Over the years, I've been told lots of lies by church people. I've told them myself. We church folks can really spin them. Here are a few of my favorites:
"I'm not going to let him hurt me anymore." Just the other day a guy told me he had changed churches because he had been hurt by someone in the church he left. "Let me tell you," he said. "That's not going to happen again." Good luck with that, buddy. If you are going to be transparent and embrace people in your life — read: people in your church — you will get hurt. That's why we believe in confession and forgiveness.
"I don't need any help." I heard that one recently. Can you guess the person's next line? "I've got to figure this out on my own."
"I've got this under control." Control, my friends, is largely a figment of the imagination. Go to hospital cardiac wing and ask some 40-year-old heart-attack patient about control.
"I'm only going to try it one time. Besides, I can stop anytime I want to." And together in unison all the people winced.
"God and I have an understanding." Well, God and I have an understanding, too. We think your understanding is wrong.
"I'm a self-made man." That's impressive. Let me guess. If you need God's help, you will darn well ask him. After all, he's as close as a prayer should you need him. Sounds like a plan to me.
"That would never happen in my marriage." I know a well-respected pastor who said, "If the old devil were to ever try and blow me out of the water he could never do it with my marriage. That's where I'm strongest." And a few years later he had an affair and nearly lost everything, except his incredibly forgiving wife.
"Be honest with me. I can take it. I won't be mad." I heard that following a Bible study one evening. Someone had come up to the woman leader and said, "I have a couple of thoughts about how you came across tonight that I'd like to share with you." Well, maybe she can take it, I thought. But my experience shows me that many people are not nearly as thick-skinned as they think.
"I don't have time." Truth is, no one has time. Do you really mean, "I don't want to do that?" Or "I'm too insecure to do that?" Most people seem to find the time to do what they want to.
"I'll call you soon." You will? This month? This year? I'll be waiting and waiting and waiting. This one has a lying first cousin named, "We'd love to have you guys over soon."
"I'll be praying about that." I heard a person say that once and then immediately said, "You know. I probably won't pray for you. I'll forget. But I'll pray for you right now." And he did.
"I don't have the money to give to the church, even though I want to." Maybe you could call in to the "Dave Ramsey Show." The straight-talking money counselor loves lies like that. Just be prepared to be sliced and diced, my friend. You'll be tithing before you know it.
"I love to read the Bible. I just don't have time." It is quite well-established that how we spend our days (read: the 24 hours given to each of us every day) is of course how we spend our lives. If you were going to find the time for Bible reading and reflection, when do you think that might be? Now, what are two things you can do to keep that lie at bay?
"I do church in my home with a few friends. Obviously, you don't have to be part of an organized church to be a Christian." Just a little reminder before you pass the cinnamon rolls around. If you do happen to find the perfect church (even the one meeting in your sunroom) don't join it, you'll ruin it.
"I didn't mean it. I was just joking." Don't you just love that lie? This is similar to another of my all-time favorites. "I'm not trying to be difficult. Isn't it obvious that I didn't mean to offend you?" Likely interpretation: "I did not deliberately set out to hurt you. But since you are of little value to me, I made no deliberate effort to avoid hurting you either."
"I forgot." But then you tried to call me, right? "Well, I think so." I see. And then you tried to text me. And let me guess. You're leaving a few minutes and you'll meet me at the church building.
This list of endless lies goes on and on and on. So, everybody, listen up. Everyone stop lying for one minute. Now take a big, deep breath. There's not an innocent soul among us. Lying, however innocent, irreparably frays the fabric of trust between fragile humans.
I'll bet you know the antidote. But in case you forgot. Speak the truth in love because love really does cover a multitude of sins. Silence really can be golden. Listen to Jesus. He really meant it when he said, "All you need to say is simply yes or no."
Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 34 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via pastortopastorinitiatives.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.