“I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I spoke nothing in secret” (John 18:20).
Something happened this week to remind me of why, as a young teen, I hated the typical television sitcom. I could never say “I Love Lucy.” And here’s why.
I was listening to the replay of a 1950’s radio program “The Life of Riley.” William Bendix’ character, the husband and father of the Riley household and namesake of the program, was a bumbling, stumbling embarrassment to the males in the audience, always jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding what the normal people around him were up to. He needed a good whupping, I always thought. As a nine-year-old as well as today, I find that hard to listen to.
In the early 1950s, we had no television. To watch anything, we had to walk down the country road either to my grandmother’s or to Uncle Cecil’s. Now, Granny would watch whatever you wished–she was just glad to have the company–but at my uncle’s, you sat there and watched whatever they chose. And the one program they loved above all others was “I Love Lucy.” They even named their youngest child after the baby in the show.
The basic premise of that program was almost always a misunderstanding or deceit, something Lucy was keeping from her husband Rick. She might take a job to earn money to buy Rick an anniversary present, but for some unknown reason did not want him to know about it. Then, he phones to say he’s bringing the boss home for dinner tonight. The problem is she’s on her way out the door headed to her afternoon job. But does she tell her husband? No. Doing so would be the normal thing, of course, but there would be no program. The deceit may have formed the basis of the plot, but it also made the story contrived and unreal.
“Normal people do not act this way,” I would mutter to no one but myself, and would often leave the house and walk home.
The few times I made myself sit there and watch a complete “I Love Lucy,” I recall feeling actual pain. It was terrible. Why do people watch this stuff, I wondered.
“Why doesn’t she just tell her husband she is taking a part-time job?” I would say. And someone in the darkened room would answer, although in a nice tone, “Shut up and watch the program.”
Tell the truth.
Some of my longtime friends would say to you, “Joe has just told you a great deal about himself.”
I hate subterfuge. Deceit. Hiding things from those you love, people you should trust. I hate dishonesty.
As the new pastor of a church that was hurting financially–with over half the budget going to make the mortgage payment–I had a banner printed and installed in the sanctuary. It read: “Put up or shut down!” I thought it fairly well stated the circumstance our church was facing. But soon members began complaining. “It’s scary,” they said. “It’s too negative.”
I took it down. And regretted it because I thought it was a plain-spoken statement of the facts, but stated somewhat cleverly. (Clever is always big on my list too, but that’s another story. Smiley-face goes here.)
In one church I pastored, when we were running behind the budget and needed to generate extra income, I said to the stewardship committee something like this:
There is an old adage in Baptist life: ‘Tell the people.’ And our people need to know that we are hurting financially.
My suggestion was that each member of that committee take a few basic numbers and a piece of chalk, and the following Sunday to go into adult classes and tell the people how we were doing financially. I said, “If they know, they’ll give. But they assume we’re doing okay because we’re not telling them.”
The chairman, an older deacon who had belonged to that church all his life and was the son of a longtime leader and thus had territorial rights on this area of congregational life, informed me, his young pastor, “That’s not how we do things around here.”
What they were accustomed to doing, I learned, was to borrow money in slack times and repay it when the offerings were plentiful. That is not the worst thing in the world, of course, and evidently worked for them. The problem was that it was symptomatic of how the church leadership handled every decision: “Do not tell the church; it would just upset people. We’ll take care of things.”
That philosophy, which I ran headlong into and took a stand against, is what doomed my ministry in that great church to three short years.
Our Lord, on trial before old man Annas, godfather of the high priests in Judean life, was commanded to “Tell us what you’ve been preaching!” He quietly responded, “You can ask anyone who heard me. I had no secrets. Everything I had to say, I said it in synagogues and the temple, out in the open.”
Nothing to hide. Nothing behind your back. Openness.
That methodology, of course, was foreign to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and He was given a back-handed slap for His trouble.
Tell the truth. Do not lie, and do not deceive. (How many scriptures speak to this? So many that I will not take the time to search them out and list them. But they are there, particularly in the gospels and epistles.)
One. True, you do not have to tell everyone everything you know. There is always a place for discernment and wisdom.
Two. True also, you speak in love and never harshly. The three epistles bearing the name of John continually speak of the combination of truth + love.
Truth spoken without love is harsh and can be hurtful. Love without truth is sentimentality and mushiness. They work best together. Our Lord was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Three. We never violate a confidence. If something was told to me in confidence, it should remain there. The pastor who works a private conversation into a sermon had been have a good reason (such as, this happened years ago, the parties involved are no longer living, and I’ve changed the names).
Four. Truth often hurts. But the mature can take it and want nothing else. How often have we heard people say, “I told the doctor, give it to me straight. I want to know the truth.”
Five. The truth sets us free. And anything less binds us, imprisons us, burdens us. (See John 8:32).
Six. All truth is not equal. There is such a thing as “true truth,” a term coined (I think) by Francis Schaeffer. This refers to the best truth of all, the news of the reality of God, the divinity of Jesus, and the redemptive message that God loved us and sent His Son to be the sin-offering for us.
Seven. Let us so deal with the world, our business contacts, our neighbors, and outright strangers, that we have no need to remember what we said to this one but not to that one, and no cause to keep track of the partial truth given to one but which could be incriminating to another. Let us speak the truth and lie not, be transparent and open, and loving at all times.