Don’t Quote Me, Part II

This is the second of a two-part series on quotes. Today we look at a few leadership quotes that aren’t as great as they might first appear.

I’ve read Mere Christianity at least three times, and, yes, I’m a fan of almost all things C.S. Lewis. I’m also a habitual collector of quotes. That’s why it was disappointing to discover I had been misquoting the famous author.

The quote in question – “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less” – is actually by Rick Warren, and I’ve read the book in which he wrote that line (The Purpose Drive Life, Page 339, although it’s worded slightly different). Yet, somewhere along the way I saw it attributed to Mere Christianity, and I began repeating the error. Such is the danger of sourcing quotes in a Google-driven world (see last week’s blog for more on this).

Accurately sourcing quotes is just one of the challenges we face in a world full of oft-repeated quotes. What’s even more important is whether the quotes offer wisdom, regardless of their source. I’ve found that not all quotes are created equal, especially quotes on leadership. Some quotes, like Warren’s line about humility, are rock-solid, foundational axioms upon which you can build your life and leadership. (Exhibit B: “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright) Others, however, are dangerous because they are sort of true, which, of course, makes them sort of false. And you don’t want to build your life or your leadership around something that’s the slightest bit false.

So, with that in mind, here are five common sayings regarding leadership that need a critical eye before you fully adopt them.

  1. It’s all relative.

This is one of those convenient sayings that’s not really attributed to anyone in particular but that comes up frequently when people want to get out of an argument without admitting defeat. It contains just enough truth to get us through because, in fact, some things are relative.

Noted genius Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about relativity, explained it this way: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

But just because some things are relative doesn’t mean that all things are relative. Strong leaders know that compromise is essential, but compromising on truth is fatal. They know that relativity never trumps truth.

Abraham Lincoln made this point nicely with this short quiz: “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four – calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

This is another great saying that you probably first heard from dear old mom or dad when you applied lackluster effort to some simple chore around the house. It makes great sense and it gives you a worthy goal of doing great work. But progress often comes by trying and failing. If you only do things you can do well, you end up avoiding a great many things that would make you better. So, the best leaders push themselves and their teams toward perfection, but offer grace – to themselves, as well as to others – when failure gets in the way.

Steven Sample, the former president of the University of Southern California, explained it like this in The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership: “Anything worth doing at all is worth doing poorly. It may be worth more if it’s done well, but it’s worth something if it’s done poorly.”

  1. There are no stupid questions.

Seriously? Of course there are.

But it’s unlikely that you are stupid or that you work with stupid people. More likely, you (or them) are underinformed. If that’s the case, get to the root of the issue. Why are people asking poor questions? There’s probably a problem with your culture, your systems or your processes – or all three.

  1. There are no leadership experts, only experts on their own leadership.

The first time I heard this, I loved it. It felt so counterintuitively on target.

Then I slept. Morning brought clarity.

Yes, leadership experts write and speak and consult from their own experiences. They have biases. But that’s true of all of life. You don’t have to lead with a certain style, however, to become an expert on how that style works. In fact, you’ll benefit if you become an expert on as many leadership styles as possible.

A friend and I wrote a book about grit, which we defined as passionate perseverance toward a goal. We’re experts on our own grit (and lack thereof), but we also did research to become more informed about what grit looks like in anyone. We leaned heavily on another researcher’s work. That researcher is an expert on grit – and not just her grit. And she helped us elevate our understanding.

What’s important is that we each become experts when it comes to our personal leadership style. We can learn from all the experts to help us figure out how we can best lead, and then we can own that style. If we get really good at it, we can write our own book.

  1. We learn more from our failures than our successes.

There are plenty of variations on this.

Actress/activist Jane Fonda said, “You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.”

In its review of The Wisdom of Failure by Laurence Weinzimmer and Jim McConoughey, businessinsider.com used this headline: “You Can Learn More From Failure Than Success.”

Samuel Smiles, a Scottish author, said, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.”

Or go with economist Kenneth Boulding: “Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it. We learn only from failure.”

