Summary: For the Festival of Christ the King; We rely on false comparisons or we use half-truths to justify ourselves. Far better to find justification in committing ourselves to what God is about in the world.
There are lies, and then there are lies. Little lies and big lies. Deceptions of all kinds. Some say it was Mark Twain, others British Prime Minister Disraeli, but someone remarked that there are three kinds of lies: plain lies, flat-out lies, and statistics. Plain lies, flat-out lies, and statistics. You can take numbers and twist numbers around to mean just about anything you want. You can look at information and you can make it say whatever you want it to say.
A man named Darrell Huff published a book in 1954, and it became a best-seller. It’s still used in college math departments. His book was called How To Lie With Statistics. I am indebted to him for the title of my message today. How indebted am I? 22.3% indebted. Yes, I just made that number up. That’s one way to lie with statistics. Just pull a number out of the air and people will be impressed. When in doubt, use a statistic. How To Lie With Statistics.
How do you lie with statistics? There are a number of ways. You can talk about that mythical average family. You know, the kind of statistic that says that the average family consists of mother, father, and 2 1/2 children. How many of you have half a child in your home? I’ve known some half-baked people, but half a child? Mythical averages. I read of a person who drowned in a river whose average depth was only six inches; the trouble is that there was one trench in the middle of the river where there was a sudden drop to ten feet, and when he stepped in that, it didn’t matter what the average depth was!
Or you can lie with statistics by making everything into a gee-whiz situation. You can present figures so that everyone looking at them will just get an impression without thinking about what the numbers really say. The folks who tell you about the stock market do this all the time. If I want to prove that stocks are a good investment and that they grow nicely over time, I can draw a graph and stretch out the years so that the trend line goes up gradually, and people say, “Ho-hum, nothing to be concerned about. Here, take my money and invest it.” But, on the other hand, if I want to support a newspaper headline that says, “Billions lost on the stock market”, just by drawing a different scale, I could make that trend line plunge to the abyss, and everybody will say, “Crash! Put the money under the mattress.” You can lie with statistics just by the way you present them.
It’s all too tempting to use numbers to prove whatever you want. Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector warns us about that, and gets to the heart of things. The story Jesus told about two men standing in the temple to pray gives us ample evidence that when we start counting up our achievements, we, like the Pharisee, just might lie with statistics.
One way the Pharisee lied with statistics was to rely on a false comparison. A false comparison. He chose to describe himself with a vague and misleading comparison. You know, all of us can be really impressive if we just choose the right people to be compared with. When Rev. Kevin Norton came to preach six times in our revival, he told me that he hadn’t preached six sermons in his whole career. I thought about the fact that my file drawers contain about 600 sermons. So Smith is 100 times a better preacher than Norton, right? Wrong! No, Smith may have made the same mess 600 times, that’s all. Quantity has nothing to do with quality. We can lie with statistics by using false comparisons.
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ’God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
That is a misleading comparison. He argued that he was not like others, but he was. We are. We who are Christians, we didn’t get to be what we are because down deep we were better than other people. We got to be what we are because we are like others, we are sinners, flawed and broken, but something else happened to us. Our temptation is to forget that something else and to rely on false comparisons. Not like other people? Oh, yes, we are!
A number of years ago, Margaret’s parents were visiting us, and, since it was around my birthday, they decided that my birthday gift would be a new pair of shoes. Off we went to a department store to look at shoes. There on the rack was something I liked, and the price tag said, “On sale, $15.00” (That price alone probably tells you that this story goes back a few years!). My father-in-law, always eager for a bargain, asked the store clerk, “How much were these shoes before they went on sale?” The answer came back, “$15.00”. I thought maybe the guy had misunderstood, so I tried too, “No, $15.00 is the sale price. What we want to know is what was the price before these shoes were put on sale?” Guess what the answer was: “$15.00”. Well, at least the clerk was truthful. But the store lied with statistics. The store lied with a false comparison. The store tried to say, “These shoes are not like other shoes; these are a good buy.” But these shoes, despite appearances, were like other shoes.