I knew that’s the most I would ever get. That’s why I didn’t really believe in Santa. If everything they said about him was true, then I was getting cheated somehow. We hung up Christmas stockings, usually Daddy’s because they were larger, but when we charged into the living room on Christmas morning the only things in those stockings were the fruit and nuts that had been displayed on the dining table for the past few days. That stuff didn’t come from a joyous fat bearded man who gave out free gifts.

It was even quite likely I would not even receive the gift at the top of my Christmas wish list tucked carefully between the pages of the catalog. We didn’t have much money in those days, so Christmas morning typically consisted of one nice present, a package of underwear (for some reason, Santa was always practical at our house), and maybe a book to read or a small toy of some kind.

I discovered years later in a conversation with Daddy that the reason we received the Sears Catalogs was because they bought Christmas gifts with a Sears credit card. They could pay it off over the next couple of months, which was not an easy feat for them. I was totally surprised by this revelation because I never knew Mama and Daddy ever had a credit card. Daddy was a fulltime pastor of a small church, and they paid him $100 per month. There were other perks like an occasional chicken he had to kill, vegetables from the garden Mama had to can, and a few times a month an invite to someone’s house for Sunday dinner.

Even though I knew the Sears Christmas Catalog did not mean all those toys would magically appear under our tree on Christmas morning, that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of endlessly thumbing through the pages. Although the toys seldom arrived, having the catalog and a vivid imagination meant that my Christmas began in October with a gift from the mailman and lasted into the next year.

Sears doesn’t publish the Wish Book any longer. In fact, nearest I can tell they stopped twenty-four or twenty-five years ago. We don’t need it any longer now that we have eBay, Amazon, and countless other suppliers. Finding what you want is much easier nowadays—just a couple of clicks, and it arrives on your doorstep two days later.

Not only are the catalogs not available, we no longer need an imagination. Kids spend countless hours watching stuff but not imagining stuff. If they want to know what it’s like to play with a toy, just find a video of other kids doing it. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a different thing.

I wonder how many kids today would be content with one gift, not even off the top of their list. Perhaps the reason they would be dissatisfied is because they haven’t had the opportunity of playing with numerous gifts for the past few months in their imagination. I don’t recall ever being disappointed with Christmas. I loved everything about it, even cracking open the walnuts retrieved from Daddy’s stocking.

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The Greatest Christmas Gift

Leaving church on Sunday morning with a new outlook on life was not a common experience for Walter. He normally ended the hour of worship with a growling stomach and acute anxiety that he had missed the opening kickoff. But, today was different. Something the preacher said captured his attention.

He didn’t mind going to church, even though he would not classify himself as a steadfast believer. Walter had no doubts about the existence of God, and he rarely disagreed with anything spoken from the pulpit; he just had other interests. He enjoyed church because he loved sitting next to Sally. She was the love of his life, the apple of his eye, and every other cliché you can think of. More often than not, they would even hold hands for a good portion of the hour.

The amazing thing of Walter’s strong affection for Sally is that they were not young teenagers in love. Walter and Sally had been married for forty-two years. Yet, he was just as anxious to sit at her side as he had been when they first met as college freshmen. The years had brought them closer. In fact, since Walter retired six months ago, they spent most of their time together, and he had never been happier.Christmas-Gift

It was the first Sunday of Advent, a time that Walter always enjoyed. He loved everything about Christmas, especially the gifts. For Walter, giving a present was a process, including shopping, wrapping, hiding, and opening. His greatest joy every Christmas morning was to watch expressions as family and friends opened the gift he meticulously picked for them. For Walter, the first Sunday of Advent was the signal that Christmas was almost here.

The sermon by Rev. Wilson was about the gift of God that we celebrate at Christmas. He pounded home the notion that God’s gift was the greatest ever. He defined that gift as loving those who are unlovable. Rev. Wilson was not known for his oratory skills, but whenever he worked at it, he could be as convincing as any car salesman pushing an extended warranty.

