To tell the truth
In the previous chapter, Earn the Right to be Heard, we saw how our listening skills greatly influence how a person receives our message. Another area that affects how a person receives our message is our truthfulness. You may not have given it much thought, but people do remember when we stretch the truth or tell those little "white lies." The more we do this, the less authority our words have.
It had been a long day for the two correction officers. Gary and Tom had transported prisoners to and from the hospital all day. Rex, a maximum-security prisoner, was the last one to be taken back to the prison. As they walked down the hall, the prisoner spat on Gary’s face. Anger raged within Gary as he escorted Rex to a remote room for a little "talk."
The door closed and Gary sauntered over to the now defiant prisoner. The officer spat into the prisoner’s face and said, "Look punk, you may be able to get away with this with the other officers, but I won’t put up with it. I won’t tolerate this type of disrespect on the street and I certainly won’t take it from some lousy criminal. My job doesn’t mean that much to me. I’d rather get fired than let someone spit on me. I’m giving you fair warning right here and now. If you ever do that again, I’m going to beat the crud out of you."
After the prisoner returned to his cell, he filed a grievance stating the officer had spit on him and threatened to beat him up. When presented with the grievance, Gary wrote out exactly what had happened. To the surprise of the grievance coordinator, Gary’s statement was consistent with the prisoner’s statement. However, the prisoner had conveniently left out the small fact he had started this incident by assaulting the officer first.
The grievance coordinator did not expect Gary’s admission. When interviewed, Gary said, "I won’t lie about what happened. The prisoners know where I stand. I’m fair with them and I don’t feel it’s my business to punish them. You will never find me picking on prisoners just for the fun of it. However, if anyone assaults me, I will rip into him. If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing."
Because of the officer’s honesty and the fact he was assaulted first, the Coordinator gave Gary the minimum punishment, a seven days suspension. The coordinator later made the comment, "If the time came where I had to decide between Gary’s word and someone else’s word, even the warden’s, I would believe Gary. He has demonstrated he can be trusted."
If this officer had just told his acquaintances an incredible and hard-to-believe story, would they be inclined to doubt him or believe him? Here is a little test: If you told your acquaintances the exact same story, would this officer have a higher percentage of people believing him than those believing you? If he would have a higher percentage, I would have to conclude your lifestyle is a hindrance to the gospel. It is one thing for a person to reject the gospel because they don’t care to have a relationship with God. It would be a tragedy, however, for a person to reject the gospel because we are not trustworthy.
Since we are talking about speaking the truth, I thought I would include something that shows how easy it is to distort the truth. It is a humorous, but classic example on how you can lead a person to a false conclusion by the way you present the "facts."
There was a freshman at Eagle Rock Junior High School who won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair for attempting to show how people have become conditioned to be easily alarmed to environmental concerns. His project, How Gullible Are We? was an experiment that involved persuading people to sign a petition demanding strict control, or total elimination, of the chemical "dihydrogen monoxide." To make his case, he cited the following:
He asked 50 people if they would support a ban on the chemical, based on the above data. Forty-three said they would sign the petition, six were undecided, and only one person knew the chemical was water, H2O. (Source: The Un-Reported News, February 1998)
Political and environmental groups are notorious for misrepresenting "facts" to enhance their cause. Even if their cause is truly worthy, it is still wrong to sway people to their side by presenting an inaccurate picture.
Unfortunately, many Christians have resorted to these tacits. My brother-in-law received a personal letter from a major TV evangelist. This evangelist talked about how he was concerned for him and was personally praying for him. He mentioned how he wanted to come and visit him (even listing the city), but couldn’t right now because of his busy schedule. The only problem was, this evangelist didn’t even know my brother-in-law and this "personal" letter was actually a form letter asking for money. I found this misrepresentation to be very offensive. Any ministry built on a lie will not have the blessing of God and its true eternal impact will be minimal. (It should be noted later on, this evangelist started another fundraising gimmick by saying God was going to kill him if he didn’t raise a certain amount of money.)
We have all received bulk mail that was packaged in an envelope marked with something like, "Express Mail, Deliver Immediately." What was the actual intent of this packaging? Was the organization trying to give you the impression this inexpensive slow bulk mail was actually an important personal letter being rushed to you? Is this organization trying to be deceptive? What is your reaction to these types of letters?
What is your reaction to Christian organizations doing this type of mailing? Are you happy they are being good stewards of their resources or are you offended because they thought you were stupid enough to fall for this ploy? What impression do you think this type of letter would make on the non-Christian community?
Although we may find this behavior inappropriate, can you say you have never stretched the truth? Think about the times you have witnessed to someone. Have you ever embellished the facts to help persuade the person to accept Christ? Have you exaggerated how bad of a sinner you were? Have you ever overstated how becoming a Christian helped your marriage and relationship with your kids? Have you ever stretched the truth when you described the inner peace you were experiencing? Have you ever enhanced the testimonies of others to convince someone to become a Christian? Remember, any activity based on a lie will have minimal eternal value.
Here’s a humorous story on honesty. At the end of a service the preacher (Chuck Swindall, I believe) asked his congregation to read the 25th chapter of Joshua. The next Sunday he asked how many people had read the chapter. About a third of the people had raised their hands. After looking around at the congregation, the preacher said, "Today’s message is about truth and I am preaching it specifically to those who raised their hands. You see, Joshua only has 24 chapters."
As a recent President has discovered, lies have a nasty habit of getting exposed. Here’s a humorous story of another person caught in a lie. A technician in the former USSR was trying to sell a costly radar missile-tracking system to the Kremlin, so he was making some wild claims about its ability. On April 28 when the U.S. was scheduled to launch a space shuttle, the technician triumphantly declared that the lift-off had been detected and tracked. Several hours later, NASA announced that the takeoff had been postponed. Oops! (Source: Time Magazine Sept. 24, 1990)
The gospel should stand on its own merit. The truth is what sets people free, so the truth is what we must present. Present the facts as accurately as you can and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
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