Thursday, September 19, 2013

Verify, Please Verify!

My mother recently gave me a prayer by Billy Graham.  It was entitled Billy Graham’s Prayer for Our Nation.  It was a pretty powerful prayer.  She had cut it out of a publication, probably a church bulletin, and kept it. She passed it on to me this past weekend when I had gone home for a visit.

I was going to post the prayer on Facebook and on my blog because I liked what was said in the prayer, but something didn’t feel right about it.  It just didn’t sound like Rev. Graham.  It wasn’t something that I could put my finger on, but I decided to do some checking.  
A quick Google search – Billy Graham’s Prayer for Our Nation - brought up lots of hits, and then I saw one for  If you aren’t familiar with, it is a site that investigates thousands of emails and Facebook posts that go around, verifying accuracy. 

And guess what, there was a Billy Graham’s Prayer for Our Nation.  But Billy had never prayed it.  It was also called Paul Harvey’s Prayer.  But Paul never prayed it either. 

So why does a church publish a prayer supposedly by Billy Graham in its bulletin? Because they didn’t verify.  I’m certain the pastor or secretary of the church received an email, Facebook or Instagram posting of the prayer and thought it was so good that they used it in their church’s bulletin.  No harm done, right?  I’m not so sure.  When a church, a teacher, a leader, a pastor or other professional prints, forwards, or sends something like this, it lends greater credibility and is more quickly passed on as true, because obviously a church or teacher or pastor or leader wouldn’t pass on something that wasn’t true. 

I’m certain that the church that published the prayer, that my mother cut out, got it from a source that they thought was reliable, and so they passed it on.  But nowadays every one of us needs to verify before we post or forward or tweet or print.  There is way, way too much stuff being passed around that is completely false, but the people forwarding, or posting never check because we assume someone did. 

Please don’t think that I am some kind of great guy because I checked before passing on that prayer.  I have passed on other things or used in a sermon a story or illustration that I either heard or read that I later found out was a total fabrication.  One was the story of the hitchhiker that turned out to be an angel.  The story goes that a man picks up a hitchhiker and as they are driving down the road, the hitchhiker states that Jesus was coming again real soon and then disappears.   

I had heard the story and used it in a sermon and I was considering using the story again.  This time I decided to check first, and lo and behold this story had been circulating in various forms for years and those who investigated could not find one person who had ever actually picked up a hitchhiking angel warning about the soon coming of Jesus.  Maybe it happened someplace at some time, but it could not be verified.  So I dropped the story from the sermon. 

Another was the story of the Houston, Texas police department putting out a pamphlet, “12 Steps to Raising a Juvenile Delinquent.”  I had read this in a book and was going to use it in a parenting message.  I couldn’t remember what book it was in, so I did a Google search.  I didn’t specifically go online to verify that the police department had published it.  I assumed they had since I had read it in a book.   

I found the “12 Steps” list easily online, but I also discovered that the Houston Police Department has been trying to distance itself from this for years.  They claimed, at that time, to have never issued a pamphlet like this and would never have done so.  I quickly dropped the illustration from my sermon even though it was great for the point I was trying to make. 

However in rechecking today on, the police department has changed the story again.  It seems that the story of a pamphlet supposedly from them has been going around since 1959.  They are now saying that it is possible that someone from their department may have actually come up with that list but did not claim authorship.  To read the entire story on this, click this link. 

What’s my point, simple – verify before you post, forward, print, tweet or re-tweet.  As believers let’s not pass around stuff that sounds great, or brings tears to our eyes, or makes us mad if we haven’t verified the facts.  If you are a church, business or community leader it is more important that you verify.
Going back to the Billy Graham prayer; it is an actual prayer, not prayed by Billy Graham or Paul Harvey but by a Pastor from Kansas.  The reason the prayer rang a bell for me was that I remember the controversy that surrounded the prayer when it really was prayed before the Kansas House of Representatives by Rev. Joe White back in 1996.  It is a powerful prayer and some claim that Rev. White seemed to go beyond praying to meddling on the day he prayed it at the opening session of the Kansas House of Representatives.  Even Rev. White’s prayer was not totally his own but an adaptation of a prayer written in 1995 by Bob Russell, who offered it at the Kentucky Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Frankford.  I’ve printed the prayer here and also enclosed a link to for the complete story.  

