I’ve been thinking a lot about letters lately. In fact, I’ve been writing letters over the last bit because I think getting a hand-written letter from someone these days may be a good way to encourage others. After all, when was the last time you received a hand-written letter or card from someone? How’d it make you feel? Did it cheer you up? Did it mean more than – well – say a form letter from the IRS?
Letters have been floating around my mind because I, like a lot of pastors and church folks, are trying to figure out how to be Christian – how to be the church – for such a time as this. Granted, we hope that soon we will get back to normal, but we really don’t know if that will happen or when. So, in the interim, I’m trying to figure out practical things that I can do or not do, in order to do what God would have us do during this unique and strange time.
And so, I write letters and notes and try to let people know that God loves them, and they can see God’s love most clearly in the person of Jesus. I find that putting that truth down in a letter to friends and family encourages me and I hope it encourages them, too. But I think there is something else that Christian folks can do that goes beyond letter writing as a means of encouragement.
You know, one of the things that have made people anxious these days is the amount and type of information that is being passed around. Ordinarily, I’m not one that spends a ton of time on social media and generally, there are only a handful of news sites that I visit. But, over the last month, I have clocked more hours on social media and visited more news sites than I ever have. More than a few times, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things but also a bit troubled. From one site to another or one post to another or one person to another, the information changes and at times it is contradictory of what’s being communicated by experts, and at other times it is just not accurate and quite frankly, that’s not good. In fact, in some cases, it could be disastrous and hurtful to a lot of folks.
So, today I’ve added another thing to my list of what it means to be Christian for such a time as this (or anytime actually): do the work of discerning. In other words, check your source and make sure what you are passing on is accurate, truthful, and helpful. If the source seems dubious – don’t send it forward. If you hear something from someone who really isn’t an expert – who isn’t connected to the issue – it’s probably best to shelve it and not send it forward or repeat it or believe it.
In fact, it may be time for a lot of Christian folks to take a page from the Bereans. In Acts 17:10–12 Paul and Silas were in Berea. When they got there they found folks who, as Luke says in Acts, were “more noble” than other folks Paul and Silas had dealt with because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” In other words, they did the work of discerning whether the things they were being told were truth – were right – were accurate based on a solid source. And after they did the work of discerning – then and only then – did “Many of them therefore believe.” I think that’s something practical that a lot of us should take to heart; Christians ought to do the work of discerning whether or not something is true, whether it is right, before we believing it or passing it on as truth.
Charles Spurgeon was quoted as saying, “discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather, discernment is the difference between right and almost right.” We are to be truth-tellers which means we need to be discerning and at times a bit skeptical; we need to ask questions. After all, as part of what it means to share the Gospel, we bear witness to the Truth the Way and the Life but if we push falsehood forward – even with good intent – even unknowingly because we haven’t done the work ourselves of checking the source – it doesn’t bode well for us or for those in our community and in this case, it could cause great harm.
I know, I sound a bit preachy but, well, I am a pastor by calling and we pastors can be a bit preachy at times. And, I know that sounding preaching can come off as judgmental. But, at the risk of sounding preaching and judgemental, I want to appeal to all anyone who professes faith in Jesus (the way, the Truth, and the life) to be more noble and do the work of discerning; examine everything to make sure that it is true, accurate, and helpful before putting attaching your name, your reputation, and your witness to it.