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How good are you at sniffing out internet hoaxes, providing you are on the internet?

I think I am pretty good and generally can tell fairly quickly if something is a hoax, a joke or just plain misguided.
If you get email you have received the breathless plea from James Dobson that someone is trying to take "Touched by an Angel" off the air. Or that Bill Gates wants to send you five dollars just because he cares. It's curious that since the Gates? real charitable work is becoming more well known, that hoax has more or less died out. Or you have seen the purported last photo from the world trade center with an airliner heading right toward the camera. The one I like is the thirty foot great white shark leaping out of the water to grab a helicopter. Some are just jokes, some are pranks, but all the above are totally fake.

I did get one a few weeks ago that I was about to put in the "hoax" category, but hadn't heard of it so decided to check it out first. My friend Dennis Vietorisz, from Vancouver sent me an email that said we have been the victims of a hoax by the Walt Disney corp. The cheek of him to suggest such a thing! The story went like this: During the filming of the Disney movie, White Wilderness there is a sequence of Norwegian lemmings plunging off a cliff into the sea below. And we were told this is a regular phenomenon. When populations reach . . .

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
because many false prophets have gone out into the world 
1John 4:1

How good are you at sniffing out internet hoaxes, providing you are on the internet?
I think I am pretty good and generally can tell fairly quickly if something is a hoax, a joke or just plain misguided.
If you get email you have received the breathless plea from James Dobson that someone is trying to take "Touched by an Angel" off the air. Or that Bill Gates wants to send you five dollars just because he cares. It's curious that since the Gates' real charitable work is becoming more well known, that hoax has more or less died out. Or you have seen the purported last photo from the world trade center with an airliner heading right toward the camera. The one I like is the thirty foot great white shark leaping out of the water to grab a helicopter. Some are just jokes, some are pranks, but all the above are totally fake.

I did get one a few weeks ago that I was about to put in the "hoax" category, but hadn't heard of it so decided to check it out first. My friend Dennis Vietorisz, from Vancouver sent me an email that said we have been the victims of a hoax by the Walt Disney corp. The cheek of him to suggest such a thing!  The story went like this: During the filming of  the Disney movie, White Wilderness  there is a sequence of Norwegian lemmings plunging off a cliff into the sea below. And we were told this is a regular phenomenon. When populations reach a certain point, masses of lemmings follow one another in a mass suicide into the sea. In fact, this has been so well accepted as fact that the word "lemming" is short hand for someone who blindly follows.
Well it turns out that my friend Dennis is right. There is no such regular lemming suicidal plunge. Disney led us astray. The sequence was almost entirely faked.
Now I am not even sure about Bambi, let alone Dopey and Sneezy. I figure Doc is a regular guy though.

Maybe we should call this Disney hoax, "Lemminggate".
So lemmings do not jump off cliffs.
Ostriches do not stuff their head in the sand when they are threatened either, but we still use the analogy of putting your head in the sand.

Call me old fashioned, but I like to know what is real and what is not. The less obvious and the greater the stakes, the more
important knowing becomes.

Don't believe everything you hear.

In his letter to the churches, John warns them of spiritual hoaxes. He says don't believe everything you hear because there are false teachers going out into the world. It's amazing how many people fall for false teaching.
There are always a fresh supply of gullible or desperate people who will follow, "lemming-like" some charismatic leader even to their dooms. There are plenty of  current examples of people who will surrender all their possessions to some guru, agree to becoming the fourteenth wife to some cult leader or even throwing their lives away for a person they trust in.

In 1980, Harvest House published a book by Larry Parker entitled We Let Our Son Die. The book tells the tragic story of how Larry and his wife?after being influenced by one of America's numerous "word of faith" (or "word-faith") teachers?withheld insulin from their diabetic son, Wesley. Predictably, Wesley went into a diabetic coma. The Parkers, warned about the impropriety of making a ?negative confession,? continued to ?positively confess? Wesley's healing until the time of his death.

Even after Wesley's death, the Parkers?undaunted in their "faith"?conducted a resurrection service instead of a funeral. For more than one year following their son's death, they refused to abandon the "revelation knowledge" they had received through the "word-faith" movement. Eventually, they were tried and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse.1

I remember a young man I knew a number of years ago. He had been diagnosed with leukemia, but would not accept conventional treatment preferring instead for his church to pray for healing. He died and I often wondered about the pastoral teaching he received. I recall him as being rather head-strong, but wonder where his belief system originated.