Whatever he said on Sunday, he certainly captured Walter’s attention. In spite of the fact that Walter had been attending church for decades and that he had heard hundreds of Christmas sermons, something about the words of Rev. Wilson captured his interest. Like a child entering a toy store, Walter’s mind was racing with possibilities.

He decided that Christmas was about loving the unlovable. This was revolutionary to Walter. He had spent his whole life giving to those he loved. He could not remember ever giving a present to someone who was unlovable. He had never even given it a moment’s thought.

Walter and Sally put on their coats as they walked toward the church foyer. Leaving church was always tedious for Walter because Sally liked to stop and visit with too many people. She was accustomed to Walter tugging on her sleeve like a bored child. On this Sunday, Walter walked off and left Sally. He was in a hurry to speak to Rev. Wilson.

Waiting his turn in line with the complimenters and complainers, Walter finally reached the preacher. Walter stretched out with both arms and grabbed the Reverend’s hand.

“Pastor, you really spoke to me today,” he blurted out as he shook the minister’s hand like a rag doll.

“Thank you, Walter,” said Rev. Wilson in a tentative voice, “I was just trying to say what God laid on my heart.” He was somewhat stunned because he did not remember his words ever having an impact on Walter before.

Almost before Rev. Wilson finished his sentence, Walter said, “Pastor, I’ve got an idea about Christmas. You convinced me that Christmas is about loving the unlovable. That’s what I am going to do!”

Not sure what Walter had in mind, Rev. Wilson said, “That’s good to hear Walter. It’s always good to know that someone is listening when I preach.”

“Pastor, this is my plan. I’m going to find the most unlovable person in town, and I’m going to love them. That will be my Christmas present to them.”

You could still hear some skepticism, or perhaps it was simply reservation in Rev. Wilson’s voice, “That’s great Walter. I’ll be glad to help. Just let me know what I can do.”

Walter didn’t hear the last few words because he had already turned to look for Sally. She was finishing her conversation as Walter seized her arm and escorted her out the front door toward the parking lot.

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American Christianity and Dementia

During the past couple of years, my family has walked the difficult journey of Dementia with my mother. She has moved rapidly from a healthy alert woman living by herself, to a senior living environment, to assisted living, to memory care, and now to nursing care. Perhaps the thing that is most difficult about the process is knowing that improvement is not going to happen.

I have often wondered what it must be like not knowing who you are or where you are. Forgetting your past and even your identity makes you do things that are totally out of character. A couple of times Mama has slapped one of her caregivers and even used inappropriate language. These are things that are completely unlike who she is and has been her entire life. Most of the time her caregivers speak about her kindness and sweet personality, but those ugly responses have appeared a few times.Dementia

I bring this up because Dementia seems to be an accurate metaphor for the American church. It seems as if the church is experiencing a similar debilitating disease, forgetting who it is and what it’s supposed to be. Let me clarify by stating I’m not referring to the church identified in the Bible as the body of Christ. I’m speaking of the American church—the church that embraced the notion that being a follower of Christ is equivalent to being an American.

It came on almost imperceptibly. For several years, Daddy talked about Mama losing her memory, but since none of us were with her every day we thought he was exaggerating. After he died, and we were more involved with her life, it was obvious she was struggling.

In like fashion, almost imperceptibility, the American church began to lose its identity and history. I’m certainly not qualified to write a history of the American church, but I can offer one example that suggests this might be the case—the issue of abortion.

It wasn’t that long ago, at least in my lifetime, evangelical Christians were not as singularly focused on the issue of abortion. The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision allowing abortions was issued in 1973. Speaking about that decision, W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, spoke out in support of the ruling with these words: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” Continue reading

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Finally, An Idea by a Church that Has Potential

There’s a church just down the street from our house with a good-sized sign out front that reads, “Drive through prayer on Friday.” I didn’t especially feel the need for prayer at the moment, but who knows, by tomorrow I might just stop by. I hope the line at the drive-through isn’t like the line at Chick-fil-a. It probably won’t be that crowded since I suspect more people are interested in chicken than they are prayer.

