Creating Trophy Christians
For many years now, Christianity, at least within America, has adopted a glorification program I like to call Trophy Christianity. It works like this:
1. Find a person who has professed to have undergone a “born again” experience. This individual must have been really bad and done things that are so wicked and evil that it is shocking to those of us who are more refined and would never stoop to doing such evil things. (You can’t see my tongue, but yeah, it’s in my cheek.)
2. Give time for this individual to display his or her “new life” to everyone in order to lend credence to the “born again” experience. (Often, what took place was “reformation” which is about as valid as last January’s vow to lose weight and is often mistaken for “regeneration.”)
3. Begin elevating this person and magnifying them, showing the “beauty” and the “magnificence” that was always there, but was hidden until God’s grace revealed it, uncovering the real person, showing what the love of Christ can do to a person and how a person yielded to Christ can do anything and become anything and can do awesome things in his or her life now that s/he has Christ and…on and on.
In short, we Christians love to create a “Poster Christian” for inspiration to others. Or, so the thinking goes.
In reality, it’s all a sophisticated sales gimmick. It’s no different than the kind of “brand making” that goes on in the world and Hollywood. But, it is a deadly gimmick. Here is a perfect example of the deadliness of this kind of thinking.
Barry Minkow: A Redemption Story Gone Wrong
Barry was a child criminal. As a teenager, he’d started a business in the 80’s which eventually was used as a tool for a giant fraud, scamming people from the rich and famous to the poor who merely wanted to invest their pensions in a “good deal,” out of more than $100 million dollars. Minkow was indicted and went to prison. While in prison, Minkow met a Christian prison inmate who led him to Christ. Minkow was a “new person” and immediately embraced Christianity like a lost child who’d just been found by his mother. He cooperated with federal prosecutors, assisting them in catching con artists and swindlers like himself. He was an expert and they used his expertise.
In April 2014, Barry Minkow was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison for stealing millions from his church and congregants. It will not be a new thing for Barry. He can truly say, “Been there, done that.” Prosecutors claimed Minkow “used every mechanism available to steal money” from the church, beginning in 2001 to the year 2011. He stole more than $1.3 million in donation checks, forged signatures on checks and even took out unauthorized loans in the church’s name. In all, his scams totaled over $3 million dollars.
In court for his sentencing was Bruce Caulk, the director of a movie of Minkow’s life, starring, Barry Minkow. Other stars were James Caan, Ving Rhames and Talia Shire. Caulk noted that they’d have to do a new ending. He said, “It’s a redemption story gone wrong,”
The Real Problem with Poster Christians
When we hold someone up on high, we do them no service. It does not matter who you are, every human on the planet is susceptible to flattery. Every human, whether you’ve been a Christian for one year or forty years, can be lifted up with pride. All humans are flawed. Getting “born again” does not immunize one from sin. It does immunize one from the ultimate consequence of sin. The “wages,” or penalty for sin, is spiritual death (Rom. 6:23). But, those who have had what many call the John 3:5 experience (“born again”) are thereafter born spiritually. Their spirit becomes one with God. (But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 1 Cor 6:17 ).
However, while that spirit, that new person, is perfect, the flesh is anything but perfect. Even the Apostle Paul acknowledged that when he said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.…” (Rom 7:18).
We praise men and make them think they are somehow so special, so gifted, so talented and so great that God will be eternally grateful that they “gave” their talents to be used of God. And, these men buy into it. They come to think of themselves as above the law, even above the laws of God. It’s as though they drink a magical potion that makes them believe they are invincible, above real failure and above real wickedness.
They’ve forgotten (or never read) the warning that says: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom 12:3).
Paul warned of lifting men up. He rebuked the Corinthians of trying to do that very thing with himself and other men of God. He said: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:12-13)
He then goes on to echo Jesus words that apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:4), to demonstrate that he, Paul, is nothing. He draws their attention to an important fact by saying: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)
Paul demonstrated in many places in Scripture that we are weak and it is in our weakness that we are strong. (2 Cor 12:9, 10; Heb. 11:34; 1 Cor. 2:3). He also warned Christians to pay attention to their thought-life by not making too many assumptions as to their spiritual prowess. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12)
There is no room for pride with the Christian. And when we, as a Christian community, praise and elevate men and women with too much accolades and praise, we hurt them.
Their hearts get lifted up (see Schaap ) and they come to believe that they are one of those implied “exceptions” mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 1:26-31 when he said not many wise men, not many mighty, and not many noble men are called. He comes away agreeing that most of those called are weak and puny and dumb like sheep, but he was one of the few that were not in that group. He was not one of the “most” but one of the implied “few.”
This is not to say we ought never praise someone. There is a place for being thankful to someone, and for being grateful, and for acknowledging their contribution to your life or someone else’s life, or for pointing out that they are a good example to follow. Even Paul used himself as an example. But, your praise ought to be measured. Make it with the realization that you may be doing harm to the person instead of good. They may not need to hear any more praise
Bottom line: We’ve got to stop making Trophy Christians.
We’ve got to realize that the only one who collects such trophies is Satan.
Keep your praises and adoration of men and women low key.
