Little White Lies

James 1:26

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.

In the summer of 1899, four Denver newspapers, including the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, published a story claiming that American business firms were planning to demolish the Great Wall of China and use the rubble as paving gravel in a series of new roads.  

Of course, there was no such plan—the Great Wall remains fairly intact to this day. So what happened? As it turns out, four reporters met by chance at Union Station, where they were hoping to catch the latest scoop from elsewhere coming in on one of the passenger trains. When no newsworthy items materialized, one reporter suggested that if they all published the same fictitious story, no one would be the wiser.

The group made their way back to the Oxford Hotel where they conspired to craft a tale that would be exciting, believable—and not easily verified. They determined that a story set in the Far East would be less likely to be unraveled by anyone close to home.

The Great Wall hoax was published the next day—reporting that a Mr. Frank C. Lewis of Chicago, stopped at the Oxford on his way to the West Coast to meet with Chinese representatives about the plan. The fabrication was soon published in other major newspapers.

But the joke didn't end there! Decades later, in 1939, Denver songwriter Harvey Wilber published an article claiming that the Denver news report had reached China, infuriating the Chinese people. Wilber said that the Chinese citizens were so outraged by the prospect of westerners demolishing their ancient wall that they rioted, setting off the Boxer Rebellion.

Wilber's source for this legend was a Methodist bishop who was speaking to a Denver church about the power of the printed word—and what may happen when an untruth is allowed to circulate. Yet there are no reports in China that suggest that news of the Denver story ever reached the country. Though the Denver Great Wall hoax made an excellent cautionary tale, the idea that it set off the rebellion in China was itself an urban legend.

Although every lie won't launch national concerns or international bloodshed, lies are at the heart of rebellions against God. It's little wonder that lying is considered ungodly, and treated harshly by our Lord. When you tell the truth, it's easier to live with the consequences. When you tell a lie, the consequences just might cost you more than you ever could have imagined.

Honesty is still the best policy . . . it's certainly the biblical practice to pursue.

Prayer Point: Ask the Lord to reveal dishonesty in your heart—cutting corners at the office; padding expense accounts; cheating in class; exaggerating accomplishments—and ask Him to make honesty your automatic response in life.

Extra Refreshment: Read Acts 5, a reminder of how much God hates dishonesty.


More than a Story

Society is teaching our kids that the Bible is full of fairy tales. And if our kids haven’t started facing doubts yet, they most assuredly will once they reach high school and college. So how can we help them see, even at a young age, that the accounts in Scripture really are inspired by God? How can we give them a sense of wonder for God’s Word that will last beyond their Sunday school years? The answer lies in an empty tomb. 

Many ministries today expound on life and illustrate with Scripture;
we’re committed to expounding on Scripture and illustrating with life!