I am a bit worried about a friend of mine.
He’s on holiday in Cyprus and has lost his bag that contains his mobile phone, his wallet and other important items.

He has managed to find an Internet cafe and sent me an e-mail asking for my help. If I can send him some money by international transfer, it will get him out of the difficulty he is in.

I am heading off to the bank later.

Before I go, however, there is an investment opportunity that has come my way.

It was very fortunate – a complete stranger happened to come across my e-mail address and is offering me the opportunity to invest in a small company that is guaranteed to make enormous profits when it is floated on the stock exchange later this year.

So there are two things I need to do at the bank.

Or there would be if it wasn’t for the other e-mail I received from someone whose father was a minister in a corrupt government in Africa.

Sadly, he has died and his daughter wants to redistribute his wealth by giving some of it to worthy causes around the world – including me. If I can just send her some details of my bank account, she will arrange for the transfer of millions of pounds.

So what I plan to do is to get the money from the corrupt African official, send some of it to help my friend in Cyprus and invest the rest in the company that will make me even richer.

I can then use that money to put into new investment opportunities that I am sure will come flooding in once the Internet knows how astute a businessman I am.

Before any of you start sending me messages, yes, I do realize that these are all scams.

Otherwise, being a corrupt millionaire would be a very bad occupation – their life expectancy is very poor. And friends will have to stop going on holiday or at least contact the British embassy or consulate where they are, rather than expecting me to help by e-mail.

And there will be thousands of successful small companies about to be floated on the stock exchange. Never mind all the offers of drugs and gizmos that would “enhance” me (how do they know?).

It was an e-mail this morning that sneaked through the spam filter, supposedly from someone I know in trouble in Cyprus that prompted this article.

It upsets me that there will be people taken in by these scams.

It saddens me that the criminals who are perpetrating these crimes don’t care at all about the impact on the lives of the people they rip off.

It annoys me that it is likely to be the more vulnerable in society who will be taken in by these frauds.

Recently, I wrote another article about the way that people can perceive that cyberspace is not real and fail to consider the consequences of their actions. I think that there is a similar failure on the part of the criminals to consider the consequences of these scams – or, more accurately, a complete disdain for them.

Just because you can’t see someone’s face does not mean that they are not affected by a crime. Just because you don’t know someone does not mean that they do not feel violated by such activities.

It used to be that we could easily avoid being victims of these crimes.

Many of these scams work because people are greedy and lazy. We like the idea of getting rich quick. We are keen on the idea of great rewards for minimal effort.

If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

But now there are scams that are seeking to exploit someone’s compassion and goodwill – help a friend in trouble. These can be more persuasive because they are appealing to a better side of human nature.

The irony is that they are being perpetrated by people who seem to have lost touch with that side of their character.

Sometimes, I think churches can be guilty of similar crimes.

We can suggest that you get great reward for minimal effort if you become a Christian. Sadly, sometimes that is couched in material terms, but more often it is “eternal life in exchange for a prayer.”

Whereas Jesus called people to follow him – counting the cost and picking up their cross daily.

And I have been in Christian places where, to put it bluntly, an atmosphere is created that exploits people’s emotions and invites a response that is not God-inspired. It is possible to manufacture a pseudo-spiritual atmosphere. I could offer you the formula if you like (for a fee).

Please God, save us from tricking people into your Kingdom. Please God, stop us from exploiting people.

And please Jesus, fill me afresh with your Spirit so I can be a better free sample of you today, and may your churches represent you genuinely and honestly.

Nick Lear is one of the pastors of Colchester Baptist Church in Essex in the United Kingdom. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission.

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