Just remember all of you who have an online presence, and that is most of you, verify before you forward, or email, or re-tweet, or however else you pass on stuff.  It does take time, but at least we can be certain that the story, or quote or prayer is real. 

A Prayer For Repentance

Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance.
We know Your word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we’ve done.
We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have neglected the needy and called it self- preservation.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.
We have abused power and called it political savvy.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state.
Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will.  I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. 



Saturday, September 7, 2013

Telling Children About Hell - Is It A Good Idea?

The knowledge of hell may just be a deterrent to activities
that would be physically, emotionally and spiritually
disastrous to us. 
“I was very depressed after my parents broke up.  I really thought about suicide, but I never tried.  I was afraid I would go to hell.”

That’s what a young 20 something man told me on a camping trip many years ago.  We were sharing about our lives as we were hiking one afternoon.  He told me about his teen years and the struggles that he had, especially with his father’s affair and then his parent’s divorce.  Depression became a constant companion and he even went through some professional counseling.

After he went to college he became a Christ follower through a campus ministry and his life was transformed.  As a child his family attended church regularly but neither of his parents had a personal relationship with Jesus.  Church for them was social and the thing that upstanding citizens in the community did.  It was also good for business as this was the church the business leaders of the community attended. He was taken to Sunday school and through the dedicated instruction of men and women; he learned some things about God and the afterlife.

I was surprising at the impact of what he learned about hell as a child, because his awareness of hell was the thing that kept him from taking his own life.  Because he didn’t take his own life God was finally able to get ahold of his life and transform him.  He went on and developed a passion for Jesus, for church, and for helping other young adults come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

There are many who struggle with talking about hell, especially to children, because of the possibility that it might frighten them.  Maybe we should rethink that.  The knowledge of hell may just be a deterrent to activities that would be physically, emotionally and spiritually disastrous to them.  There is a verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs.  It says, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.”  Proverbs 29:18  Let’s not be afraid to teach our children the truth about eternity, the truth about hell and the truth about what is necessary to avoid going there.

Also thank you dedicated Sunday School and children’s workers for your investment in the lives of children.  What you teach does get into their hearts.  You may not see the results now, but at least one man did not commit suicide and lived to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ because someone taught him about hell. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Children, Sex and Pornography

I was very saddened and disturbed by the following blog by Anne Marie Miller.   However I was not surprised by what it revealed.  I believe everything she says is true.  The reason that I believe it is I know myself.  If I was an older child or young teen today, I would be one of the people she speaks about. 
I was very interested in sex and sexuality as a child and especially as a teen.  I just didn’t have access to what children have easy and immediate access to today.  The small amount that I did view caused enough issues for me as a teen and young adult.  That lack of access probably saved me from a life addicted to pornography.  But who or what is out there to “save” our children and teens from the filth that is only a Google and Yahoo search away.
Read this article fully and then ask yourself how you can help your children or grandchildren navigate this technological world.  The one thing we all can and should do is pray.  Our enemy, Satan, does not care that they are children.  He will destroy anyone in anyway.

3 Things You Don't Know About Your Children and Sex

There are more students compulsively looking at pornography at younger ages and with greater
frequency than ever before.

Dear Parents,

Please allow me a quick moment to introduce myself before we go much further. My name is Anne Marie Miller. I’m thirty-three years old. I’m newly married to a wonderful man named Tim.  We don’t have any children yet, but we plan to. 

