How to catch a liar

None of us like being told lies. We are all told lies. We all find it difficult to know when we are being lied to.

Parents wrestle with this all the time, as do employers (and employees), teachers (and pupils), pastors (and people), etc.

In Church discipline cases, we are often asked to judge if one of two parties is lying. We pray for discernment; we pray for God to share His infallible view of the situation; we pray for the Holy Spirit of Truth. And still we just don’t know for sure.

Bill Rosenthal, writing for businesses, suggests some training in identifying behavioral signals when evaluating a potential liar. Here’s a summary:

  • Does the person seem uncomfortable about what she is saying? The visible anxiety may be caused by guilt or fear of getting caught, which leads liars to hurry to end the discussion and even look relieved when it’s over.
  • Their feet might be pointing in the direction of their getaway — perhaps a doorway, or a hallway.
  • They may also “freeze” the top half of the body, because of the tension they feel, or even put a barrier — such as a briefcase or purse — between themselves and you.
  • Liars also tend to avoid eye contact.
  • Practiced liars sometimes become good at maintaining eye contact, but often their anxiety emerges in the form of leg movement.
  • Be wary also of people who make excessive eye contact — they might be trying to prove that they’re telling the truth.
  • Another visible sign of a liar’s discomfort is the fake smile. The best way to tell if a smile is fake is to look for a lack of movement of the muscles surrounding the outer corners of the eye (the “crows’ feet”).
  • Someone who withholds information or keeps the conversation vague when you ask for specifics might be lying, particularly if that person finds it hard to remember something that should easily be remembered.
  • When you ask her a question, the liar may answer with much more detail than is needed….Adding lots of detail is a common trick of con artists, for example
  • If the speaker is committing to something, does the promise sound extravagant?
  • A person who is under pressure (behind on a project, needing to earn a performance reward, struggling to meet quarterly expectations) is more apt to stretch the truth than someone who is not.
  • A person who has power over others often feels more comfortable lying,
  • Other frequent liars include extroverted people and those who excel at “reading” others.
  • In general, people feel more comfortable telling lies when they perceive their audience to be deceptive themselves.
  • As they gain success in evading and manipulating the truth, liars find it increasingly easy to lie.

Although I’m rather hesitant about relying on these behavioral studies, I must admit that as I look back on people who have lied to me and to the church, an incredible number of these signals were present.

Maybe I would also add:

  • Using and abusing procedure to obstruct valid questioning
  • Magnifying small flaws in the way accusations were brought
  • Diverting attention by accusing others
  • Calling in past favors and emphasizing the over-riding virtue of loyalty
  • Threatening to take down others with them
  • Love of John 8:7
  • Highlighting catastrophic consequences
  • Cultivation of self-pity to build sympathy
  • Flattery of sympathizers

Maybe you can add your own.

May the Christ who is Truth, and the Spirit of Truth keep us in the Truth and keep us speaking the Truth. And let’s also pray that He would give us truth in the inward parts (Ps. 51:6). Then we won’t have to worry about our behavioral signals.

Top 20 most influential books in my life

A few weeks ago, one of my students asked me for a list of the 20 most influential books in my ministry, with a view to getting these books before returning to his home nation. Here’s what I came up with, and why.


The Diary and Letters of Andrew Bonar: First book I started reading on my first day in my first congregation. Powerfully influenced my view of pastoral ministry.

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd and The Life and Labors of Asahel Nettleton. When I was a student I tried to set aside one day every month to read one book through and pray over it. These were two of the first books I read in this way and both made a profound impact on me, especially in the motives and methods of evangelism.

Martyn Lloyd Jones Vol. 1 (Vol. 2): My wife and I read both books together during our courtship. Great preparation for life of ministry together. Also helpful warnings about certain popular trends.

Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon Vol. 1 (Vol. 2): Again, another great help in training for the ministry. I have pages and pages of quotables from these pages. Also introduced me to the inevitable suffering of a faithful pastor.

Old Testament

I’d never grasped the point of the Old Testament until I read Christ of the Covenants by O P Robertson. When I read this, the lights went on, or should I say, the shadows went on. Calvin’s Institutes (especially Book 2 chapters 9-11) advanced the revolution in my understanding of the relation between the Testaments. Then came Jonathan Edwards’ History of the Work of Redemption to show me how to put all this together and preach Christ from the Old Testament.

Two other impactful books in this area were Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament by Christopher Wright, and Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus.

Staying with the Old Testament, Richard Pratt’s He Gave us Stories helped me to see the vital importance of the original message for the original audience.


The Glory of Christ by John Owen and The Fountain of Life by John Flavel soar above all other Puritan works I’ve read. Owen’s book is certainly more demanding, but both are richly rewarding studies in the person and work of Christ.

Then there’s Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement and The Apostle’s Doctrine of the Atonement by George Smeaton. Smeaton is perhaps the greatest New Testament exegete I’ve come across. These books will give you rare insight into the length, depth, breadth and height of our suffering Savior’s life and death. You cannot but preach Christ crucified after reading them. 

Redemption Accomplished & Applied by John Murray isn’t as textual as Smeaton’s work, but rarely has so much systematic theology been packed into so few words. This book made my Calvinism much more Christ-centered.


