Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Christmas Looms and Satan's Schemes

About this time every year, my wife and I start looking at our budget and trying to figure out, “How much money do we have to spend for Christmas?” And I’ll admit, there are times when I wish we had a little more. There are SOOO many presents to buy – for kids, brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, husbands, and wives. There are Christmas parties to go to and Yankee Swaps and Dirty Santa’s. It can all begin to pile up very quickly. And being afraid you don’t have enough money for the holiday season can cause real stress.

I think that is one of the reasons that I began seeing something called a “Christmas Loom,” start popping up on social media yesterday. Lots of people were taking part in it – and I think it is a symptom of both the stress of the holidays and our culture’s obsession with stuff. Here’s how it works. One person gives another person $100 through PayPal. And then he or she asks 8 other people to give them $100. The process repeats itself over and over again. This is all done through a lovely multi-colored loom. Your name begins on the outside of the loom, and as you get more people to sign up, you get closer to the center. Once you’re in the center, you have $800. It all sounds so simple. And it is, in a sense. If you can get 8 other people to give you $100, then you have your $800 dollars!

There are two problems with this “loom game.” One is legal – the other is moral. From a legal standpoint, this is simply a pyramid scheme. A pyramid, or Ponzi scheme, is when someone sells what is essentially a worthless investment, where the only way anyone can make money is to sell that worthless investment to other people. In other words, you do not make money by selling anything or doing anything. You make it by convincing other people to get involved – they give you money and encourage others to give them money. This is a misdemeanor under Mississippi law. It’s a scheme that has been going on for decades in different forms, and it has gotten a lot of people in trouble – legally and financially.

But that’s really a minor problem in the grand scheme of things. The chances of you being prosecuted for a misdemeanor for something you and a bunch of other people are doing on Facebook are probably relatively small. The main issue with this is the moral issue – and this is especially true if you profess to be a Christian.

You see, it’s all going to come to an end at some point. For every one person who gets $800 dollars, there are going to be 8 people who lose their $100. It is simple math. At some point, it’s all going to come crashing down. Maybe it won’t hurt you much to lose $100 – maybe you think it’s worth the risk. But you’re not just getting yourself involved, you are encouraging others to do it also. And maybe the person you have encouraged to give you $100 is a lot more desperate than you are. Maybe that $100 is their grocery money, and they’re hoping they can turn it into money to pay the rent. But they’re going to lose it all. And you are complicit. Maybe you think, “This isn’t a scam! I got my money!” That doesn’t mean it isn’t a scam – it means you are the scammer. Now, you probably didn’t intentionally do this, but you did it nevertheless.

We should not be surprised that we are tempted into these kinds of schemes. The Bible says the lure of ill-gotten money is incredibly strong. Paul told Timothy that, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9). Now, you may say, “I’m not trying to get rich; I just want a little extra cash for the holidays.” But the temptation to get that extra cash through unscrupulous means, no matter how small, is the same temptation that causes a man to skim a little off the top at work, or cheat on his taxes, or take part in a large-scale Ponzi scheme, Bernie Madoff style. It’s a matter of difference in scale, not substance. And Paul says the end of this is destruction – in verse 10 he says man have walked away from the faith because of this temptation. All who desire to be rich fall into a trap. Many walk away from the faith.

 And we have to keep our eyes open for this temptation. Satan is laying the trap for us. It sounds so easy, and so harmless, at least for the people who get their money back. But it leaves a little mark on our soul, which left undealt with, has the ability to destroy. Let me be clear – I’m not saying that you are going to Hell if you take part in this – but there is grave danger in the attitude behind it. Money is like fire. It can do great good, but if it is left unchecked, it can do irreparable harm. That’s why, when faced with the temptation, we should fight it.

So what should you do if you have already participated in the “Christmas Loom?” I have a simple solution for you: GIVE. THE MONEY. BACK. Someone is going to get hurt. Maybe it won’t be you. Maybe it won’t be your friends. But a friend of a friend or a family member of a friend is eventually going to come out on the losing end of this and it’s going to hurt them, just in time for Christmas.

I have a friend – a church member - who did just this: she’s a single mom who saw it on Facebook, realized how great it would be to be able to pay her car note off for a couple of months, and took part in it. She got her money. But it put her under deep conviction. Eventually, she sent the money back to everyone she got it from. She doesn’t know whether the person whom she gave the $100 to will give it back to her or not. But at this point, she recognizes that getting her money back is not more important than violating her conscious. And that is worth the highest commendation.

So what are you going to do? Are you going to take part in it, and hope that you are not the one who ends up on the losing end? Or are you simply going to trust God to take care of your finances this Christmas? Jesus is better than a little extra cash for the holidays. But you have to make a choice - you can't serve two masters.