Why We Gravitate to Fake News

I hate fake news, and I venture you do too. But we’re not too worried about it if it lines up with what we want to believe.

You’re likely familiar with an event that happened this week in 1864. During the Civil War, Lydia Bixby lost all five of her sons. Casualties of war.   On November 21, President Lincoln sent a letter to the grieving mother.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln.

Newspapers picked up the letter and printed it. Copies were printed and sold as souvenirs in the years after Lincoln died. And why not? It shows the heart and compassion of the president everyone loved and admired.

I’ll tell you why not. Lincoln likely did not write the letter.

Fake news in the 1800s. Here’s what we know.

  1. An original letter in Lincoln’s hand does not exist.
  2. If the letter did come from the White House, it was likely written by John Hay, the president’s secretary.
  3. Lydia Bixby made the initial claim that her five sons died. However, only two died during the war, and a third may have been a deserter. Two sons came out of the war unscathed. Mrs. Bixby was later reported to be a woman of questionable character.

Wherever the newspapers got the story, they ran with it because … well, it made good copy. We love heart-wrenching stories. It made the president look saintly, especially in the years after his death when the nation grieved. So what if it may or may not be quite accurate?

It was fake news, and the story got a second life when it featured prominently in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998).

Why can’t we just stick with what’s true, no matter how mundane it is?

In 2011, my wife and I had the opportunity to attend an early viewing of the movie Soul Surfer, the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a skilled surfer who lost an arm in a shark attack. The movie focused on the struggles Bethany had after the attack—both physically and emotionally—as she tried to resume her surfing career. OK, pretty decent movie (and that’s saying something, considering my dislike of Christian movies). After the movie, there was a Q&A with one of the producers. In response to a question, he pointed out that, in reality, Bethany did not struggle with fear or confidence. She got right back on her surfboard as soon as she was could. They had to “Hollywood-ize” it and add some drama.


Christian, we’ve got to stop circulating outlandish stories simply because they support our viewpoint.  We must speak and repost  the truth—without embellishment. We should be the front lines of truth.

And while I’m at it … pastor, quit embellishing your sermon illustrations. Quit making yourself the hero. I’ve read more than one account where the writer/preacher was running through the airport, stopped to help a child, and the child asked, “Mister, are you Jesus?” (Apparently our nation’s airports are overrun with preachers and kids in trouble.) Be men of truth and integrity.

Before you use a story, do some research. Verify it. Stick with the truth. And if Lincoln didn’t write that letter, don’t tell the story—even if it does add the right effect.

So why do we tolerate and even circulate fake stories? They support what we want to believe. Sure, we can get folks worked up with fake news or an embellished story, but TRUTH MATTERS.

  • The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Prov. 12:22).
  • “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

How to Contribute to Those Who Contribute to You

Just because others don’t see the importance doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Just ask Mary Anderson.

On one of those nasty winter days complete with freezing rain. Mary was riding a streetcar, observing the poor visibility the driver had. The front window would swing open, and the driver would reach out and wipe the snow away momentarily—but in the process he let the nasty weather blow into the streetcar.

Such a “luxury” was not available on most vehicles. Drivers usually just stuck their heads out the window to see, or they frequently stopped to clean the window. And a lot of people just drove by intuition.

Right then and there, Mary began sketching out an idea.  She patented the first windshield wiper on November 10, 1903. It was a great labor-saving device, not to mention it made the vehicle safer.

But no one was interested. No one.

Gradually over time, car manufacturers adapted the idea, but not before her patent expired in 1920. Within two years, Cadillac made windshield wipers standard equipment. But Mary Anderson never made a dime.

Mary Anderson

In reviewing different sources, I find no record that Mary Anderson was bitter or fought back. She simply returned to her home in Alabama and lived her life working in real estate.

Just because others don’t see the importance doesn’t mean it’s not important.

We’re surrounded by people who’ve made big and small contributions to our lives, people who receive no recognition. And most of them do it without a burning desire for recognition. Maybe they just see it as their job.

  • The mail carrier who endures the bad weather to bring you another L.L. Bean catalog.
  • The high school kid at the grocery store who asks you that one burning question: “Paper or plastic?”
  • The volunteer who prepares each week and then spends an hour with your child teaching him about Jesus.
  • The co-worker who is there everyday but inwardly feels unnoticed or under compensated.

Observe the people around you and thank them for what they do—no matter how simple or insignificant that contribution may seem. Even if they earn a paycheck while doing it. We all gain a great emotional boost when people acknowledge us and what we do.

  • Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up” (Prov. 12:25).
  • A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples in silver settings” (25:11).

Mary Anderson contributed to our cars, even though she never financially benefited. We may not be ale to boost the income of those around us, but we can boost their spirits with the right words—words of recognition and appreciation.



A “This’ll Do” Attitude Will Not Do

  • Ever studied for a test with the goal of just passing, not caring if you got an “A” or a “C?”
  • Ever gotten tired of a project, so you did the bare minimum to wrap it up and get it off your plate?
  • Ever settled in a relationship or job that was far from ideal because you were tired and willing to take who or what was in front of you?

article-2458073-18b7e4f800000578-183_634x460Meh, this’ll do.

Maybe that’s fine if you’re making toast or buying socks, but when it comes to the bigger decisions—especially those with a long-range or domino effect on other areas of life—the last thing we need to do is just settle.

This week marks the anniversary of a bridge that exemplifies the importance of not settling.  On November 7, 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed—only four months after it was completed.

This should not have been a surprise to anyone, After all, the bridge would move vertically even during construction. The construction workers were calling it “Galloping Gertie” before it was ever finished, but construction never halted.

The day of the collapse brought 40 mile-an-hour winds. Obviously a bridge that swayed in any wind would raise a fuss if the wind got up to 40 miles an hour,  and it raised a fuss right into the water.


A government agency investigated the cause of the collapse and came to this brilliant, scientific conclusion: the bridge collapsed because of “excessive flexibility.” Duh. They concluded two things:

  1. The engineers did not give due diligence in planning how to build such a long suspension bridge.
  2. The wrong type of support girders were used.

Where was the commitment to doing it right—and ensuring they were doing it right?

  • The research we’ve done? It’ll do.
  • The girders we have? Meh, they’ll do.

As a follower of Christ, I refuse to settle. I seek to please Him in whatever I do, and that means I refuse to settle.

  • Through my ministry at LifeWay, I am continually developing Bible studies. After I’ve created a series of study outlines, I go over them again. And then again. Providing tools for people to study God’s Word keeps me from settling with a mediocre Bible study.
  • I regularly preach, and I start early—two weeks early. I want to ensure my study is thorough, I have exegeted the text correctly, and I have crafted a sermon that stays focused on Christ and does not chase rabbits. For the duration of that sermon, I am speaking for and representing Christ. A “this’ll do” attitude that settles for an inferior message will not do.
  • I recently wrote about some furniture I am building. One of the pieces—a dresser— is 98 percent complete, but on the day this blog posts, i am taking a two-day vacation to scrap that dresser and start over.  Why? I’m going to live with this dresser for years to come, and I will not settle for mediocrity.

Scripture has much to say about giving our best to any project:

  • Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Prov. 10:4).
  • The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Prov. 22:5).
  • “In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (Titus 2:7).

I have a greater motivation: I want to give my best to honor and please the One who gave His best for me.

“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

You and I are not building bridges; we’re building lives. Let’s do it with excellence.


Christians Really Should Stop Hanging Each Other

An average of 90,000 Christians are killed each year by those who stand opposed to Christ and His followers. [Source] It’s hard to imagine that Christians would participate in such persecution, but they have.

And Christians have killed Christians right here in America.

Remember the Pilgrims? Sure you do. They came to America to give us Thanksgiving—and to live free from religious persecution. Patriotic evangelicals often wave the flag of religious freedom because, after all, that’s the whole reason all those people came cruising to America in the 1600s.

True, but there’s a catch. The Puritans came for religious freedom for themselves.

Maybe their hearts were in the right place—sort of. They were called Puritans because of their desire for the Church of England to reform and be pure. Be true to God’s Word. But since many in England liked things just the way they were, the Puritans went to a place where they could live the Christian life as they saw fit. So far, so good. But you can take that to the extreme. If we’ve got the doctrine and practice right, why should we tolerate those who don’t?

Enter the Quakers. These folks also had a strong faith, although their doctrine and practices did not fully align with the Puritans. They also came to America seeking a new life free of persecution, only Massachusetts wouldn’t have anything to do with them. In 1658, the colony passed a law that any Quaker could be arrested and banished. If they wouldn’t leave, well, they could leave by way of a rope.

And that’s exactly what happened. On October 27, 1659, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were hung because they were the wrong kind of Christians. They were Quakers.

I love studying history and theology, and I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are differences between the Puritans and the Quakers. But when it came to the essentials of the Christian faith—the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Bible as our sole authority, and salvation by faith—Quakers and Pilgrims were in alignment. Apparently, the essentials didn’t matter. The Puritans looked down their orthodox noses at the Quakers because they held a different view on …

  • …original sin.
  • … the way God moves in a person’s heart.
  • … the practice of communion and baptism.
  • … the role of women in the church.
  • … how to conduct a worship service.
  • … the relationship between church and state.

