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Summary: Dr. Gardner visited Rome in January 2006 and studied the life of the Apostles Peter and Paul late in their ministries before they were martyred. This two sermon series explores two little-known Pastoral letters Paul wrote from Prison in a series Dr. Gard

How many of you remember ever receiving a chain letter? Chances are, if you are over fifty like I am, you do. I asked my twenty-five year old son if he had ever received a chain letter and he said he’d never heard of them. I asked him if he ever received a piece of junk email, and he said, “I get that stuff every day!” How many of you do also?

The Internet resurrected the old device of chain letters and fed them steroids! The emails say they are from Microsoft, Mickey Mouse, or some Missionary in Africa! We live in a world of forwarded email, “spam,” scams, hoaxes, viruses, and spy ware! The numbers alone are overwhelming. Analysts say that 40% of the estimated 30 billion emails sent each day are junk mail! US businesses lose $10 billion annually just dealing with junk mail, viruses, and hoaxes.

Chain letters that promise financial return are illegal and predatory. They also are mathematically impossible! By the time you get the payoff, over 11 million people would have to participate! It doesn’t take a math professor to know that just won’t work. Why do people fall for it? Simple. Money and greed.

It isn’t just money that motivates this kind of stuff. Every year I have been a minister I have had someone ask me about a petition to the FCC from famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair to eliminate religious programming from TV and radio. Have you seen one?

The problem is – it never happened! There was a petition presented to the FCC in 1974 by two other persons, which was denied over thirty years ago.

There was a version which was circulating in 2004 when I came here which mentioned her efforts to cancel the television program "Touched by an Angel.” I told the person who gave it to me that there were several problems!

1) After nine seasons, “Touched by an Angel” was cancelled by CBS in 2003!

2) The whole Madalyn Murray O’Hair petition thing was a hoax.

3) Madalyn had been missing along with $500,000, since 1995.

4) She was incapable of a petition since she was found dead in 2001!

I got an email about that petition last week! Go figure - some things never die!

It isn’t just our mailboxes and computers. There is a whole category of businesses based on the system of signing up people who sign up others -- called “Multi- Level Marketing.” It is pervasive in our culture, and it isn’t always on the level. Televangelist Pat Robertson was investigated for using MLM to build his personal fortune by selling vitamin coupons to the elderly.

Now some such companies are legitimate. Some of you here today have hosted an Amway, cosmetics, or home interiors or “Stampin’ Up” or Tupperware party. For the Tupperware people, I just have this question. “Is there some way to organize Tupperware so it will stop reproducing in my cupboards?” Every time I look in there, new Tupperware comes flying out!

But here’s my caution. When something promises “something for nothing;” when the main focus is how it can make you money; when there is a lot of talk about uplines and downlines; when it sounds too good to be true; be careful!

A decade ago a United Methodist Theological Seminary and other charities were defrauded in the largest Pyramid schemes in history by the Foundation for

New Era Philanthropy of Charles Bennett. By the time it collapsed in 1995, it raised over $500 million from 1100 donors and stolen $135 million of this.

The thefts would have grown much larger if not for a diligent accounting teacher at little Spring Arbor College in Michigan who knew something was wrong. He knew that a college or a life cannot be founded on greed.

Who suffered? I won’t read the whole list. It is frightening and embarrassing.

I reads like a “Who’s Who” of charities, colleges and foundations.

Princeton, Harvard, The Nature Conservancy, Laurance Rockefeller, Wheaton College, Pat Boone, Raytheon, American Red Cross, Central College in McPherson, Kan., Eastern College in Pennsylvania, Focus on the Family, Fuller Seminary, Inter-Varsity Fellowship, Mission Aviation Fellowship, Moody Bible Institute, Salvation Army, United Theological Seminary, World Impact, World Vision, Youth for Christ, and hundreds of other Christian charities.

What chain letters, many multi-level marketers and pyramid schemes have in common is this. They appeal to greed. It is the theology of Wall Street. In that film, Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gecko delivers this speech,

“…greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit… …and greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save (this company), but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”

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