God's Word

False News and Fact Checking

Before destruction a person’s heart is arrogant,

but humility comes before honor.

Whoever gives an answer before he listens is stupid and shameful.

The first to state his case seems right

⌊until⌋ his neighbor comes to cross-examine him. (Proverbs 18:12-13, 17 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 18:9-19 GW)


How can we know something is true or false—not just in the media but in everyday life? If it’s things in general related to public life, several fact-checking sites exist where you can, well… check to see if something is factual.

One of the more popular sites is Snopes but there are several others and it’s good to use two or three sources when fact-checking.

But these sites don’t help with our everyday interactions with people. You could study body language indicators but these are highly dependent on interpretation and subject to individual bias.

An old saying goes, “there’s two sides to every story” or “…two sides to every coin.” Actually, it’s likely there are three sides. Each person has their version of an event or situation and the truth may be somewhere in between their versions.

At first glance, these first two verses don’t seem connected but they share a common thread—character based on attitude of the heart. Humility—genuine humility—governs our emotions and thoughts instead of them governing us. So, humility helps us respond rather than react.

Arrogance blinds a person from seeing anything but their own point of view. It numbs their ability to hear anything but their own opinions and thoughts.

Arrogance blinds and numbs a person

Humility helps us respond rather than react

Humility helps a person to be aware and alert. Instead of listening to the loudest voice, those who are humble listen for what is not being said and for another point of view. They look for what resides between two extremes and are patient enough to listen for the rest of the story.

This is the main point of verse 17—

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (ESV)

I had to learn this the hard way as a young pastor. When people I trusted would be bring their concerns about the church, I tended to jump into action to rectify the perceived problem.

I learned to be less impetuous and more patient and willing to pursue more information from others sources—especially those involved in these concerns—to avoid being hasty and foolish.

 Photo by  Emily Morter  on  Unsplash

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

I found considerate and probing questions revealed a bigger picture and more complete story than relying on one person’s view of an issue.

Though I learned this lesson long ago, I can still engage in knee-jerk reactions rather than maintaining a calmer attitude of heart and humble mindset.

This is an important lesson we all need to be reminded of… often. It’s a lesson to apply in all facets of life, especially relationships where we tend to be more reactive than wise—at home, at work, and especially in social media.

If we don’t heed this lesson, we only have ourselves to blame for being led astray by false news, false accusations, or false concerns. So, ask yourself and others the hard questions—the ones likely to reveal a fuller picture and story, whatever the issue.

Reflection—

When you hear something unsettling or hard to accept, make a point to get more information, consider other points of view, and ask considerate but probing questions. This can help keep you from unnecessary worrying, jumping to conclusions, or reacting in the moment. Humility and wisdom are honorable and peaceable virtues.

Prayer Focus—

If you are impetuous or quick to be concerned about what you hear or see, make a point of asking the Lord to give you discernment and wisdom before you react. You might need to ask God to help you many times throughout a day.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Caution: Swallowing Hazard

The words of a person’s mouth are like deep waters.

The fountain of wisdom is an overflowing stream.

The words of a gossip are swallowed greedily,

and they go down into a person’s innermost being. (Proverbs 18:4, 8 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 18:1-8 GW)


Wise people tend to be more careful with their words than many of us. They use less words but say more when they do speak.

Wisdom and intelligence aren’t the same. A person can be quite intelligent but lack wisdom. Their understanding is limited by their lack of discretion, which is often tied to their character.

Wise people are also careful about the words they take in and accept. They don’t swallow everything they hear because they have discernment.

Even a foolish person—someone who lacks discretion and discernment—can seem wise when they keep their mouth shut (Prov 17:28). But alas, they still aren’t wise because of their character.

These verses have great picture words. The wise person is associated with grand images—deep waters, a fountain and an overflowing stream. These are noble images.

When you see a beautiful mountain stream or a fountain—whether manmade or natural—it commands respect and a sense of fulfillment, even awe. These are the images given of a wise person with their wise words.

What a stark contrast the wise person is to those who spread gossip! Not only the one who speaks gossip but those who listen to it.

Think about how prevalent gossip is in some form or another in our American culture. It permeates social media like a global epidemic and feeds off half-truths, lies, misinterpretations, and opinions spawned by various media sources including the internet.

 Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What amazes me is how easily these tidbits of supposed news are accepted without reservation—especially when it fits our personal perceptions and opinions.

The saddest predicament is how rampant gossip is within churches. This should not be so and there’s no excuse for its existence or for tolerance of it within a church.

As a pastor of a local church in a fairly small town, I can attest to the prevalent and destructive nature of gossip.

It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland who drinks a bottle labeled “Drink Me” and eats a cake marked “Eat Me.” The consequences of her drinking and eating these were beyond her control.

