Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .

 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press

Chapter 8


...Speaking Absolute Truth

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to
his neighbor, for we are members of one body. -- Ephesians 4:25 (NIV)

Remember your first lie? I was about five or six years old. An older boy from down the street led me off on a great exploration of the woods behind the park a few blocks from my house. My parents had forbidden me to go beyond a two-block limit. But Columbus, Magellan, and Marco Polo beckoned... off I went exploring uncharted territories. When I returned home my mother asked where I'd been. I lied.

Do you remember your first lie? More important than your first, have you recently been less than absolutely honest?

Lying is pervasive in our society. We have come first to admit, then accept, lying as necessary in our world. Governments lie as a matter of routine. As a teenager in 1960, I was wounded to discover that "Honest Ike" had lied to the world about Francis Gary Powers' U2 flight over Russia. My old war hero confessed to the world that he had lied... even defended it as "necessary" to protect his country's interests. I was disappointed... after all, as many good Christians, I had campaigned for Ike as an elementary school student!

Then came President Nixon who told some whoppers in his self-righteous sort of way. He came tumbling down through the efforts of two Washington Post reporters who practiced a number of lies and deceptions on their own as they tracked down the President's lies. Jody Powell now admits he lied about Carter's policies occasionally. And in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, lies were elevated by some to be judged heroic and quite necessary.

The CIA admits it has consistently lied, not only to other nations, but to their own citizens as well. In Vietnam the army lied about the body counts and the "victory at hand." The finest U.S. corporations regularly practice bribery in other nations. What has our standard of honesty in government come to?

Of course lying is not new... America's practice of breaking treaties with the native americans is a shameful blot on its past. The truth is, we are a society of liars. We've even come to take lying light-heartedly. Several years ago, David Leisure climbed to fabulous fame and wealth by age 37 in Isuzu Motors $20 million TV "Liar Campaign." Joe Isuzu enthusiastically made preposterous verbal claims for the Isuzu cars while captions underneath him read "(He's lying)."

I remember taking my automobile to a church member to get a quote on some body work. Worried about the expense, I asked "How much is this going to cost me?" His reply: "You gonna pay cash or do you need a receipt?" I needed a receipt and said so. His reply: "That'll cost you more -- got to pay Uncle Sam ya know." Do Christians sometimes lie?

I remember one of my college professors asking and answering the aggravating question: "What's the major difference between an unsaved person and a Christian?" Her answer: "Ten years." Too often it seems to be so. The world's sinking standard of truth often creeps into the church body until we adopt the world's standards, only ten years later. Even ministers get caught in the web of truth-stretching and exaggeration. Is your church letting down the standard of absolute honesty? Are you hiding, stretching, or shading the truth?

Kinds of Lying

Most Christians would condemn a bold-faced lie. We are not likely to get caught telling such an outright falsehood. But there are other forms of lying which sometimes trip up the believer. Christians are more likely to be tempted to deliver half-truths -- a partially true statement (which is also partially false). Or there is flattery -- insincere praise. There are false excuses -- not giving the real reason for your actions. There are false impressions when the actual words used are technically true, but you mean to give the hearer a totally different idea.

The Christian may be tempted to exaggeration -- stretching facts and stories for effect. There is deceit -- contriving a false reputation for yourself. Sometimes the believer may be tempted to suppress the truth, keeping silent when the truth is needed. I would hope no Christian would be guilty of slander --false stories told with the intention to harm. But he or she might be caught in a white lie -- a falsehood told for a good cause. The devil is the father of lies and has been exceedingly creative in providing a varied choice of methods for the person who wishes to be less than absolutely honest.

This chapter will not deal with every kind of lying (though reading through the list in the foregoing paragraph may be a worthy repeat exercise). This chapter intends to focus on three areas where church folk -- even ministers -- are tempted to lie:

Lying about Numbers.

How we love to stretch numbers. The church growth movement has spawned some fine growth and success in churches. In our quest for success and local church fame, we try to grow and increase... if we can't, we sometimes take the easy short-cut to success -- lying about numbers. Back in the days when church bus programs were at their height, I heard of one pastor who just couldn't get the bus attendance up to his predecessor's. He called across the country to find out his predecessor's secret. The answer: "Oh, I always added 50 to the total... you know, for the ones I might have missed."

