The Day I Lied to Paul Harvey

The first defining characteristic of a true Christian is that they are forgiven sinners. Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The Bible does not say that everyone who believes in Christ is perfect—but it does say that those who surrender their lives to Him will be perfectly forgiven.

There’s a difference between being a sinner and being a hypocrite. There’s an unspoken assumption that a Christian is someone who doesn’t sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, it’s just the opposite. When I became a Christian, I had to first acknowledge the fact that I’m a sinner. To look at the church and see sinners—people who fail—is one thing. To label the church as full of hypocrites is another thing. The church is not a hall for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

Several years ago, when I was serving on staff at a church in the Chicago area, I had the opportunity to meet Paul Harvey, the nationally recognized radio personality. As soon as the service was over, I raced down the aisle and introduced myself to him. I held out my hand and said, “Hi. My name is Brian Bill. I’m one of the pastors here.” He said, “Paul Harvey. Nice to meet you.” [I was hoping he was going to say, “Good Day”, but he didn’t!] Not really knowing what to say next, I said, “I listen to your program every day.” Very perceptively he responded by saying, “Thank you. That must be pretty difficult with a schedule like yours.”

He then turned and left. I felt sick. I had just lied to Paul Harvey—and he knew it! I didn’t listen to his show every day—maybe once a week, but certainly not every day! My encounter with a celebrity left me feeling empty and ashamed. The next day I sat down and wrote him a letter. Here’s an excerpt: “Dear Mr. Harvey, In my excitement to meet you yesterday I realized that I lied to you. I mentioned to you that I listened to your program every day—that is not true. I feel I need to ask you to forgive me. I was wrong. I was trying to make you think something that was not true. Please accept my apology.”

Was I being a hypocrite when I lied to Paul Harvey? Not necessarily. I was being a sinner. In fact, seeking his forgiveness helped deter me from being a hypocrite. If I didn’t own up for my sin before God, and before Mr. Harvey, I would have become a cover-up artist, or a mask wearer. Let me suggest that the surest way to beat hypocrisy is by recognizing your sinfulness and asking for forgiveness.

Since Christians are not perfect, it follows that churches are full of imperfect people. When you think about it, the church is the only organization around where a public admission of failure is a requirement for membership. Church is a place for sinners because we don’t have anything to hide. We’re sinners who’ve been forgiven by what Jesus did for us on the cross. There’s no reason to play spiritual charades.