There is a principle among journalists that have guided their work for more than a generation. That principle declares: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The purpose of this journalistic principle is to help journalists not to make the kinds of mistakes that will be an embarrassment to them and to their newspapers.
Journalists should be skeptical when presenting facts, providing information, or even quoting from their sources. The first rule in journalism is: check it out. When a journalist fails to check the facts, misleading information will be communicated to people who probably will never check the accuracy of a statement.
The same good advice should apply to ministers in the preparation and delivery of their sermons. I have heard many ministers attribute a specific quotation from a psalm to David, as if David had written all the psalms in the Book of Psalms. I have also heard ministers attribute a certain proverb to the “wise Solomon” when the proverb was written by someone else.
Let me cite a classic example. Once I heard a minister explaining the identity of King Lemuel in Proverbs 31:1. Proverbs 31:1 reads: The sayings of King Lemuel– an oracle his mother taught him. From the pulpit, that pastor said: “King Lemuel was a nickname for Solomon.”
Amazing! That statement just proved to me that the pastor had not studied his text. He did not read any good book on Proverbs nor did he do any research on that passage. If he had studied the text and checked his facts, he would have discovered two interesting things.
First, he would have discovered that there was no king in Israel or Judah whose name was Lemuel. Second, he would have discovered that Lemuel was not a nickname for Solomon. The fact is, that pastor did not know his Bible and he placed the wrong information in the minds of his listeners, information which probably will be stored in their minds for a long time, information which probably will be passed on to another generation of listeners who also will not check the facts.
Those who write and preach have the responsibility of conveying the correct information to their readers and listeners. Those who communicate facts and information through print or from the pulpit cannot assume that people know the real facts.
This point was reinforced once again when I read a news story written by Jennifer Bugay, a correspondent for the Houston Daily Journal. In an article published on November 28, 2006, Ms. Bugay described two unique characteristics of Beth Ann Barron, a student at Perry High School. In her article, Ms. Bugay wrote:
The unique thing about her, is her wardrobe. She has worn a skirt everyday since she was a little girl. Even as a member of her school marching band, where the uniform is school colored trousers.
Barron‘s mother made a proper skirt to match the uniform, but her choice of uniform represents more than Perry‘s marching band. It is an expression of faith.
“Wearing skirts is the way I was raised. My mother does the same. The Old Testament says that women should not wear male garments. Wearing a skirt is modest, yet it shows more respect for me.”
Another proud declaration of her Christian faith is her hair. Beth Ann does not cut her hair. She said she gets an occasional trim to help her hair grow, but she refuses to cut her hair short.
Her mother is the same. Beth Ann refers to the Old Testament admonition that a woman‘s hair be her covering. Beth Ann is growing her hair to match her mother.
Here is the statement that piqued my interest:Beth Ann refers to the Old Testament admonition that a woman‘s hair be her covering.
If Ms. Bugay had checked the facts, she would have discovered that this information is not found in the Old, but in the New Testament.Paul said:but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering (1 Corinthians 11:15). By not checking her facts, this journalist has introduced a falsehood into a good article, false information that will be remembered by many for years to come.
I still remember a sermon preached more than twenty years ago. A preacher (he even had a Ph.D.) was trying to explain Jonah 3:3: Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city.In his sermon, in order to emphasize that Nineveh was a great city, he said that the walls of the city were more than 100 feet high. Now, that was a big exaggeration and this is the reason I never forgot his statement.
But, how many other people heard the same statement and believed that the walls of Nineveh were that high will never be known. They will forever believe a lie because, probably, the preacher never checked his facts.
So, preacher, before you prepare a sermon, check your facts.
The lesson that all of us must learn is this: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary