“He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold, and from among their tribes no one faltered” (Psalm 105:37, NIV). “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it” (Proverbs 10:22, NIV).
After twenty years as a senior pastor I think I’ve seen just about everything under the sun when it comes to the behavior of people (Christian and otherwise). Not much surprises me these days – not the loose living, the life-changing decisions that are made without so much as even consulting God or spiritual leadership, not the trashing of sacred covenant in Christian marriage, not even the elaborate length individuals will go through to con the Lord or His Church to get some kind of support or help “in their time of need.”
Don’t get me wrong. As a ministry we have compassionately provided assistance for many genuine needs through the years. It’s a blessing to make a real difference in the lives of hurting people and the sacred and holy giving of the people of God makes that possible. We will always do whatever we can to encourage others and support them in practical ways. Through the years we have kept food on the table for families, helped them get to an out-of-town hospital to be with loved ones, kept power on when electric bills were past due, prevented young families from being evicted, helped the ill purchase medication, filled propane tanks in the middle of a harsh winter. We even helped a little to reduce the final funeral costs for a widow in need. I love sowing and I love seeing how God’s people collectively can make such a difference in so many lives. Praise God.
But as a pastor it is also my responsibility to make sure that the resources of the ministry stay out of the hands of the “religious cons” of the world (although whatever we do in Jesus’ name is a blessing regardless of their motives). I have witnessed every kind of lame excuse and con game but three styles of cons are most memorable (and disturbing). Consider the outcome when Simon the Sorcerer tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit (see Acts chapter eight) or when Ananias and Sapphira, wanting the accolades given to Barnabas, conspired to appear to make a substantial offering but in reality kept back a portion of the funds (Acts five). It seems from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is seriously down on religious con games.
The first con revolves around a manufactured problem con like “my spouse is dying and we need help” or some other fake crisis. We actually had a couple come to the church (any several other churches we understand – cons tend to be a mobile lot) requesting assistance declaring that the wife was so sick she was literally urinating parts of her bladder (that’s code for we are Meth addicts and get really creative when we are coming down from a high and need the next fix).
The second type of con is the spiritual con: “I want to submit to your leadership to be mentored by you.” This always begins with an apparent hunger for the things of God, faithfulness to the ministry, and attempts to get close to senior staff or pastors. Of course after you substantially help the family to the point of preventing utilities from being shut off or preventing eviction the enthusiasm for mentoring (and church attendance) just disappears along with the family.
The third type of con is the “speak for the church” con where the con tells a vendor, employer, landlord, or utility company that such and such church has promised to take care of this. Unbelievable you say? Actually, it happens quite often. Recently, unbeknownst to me or anyone else I can find, the church “promised” to pay back rent to a frustrated landlord on behalf of a needy tenant (it’s amazing what we promise when we are asleep). The landlord wasn’t buying the story and contacted us for confirmation. Of course we provided documentation for the landlord proving the religious con.
As I said, we are always going to be sowers – sowers into communities, churches, ministries, missionaries, church members (whose needs come first), and legitimately hurting families in the communities we serve. It’s a privilege to be “his hand extended.” The sad thing for the con is that if they would get into the Word (for real) and search out the fine print of their covenant with God they would discover that they have a God that longs to meet their needs and prosper them. Instead of taking or conning the Lord and His Church they should be tapping into his deep provision by learning to believe, give, and speak the blessing over their lives.
I want to encourage you that you don’t have to resort to games or cons to get your needs met. He promises to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Spend your time coming to church to sit under the Word, reading the Word, confessing the promises, and listening for the wisdom of God. One word from God can change your life (and your financial life) forever. The problem is that one con can change your life forever as well – just ask Simon, Ananias, and Sapphira.