Fraud Alert! 

That was the ominous heading of the email I had received. No one wants to be greeted with that notice when they access their inbox — especially when you’re expecting friendly correspondence or an ad from a sock company I bought one pair from in 2003. However, to be honest, I wasn’t very alarmed. “Annoyed” would be a better descriptor. That’s because my first thought was it must be spam.  

I considered ignoring it altogether, but being a prolific spam receiver, I could tell there was something a little more plausible about this warning. Yet, I’ve learned not to click on any links, so since this regarded a credit card, I decided to initiate the contact by calling the company directly.  

After navigating several touch-tone menus, a helpful woman came on the phone. “Sir, did you attempt a transaction at Wal-Mart in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in the amount of $45.52?” I answered, “No, I did not.”  It really was fraud! I was stunned, and not just by the fact that the email alert was legit, but also that the transaction was flagged as suspect in the first place. Understand, in the last six weeks this card has been to Africa and California and various airports in-between, and every purchase was approved. Yet the sole fraudulent transaction was caught in the very state where the card was registered. Amazing.

The whole experience made me ponder what tipped off the system that it wasn’t me attempting to make the purchase. I wondered if the person attempting to use the bogus card was trying to buy kale or Brussels sprouts and the company knew that Jeff would never try to buy those items! Or maybe it was Kitty Litter?  

I’m sure the actual reason for the alert had nothing to do with the specific items the perpetrator was trying to purchase. However, that could be a useful tactic if someone wanted to develop the software.  That’s because we are creatures of habit and our actions are virtually always consistent with who we are. That’s true when it comes to what brand of peanut butter you buy, but it’s more than an observation about brand loyalty.  

Jesus also tells us that behavior is predictable. He says that who we are on the inside is going to show itself on the outside. On one occasion, He was talking about some false prophets and He said, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-17).  

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be very convicting. Those little slip-ups that happen in my life don’t just appear out of nowhere. They are the predictable and expected fruit that have grown from the soil of my heart. Ouch!  

I have a couple responses I can make to such a revelation. One is deflection. I can insist that attitude or action wasn’t really me. It was an aberration. And when I take that position, what I’m saying is that I’m not responsible. I don’t need to own it because it happened in spite of who I am, not because of who I am. Of course, that is the opposite of what Jesus taught. In Jesus’ example, we’d effectively be saying that we believe grapes do indeed grow from thornbushes.  

The other response is to own the things we say and do. It can be difficult and embarrassing because we must admit that change is required in us. However, it is the only way to spiritual health. As long as we deny our heart needs to grow, we won’t do anything about it. That’s because we either don’t think it is required or to do so would be an admission to everyone that there is something actually wrong.  So we keep up the front, hoping to never be discovered, becoming a slave to our issues in the process.  

Regardless of the difficulty, the only way to develop a good heart that grows good fruit is to root out the harmful influences. It is to admit them and seek the help that will give you the needed victory. Challenging, yes, but it is worth the effort because by your fruit you will be known.