There's a lead artile on Yahoo! News today titled "Local pastor made up elaborate Navy SEAL tale." Once I saw the headline, I thought "Oh great. . .here we go again."
Apparently, Pastor Jim Moats of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, Pennsylvania created a pretty amazing personal testimony of his time as a Navy SEAL. With the stories headlining now about SEAL Team 6 and the killing of Osama bin Laden, Pastor Moats was considered a newsworthy local story for the Pennsylvania Patriot-News. The only thing was his story continued to develop elements that resembled the Steven Seagal movie "Under Siege" a little too much.
His story was copied from the exploits of Seagal's SEAL character in the movie. This began to raise suspicions among actual SEAL veterans.
In reading this story, I found two statements most troubling. . .
This time the exposed fabricator was a preacher - though people who monitor this brand of public lie note that members of the clergy are often tempted into such misrepresentations.
"We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It's amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up," said retired SEAL Don Shipley.
I wish I could stand on my soap box and state that these statements just weren't true. I wish it could be said that all believers, especially pastors, understand the power of words and truth and that lies were not told.
Unfortunately, there have been many embelished testimonies among pastors, evangelists, and other believers throughout the years.
- Darrell Gilyard, former pastor of a Shiloh Baptist Church in Jacksonville made the news in 2009 and ended up pleading guilty to counts of lewd molestation. However, this was not the first time Gilyard made national news. It was back in the early 1990s when he was making the rounds to numerous large Baptist churches sharing his story of growing up homeless and sleeping under a bridge in Palatka. He was featured on national television and became another "celebrity preacher." His story of being homeless was later discovered to be untrue. As most of you know Gilyard's lying was just the tip of the iceberg. I pray for those affected by Gilyard's story and his actions and for Shiloh Baptist. They're recovering from this story, but it will continue to be difficult.
- In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Christian evangelist and comedian Mike Warnke was very popular among evangelicals. His personal story of being a former Satanic high priest was incredible. Well, it was until Cornerstone Magazine revealed in 1991 that Warnke's story was bogus. I remember seeing all the books and videos being immediately removed from local Christian bookstores shortly after this story ran.
- Australian pastor, Michael Guglielmucci of Planetshakers Church in Melbourne, Australia told family, friends and church members that he was dying of cancer. He wrote a wonderful worship song titled Healer, which is included on mega-church Hillsong's This Is Our God album. The only problem is that Guglielmucci didn't have cancer.
Unfortunately, there are many examples. Lest, you think I'm throwing stones, I am not claiming to be perfect. I am not sin-free, but I am set free from sin. Some say this is judgmental. I disagree. All Christians have a high calling, but especially pastors (no, we're not better than anyone else.) Scripture speaks of pastors (or overseers) being men above reproach and not double tongued. There are also dire warnings for any leader who leads the young ones astray. Something about it being better to have a millstone tied around one's neck and thrown in the sea than to lead one astray. Apparently, God expects His children to speak truth.
While each of the examples above are unique, they have a common theme. Why would a pastor or Christian leader feel the need to embellish his testimony? I'm sure in each case, the story began small - it was just a little "white lie" most likely (not that that is an excuse) but then that little "white lie" became THE story. They were asked to "share their testimony" over and over. People were impressed. There were probably some "oohs" and "aahs" from the congregation and maybe people even waited to shake their hands at the close of services. All this feeds the cult of self.
I'm not saying these men aren't Christians. I am saying that they have sinned publicly and greatly and must repent. The culture around us sees "lying pastors" as the norm, as evidenced in the quotes above. Just Google "lying pastors" and you will see site after site of stories and blogs by people who now call themselves "Ex-Christians" and are angry at all who claim Jesus Christ. Why? Because they feel betrayed.
I started thinking about my testimony a little more after reading the article about Moats. I've shared it here often. I don't believe I've embellished it, but I must be sure not to "get caught up in the moment" of sharing my story so that it becomes nothing more than a "fish story."
As Christians we believe in the Truth. Jesus is the Way, Truth and the Life. Truth matters. Therefore, little "white lies" have to be called what they truly are . . . .sin.
One writer explained the reason believers lie about their testimonies this way. . .
The reason we embellish our stories is because we cannot embrace the reality of our nothingness. But it is our nothingness that makes God's grace so amazing. The brother (Pastor Moats) who is publicly embarrassed right now was caught in a story that he let develop and then ultimately promoted because it met a deep personal need in his life. He needed to feel like he was somebody. (Bob Bixby)
I think Bixby has it right in this case. The cult of self draws us to create stories that are exciting. The sad reality is that our stories are small. The adventure, the exciting thing is that we have been rescued and invited into a Greater Story - God's Story. He's the main character, not us. Any embellishments to our small stories pale in comparison to the Truth of the Greater Story.
Maybe this is a good litmus test. If your personal testimony (or anyone else's) is more about you than God. . .you'd better reevaluate.
With all this hitting the news today, remember, it's not just pastors who fall prey to these temptations. Pray for the pastor (and others mentioned) and for the church in Pennsylvania. Don't pray that everything will be swept away. Rather pray for repentant hearts and new life that focuses on the glory of God, rather than on the glory of self.