There’s no doubting the value of learning from our failures; indeed, they have very little value if we don’t learn from them. The fault lies in making the statement absolute with words like “more from” or “only.”

The truth is, we can learn just as much from our successes as our failures. We often learn more from our failures simply because we spend more time analyzing them, while we only celebrate our successes. If we spent as much time thinking about what we did to succeed, we’d likely learn a great deal.

Beyond Symptoms: Getting to the root of our problems

What’s the root of your problem?

I ask because we’ve become a symptoms-focused culture. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it certainly is now. We look at a problem and gravitate toward addressing the most obvious symptoms while doing little for the disease.

I don’t have to look any further than a mirror to find a guilty party.

For instance, my wife and I adopted a couple of kittens about 14 months ago. They lived inside through their first winter, which spoiled them more than a little. They’ve been mostly outside cats since the spring and full-time outside cats since we got a new couch this summer.

Here’s the problem: Because we live in a wooded hillside area, our property is visited by any number of wild critters, including raccoons. These black-eyed bandits are fond of cat food, so they regularly make themselves at home on our back deck. One of my solutions has been to trap them (cat food makes great bait) and then release them several miles from our home. But God has provided a seemingly endless supply of raccoons in our woods, and I’m getting a bit tired of hauling them off.

The root of the problem is that raccoons will always find their way to this free and easy food source. The best solution, of course, is to limit their food supply by not leaving cat food outside after dark. It’s a hassle to remember, but much less of a hassle than becoming a taxi service for the area’s raccoon population.

Maybe we treat the symptoms because we don’t know of a cure for the disease. I can’t eradicate all raccoons or change their desire for cat food. Despite advances in modern medicine, doctors often can’t do much more than address the symptoms of our ailments. Or, maybe we know the cure — which is sometimes true in medicine — but we find it easier or more convenient to treat the symptoms and just live with the disease. That’s why we wear clothes that make us look a little thinner rather than eating healthy food and exercising. Or, maybe we focus on the symptom because it gives the appearance of progress. Perception is better than reality.

For the world to really get better, however, each of us needs to do the hard work of addressing the true root of our problems: We’re sinners.

We can mask that reality and find all sorts of ways to justify it or explain it away, but the truth of it will always gnaw at us and prevent us from living as we’re called to live.

How do we treat this disease? We call on the Great Physician and then follow His prescriptions. Only God can take away our sins. He’ll do it if we ask, but we still have to live as fallen creatures until He brings us home. In the meantime, we can treat our disease through obedience to Him. That includes disciplines like prayer, the study of His Word, fellowship and worship with other believers, and submission to His authority over every aspect of our lives.

Those things aren’t easy, but they are essential to our spiritual health.

Treating the symptoms of our spiritual illness isn’t a bad thing, it’s just incomplete. We don’t have to do one or the other; we can address both at the same time. But if we never address the root of the problem, we’ll spend the rest of our lives treating symptoms that only get worse over time.

Training my brain on scripture

I read recently about the ways technology is changing our brains. For instance, easy access to information is training our brain to “index” rather than “retain” information. Makes sense.

I can still remember my family’s home phone number from when I was growing up, but who bothers to memorize a phone number these days? And all that time I spent memorizing sports records seems like such a waste now that anything we want or need to know is easily found with a quick and simple Internet search. We just need to know the key search words that will lead us to the facts. Or the fake news, as the case may be.

In many ways, this is awesome. There’s only so much room in my head for information, useless or otherwise, so I’m OK with keeping most of it stored on a hard drive or the cloud or wherever it is Google stores such things. If I need it – say, to win an important argument about who is the all-time leading scorer in NAIA men’s basketball history – I know where, or at least how, to find it.

On the other hand, I’ve come to recognize the value of the basic disciplines my parents tried so hard to instill into my ever-resistant soul when I was growing up.

