We live in a day of great deception sweeping the earth. Jesus warned the disciples, ‘Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:15, NASB). Prophecy tells us that great deception will sweep the earth in these last days, and unless those days were shortened, even the very elect would be led astray.
May I tell you a true story? Let’s travel back to the early eighties. At the time, I was a young, single teacher in a small town out West.
One Sunday, as I was sitting in my singles’ class, a stranger joined us. This man claimed he was driving through town when the Lord had told him to stop at our church. Not only was he from out-of-town, but also from a different state.
Afterward, he joined us for the church service. At the end of the sermon, he went down to the altar where he collapsed, sobbing. The ministers laid hands on his shoulders and prayed with him a long time. We all wondered what was wrong, and a few days later, we heard his story through the grapevine.
Just a few months earlier, his wife and two young children had been on their way to church for a Wednesday evening service. As their car crested to the top of a hill, a tractor-trailer met them. The head-on collision was unavoidable, killing all three passengers in the car. Ever since, this father and husband had suffered from bereavement, unable to face life without his precious family.
That catalyst set his wanderings in motion. He had traveled through several states, seeking the Lord’s will for his inconsolable grief. Certain that he had heard God’s voice, he obeyed and stopped at our small-town church. Not knowing why, he decided to simply be obedient and throw himself into the arms of the congregation. Perhaps here he could find solace and begin a new life.
As good Christians, the congregation opened their hearts to this poor man. No one could fathom the pain he must have suffered from such a cruel turn of fate. As he had no job or place to live, Good Samaritans opened their spare bedrooms and kitchens, feeling dutiful to heap compassion on him.
Sunday after Sunday, he cried at the altar, but on weekdays he offered free roofing skills. He aimed his labor of love at elderly women and widows, volunteering to check their roofs for damage. Sure enough, every lady seemed to own a house in need of major repairs, so he did the job. Without pay.
However, those sweet Christian ladies wouldn’t hear of his refusing payment. Not only did they feed him three meals a day, but they paid at least three times what the job was worth. With tears in their eyes, they forced him to take their money. Although he initially balked, he always gave in, humbly pocketing the cash as he wiped away his own tears. After a hug and a peck on the cheek, he moved on to the next widow’s house.
Time passed. One weekend, he joined our group for a weekend trip of snow-skiing. That evening, we went to dinner at a local restaurant where we waited to be seated. I happened to stand next to him, so we struck up a conversation for the first time.
My spiritual senses were keen, like a bloodhound, and I sensed something amiss about this man. What was it? I asked him questions about his wife and kids, careful to be sensitive. With a blank stare in his eyes, he answered everything with a lifeless tone.
After several minutes of probing, I summed up my opinion about details of his story that made no sense to me. “Either you’re still in so much shock that your emotions are numbed, or else” … I laughed as though I couldn’t believe it myself … “this story just isn’t true.”
My words had captured his full attention. His eyes widened, but he said nothing. No reaction except for that odd stare. He moved far away from me, and we never conversed again.
The next day on our way home, our group stopped at a mountain resort for brunch—a pricey buffet. When the check came, we prepared to pay individually, but he stopped us.
“No, put your money away. This is my treat.”
Our mouths dropped. How could he possibly afford to pay for the entire group? The amount was well over one hundred dollars back then, and we all protested at his generosity. Instead, he whipped out a credit card and sent the bill off with a server. All we could do was thank him over and over.
Be shrewd as serpents but innocent as doves.
In the eyes of the church leadership and members, this man could do no wrong. Everyone bent over backward to help him every way possible.
Except me. I remembered his odd reaction at the restaurant and still had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, so I followed my instincts and observed from a distance. I had confided my doubts to several friends, but they disagreed with me, seeing no good reason to doubt his story.
Then, one day, our visitor suddenly disappeared, and everyone in the church was surprised and concerned. Why, he hadn’t even said goodbye. No one could understand it. Where had he gone?
A couple days later, I heard that one of the guys in our group had also become suspicious about this stranger’s excessive spending on different credit cards and had checked him out. Good thing he did.
Turned out our visitor was a criminal wanted in several states for fraud, bounced checks, and stolen credit cards. He traveled from state-to-state, stopping at small churches in sleepy towns where he bet on the people being gullible.
And the story about losing his family? All phony. He was divorced from his wife, and all three were alive and well, residing in a different state.
And the roofs he had fixed? He had done little to no repairs, just sat on top of the houses, occasionally banging a hammer enough times to sound like he was working. Those poor elderly women on a fixed income had been robbed by a con man.
Deception means being tricked into believing a lie. That is Satan’s purpose, which explains why Jesus calls him the father of lies. Remember Eve? She has her own story in Genesis, and we’re still living under the consequences of it today.
How easy it is to be deceived. We may be sincere … but sincerely wrong. The only way to be sure we’re not deceived is to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who lives inside every Christian believer. He will nudge our hearts and show us truth as we pray. He speaks through God’s word and sometimes through dreams, teaching us how to discern wisdom and truth.
I may have escaped falling into deception that round, but other tests were soon to come down my road of life. How I wish I could say I have never been deceived—but that would be a lie. Haven’t we all been, at one time or another?
Be shrewd as serpents but innocent as doves.
In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us to ‘Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (NASB).
Think about it—could there be a person in your life right now who might be deceiving you?