But the sign got me to thinking—always a dangerous proposition.

I wonder if they have one of those typical drive-through speakers that are characterized by static and often unidentifiable noises? That could be discouraging if you request prayer for your Aunt Suzie’s sciatica and they end up giving you a prayer for Grandmother’s drinking problem. After a few minutes, you find yourself screaming, “NO! My Grandmother doesn’t have a drinking problem. It’s my Aunt Suzie’s pain in her butt.”chicken basket

Perhaps there’s a big menu board as you round the corner of the church and approach the speaker. Instead of photos of chicken baskets and cheeseburgers, there would be pictures of saints on their knees at the altar.

That got me to thinking once again.

What would be on the prayer order menu? Items one through ten could be combos for the Big Ten. That would be a prayer of forgiveness for the sin of…

  • Having another god, like working nights and weekends so you can have more money.
  • Making an idol, like your favorite political party.
  • Taking the Lord’s name in vain, like when your lottery ticket is a loser.
  • Neglecting the Sabbath because the Cowboy’s kickoff was scheduled before church was over.
  • Dishonoring a parent by telling your parents you were busy when they invited you for dinner last weekend.
  • Committing murder, well, hopefully not this one.
  • Committing adultery, it happens, apparently to a large percentage of us.
  • Stealing something, who doesn’t?
  • Lying about my neighbor, especially to the neighbor on the other side of my house.
  • Coveting something, but that doesn’t include the new I-Phone.

Since it’s a combo prayer, it comes with a side order of two lesser sins of your choosing.

Other items on the menu could include a prayer for sickness, yourself or a loved one, and if you’re willing to super-size this item, they might even throw in a hospital visit (probably not because I don’t think pastors do this any longer).

Perhaps you need a prayer for guidance. This combo prayer would come with an abridged version of John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In case you’re wondering, Calvinists have the opinion that God is operating this whole thing as He pleases, so you don’t need to worry yourself about finding His will.

Another combo prayer could be for the person seeking salvation. It would come with a side order of the Roman Road and a free mpg download of “Just As I Am” that continually repeats until you say “yes” to Jesus.

One other thing I need to note—it’s an Assembly of God church. Perhaps that means you can either get your combo prayer with or without speaking in tongues.

Wow, I’m excited. I’m going to work on my list tonight, so I’ll be ready for drive-through prayer tomorrow. That will be especially nice since it’s supposed to be much colder tomorrow. I won’t even need to get out of the car. Thank you Jesus!

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I’m Embarrassed to be a Christian

I was born a Christian. That’s not a theologically correct statement, but it is a reality. There was never a time in my life when I could not be identified as a Christian. My father was a preacher, and even though I don’t remember, obviously, it’s likely the first place I was taken after birth was to church. That was the only place my parents ever went in those days.

I grew up in the church. There was no such thing as a nursery or a children’s program. I went to “big church,” held in my mother’s arms until I could sit and then I was placed on the pew next to her side. I stayed there until I was old enough to get permission to sit with a friend and his mom, but it was always at church.Embarrassed

I was eight or nine years old when I was baptized into the Christian faith after I made a public profession of faith. However, that experience did nothing to change my life. I had always lived my life as a Christian, so the fact that I was now “official” made no difference.

I was taught, and I memorized scripture. It was pounded deep into my consciousness, and God’s word became the guiding moral code of my life. It continues to be my guide for living to this day.

All my friends were Christians. I had friends at school, of course, but in my younger days, even those school friends went to our church. We didn’t do extracurricular activities that interfered with church plans. I’m not complaining. I had many friends from church, and I still have contact with many of them. I have always been a Christian among Christians.

I’ve worked a few non-Christian jobs over the years, but none of them stuck. Most of my life has been spent working for the church or Christian organizations. Even now, as I’m self-employed, much of my work is focused on Christian stuff. I am most well-known in Christian circles, and most of my friends are Christian, even on Facebook. Continue reading

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