For instance, I argued for years that it was pointless to make my bed each morning when, as was plainly obvious to anyone, I would mess it up again that evening. Why not keep it perpetually prepared for my impending slumber? As an adult, however, I’ve discovered that making the bed each day provides a nice sense of order in the midst of my sometimes chaotic life. Plus, it makes my wife happy. I retain many of my youthful slob-like tendencies, but I find comfort in knowing things are well ordered. Things have a place and they are in their place.

Retaining knowledge is as important as ever. Very often, I hear arguments on the political debates of our day that are weakly rooted in quick Google searches that led to unverified articles that shade the truth and do little more than promote confirmation bias. But retaining knowledge requires discipline, and some of us, myself included, aren’t particularly good at it.

This is frustrating at times, but never more than when I’m trying to remember a Bible verse. Of all the things we should memorize, scripture should top the list. Yet, I stink at this discipline. I’m not bad at remembering what scripture says, but I fail miserably at quoting it chapter and verse. I’ve used a journal, index cards and an app. I memorize verses for a few weeks or months, but then they slip away.

That’s OK, though, because I know I never want to become just an indexer of God’s word. I want to keep it in my heart. So, I’ll keep at it and do the best I can. If I forget the chapter and verse but remember the gist of the message, I figure I’ve gained something important. I might not have every pillow fluffed perfectly and properly placed, but I’ve made my bed.

Trivial side note: I was a cub reporter working for the Arkansas Democrat in the late 1980s when someone on the sports copy desk asked the question, “Who’s the NAIA’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball?” There was no Google, so I reached for the NAIA media guide. Before I could flip a page, Robert Yates, a college kid working with us part-time, said, “Bevo Francis.” And he was right. Two other players have since surpassed Francis on the career scoring list. But Francis still holds the record for most points in a game, scoring 113 for Rio Grande (Ohio) in a 1954 game against Hillsdale (Mich.).

Clarence “Bevo” Francis

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Finding Wisdom in Troubling Times

Deciding on a blog topic isn’t always easy, and not always because you feel like you have nothing worth saying. I seldom have writer’s block. More often, I have writer’s fire hydrant. And the Charlottesville violence left me overwhelmed with opinions and ideas regarding racism, monuments, statues, hatred, evil, protests, politics and all sorts of other things that were spewing forth from my mind.

How can I write everything I’m thinking and feeling? How can I contribute beyond all the other voices? What should I say and how should I say it?

Then I re-read Proverbs 8, one of my favorite books in the scriptures. Rather than doting on the symptoms of the problems we face in this world, it speaks to the cure for the root cause of our disease. It won’t tell you if statues should come down in your town’s square, what you should or shouldn’t write on Facebook, or specifically how to respond to friends and neighbors who look or think differently than you. But it will tell you how to put yourself in a position to find those answers.

Proverbs 8 is 36 beautiful verses, 33 of which are poetically written in the personified voice of wisdom. Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52), and the troubles in our lives and in this world are rooted in a lack of wisdom. Eve took that first bite of the forbidden fruit because she lacked wisdom. Adam stood passively beside her, ignoring his responsibility as a husband, because he lacked wisdom. Racists in America and terrorists in Europe drive cars into crowds because they lack wisdom. So, when wisdom speaks, we should listen.

Here’s some of what you’ll learn about wisdom when you leave this blog and read Proverbs 8 for yourself:

  • She raises her voice and takes a stand.
  • She detests wickedness.
  • She is just and righteous.
  • She is more valuable than silver, gold or rubies.
  • She dwells with prudence.
  • She isn’t the same thing as knowledge, but she possesses knowledge … and discretion.
  • There are things she hates … evil, pride, arrogance, perverse speech.
  • Her insights are powerful.
  • Those who seek her, find her.
  • She was the “first” of the Lord’s works and present for creation.
  • She brings a blessing to those who keep her ways.
  • She is the path toward life; without her, the path leads to death.

Wisdom isn’t synonymous for Christ or God the Father or the Holy Spirit, but the Trinity possesses and provides wisdom to draw us to Jesus and to strengthen our relationship with God. The wisest thing we can do is surrender our lives to Christ, and then we can begin to really grow in wisdom because we’re listening to Him, not to our flesh. As we navigate the troubling times in which we live, we need this wisdom more than ever.