For the purpose of this letter, you need to know I’m a recovering addict. Pornography was my drug of choice.
I grew up in the church—the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher man with a passion for learning the Bible. I was the honors student; the athlete; the girl who got along with everyone from the weird kids to the popular ones.
It was a good life. I was raised in a good home.
It was 1996, I was sixteen and the Internet was new. After my family moved from a sheltered, conservative life in west Texas to the ethnically and sexually diverse culture of Dallas/Fort Worth, I found myself lonely, curious and confused.
Because of the volatile combination of life circumstances: the drastic change of scenery when we moved, my dad’s depression, and a youth pastor who sexually abused me during my junior year of high school, I turned to the Internet for education. I didn’t know what certain words meant or if what the youth pastor was doing to me was good or bad, and I was too afraid to ask.
What started as an innocent pursuit of knowledge quickly escalated into a coping mechanism.
When I looked at pornography, I felt a feeling of love and safety—at least for a brief moment. But those brief moments of relief disappeared and I was left even more ashamed and confused than when I started. Pornography provided me both an emotional and a sexual release.
For five years I carried this secret. I was twenty-one when I finally opened up to a friend only because she opened up to me first about her struggle with sexual sin.
We began a path of healing in 2001, and for the last 12 years, although not a perfect journey, I can say with great confidence that God has set me free from that addiction and from the shame that followed. I returned to school to study the science behind addiction and family dynamics.
Over the last six years, I’ve had the opportunity to share my story in a variety of venues: thousands of college students, men, women and teens. This summer, I was invited to speak at several camps to both junior high and high school students, and it’s without exaggeration that I tell you with each year I counsel students, the numbers and the stories shock me more and more. 
There are more students compulsively looking at pornography at younger ages and with greater frequency than ever before. 
This summer, by a long stretch, was the “worst” in terms of what secrets I learned students carried. After my last night speaking at my last camp, I retreated to my room and collapsed on the bed face-first. Tim simply laid his hand on my back to comfort me.
I could not logically reconcile in my mind all the confessions I heard over the summer with the children who shared them.
While every story was unique in the details, in most situations, there were three common themes that kept surfacing. 
1. Google is the New Sex-Ed.
Remember the first time you, as a parent, saw pornography? Likely it was a friend’s parent who had a dirty magazine, or maybe you saw something somebody brought to school.
Now, when a student hears a word or phrase they don’t understand, they don’t ask you what it means (because they fear getting in trouble). They don’t ask their friends (because they fear being ashamed for not knowing).
They ask Google.
Google won’t judge them for not knowing.
Because of our short attention spans and desire for instant gratification, they don’t click the first link that shows up—they go straight to Google Images. In almost all of the stories I heard, this is how someone was first exposed to pornography—Google Image searching.
The average age of first exposure in my experience was nine years old.
2. If Your Child was Ever Molested, You Likely Don’t Know.
Another extremely common theme was children being inappropriately touched, often by close family members or friends.
When I was molested at sixteen, I didn’t tell a soul until I was in my twenties. I didn’t tell my own mother until I was twenty-eight.
The stigma and shame of being a victim, coupled with the trauma that happens with this experience, is confusing to a child of any age: Our systems weren’t made to process that event.
Many things keep children from confessing abuse: being told they’ve made it up or are exaggerating, being a disappointment, and in most cases, getting the other person in trouble.
While a child can look at pornography without being abused, children who have been molested, by and large, look at pornography and act out sexually. 
3. Your Child is Not the Exception. 
After speaking with a youth pastor at a camp, he said most parents live with the belief that their child is the exception. Your child is not.
The camps I went to this summer weren’t camps full of children on life’s fringes that one would stereotypically believe experience these traumatic events or have access to these inappropriate things.
You must throw your stereotypes aside.
Most of the children at these camps were middle-class, mostly churched students.
Let me give you a snapshot of a few things I heard from these students:
     They’ve sent X-rated photos of themselves to their classmates (or received them).
     They’ve exposed themselves to strangers on the Internet or through sexting.
     They’ve seen pornography. 
     They’ve read pornography. 
     They’ve watched pornography. 
     The girls compare their bodies to the ones they see in ads at the mall or of actresses, 
