“Trust. But verify.” –sign on the desk of President Ronald Reagan
Someone wants to invest your money and offers big rewards. A person has offered to babysit your child for little or nothing. A stranger wants to tell you how to get to Heaven.
Can you trust them?
How do you know?
The credentials of one making big claims or offering great rewards are everything. We must not assume because they seem okay, look impressive, drive a big car or live in a huge house, and everyone speaks well of them, that they are trustworthy. Con men and scam artists succeed by big talk, great confidence, appearing successful, and winning your confidence. They depend on your naivete, and count on you not asking the big questions.
Credentials. How do you know this person is who they say they are, that they are trustworthy?
I once knew a preacher who sold ads in denominational publications offering a 7 percent return on investments. People assumed he was trustworthy because he pastored a well-known church and the ad was in a trusted periodical they had taken for years. Many people lost their fortunes by trusting him. The man was arrested.
A missionary comes to your town with news of a Savior named Jesus who once died for your sins and offers forgiveness, a new heart, and a home in Heaven. That sounds wonderful, but to believe the message would require your going public with this and that would cost you severely in friends, family relationships, and future prospects. And yet, if it’s true, those things hardly matter. Can you believe the person making such a claim? How can you know?
Every day or two, we read of church people who have been scammed by someone they trusted. A pastor or a TV evangelist or a trusted deacon was putting out the word that he could return 20 percent on all investments. And in this day when banks struggle to offer a single percentage point, that is tempting. When you see friends sinking large sums of money into that project–and one or two telling how they received large returns for their investment–you override your fears and go for it. Only too late do you learn what “Ponzi schemes” are all about.
A lesson from history
In her book “Last Hope Island,” historian Lynne Olson tells of the time early in the Second World War when the Nazis dominated mainland Europe and England fought them almost alone. The British were broadcasting dependable reports of the war over BBC, whose signal was picked up by resistance fighters all over Europe. Freedom fighters distributed radio sets to resistance groups throughout France, and instructed them on how to listen for secret communications.
It was an ingenuous plan.
Often at the end of the BBC news, the announcer would give out coded messages to resistance fighters with brief cryptic notes that had meaning to no one but those receiving them. Olson writes, “Most of them sounded nonsensical to those who did not know their meaning: ‘Dandelions do not like the sardine,’ ‘Father Christmas is dressed in pink,’ ‘Louis has to see the pastor,’ ‘The milk is boiling over,’ and ‘Jan, you have to cut your mustache.'”
From this gibberish, Olson writes, “an agent would pick out the one sentence that meant something to him or her, and no one else would be able to decipher it. The message could indicate a number of different actions or situations: an impending parachute drop; the start of an operation; the dispatch of arms, supplies, or agents; the signal that an agent or courier had arrived safely in London or the field; the warning of someone’s arrest.”
The genius of using the BBC for these messages was that the person in occupied countries did not need to use a short-wave radio whose signals might give away their location. Everyone heard the messages, but only one or two knew their meaning. And the clueless Nazis were helpless to do anything about it.
Then, they discovered these coded messages filled another need, something no one had foreseen. When an operative dropped into a country and made contact with freedom fighters, they were naturally suspicious. How were they to know this one was who he claimed to be? He could be a plant by the Germans. So they came up with a clever plan.
The operative would tell the underground resistance fighters, “You make up a short message–it doesn’t matter what–and I’ll arrange for it to be broadcast a week from now on the BBC.” So, the freedom fighters conferred and came up with something only they would understand: “Katie has a new set of wheels” or “Henry’s toothache is killing him.” And one week later, when they were listening to the nightly report over the BBC, there was their sentence imbedded among all the other codes messages.
And that’s how they found out the new agent was trustworthy. As one said, “You were somebody from then on.”
Don’t be afraid to ask
They knock at your door bringing this new doctrine…
They may be Baptists or Pentecostals. Or they could be Jehovah Witnesses or Mormon missionaries. Each one has a spiel, each one wants you to believe their message.
The question is not so much who are the individuals standing in your door wanting to be admitted into your living room. There’s a bigger question than that. Who is behind these claims? How do we know the writings of the LDS church or the so-called Bible of the JWs or the Gospel of John from the mainline Protestants is true?
What are the credentials of the ones making the original claims? How do we know those writings are trustworthy?
The cultists hope you will not ask that question. Their answers are suspect, to say the least.
It’s not enough to say–as some have said in my hearing–“I know this is true because I get a warm feeling inside when I read it.” That is so subjective no rational person should say it and no normal person should buy it.
The case for the Bible
Is the Bible trustworthy? If you are undecided on this, I have two suggestions.
–One, read it for yourself, starting with page one of the New Testament. Read it all, right on through Revelation. It’s not hard to do. Then, read it again.
–Two. Then, buy anything by Lee Strobel. Type in “Lee Strobel books” to your search engine or go to amazon.com and type in his name. The choices are many and Strobel’s books are solid.
After that, you’re on your own. But I have little doubt where you will end up if you enter this quest with a searching mind and an open heart.