“And there were about 12 men in all.” (Acts 19:7)
If we are honest, all of us are prone to exaggerate from time to time. Just recently I caught myself falling to the temptation to make things sound better than they really are. I ran into a pastor friend who I had not seen in sometime. In the course of the conversation he asked me how things were going at Bridgewood. And then, as is so common in exchanges among ministers, he asked the dreaded question. “What are you running?” Now he wasn’t asking how many miles I’m running a week. No, that’s pastor-speak for “What is your average weekly attendance?”
Oh how I was tempted to embellish our numbers. How I longed to be able to tell him that we had broken the next attendance barrier. But the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me do that. I had to give him a report that was less than what he expected.
Sad to say, exaggeration in religious circles is the order of the day. It is jokingly referred to as speaking “evangelastically.” That is why Billy Graham at the start of his ministry made a covenant with his team not to exaggerate his crusade attendance figures.
In my years of ministry I’ve seen many forms of religious exaggeration. And truth be told, at times I have fallen prey to it myself.
In my early years, I once attended a conference where I met a pastor from another state whom I greatly admired. He regaled several of us one evening with stories from meetings he had been in where incredible things had taken place. At one point he told us that the some of the people were so moved that they were walking on the tops of the backs of the pews like tight rope artists. All ‘in the Spirit’ mind you. I lay awake that night trying to wrap my mind around that.
The next morning, at breakfast, he told us he had come under deep conviction. He sheepishly admitted to us that he had greatly exaggerated things and walking on the pews was one of them. My esteem for him was sustained however, because of his honesty and humility to admit his “evangelastic” sin.
Since that time I have been in meetings myself where the Holy Spirit has moved in power. When God touches and heals people’s lives, even just one life, that does not need any embellishment. A miracle is a miracle – period. But on more than one occasion I have been chagrined to hear the ministers who led those meetings, share afterward inflated testimonies of what had happened. At times I’ve wondered if we were in the same meeting.
For many years I kept a file of some of the more sensational prophecies floating around out there from itinerating prophetic ministries. There were predictions with time tables of amazing things God was going to do in Minnesota and in the nation. I made it a practice to annually check them to see if they came to pass. Several years ago I quit doing that. None of them ever transpired. And unfortunately, they raised more questions than supplied answers.
Why is that? Why do we find ourselves wanting to make God sound sensational? (As if He needs our help.) Aren’t we just trying to give Him more glory? Not really. It is more about us wanting to make ourselves sound and look better than we are. It is more about our glory than God’s glory.
Whatever God does, does not need to be enhanced. He created the universe and raises the dead. Why try to top that?
You will not find any exaggeration in the Bible. Luke’s account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Ephesus in Acts 19 proves that. There are no inflated numbers assigned to the those participating in that revival – “about 12 men in all.” (vs. 7) “That’s all?” you ask. “Luke, are you telling me that only 12 men showed up at the great apostle Paul’s revival meeting?” Yes, that is what the Bible tells us.
However, there were other men in Paul’s day who were “evangelastic” in reporting the results of their ministry. Paul made it clear when writing to the Corinthians, who were prone to abuses of the spiritual gifts, that sincerity is much more important than braggadocio. In describing his and his partner’s ministry he says “God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart.” (2 Corinthians 5:11-12) New Living Translation
One final caveat – don’t let the exaggerations cause you to lose your appreciation for the real.
Where have you seen exaggeration in Christian circles? What observations have you made and/or what lessons you have learned from your experiences?
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