This illustrates the tragic ripple effect of spreading and listening to gossip. Even when the truth is made known that dispels the focus and topic of who and what’s gossiped about—the gossip lingers on.

Gossip is swallowed greedily and goes deep into a person’s innermost being.

What can you or I do to prevent being a gossip or a receiver of gossip? Here’s some simple advice I saw recently—

If you’re talking negatively about someone, or if you’re listening to negative talk about someone, and the words aren’t helping solve the problem… you’re gossiping. (https://goo.gl/epx1fb)

When we are with people who value wisdom, we’re more likely to become like them. When we hang around with those who cultivate and trade gossip—well, we’ll become more like them.

The choice is ours—everyday and throughout each day—be careful what you listen to and swallow!

Reflection—

What do you want to be known for—wisdom or gossip? They have opposite origins and outcomes. This requires daily discernment and discretion, if we don’t want to swallow everything we hear!

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for discernment when hearing or considering something passed on to you. Ask the Lord to develop a sense of godly discretion and a love of wisdom in your heart and mind, and the discipline and willingness to pursue these daily.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Extreme Opposites

Whoever approves of wicked people

and whoever condemns righteous people is disgusting to the Lord.

To punish an innocent person is not good.

To strike down noble people is not right. (Proverbs 17:15, 26 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:15-28 GW)


Polarization is the current buzzword used to describe the toxic political and social environment of America. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground based on the loud rhetoric that shouts down any differing opinions.

Even a sense of what is right and wrong is in question. Truth and justice have become relative terms dependent on personal persuasions and feelings.

This is how it appears on the surface but I don’t believe it’s accurate. The north and south poles are at opposite ends of the earth but small in comparison to the world in between.

When the focus on a certain issue or concern emphasizes an extreme perspective, it comes at the cost of the truth. Focus on two opposite extremes obscures the truth which exists somewhere in between the extreme positions.

If this becomes the norm rather than the exception to the rule, truth and justice are set aside and replaced with a distortion of what’s true and just.

Then, those who are guilty and corrupt are tolerated while those who are innocent and righteous are ignored or crushed and oppressed.

This disgusts the Lord and it ought to do the same for those of us who trust in Him.

Cultural shifts take place frequently. A wind of new wisdom and insight blows in and people get swept up and away with whatever the popular current may be. This is not new. History reminds us of this if we pay attention to it.

But, when the cultural current flips our moral standards upside down and ethics are mocked—the people of God must take action.

“What can we do about it,” you might ask?

We need to stand firm in what we know to be right and true and good. This is a continuing message in Proverbs (Prov 1:1-7). This is what the Lord expects of those who trust in Him.

 Photo by  Adi Goldstein  on  Unsplash

Does it sound too simplistic, even weak? It isn’t.

Try standing in a swift-moving stream while standing on a rocky and sandy riverbed. You’ll find it’s not so easy.

How about standing in the ocean in knee-deep water where the waves break near the shore with the back and forth movement of the tide? If you’re not careful, it will knock you down and pull you out into deeper water and stronger waves.

Stand firm!

Stand firm in what is right and true and just. Stand up for the innocent and oppressed. Move beyond ideology and rhetoric when confronted with a distortion of truth and justice.

As it says in the book of Romans—

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (Rom 12:21 GW)

This is difficult to do in many real-life circumstances but God will honor it. The more you and I stand firm, the stronger we become.

Reflection—

We need to stand firm in what we know to be right and true and good. The Lord expects all people who trust in Him to do this. Let’s move beyond ideology and rhetoric when confronted with a distortion of truth and justice.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for God to make the truth of His written word more clear to you, especially when He speaks of how we are to live and act as His living representatives in this world. Ask for discernment, discretion, and wisdom for how to stand firm for what is good, true, right, and just.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Keep the Floodgate Closed

Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,

but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate,

so stop before the argument gets out of control.

Whoever loves sin loves a quarrel. (Proverbs 17:9, 14, 19a GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:7-20 GW)


Ever notice how much easier it is to start an argument than to end one? Most arguments are based on a difference of opinion with both parties insisting on their own rightness. The assumption is made that one side is right while the other is wrong, which isn’t necessarily true.

This can be seen in the typical news or sports talk shows where one or more people state their case against the view of another. The back and forth goes on and on till a moderator steps in as a referee.

Most of these arguments amount to straw man arguments based on opinion rather than facts. Oftentimes, knowledge about the topic is limited or unknown but this doesn’t stop people from arguing their point. They state conjectures and opinions as if they were facts.

A classic example—one that hits home, literally—is what I call the domestic discussion. Arguments between husbands and wives are typically the opinions and feelings of one spouse versus the other. The “facts” are various reasons for claiming rightness about an issue, often at the expense of the other.

I’ll joke with people that, “If my wife would just realize I’m right, we wouldn’t argue!” Of course, that’s the point. I assume I’m right and she’s wrong.