The Puritans expected everyone to line up on the non-essentials as well.  If you’re not a Christian exactly like me, you’re not a Christian. 

Get a rope.

We can bemoan the extreme way these Quakers were treated over 350 years ago, but we still engage in a subtle form of it today. Here in the ever-shrinking Bible belt, we have churches on every other street corner. The Baptist church and the Church of Christ sit next door to each other and they pretend the other does not exist.

I am not calling us to be fully ecumenical. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and stand for those beliefs with conviction. But we can still engage in conversation and even fellowship with those whose convictions on the non-essentials are different from ours.

Think what it would look like to the community at large if the various churches in that community didn’t act like they were in competition with each other. People would sit up and take notice—not of our differences—but of our shared desire to lift up and honor Jesus Christ.

A gazillion years ago when I was a student minister, the student leaders in our semi-small town thought it would be great to bring our youth groups together once a month for worship. These kids went to school together. They played sports together. Why not let them worship together?

Church leaders were not opposed, but there was concern. My stance was; “We’re not gathering to talk about our differences; we’re gathering to celebrate what we have in common: a love and commitment to Christ.” And that’s what we did. Students gathered, prayed, read Scripture, and worshiped together. Baptists. Presbyterian. Assembly of God. We even let the Methodists kids come in.

That is still my stance. It’s far better than hanging those who don’t see eye-to-eye with me on every jot and tittle of doctrine. When Jesus said …

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

… He was giving a command to all believers.  And when we love each other—regardless of our evangelical bent—the world will notice and they will know we are Christ’s disciples.

Who knows. They might be drawn to hang out with us if we’re not hanging each other.


Related blog post: Kicked to the Curb by a Pilgrim

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Standing in the Wrong Line Could Be a Good Thing

I’m fascinated with “chance encounters.” History is full of them. And so is your life.

  • Ever made a left turn when you should’ve gone right?
  • Ever knocked on the wrong door?
  • Ever stood in a long line only to discover 30 minutes later you were in the wrong line?

We don’t usually see these as life-changing encounters. But they could be. We may miss them for what they could be because we’re too busy complaining that we took a wrong turn … knocked on the wrong door … stood in the wrong line.

James Chadwick stood in the wrong line—and science is glad he did.

James Chadwick (whose birthday we celebrate on October 20) was only sixteen when he enrolled at Manchester University. This young upstart had his eye on studying mathematics—until he got in the wrong line.

Kids these days don’t appreciate the work it used to take to enroll in classes every semester. These days, they lie in bed, munch on a Pop Tart, and choose their classes over the Internet. They’re done before they ever get to the second Pop-Tart.  But back in the day, you had to walk from station to station, sometimes from building to building, to sign up for each class you needed. That was my experience in 1976.

Chadwick faced a similar routine in 1907. He got in line to register for mathematics, but it turns out he was registering for physics. He decided to stay enrolled, though, because he liked the professor he talked with: Dr. Ernest Rutherford.

This wrong line and chance encounter led to a lifelong friendship and partnership. Was that a big deal.? Well, yeah. Rutherford, who mapped out the atom, instilled in Chadwick a love for physics. Chadwick went on to discover the neutron and became a pioneer in nuclear science.

All because of the mistake of getting in the wrong line.

I’m not going to tell you that every mistake or wrong turn in your life is divinely ordained by God.  But since you’re there, look around. God may want to use you in that situation.

  • Does He want to teach you something in the place you find yourself?
  • Does He want you to talk to … pray with … encourage someone you encounter?
  • Does He want you to help or serve someone else?

Maybe. Maybe not. Just don’t assume your mistake is just that: a mistake. That mistake could be an opportunity.

The following verse pops into my head every morning when I first wake up. Seriously.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).

The truth of that verse really sets my mood. But let me modify it. (Pryorphrase it, if you will.)

This is the moment the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” 

See those wrong turns and “chance encounters” with a random person as opportunities. Seize the moment.

Seize this moment and encourage others by sharing this post on your social media page. 



You Don’t Have to Be a Forger to Make a Good Imitation

Ever been so good at your work that it got you in trouble? Deep trouble?

Yeah, me neither.

Han van Meegeren on trial.

That was not the case for Han van Meegeren. This week marks the birthday (October 10) of one of Holland’s best painters. Yes, he was an incredibly gifted painter—of other people’s work. That’s right. He was a forger.

But it wasn’t his forgery that got him in trouble. It was his inability to prove he was a forger.