While on the subject of systematics, I have to admit that I’ve never got beyond Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. It does weaken towards the end. However, for brevity and clarity, I regularly find myself picking it up over other options, and almost always getting an answer.

The Sovereignty of God by A W Pink. I love short books. None shorter nor better than this. And none that exalted God higher in my heart.

The Pleasures of God by John Piper revolutionized my view of God, or rather my understanding of God’s view of His people. A long period of church controversy had worn me down and infected me with a strain of negativity that was also influencing my preaching. This book brought me back to the glorious Gospel of the ever-happy God and His delight in Himself, His Gospel, His people, and His salvation. The Pleasures of God restored my pleasure in God, and in people, and in preaching.


The Bible and the Future by Anthony Hoekema and Promise of the Future by Cornelius Venema. Both books brought me out of an eschatological fog and into the clear light of optimistic amillennialism (that should get the comments going).


Truth Applied by Jay Adams made me preach much more personally, and twenty years later continues to challenge me to apply God’s truth in every sermon.

The Imperative of Preaching by John Carrick is a fantastic little book on how to keep the balance between the indicative and the imperative.


I’m not supposed to feel like this by Chris Williams, etc. and Overcoming Spiritual Depression by Arie Elshout gave me quantum leap insight into depression at a very critical time in my family’s life. Broken Minds by Steve and Robyn Bloem broke my heart and gave me much-needed compassion for people suffering with depression.


I know I’m over the twenty book mark now, but I can’t close without saying how helpful I found Does God believe in Atheists? by John Blanchard. I’ve used so much of this book in preaching and evangelistic situations.(UPDATE: Evangelical Press tell me that a fully revised and updated – God delusion, etc., – paperback edition is presently en route to the US and will cost $16.99 for 720 pages).

Lastly, God in the Wasteland by David Wells gave me huge insight not just into worrying trends in the church and society, but the theological roots behind them. It continues to call me to impress the “weightiness of God” upon myself and others.

So, there you go. Maybe some predictable books, and maybe some surprises, but all highly influential in my own life. I’m thankful to God for all the writers and their publishers.

Happiness = Gratitude + Generosity + Sincerity

According to Fastcompany’s Shawn Parr, that’s the key equation for personal and corporate happiness.

He expounds this uncommon sense (common grace?) further here, and concludes with these bullets:

  • Say “thank you” often and mean it when you say it – people can tell the difference.
  • Show your gratitude with actions and items of appreciation.
  • Look for new ways to demonstrate generous giving.
  • It’s much more rewarding to give than to receive.
  • Do something specific for people in need at least once a week.
  • Tell the truth always.
  • Do what you say and say what you do.

Seems like a good equation for spiritual happiness too?

Spiritual happiness = Gratitude for Christ’s grace + Generous grace to others + Sincere obedience.

Sound suspiciously like John 14:21?

CK2:15 Thriving at College


Download here.
This week’s guest on The Connected Kingdom podcast is Alex Chediak who is the author of the brand new book Thriving at College, a book that about how college students can launch into responsible, fruitful adulthood for the glory of God against the backdrop of a young adult culture that often values perpetual adolescence and the avoidance of responsibility. In this interview Alex talks about who he wrote the book for, he discusses who should and should not go to college and offers up some sound advice for the parents of young people. 

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Pastoral Picks (6/16)

Gospel-driven effort
Important conversation between Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian about the role of effort in sanctification. Once again, Kevin manages to think my thoughts more clearly and express them more articulately. It’s a weird and humbling feeling.

Key sentence from Kevin: “I agree sanctification requires the fight of faith to believe this scandalous good news of the gospel of justification. I disagree that this is the only kind of effort required in sanctification.”

The truth about anti-depressants
Well, it’s not the whole truth, but this is a helpful and simply graphical presentation about anti-depressant medication. And while we are on the subject, here’s an important post by Phil Monroe, a Christian Psychologist, on how to begin bridging the divide between various Christian counseling camps.

Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls
How can I entice you to read these posts by Carl Trueman? (Part 2 is here). Try this excerpt:

Perhaps Reformed theology in general and Presbyterianism in particular are especially vulnerable to regarding intellectual achievement as identical with qualification for office.  This is unfortunate.  If a  man cannot string a decent  sentence together from a pulpit, has the personality of a ping-pong ball or the social graces of a pit viper, he will be a disaster in the ministry.  The first will simply not be able to preach, the second will not be able to connect with people, and the third — well, we all know such types and we know they only ever seem to grow churches on the basis of similarly angry people leaving the church down the road and coming to join them.

Spurgeon on the folly of preaching too long

A woman on working with women
Proclamation Trust asked Brenda Beckett, Children and Families worker at All Souls, to give pastors advice for working with paid female staff and unpaid female helpers. (Part two is here).

Book Recommendation: Note to Self by Joe Thorn.


What a great little book this is for Christians of all ages and stages of maturity. Joe describes it as a book on ‘How to preach to yourself.” I’ve been reading one of the 2-page “Dear Self” meditations every day with my Bible reading. It’s been so profitable and edifying. Here’s a video of Joe talking to Justin Taylor about his book.