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.

Sigh.

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).

A Better Approach Than the Evangelistic Sales Pitch

I bristle at sales pitches.

Recently, my wife and I moved into a new house. From day one, we were hit up by two different breeds of sales people knocking on our front door.

  1. Home security. Every few days a different person was at my door wanting me to sign up for a certain home security service. Although they represented the same security system, they were independent contractors eager to beat out the other salespeople offering the same service. Telling them we had already looked into it did not squelch their resolve to make a sale.
  2. Lawn care. My favorite was that guy who wanted to tell me what was wrong with all the other lawn care services. (Tip to sales people: tell folks what you have to offer, not what’s wrong with everyone else.) 

To be clear, I’m nice to these folks, but inwardly I bristle at their intrusion and implication they know what’s best for me. Yes, I’m nice, but I take out my frustration by talking back to TV commercials.

I think too many Christians think we’re supposed to be salespeople for Jesus. Tell them about Jesus and CLOSE THE DEAL. And unfortunately, a lot of non-Christians see us that way too.

A few years ago, I was on a teaching trip in Kenya. For six years, I made an annual trek to teach and train pastors. On one occasion, we were holding graduation, and a visiting mission team—independent from our work—stopped by to watch.  I learned one of the volunteers was a student minister at the same church I had served years earlier. But as we visited about the church and ministry, he steered the conversation in a different direction.

“Tell me, Lynn, if you died tonight, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven? If God asked, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?,’ what would you say?”

He had turned our conversation into an evangelistic sales pitch.  Let me be clear: I like the questions he asked; I’ve used them many times.  But this eager evangelist ignored me as an individual and why I was there: helping Kenya pastors develop skills for teaching God’s Word and leading people to follow Christ. Our conversation turned from building a relationship and talking about a shared ministry to just making sure I had checked the right boxes.

Evangelism is most effective when it’s not a sales pitch, but a relationship. Jesus never used the same approach twice. In John 3, he talked to Nicodemus based on what the Pharisee believed and understood. In the very next chapter, Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in a completely different manner.  Her needs were different.

Relationships matter. We want people to have a personal relationship with Christ, and that begins with developing a relationship ourselves with the person.

As followers of Christ, we are called to “fish for people” (Matt. 4: 19). Jesus first spoke those words to Simon and Andrew, so I take my cue from Andrew on how to fish. You never read a sales pitch coming from Andrew; instead he offered a “come and see” invitation.

  • He first found his own brother Simon and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated ‘the Christ’), and he brought Simon to Jesus” (John 1:41-42).
  • Later, when some Greeks asked about Jesus, Andrew had the same come-and-see approach (12:20-22).

Let’s “fish for people” the same way Andrew did—and the same way fishermen do today. A fisherman does not corner the fish and try to convince him to take the bait or jump in the boat. He simply drops the bait in the water, an invitation for the large-mouth bass to “come and see.”

Come and see the wonders of God; his acts for humanity are awe-inspiring” (Ps. 66:5).

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29).

An invitation is always better than a sales pitch. And it doesn’t make me bristle.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Andrew: Active Witness” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

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.

 

 

3 Things You Know For Sure Are Happening When You Pray

You know the feeling.

Most all of us do. There is some need in your life—a concern that is dominating your thinking, coloring your emotions, intruding on your conversations—and so you do what you are supposed to do with it. You take it to the Lord in prayer, but nothing seems to happen. In fact, the more you pray the more you feel like your words are going out from your mouth, hitting the ceiling, and coming right back down.

It’s during those times when we don’t know what’s happening, that we might be tempted to think nothing actually is. And while we might not yet know exactly how or when God will eventually redeem the situations we are praying about, there are certain things we can absolutely know for certain are happening when we pray, no matter what:

1. We can know Jesus is praying for us.

Here is a staggering thought – the Son of God, crucified and now resurrected, is actually praying for you:

“Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Jesus is our Great High Priest, but unlike the Old Testament high priests, Jesus has been raised to an indestructible life, and therefore, always lives to intercede for us. So when we pray, we might feel weak and powerless, but there is One who is all-powerful who is lending His voice to our cause. Jesus, the Son of God, is praying for us.