Early in his career (in the late 1920s), van Meegeren’s own art pieces were panned by the critics. He was cheesed by this, so he set out to prove he was as good as any of the masters. He studied their lives and techniques, crafted brushes like theirs, and developed paints that would mimic both color and age. He got good—really good—at copying the paintings of Johannes Vermeer. He copied 14 Vermeer paintings that were so good art critics praised them. The Rembrandt Society purchased one and Dutch museums showcased what they thought were original Vermeer paintings. Van Meegeren made, by today’s standards, about $25-30 million selling imitations.

“Christ with the Adulteress” – the fake Vemeer that got van Meegeren in trouble.

But then the Nazis arrived. In 1942, van Meegeren’s agent sold one of his fake Vermeer paintings, and it ended up in the collection of Hermann Göring. Now let’s cut to the end of the war when the Allies were recovering stolen art and returning them to their rightful place. They found Göring’s “Vermeer”and arrested van Meegeren because he had sold off art that belong to the Dutch. He was accused of being a Nazi collaborator.

The only way van Meegeren could clear his name was to fess up that the painting he sold was not an original, but a fake.  Which is worse? Going to jail for art forgery or for being in cahoots with the Nazis? Van Meegeren chose the former.

There was just one problem. Van Meegeren was so good at his work, no one believed it was a fake. It took six weeks to get others to step up and admit they knew van Meegeren was a forger and his works were fake.

Van Meegeren served one year in prison, but that was much better than what he could have faced as a Nazi profiteer.

“Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).

I want to be so much like Jesus that people can’t tell us apart. To love like Jesus, to see people as Jesus does, and to be gracious like Jesus is my life-long goal. I’m a far cry from it, but I’ve come a long way.

I’m not this yet …

… but I’m no longer this:

And so I press on.

Can We Return “Christian” to What It Means?

Names often have a way of losing their original meaning.

The original Motorola car radio

Motorola. This week (September 25) marks the anniversary of this company that we all associate with cell phones. But when the Gavin Brothers launched the company in 1928, they were working on a car radio most people could afford. Two years later, they had it, so they combined the words “motor” with the name of the widely-popular Victrola phonograph and came up with Motorola.

7-11. The original U-Tote-Em convenience stores changed their name to 7-11 in 1946 to instill in people’s minds their extended hours: 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.. That’s ironic, since for over 50 years, most of their stores are open 24 hours.

Canon. The company’s first camera was called Kwanon, named after the Buddhist goddess of mercy. To make the camera more appealing in America, they changed Kwanon to Canon.

Saab. At the outbreak of World War II, the Swedes needed airplanes. Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag (Swedish Airplane Corporation) opened for business and supplied the Royal Swedish Air Force with planes. When the war ended, they switched to manufacturing cars, but they keep the name SAAB.

Lego. Want to say “play well” in Danish? Leg godt. 

Sharp.  In 1915, Tokuji Hayakawa invented the “Ever-Sharp Mechanical Pencil.” Although business was quite good, an earthquake destroyed the plant in 1923. They decided to move from pencils to radios, but they kept the name Sharp.

We have three examples of company names.

  1. Some companies are still accurately reflected in their names.
  2. Some companies have added extensively to their catalog of products and are known for far more than what they were originally known for.
  3. Some companies moved completely away from the product that established them.

I am aware of one name that, unfortunately, has done all three.


Some people carry the name Christian, but they have added so much more to its meaning. They’ve added politics … or rules … or rituals … or cultural expectations.

  • If you’re a Christian, why wouldn’t you vote Republican?
  • Real Christians don’t  get tattoos … or watch those shows.

They’ve added so many layers that have nothing to do with walking by grace and faith in Christ.

Some people wear the label of Christian, but they define it by their own standards.

  • Sure, I’m a Christian, but I’m not hung up on the whole church thing.
  • I think Jesus can be found even in Hinduism, but I choose to worship Him as a Christian.
  • Being a Christian means you love Jesus who won’t judge you for your lifestyle.

Both approaches have made Christian something it’s not. The word literally means an adherent—a devotee— of Christ. The word only appears in the Bible three times, and each time, it carries a hint of derision.

  1. The Gentiles in Antioch first called the followers Christians (Acts 11:26). It was a way of making fun of them for the way they stood out from the culture.
  2. When Paul was defending himself before King Agrippa , Agrippa had no interest in the gospel and said, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Can you hear the disdain in his words?
  3. Peter wrote to the church about persecution and how to respond “if you suffer as a Christian” (1 Pet. 4:16).

In each case, Christian had to do with how the outside world saw believers. They meant it in jest and contempt, but believers embraced the name along with the suffering they endured for the name of Christ.

Let’s return to our name. Let’s be identified as those who are truly devoted and committed to Jesus Christ. Let’s lose  it as merely a sign of family heritage. Let’s lose it as a political identity. Let’s lose it as just a way to explain our religious views.

Let’s be Christians.

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