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Practicing Rest

One of the key points in Grow Like Jesus is that rest is a critical piece of our walk with God. Jesus rested. So we should rest. What’s that look like? Well, this week, it looks like me somewhere on a beach. So this week’s blog is the attached photo. It’s from a vacation we took last year, but it symbolizes the rest I hope I’m getting while you read this. I hope you’re getting some, too.

Are You Equipped for Discipleship?

Do you have an equipment issue?

A friend and I once co-created a phrase that I’ve always found to hold true when facing a challenge: “It’s an equipment issue. And if you have the right equipment, you won’t have an issue.”

The thought came to us during a hot summer camping trip. We were sitting in our beat-up lawn chairs outside our hand-me-down tents, when we noticed an impressive camper pulling into a nearby site. It had bikes on the back. It had a satellite on the top. The owner soon unfurled a canopy that provided shade, and fans that produced a breeze. It had all the comforts of home. In other words, it had the right equipment, so the owners had no issues (at least when it came to comfort).

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I recalled this little truism again this week while hanging a new swing from a tree by our home. The first tree didn’t work out too well, so I was moving it to another that’s on the vacant, tree-covered lot next to our house. This tree was perfect, except for one thing: It had given root to a small but pretty tall tree at its base that was growing at an angle so that the top of it was directly under the limb from which I wanted to hang the swing.

So, the first order of business was to cut down this tree, which was, oh, maybe 6-8 inches in diameter. Since my chainsaw was in need of minor repairs, I was using a bow saw. It took a little effort, but down came the tree.

Next problem: That sucker was heavy and its branches were getting hung up in the brush when I tried to move it. After a few failed attempts to drag it away, I decided to cut it into smaller chunks. In the process, I broke my saw blade. After a few more failed attempts to drag it off, I used some heavy-duty loppers to cut away some branches and lightened the load enough so that I could move it.

In short, what would have taken me five minutes with a chainsaw took me about 25 minutes with equipment that wasn’t made for this particular job.

It doesn’t matter if you’re cutting a tree or climbing Mt. Everest, it pays to use the right equipment. And the same is true in discipleship.

If I want to grow like Jesus and help others grow like Jesus, then I can’t use loppers when I need a chainsaw. I have to put on the armor of God and prepare for the challenges I face. I have to read God’s Word and open my heart to revelations from God. I have to listen to godly pastors who teach truth. I have to act on the promptings of the Spirit. I have seek and heed the godly counsel my wife provides. I have to invest in the things that equip me for the life God has given me. And if I use the right equipment, there is no issue.

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3 Phases of Spiritual Growth

One of the great paradoxical realities of life is that we’re continually growing while we’re continually dying – physically and spiritually. Our bones and muscles might stop growing during our teen years, but our cartilage never stops – which is why I’ll someday need a box truck to haul around my ears. Spiritually, we die to our sins every day, while longing for spurts of growth that bring us closer to God.

Our spiritual growth spurts typically happen in three distinct phases: Times of inspiration, times of desperation, and times of gratitude. (Side note: Attempts at alliteration resulted in frustration, so I’ll leave that to your imagination.) Those phases often start out sequentially, but then they tend to come and go and return again in no particular order.

Times of Inspiration

I originally saw this as the time of conversion, that period right after we surrender our lives to Jesus and we’re on fire to learn anything and everything about what it means to follow Him. We read. We listen. We are proactive in our pursuit of the head knowledge that strengthens our heart knowledge. Then someone in our Bible study noted that this period often repeats when we attend events where a speaker inspires us to greater obedience. These mountaintop experiences can happen during a Sunday morning service, a conference, while reading a book or a blog – anything that re-ignites a passion for spiritual growth.

Times of Desperation

Christianity isn’t a faith that offers the promise of happiness in this life; instead, it offers peace and joy in the midst of trouble and a trouble-free existence only in eternity. Jesus promised that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and our experiences confirm it. But it’s in times of trouble that we often experience the deepest dependence on the Father, and thus our greatest spurts of spiritual growth.