If they’ve blessed you, thank God. Direct others to their messages, if you think it will help them. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’ve a preacher or teacher in your life who has helped you, there’s nothing wrong with your promoting that person’s teachings or messages.
It doesn’t take a movie to do that.
It doesn’t take a 5 minute oration of adoration to do that.
It doesn’t take a poster.
Copyright 2014 Voyle A. Glover
 For a pretty excellent summary of the extraordinary life of Barry Minkow, see the Wikipedia piece on Barry Minkow.
Below is a short video on the Barry Minkow story
What a magnificent story.
If ever a kid should have turned out poorly, Ben Carson should have. But, he didn’t. I liked the movie because it shows so clearly, the elements that counted most for his success.
The first element that was a thread through his life was his mother. She was a single mom raising two boys in Detroit. She had a third-grade education and did not know how to read. But, she was a disciplinarian. The woman had a sense of right and wrong, together with a vision for her boys that was unquenchable. Her drive and determination was what pushed Ben Carson into excellence. She encouraged him again and again, even when he became a world famous doctor.
Parents play a critical role in the development of their children—more than they know. Most parents do not have the vision Ben Carson’s mother had for her sons. And, few parents have the fierce determination, the stubborn resolve and unrelenting insistence to make something of her boys Parents can learn a lot from this woman.
The second element that ran through the story was his faith in God. Jesus was not a swear word in his home. It was part of conversations with God and in the home with each other. Church was part of his life. At one point, Carson attempted to kill a friend in a violent rage. Apparently, he had a terrible temper. He resolved the problem by taking it to God, asking Jesus to deliver him of his temper.
The third element that ran through Carson’s life was his own dedication to excellence. Again and again, we see in his life, a dedication to his job that is extraordinary. Few people will put in the long, arduous hours of work, study and training in order to achieve excellence. And this, after he’d already become world famous. Most men would sit back and take life easy. This man drives himself to do a perfect job every time.
I listened last night, March 6, 2014, as Dr. Carson spoke on at the Women’s Center, a not-for-profit organization that has saved more lives than most doctors will in a life time. He was excellent. He’s an entertaining speaker, humorous, but hits you with pointed truths that cannot help but reverberate through your mind.
He spoke about, among other things, how the media and those who oppose you, will always reshape your words and twist them into a lie. In a society that has been “dumbed down” as he noted, it isn’t difficult to sell those lies.
Here is a perfect example of the character of Ben Carson. Watch as he speaks some hard truths that landed right square on the jaw of the President and our liberal media.
I grew up roaming Arizona as a young man. I bought a Bronco when they first came out. It was a 4-wheel monster that I thought could go anywhere. It did, mostly, though there were a few instances when it went where angels fear to tread. I used to drive into the mountains, look for a dirt road or a trail and get on it merely to see where it went. And, when the trial or road ended, I’d go off-road, wending my way down gullies, up steep embankments, and looking, always looking to see what was around the next bend or over the next rise. I spent hundreds of hours doing this.
I had a favorite place to go. There was no “road” to the place. I found it by accident while exploring. I’d gone off-road hours before and I came to a dry riverbed. I began driving down it and after a mile or two I came upon a small canyon. At the end of the canyon was a waterfall. It wasn’t a huge one, but here was water in the desert. There were some green shrubs around and huge cliffs on each side. On the cliffs were thousands of wasps and bees, all there because of the moisture around. It became a favorite “hide-out” for me. I’d bring a cot, some water and food, and camp out for a weekend. I’d always bring my .22 pistol and rifle and would spend hours shooting bees off the face of the cliff.
Recently, I did a story that incorporated a location that I came to love in Arizona. It wasn’t this place (that’s coming in another story), but instead, this one was up near the Mogollon Rim near Payson, Arizona. What a gorgeous place! I used to go up there and spend days camping out amongst the pine trees (and rattlers!).
The Red Mountain Ranch War brings to the forefront an issue that has long beset Christians, namely whether it is ever right to kill another person. Is war wrong? Can one who calls himself a Christian take the life of another man? One of the characters in the story, a former Texas Ranger turned preacher, came to the ranch to marry a young widow and Artie Longer, a Civil War veteran. He had to face that issue.
Artie had hired on with his friend Ben Hayes after they’d learned a local rancher was driving away the hired hands and had murdered her father. Hayes, a no-nonsense ex-Civil War soldier, has a simple solution to the problem. He and the preacher discussed the problem. Frank, the preacher, said:
“Some men are like mad dogs, though. We expect dogs to act like they do. We’re shocked when men act like dogs–mad ones. These kinds of men are mad dogs.”
Ben interjected, “And we all know what to do with such dogs. Only answer is to shoot them. Only answer to a Jarvis and his kind is a bullet in the head.” He stared hard at Frank. There was a clear challenge in his words and his stare.
It was an interesting book in terms of writing. Actually, at some point, the characters took over and wrote the story. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I’ve found, as a writer, that if you draw your characters well enough, then they will act consistently within those parameters. If a writer attempts to put them outside their “character,” they will resist.
Check it out.
It’s in paperback (great gift for Dad or Granpa) or Kindle.
(Here are some gorgeous views of the Mogollon Rim. )