Another pastor recently told me he examined the actual local records of his predecessor and compared them with what was reported to the district. He discovered as much as a 50% variance from week to week. A third young pastor wrote a heart-breaking letter reporting the sad story of how his predecessor has simply looked over the crowd each Sunday and said "Looks like a good Sunday, I'd say we have about 350 here today." No actual counting was done. The estimated attendance was reported for years to the Church officials. The young new pastor had carefully counted people one by one. The records showed a precipitous drop of as many as a hundred people -- yet the attenders said that the crowds seemed about the same or larger. He wrote, "I'm afraid people are going to say 'that young fellow went in there and simply ruined that church'"

"How many'd you have" is the standard question church people -- especially ministers -- ask each other. The pressure for a successful answer is high. Has your church become loose with the truth? One pastor's exaggeration had become such a laughing matter to his people that they secretly dubbed him "Pastor Pinocchio."

But it is not just ministers under success pressure who sometimes lie. Church members are equally as bad. Sometimes the members "inflate" current numbers. But, more often, they magnify past numbers. One pastor was continually hounded by a fellow who frequently greeted him at the door with something like "Well, preacher, you had 155 today, but back there when Reverend Otis was here we ran over 200 every single Sunday... yep, those were great days." This pastor was so annoyed by the constant irritation, he drove to his district headquarters and dragged out the record books. The records showed that the church had never averaged over 200 for even one month, though they did have several big days when the attendance exceeded 200. Like yeast, the attendance had grown as the old fellow had let it rise in his mind over time.

Some Christian people kiddingly call this kind of numerical exaggeration "evangelistically speaking." What?! Have we become so dulled to honesty that we brazenly attach the sacred concept of "evangelistic" to this kind of truth-stretching? It is an awful abuse of "evangelistic." God prefers the more accurate term: lying. Lying is not evangelistic... it is devilish.

The church needs a renewed commitment to absolute honesty in numbers. Our yes should be yes and our no, no. And our 200 should be 200, not 178.

Lying About Accomplishments.

This, too, is a snare for church people. -- lying about what we've done in the past. Local church leaders are simply overwhelmed to discover that in a prospective candidate's last church "There were only 26 in the first service... and just last month he had 286." Wow! "Let's get this fellow here... maybe he can do that sort of thing for us."

What the leaders weren't told is that the fellow's first service was a midweek prayer meeting...(in August!), and "just last month" the 286 attendance was on Easter Sunday. They somehow got the impression that the average attendance has risen from 26 to 286. False impressions, if made intentionally, are lies.

Ministers in search of a new church often hide half truths about accomplishments in their resume. Sure, a resume is supposed to present the record of a minister in the best possible light. But in our quest for honor it's easy to "puff" our accomplishments until they become outright lies.

But local church leaders are no better. When a new candidate is interviewed, the leaders frequently paint a far more rosy picture of the church and its people than is true. A pastor recently told me at lunch "The church pure and simple lied to me." Sure, you don't have to tell a candidate everything. But purposefully masking church problems, and willfully painting a rosier picture than is true, is clearly lying. (Of course, occasionally both are fooled by each other's deception. They may wind up getting each other... and both are disappointed!

I have heard at least a dozen ministers say something like "I had no idea whatsoever what I was getting myself into... everything was painted rosy to me." And not a few members have said, after a messy situation had developed with their pastor, "We had no idea he had this problem, but now we find out this happened twice before at other churches... now they tell us!"

False towers of accomplishments eventually tumble down. In 1985 I happened to be in Arizona when "Duke" Tully, publisher of the Arizona Republic, collapsed amidst a pile of lies. He was an exciting man, with quite a wallop in Arizona politics. He had been rejected by the Air Force, but loved planes, so he joined the Civil Air Patrol. I suppose he imagined himself as a great pilot, and soon began claiming so to others. He eventually invented a heroic war record for himself. He convinced everyone that he had flown more than 100 missions in Vietnam, and had been awarded a number of military decorations including the Purple Heart and Flying Cross. It was all fictitious.

After everything came out into the open he resigned as publisher. His own paper printed his verbatim remarks: "It just built and built, and suddenly I was under an avalanche and could not get out of it. As you move up the ladder, it just snowballed and got away from me."

Lies about our accomplishments can eventually become such a part of our own psyche that we can come to believe them ourselves. Total reality breakdown is then not far behind.