        and keep those images hidden on their phone (or iPod, or whatever device they have)
        so they can try to imitate them. 
     They question their sexuality. 
     They’ve masturbated. 
     They know exactly where and in what movies sex scenes are shown and they watch
        them for sexual gratification. 
     They’ve had a homosexual experience. 
     And they’re terrified to tell you. 
(Update: The focus of this article is on the conversation, not the action; though as parents, you need to be aware of the fact that young children are experiencing these things. I feel the need to clarify that none of these actions make someone a “bad” person. While this specific list does contain things many people with a Christian background consider to be sin, it is lack of communication that makes this dangerous at this age. Most of us go through exploratory phases before sexual phases: a three-year-old masturbating because he knows it feels good and a seventeen-year-old masturbating to porn for a sexual release are two different things. If your child is uninformed or uneducated about things they need to know based on what is appropriate for their age and sexual development, regardless of your beliefs, it leads to shame and self-doubt.) 
But maybe you’re right. Maybe your child is the exception. I would argue, at this juncture in life, being the exception is as equally dangerous. 
At the end of every session I presented, I intentionally and clearly directed students to ask me or another leader if they didn’t understand or know what a certain word meant. “Do not go to the Internet and look it up.” 
Sure enough, there is always the child who stays behind until everyone leaves and quietly asks what the word “porn” means or if God is angry because that boy or girl from down the street told them it was OK for them to touch them “down there.” There is the child in the back row who leans over to his friend and asks, “What does molest mean?” and the other boy shrugs.
This summer, I am beyond grateful that mature, God-fearing adults were available to answer those questions with grace and tact and maturity; that we were in a setting that was safe for questions and confessions. It was entirely appropriate. Not every child gets that opportunity. Most won’t. Most will find out from the Internet or from a peer who isn’t equipped to provide the correct answer in the correct context.
As the summer camp season ends, I feel a shift in my heart.
For the last six years, I’ve felt a calling to share with students how God has set me free from the shame and actions of my past, and that they aren’t alone (because they truly believe they are). One college dean referred to me as “the grenade we’re tossing into our student body to get the conversation of sex started” because they realized how sweeping these topics under the rug caused their students to live trapped and addicted and ashamed. I will continue sharing my testimony in that capacity as long as there is a student in front of me that needs to hear it.
However, I am more aware now than ever before in my ministry of how little parents know about what’s happening. And because I’m not a parent, I feel terribly inadequate in telling you this.
But I can’t not tell you.
After seeing the innocence in the eyes of ten-year-olds who’ve carried secrets nobody, let alone a child, should carry; after hearing some of the most horrific accounts from students I’ve ever heard this year; I cannot go one more day without pleading with you to open up and have these difficult conversations with your children.
Would you prefer your son or daughter learn what a “fetish” is from you or from searching Google Images? Talk to them about abuse and, yes, even trafficking.
Just this month, I met a relative of a girl whose own mother was selling her body from the time she was five until now, when she’s sixteen. This was not in some drug-infested ghetto. It was in a very upscale town in a very upscale state known for its nature and beauty and summer houses.
Your children need to know.
If not for them, maybe for a friend. Maybe they can help bring context or see warning signs.
Ask them what they know.
Ask them what they’ve done.
Ask them what’s been done to them.
Show grace and love. Stay far away from judgment and condemnation. If you feel ill equipped, ask a pastor or counselor for help. If you hear an answer you didn’t expect and your first instinct is to dismiss it—don’t.
Find a counselor. Look for resources. Continue following up.
If you struggle with this (and let’s admit it, statistically, a lot of us do), get help too.
Do the right thing, the hard thing, for the sake of your children. If we don’t do this now, I am terrified of how the enemy will continue stealing hope and joy from our youngest generation, and how they’ll be paralyzed to advance the Kingdom of God as they mature.
We cannot let this happen on our watch.
*Specific details that could identify children have been changed in such a way that it does not affect the story and only protects the children. Mandatory Reporters reported confessions that involved abuse or neglect or situations that indicated a child was in any type of danger by using proper state laws and procedures. 
  Anne Marie Miller lives with her husband, Tim Miller, in Franklin, Tennessee, where she learns and plays and writes.