Years ago, while in high school, I was given a book by Foy L. Smith entitled “The Days of Thy Youth.” In one chapter of the book, he tells the story of an old gospel preacher named Theophilus Brown Larimore.

T.B. Larimore was riding out west in a railway passenger car when outlaws came alongside and halted the train. The robbers boarded the car and began demanding that the passengers drop their possessions into a bag–watches, jewelry, gold coins, wallets and anything else that they could exchange for money. They came to Larimore, and he placed his old watch and a few crumpled dollars into the mouth of the sack. The outlaw asked if that was all he had, and he nodded to him that it was.

As the thieves started to leave, the preacher called out to the leader who returned to him. “Sir,” he told him apologetically, “I find that I have misrepresented the truth. When you asked me if that was all I had, I told you it was, but then discovered I had put a one-dollar bill in my vest pocket.” Larimore extended his hand with the dollar bill toward the outlaw. The leader of the bandits was taken back and didn’t know what to say to this unexpected gesture. After a few moments, he told his men to give the preacher back everything they had taken from him, saying, “It is good to meet an honest man.”

It used to be that a man’s word meant something. Handshakes finalized deals. If someone said they’d do something, they did it. The grocery stores had counter checks without names or numbers, you filled those in. You could go into the corner store, and if the clerk was busy, you’d put your money on the counter and leave yelling across the way, “Money’s on the counter.” Our parents left the front door unlocked 24 hours a day. You could leave your bike on the driveway, and it would be there the next morning, your car unlocked with keys in the ignition or your purse in the grocery basket and when you returned it would still be there untouched. Oh, there were exceptions, but they were few and far between in small town America where I grew up.

Today, however, it’s a different story. We lock our doors, and we have security systems installed for extra safety. Our cars have alarms, and we are told never to leave valuables in plain view. Our sales slip is checked when we leave a store, our garages are locked, and handshakes are just a greeting.

People fudge on their taxes, lie on their golf score, and blame someone else whenever something goes wrong. We don’t trust the president, politicians, lawyers, salesmen and often even preachers. We follow someone’s promise with “When I see it, I’ll believe it.” We feel fortunate when the waiter forgets to put a charge on our check, or the clerk inadvertently charges us too little.

Kathy and I were at a restaurant a couple of years ago in Plano. When I looked at the ticket, I noticed that she had forgotten to charge us for one entire meal. I pointed this out and could tell the waitress was stunned. The manager came by and asked if something was wrong, so I explained to him the situation. He looked at me as if to say, “You’re complaining because your bill is too low?” It took 10 minutes to get it corrected, and the manager told me he’d never had anyone do that before.

It’s sad when honesty and integrity are so rare that it surprises people when it occurs. Yes, sometimes the truth hurts. Yes, sometimes being honest gets us into trouble. Yes, it’s embarrassing at times to admit our weaknesses or faults. But to be viewed as a person of integrity and character far outweighs the negatives.

I hope someday that someone will be able to say about me, “It’s good to meet an honest man.

“I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. Because of my integrity, you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.” Psalm 41:11-12

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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