Not too long after the fall of "Duke" Tully, one of my associates came tumbling down too. A Christian college president, he had concocted a similar list of accomplishments including an inflated military record, a manufactured Ph.D. and several other educational accomplishments. Many of these things he had come to believe about himself! And his motives were good... it had all been done "for a good cause" -- the institution needed a hero. But, once the truth came out, the leader sneaked away in shame. The work reeled. The college took years to recover from this leader's dishonesty, to say nothings of the disappointed hero-worshipers, many of them young people. Some of these may never fully recover.

Why do we do inflate our accomplishments? We think we have to impress people. We're afraid that the bare truth just isn't outstanding, interesting, or comical enough. So we embellish our past in an attempt to impress and entertain others. But others know it!. The lie detector provides more evidence of what Christians have known all along -- you can tell when someone is lying. Sure, there are hidden physical signs... increased heartbeat, perspiration, imperceptible changes in breathing measured by the polygraph.

But there are visible open signs too: voice tone, eye movement, and body gestures. These outward signs are picked up by listeners. The listener's subconscious mind collects and processes all this data and feeds a mental impression to the listeners mind... "he's lying." Incredible! People carry their own lie detectors around with them! When someone is inflating their accomplishments, others can sense it. Perhaps they can't prove it, but for some reason or another they don't feel they can trust this story. It is their own inner polygraph telling them not to trust the person speaking.

Do you lie about your accomplishments? It is time for Christian people to start telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.... especially when it comes to our past accomplishments. The church should be a place where we accept and affirm each other as people of worth with or without fantastic past accomplishments. It is time to reduce pressure for success on pastors, so they can quit feeling compelled to lie about their record. Would you really rather have a successful liar for a pastor than a mediocre honest pastor? Let's tell the truth about past accomplishments.

Lying in stories and Illustrations.

Am I ever meddling now. I know the acceptable speaker's routine... dig around a bit to get ideas. Listen to a couple of tapes and read a few books. Then a teacher or speaker "makes it his own" by developing illustrations similar to the ones read or heard.

This is a realistic plan, but it is full of danger. The danger? Counterfeit illustrations! Face it, some of our lives just aren't that interesting. Or at least we don't see the illustrations in everyday life like others do. The speaker's temptation is to make up a similar story based on fact -- taking a true experience and embellishing it a bit. Invent a few additional lines of narrative. Embellish the story by tossing in a few extra "facts" and soon you've got a great illustration. After all, it keeps the listeners awake... it's all for a good cause, isn't it?

Many years ago I had the opportunity to travel from camp to camp during one summer. One particular preacher had an itinerary which crisscrossed mine. The first time I heard his message on evangelism, it was glorious... he told how he had witnessed to a fellow "in the plane on the way out here yesterday." The fellow hadn't made a decision, but "you could tell he was under conviction" He even had given the speaker his address and promised to start attending church. I was impressed with this message on evangelism. So were the people. Here was a speaker who really practiced what he preached -- he was calling us to witness, and he had done it the day before on the plane!

At a later camp I ran into this speaker again and he told the story again. This time he added big tears running down the prospect's cheek. Perhaps he'd forgotten that detail in the first telling? People loved it! There was a big altar response -- people wanting to share their faith like this man.

Anyway, by the end of the summer, the tale had grown so tall that he had the fellow receiving Christ, with several people around them crying as the onlookers also expressed interest in receiving Christ. "We had a prayer meeting right there in that plane" he tearfully said as he closed his sermon with this illustration. The people fervently applauded. The only trouble: the story was a lie. By the end of summer I wondered if the first story was even true. This fellow was practicing "preacher perjury." We all would condemn this kind of pastoral lying. Wouldn't we?

But do you lie? What about those little "white lies?" Do you decorate your stories? How about that hunting tale of that 12 point buck? Do you lie about your age? When is the last time you listed or told someone your weight? Was it true? Do you tell stories of your military days? College days? Are they true? Are you a fisherman? What about that four-mile walk you took to school each day as a child... was it really four miles? Are these innocent exaggerations? God doesn't think so. God figures His children should tell the simple unadulterated truth. Forked tongues belong in the Serpent's family, not God's.

The church -- especially we who are speakers -- should renew our commitment to honesty in stories and illustrations. Let's make a fresh start at truthful storytelling.... even if our friends or audiences go to sleep. As ministers and members, we must put off all manner of lying, and start to speak the absolute truth to each other. We must "speak the truth in love." There is nothing "loving" about lying.

Now what about you, my friend?

All I ask you to do is listen. If you are married, be sure to listen to your spouse. After one great ministerial liar was exposed I always wondered, "Where was his wife?" She traveled with him often and certainly knew he was lying. Didn't she say anything to him? Perhaps she thought, "God's using him so, I'd better keep quiet..." Or maybe she spoke up and he refused to listen. I don't know. But I do know that my wife monitors my speaking (and writing) carefully. If I stretch a fact or story, she says so. And, I listen. You should too. If your husband or wife corrects a figure, or a story, take it like a Christian. It might keep you from becoming an even bigger liar.

More important, listen to the Holy Spirit. Is your heart pricked about your own looseness with truth? Do you sense a correction or rebuke from Him about your truthfulness? If so, you know what to do... repent. Listen to that "still, small voice inside you. Do you hear any admonition from the Spirit? If so, listen.

The next time you are tempted to stretch a number, or inflate your past accomplishments, or embellish an illustration to make it more interesting... remember what you are is more important than what you say. It is better to be known as having a lackluster record of accomplishments, or as a dull and uninteresting conversationalist than to be known as an untrustworthy liar.

Some Questions to Ponder:

INSTRUCTIONS: Prayerfully answer the questions using the following key:

T = TRUE of me, sorry to say.
F = FALSE, this is not true for me.
? = QUESTION, I need to think more about this.
_____ I sometimes say "I'd love to come, but I can't make it," when I really could make it.
_____ I sometimes tell people "I was sick" when I really wasn't.
_____ I sometimes quietly pocket extra cash received "conveniently forgetting" to report it for taxes.
_____ When someone asks "Do you know so and so?" I sometimes say yes when I don't know the person.
_____ I sometimes lie about my weight to other people.
_____ My past tax returns are not totally true and accurate.
_____ I sometimes say "the check is in the mail" but it isn't.
_____ When a person asks "Have you read such and such book?" I sometimes say that I have when I really haven't.
_____ My spouse sometimes corrects the facts in my stories.
_____ I sometimes say "Sure I remembered that" when I had totally forgotten until they reminded me.
_____ I sometimes say "Sorry I'm late, I was held up" but I really wasn't held up.
_____ I tend to inflate attendance and financial numbers.
_____ I tend to twist verses to support what I believe.
_____ My resume is totally honest... even if the national press were to comb it today, nothing is stretched or inflated.
_____ I sometimes say "I've been praying for you," when I haven't.
_____ I sometimes give the impression that I give more to the church than I really do.
_____ I admit a tendency to 'beef up" stories, stretching the truth to get a better response.
_____ I sometimes tell a "technical truth" which still leaves a false impression to the hearer.
_____ I sometimes flatter people, dishing out false praise to them.
_____ I sometimes keep quiet when I hear a lie, suppressing the truth, becoming an accessory to another's lie.
_____ I sometimes compliment people when I really don't feel that way.
_____ I sometimes act like I'm far more busy than I really am.
_____ I sometimes even lie to myself and to God... for instance, I think I may have lied to myself as I answered some of these questions.

Bible Study

1. Genesis 20:1-17. Why did Abraham tell this half-truth? What should he have done? Can you think of an example today when a Christian might be tempted to tell a half-truth?

2. Acts 5:1-11. Of what kind of lying were Ananias and Sapphira guilty? Why were they punished so severely... does it seem like God over-reacted?

3. John 4:16-18. In what way was the Samaritan woman's answer to Jesus technically true, and in what ways was it a lie? Give an example of a technical truth in today's world which can also be a lie?

4. Ephesians 4:15.

-- Certainly we are to speak the truth... but this verse places a restriction how we are to speak it. What is that restriction?

--Give several examples of how something truthful can be said in a wrong way, at a wrong time, or with the wrong motive.

5. Proverbs 12:22. Describe God's attitude toward lies.

6. Proverbs 21:6. Rewrite this verse in your own words as it applies to a modern businessman or salesperson.

7. Revelation 21:8. List the eight kinds of people from this verse on the left side of the following space. On the right side, write in their destiny.

8. Colossians 3:9. What do you think the term "old self" means in this verse? What might it have to do with lying?


 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press
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 To contribute to the thinking on this issue or to contact the writer e-mail Tuesday@indwes.edu