Times of Gratitude

We might never live on Easy Street, but there are times when life rolls along in ways we can only describe as blessed. For instance, God has blessed me with an amazing wife, consistent work, wonderful friends, and a great family. We have “issues,” but they are pretty small compared to those others face or even those we’ve faced in the past. This state draws me closer to God because hardly a minute goes by when I’m not overwhelmed with gratitude for all that He’s given me – so much more than I deserve. When my response is to run into His arms, my heart and mind are open to spiritual growth.

So why is it important that we recognize these phases of growth? Because we need to appreciate them when we’re experiencing them and we need to find our way back to them when we’re not. All three draw us to surrender to and dependence on God, two essential ingredients for spiritual growth.

If we attend a conference or worship service and hear an inspiring talk but greet it with indifference, we’re missing a growth opportunity. If we encounter troubled waters and fail to reach for Jesus in the storm, we’re missing a growth opportunity. And if we’re bathed in the blessings of our Father and fail to hug Him tightly in gratitude, we’re missing a growth opportunity.

What happens when we miss these growth opportunities? You guessed it. The only thing that’s growing is our ears. The rest of us is dying.

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The Growth Benefits of Fasting

Some followers of Jesus like to start the New Year with an intentional time of prayer and fasting, a practice that I’ve found helps me grow like Jesus.

The church my wife and I attend (Cross Church in Fayetteville, Ark.) is among those that promotes this spiritual discipline. We’re blessed to have leaders who value the things Jesus values and who challenge us to live like Jesus. And it’s encouraging to know we’re going on this journey as a collective body.

We know that Jesus went through an intentional Spirit-led fast as he launched his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-4). We know He was tempted during this time. We know it prepared Him for what was to come. We know He gave us instructions on how (not if) to fast (Matthew 6:16-18). And we know there are many other examples in scripture of people fasting to strengthen their walk with God.

So there’s no doubt that followers of Jesus should follow Jesus by fasting.squirrel-monkey-1438538_1920

There are many ways to fast. Our church asks us to sacrifice something for 21 days. Some people give up food and live on juice and water. Some give up television. Some stay off of social media. The point is to give up something (or some things) so that you can focus more intently on your relationship with God. My wife and I adjust our diet and scale back our television hours.

Here are some benefits I’ve experienced:

  • Hunger pains (or the “off” button on the TV remote) become a reminder to have a conversation with God.
  • We start the fast by updating our prayer journal, which lists 63 things we regularly pray about throughout the year. This is an amazing opportunity to re-focus our prayer life.
  • We eat a pretty healthy diet to begin with, but the fast helps cleanse us physically and that makes us feel better in every aspect of life. (The Daniel Plan is an excellent resource for a healthy approach to food and exercise.)
  • Some of our most transforming spiritual disciplines began with a fast. God has used it to help us create good habits.

A fast isn’t something you only do at the start of the year or only in one prescribed way. I’ve fasted to help me make what I saw as life-altering decisions, to seek God more desperately during times of trouble, and to support a friend who was going through the ringer.

I’m no expert, but God has always connected me when I’ve sought Him in this way. As you continue to grow like Jesus, ask God how He wants to use this discipline to help you on the journey.

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16 Lessons Learned in 2016

I guess this is further evidence that I’m getting old, but most of the lessons I learned in 2016 were lessons I learned earlier in life. In other words, things haven’t changed that much from my childhood: I need repetition for learning to stand any chance of sinking in. So, with that in mind, here are 16 things I learned (or re-learned) in 2016:

  1. The only time I ever hear from God is when I listen.
  2. You can never have too many grandchildren.
  3. “Trust God and do the next thing” (Oswald Chambers) never goes out of style.
  4. Gratitude drives attitude.
  5. Fake news is a real thing, and not just in The New York Times and Washington Post.
  6. There’s a reason the song says, “I surrender all” not “I surrender some.”
  7. God created squirrels to teach me humility and patience.faith_hebrews-11
  8. Hope is a good thing … as long as my hope is in the right thing.
  9. Jesus had “grit.”
  10. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Not challenging or difficult. Impossible.
  11. Doing little things to help others makes a big difference.
  12. My calling as a “follower” should significantly shape me as a “leader.”
  13. Our nation seems more flawed than ever and yet there’s still no better place on Earth to live.
  14. There’s no word in a cat ‘s vocabulary for “no.”
  15. I often resist giving to/sacrificing for others, but I never regret it.
  16. The worst day with my wife is better than my best day without her.