What you believe does make a difference.

What you believe makes a difference. If you believe that conventional medicine is a sign of no faith, then that matters a great deal. If you believe that someone who claims to be a new messiah just might be one, that could matter a whole lot depending on whether or not you are a follower.

In John's time, there was a cult which claimed that Jesus was not flesh and blood, but only a spirit.
They believed that only "spiritual" things were worthwhile and anything connected with the body or the material world was evil. They were called gnostics and John refutes them by saying that the test of their claim is whether anyone says Jesus really did come in the flesh.
Interestingly, there was a group in the 18th century in the American Appalachians called the "Shakers", who had a somewhat similar philosophy. They taught that celibacy was the ideal and even though in so many other ways, had an admirable society, they died out from lack of children.

A group that in our time was often labeled as a sect or cult are the Seventh Day Adventists. I disagree with their stand on worshipping only on Saturday, but it turns out that their strict adherence to the Levitical health rules in the Bible show real benefits in a longer life span than the general population.

If you believe that wealth is a sign of God's favor you may live to acquire as much as you can.
If you believe material blessings are a stewardship to be shared, you will live differently.

Stephen Hawking writes:
A young scientist, (I believe it was Bertrand Russell) was giving a lecture on the universe. He described how our planet orbits our sun and how our sun travels in orbit around the center of our galaxy which in turn travels around the center of the universe. An elderly woman stood up and said, "You are wrong young man. The world is like a flat plate riding on the back of a huge turtle." Russell smiled knowingly and asked, "and what does the turtle stand upon?" At this the lady said, "Very clever young man, but it's turtles...turtles all the way down."2.

It does matter what you believe.

How can you know what is right?

John says "if you want to know what is right, pay attention to what I tell you"
That is what some cult leaders do as well.
The difference is that John was a first hand witness and commissioned by God as an apostle to teach.
And to that point there were no written gospels, so you followed the teaching of the elders. So it made a difference which elder you chose.

If I was going to study cosmology, I would choose Stephen Hawking rather than the lady in the audience that night.
If I were going to learn about God's plan for our lives, I would choose to learn from someone who obviously knew what they were talking about. In the first centuries, it was those who knew Jesus personally or were the students of those who did.

In our world we have two resources.
1. The scriptures which have stood the test of time.
2. People who know the scriptures and have successfully lived them.

There is no substitute for learning where there is a long and honorable history of living a godly life.
One of the most notable features of cults is that they claim to have brand new revelation which no one up until now has discovered. They slander those who have faithfully taught and lived the Bible for centuries and then share their "unheard of until now" secrets with the gullible and naive.

How do you know?
See who has lived the Bible well for a lifetime.
Not just those who pay lip service or who carry around an outward appearance of it.
See who has gone through pain and suffering, joys and sorrows for a lifetime and whose life is well known by everyone around them and who also has a strong faith. Those are the ones I would trust.
Or ask them who they trust and what they read.

Don't be taken in by the next charlatan with a sizzling new version of God's plan.
It's all out there in plain view.
If in doubt, ask the author.

I remember a funny scene from Annie Hall by Woody Allen. He is standing in line for a movie and discussing something Marshall MacLuhan had written when someone else in the line begins to argue with him. Then from several positions back comes MacLuhan himself to intervene and points out to the know-it-all that Woody was right all along. A bit like God telling Job's friends that Job was right all along.
What a way to make a point!
I am not saying God will personally step into the conversation, but if you want to know, ask and then do your own study.
Jesus says concerning the Holy Spirit, that if you ask for a fish, a good father will not give you a snake instead, and that God will not double cross you when you ask in faith.

It does matter what you believe.
God has given us living witnesses. Ask them.
God has given us a written record. Read it.
God has given us the Holy Spirit. Trust Him


Preached  February 19, 2006
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

Notes
1. Hank Hanegraaff, ?Faith in Faith or Faith in God?? (5-22-01);
2. Hawking, Stephen, "A Brief History of Time", Bantam Press, 1996. p.1

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