Some of our arguments have gone on and on to the point we forget what started it. We’ve even found ourselves laughing at how silly it is to be arguing, if we’re not too emotionally invested in our own rightness.

This is exactly the point of these verses—

 Photo by  Felix Koutchinski  on  Unsplash

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate, so stop before the argument gets out of control.

The purpose of a floodgate is to hold back a flood of water. When torrential rains threaten to break a dam, a floodgate or spillway may be temporarily opened to relieve some pressure. But this is a drastic and temporary measure that could lead to a greater flood.

When someone—a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or whoever—continues to bring up an issue already discussed, a full-fledged argument is inevitable.

This doesn’t resolve issues or offenses, it produces a separation between people. Forgiveness—an act of mercy rather than judgment—is the way to resolve and repair relational separation.

Forgiveness is an act of love.

On the other hand, a person—such as you or me—who continues to quarrel and bring up old offenses indicates selfishness rather than willingness to forgive and love to restore a relationship.

Better to stop than start an argument. But how?

When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right, we’ll stop arguments that lead to broken relationships.

When our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit of being right, even those domestic discussions won’t get out of control so easy and there’ll be a lot less crying and yelling.

So, it’s up to us what we pursue. If we choose to quarrel, we’ll open a floodgate we can’t easily close. But when we pursue forgiveness and love, we’ll keep the floodgate closed.

Reflection—

It’s better to stop arguments than start them. When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right and our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit at being right, we’ll stop a lot of arguments that lead to broken relationships.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself stirred up enough to argue a point or insist on your own rightness, take a step back in your mind and heart and pray for God to help you pursue forgiveness and love rather than your own rightness.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Purified By Fire

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but the one who purifies hearts ⌊by fire⌋ is the Lord. (Proverbs 17:3 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:1-6 GW)


No one can purify their own heart. No one. We can try but we’ll fail. We fail because we don’t have the right material to work from to develop a pure heart. We’re flawed.

Each of us is born with a selfish nature—a self-will.

This selfish nature isn’t obvious at first. When I first see and hold a newborn grandchild, well, it’s hard to imagine anything but purity in them. Each baby is wholly dependent on their parents, especially the nurturing care of their mother.

But over time—actually, not much time at all—this selfish nature becomes evident. It’s not just a child’s fascination with the word “no!” or their constant pushing of boundaries, it’s deeper than that. It’s embedded in each of us at birth—our individual self-will.

Our self-will is powerful, especially when it’s challenged and even when it appears to be subdued. No matter what the circumstances, it will eventually make its presence known. This can be a good thing many times but not when a pure heart is desired.

Many spiritually-minded people either claim or desire to have a pure heart. But this can only take place when the Creator of our hearts is allowed to work in us. Rather, when we allow the Lord to work our innate rebellion—aka, our selfish nature—out of us.

How does God purify a person’s heart? He uses external pressure. In this Bible version, the idea of fire or intense heat is expressed giving us a graphic illustration of God’s purifying process. But in most other Bible versions of this verse the word test is used to describe the process God uses to purify a heart.

 Photo by  Ihor Malytskyi  on  Unsplash

God’s testing

It’s the tests of life that bring our selfish nature to the surface. Just as in purifying a precious metal like silver or gold in a furnace with intense heat that reduces the metal to a liquid, so God uses various tests in our life to reduce and refine us.

The intense heat of the refining process brings the impurities of the metal to the surface. These initial impurities are scraped off the surface. Then the process continues until the metal is pure enough to reflect an image on the surface like a mirror or still water.

Ever wonder why you undergo certain tests in life over and over? Tests related to hard-to-break habits, unhealthy relationships, or other internal struggles are intended to reduce us to a place of dependence upon God to overcome whatever the target is of this testing in our life.

God refines us so His image is reflected in us

As we experience these tests and allow them to melt us into a trusting submission to God, God will purify our hearts. Each test brings impurities to the surface. When the Lord scrapes these impurities out of us, He also heals the wounds they leave in us.

It’s not an easy process for most of us but it’s worth the work. The goal is to have a pure heart that we might see God (Matt 5:8). For now, we walk by faith—trusting in Him and His work in our hearts as He prepares us for the day we shall see Him face to face (1 Cor 13:12).

Reflection—

When you experience God’s testing in your life, allow it to melt your heart and submit to God with a full trust that He’s purifying your heart. As each test brings impurities to the surface, allow the Lord to scrape them out of you so He can heal and restore your heart.

Prayer Focus—

Be willing to surrender your heart to the Lord as you come before Him in prayer, this will lead to a greater confidence in Him to answer your prayers, as you draw closer to Him through the purifying of your heart.

Here’s a link to a beautiful worship song about the purpose of God’s refining work in us— Refiner’s Fire

©Word-Strong_2018


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