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Searching for Wisdom in Seas of Trouble

Where are you getting your wisdom?

We live in an age of abundant information, but not-so-abundant truth. So it’s more important than ever to dip deep into the well of knowledge in ways that lead to real wisdom.

In Grow Like Jesus, I define wisdom as “knowledge and insight from God that benefits you and others and brings glory to God.” The Apostle James tells us where to find it: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

Don’t stop there, however. James immediately adds a warning: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6)

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So how do we sift through the waves and the winds of the modern tech-driven seas? When the world conspires to distort, distract, and deceive, here are some things I try to keep in mind that help me stay anchored to godly wisdom:

Expose yourself to different viewpoints.

The other day I watched a video of Mike Rowe (the Dirty Jobs guy) talking to businessman Charles Koch, and Koch offered this simple but difficult advice: “Listen, even to the other side.” He said he was quoting a philosophy that guided Holland to prosperity, but it’s also a take on the Latin phrase, audi alteram partem meaning “listen to the other side.”

This is increasingly rare in our world. It’s easier than ever to surround ourselves with people who look like us, think like us, and believe like us. So all we end up hearing is more of what we’ve always been thinking or saying.

If you agree with everything your friends say and everything you read on the Internet and everything you hear on television, then you need more friends and you need to read and listen to other sources. Don’t dump your old friends or old sources. Just invest in some new and different perspectives. You might learn something, and so might others.

Trust but verify (aka Google it).

This should go without saying, but, of course, it doesn’t, and that’s why I’m saying it: Just because we read it on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. When we read something or hear something that’s shaping our opinions, we no longer can take it at face value.

For instance, one of the news sources I’ve struggled with recently is Fast Company. I’ve long been a fan of this magazine for its cutting-edge take on business and leadership. In recent years, however, it’s become more and more politicized, agenda-driven, and untrustworthy.

There might come a time when I stop reading it, but I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Eight out of every 10 articles I read on Fast Company is pretty good, and the others have some good in them if I’m willing to sift a little to find it. On the other hand, I don’t trust it as much as I once did, because I know there’s a not-so-hidden motive behind every headline.

For instance, the American Institute for Architects (AIA) released a statement saying it would work with President-elect Donald Trump to “address the issues our country faces, particularly strengthening the nation’s aging infrastructure.” Sounds like a good idea. But it caused the architecture community to erupt in debate, according to a Fast Company story. The headline was: “Trump’s Election Fractures The Architecture Community.”

When I dug deeper, it was clear that some architects weren’t happy. But there was no indication that there was a consensus of dissent. No research had been done. All we know is that and one industry newspaper released a statement and that some people expressed their displeasure on social media (big news, there, right?). The more I checked the facts, the more I realized Fast Company was partially accurate.

Blogs, news outlets, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts … they all play loose with the facts. People paint with a broad brush that’s coated in the hues that color their agenda. Some lie. Others distort. A few just mess up because they aren’t careful enough. So consider the source, test their facts, do a little research and then see where that leaves you. The more you know, the more likely you are to get to the truth that you need to actually shape your way of thinking.

Use the right filters.

Who wants to drink dirty water? When you expose yourself to other viewpoints, however, you’ll no doubt get some junk along the way. Filter what you read and learn through other reliable sources, but also through godly friends, prayer, and, most of all, Biblical truth.

Return to James 1:5-6 often. Ask God for wisdom and believe.  Then trust God for the results; He always delivers.

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