2. We can know the Holy Spirit is interceding according to God’s will.

We, in our limited knowledge, tainted emotion, and short-sighted vision, might think we know exactly what a given outcome of a situation ought to be, and yet we might be dead wrong. So we might be confused about what exactly to pray for. We can be certain, though, that the Holy Spirit is not. He knows the will of God, and He is interceding for us not according to our desires, but according to that will:

“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).

3. We can know the Father is only willing to do what is best.

Jesus taught us about our generous Heavenly Father in His discourse on prayer:

“Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:7-11).

We ask, we seek, and we knock, and what do we find on the other side? We find a Father who not only knows what is best, but is unwilling to give anything else. True enough, we as children might not fully understand or yet embrace what is truly best, but that doesn’t stop our Father’s unbending commitment to our good. So when we pray, we can know for certain that God will respond according to His character – that is, He will respond as a wise and generous Father who only does what is best.

So, Christian, you might be confused, worried, tongue-tied, frustrated, or weary in your prayers today. You might not feel like anything is happening at all. But no matter what else, you can know that when you pray, you have a brother who prays for you, the Spirit who intercedes, and a welcoming, wise Father on the other side.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Hannah: Trust-Filled Prayer” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

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.

 

Trading Binge Watching for Something Better

OK, kids, gather round and let me tell you a story about the days before video streaming … before DVRs … and even before the beloved VHS machine. (Yes, I paid $600 for my first VHS player, but it had all sorts of bells and whistles like … well, it recorded. That’s it.)

Odds are my sisters and I were watching something profound like Gomer Pyle.

When I was a kid, if you had a certain show you wanted to watch, you found it in TV Guide and cleared your schedule. You planned your evening around it. If you missed the program because you were grounded, you had to either rely on your friends at school the next day or wait until the summer reruns. I faced two dilemmas as a kid in the 60s.

  1. I was a Baptist kid growing up. That means we went to Sunday night church—which means I never saw Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Sigh.
  2. And I hated two-part episodes. You’d get engrossed in the show and at the end, you see these words: TO BE CONTINUED. I’d roll my pre-adolescent eyes and moan, “I have to wait until next week!”

Those days are over.

Video streaming, and in particular Netflix, has changed the way we watch TV.  While I applaud the freedom it has given me to watch what I want when I want, it has created a whole new addiction: binge watching.

Netflix even caters to this now with their own original programming. When they release a new season of one of their shows, they release the whole season at once. Folks park in front of their flat-screen TVs and don’t get up until they’ve watched the whole season! Netflix has a new term for this special breed of binge watchers: binge racers. A binge racer is anyone who will finish a series within 24 hours of its release.

Now that’s single-minded focus.

One of my sons is a binge racer, and I’ve learned I can’t make plans with him when his series is releasing. He doesn’t let anything pull him from his Netflix account for that day.

I’m not interested in any form of binge watching, but I would like to have that same type of single-minded focus when it comes to my walk with Christ.  I don’t want anything to pull my attention away from Christ. I want to live with an intentional and conscious focus on the One who knows me best and loves me anyway.

Is that possible?

John the Baptist did it. His ministry was short, but it was focused. Very focused. He was the “warm up act” whose one task was to point to the Main Attraction. His focus was on exalting Christ, not himself. John himself said,

“He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

When I come to the end of this physical life, it won’t matter how many episodes of this year’s trending programs I’ve seen. It won’t matter how many books I’ve read … or games of golf I’ve played … or whatever screams for my focus and attention. What will matter is my walk with Jesus. What I do with Him and for Him is what matters—and lasts.

Let’s focus on Christ.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “John: Single-Minded Focus” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

 

 

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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