Fall 2022: RickThomas.Net Becomes LifeOverCoffee.Com
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What causes quarrels, and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2).
James gave us a dichotomy that differentiates between what we hear—our angry words—versus the source of those words. To paraphrase James, the Internet is not the cause of our sinful anger but merely the stage upon which we can let others know the latest ruminations in our hearts. Like real life, Internet communicators do not hide the ball: what you see is a commentary on who they are.
The cyberworld world was a surprise to me when I started blogging. Not being an avid Internet participant or a troller or commenter, I had no preparation for what I experienced when I entered the blogosphere in 2008. The most alarming thing was what our speech communicated about our hearts—the command center that determines what we do. Jesus said it this way:
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
Of course, everything on the net is not bad. There are many bright spots inside this dark cloud of cyberspace communication: not every website, blogger, or viewer caves to unwholesome speech. One of those places is our website. God has given us the gift of a civil community where people can talk and disagree while not attacking each other, ad hominem—attacking the person along with their ideas. Occasionally, we will get that angry person who lives in angry mode, ready to say something unkind or make uncharitable judgments, putting us in our place. And we remind them that we do not do that here.
We do not permit a sinful communication style in our community, which is usually enough to convince most of them to conform to Christian charity. If they persist, and some have, we remove them from our social media platforms. Anybody who often blogs with many readers will have to decide how to interact with those angry souls who do not care who’s watching or reading. In this chapter, I’m addressing Christians because we have the power to be different; we can change our behavior through repentance. We do not have to act like our worldly counterparts.
A good rule of thumb for me is to treat the Internet like a church meeting where a speaker speaks to a broad audience. In that context, the audience does not stand up in the middle of the room and voice their opposing opinion—at least not at that time and in that context. Imagine going to your church meeting on Sunday morning, and someone stood and expressed an angry perspective. It would be rude, distracting, unkind, and unwise. If someone happened to disagree with what the speaker said, there is a better way to let him know: talk to him privately. In most cases, you can rectify a situation and reconcile a relationship privately.
I do not expect everyone to agree with me. We do not teach a you-must-agree-with-us worldview. What we’re doing with our ministry is not about winning unanimous approval from our fanbase—a fool’s errand. Because we traffic in the practical application of God’s Word, there is a built-in expectation that some folks will have other perspectives. When someone does disagree, we want them to do so in a private setting first. It is a respectful thing to do.
Conceptually, I’m speaking of the template in Matthew 18:15-17. “If your brother offends you, go and tell him his fault.” This process is much different from blaring your alternate opinion in the public square. Because the goal should be about reconciling, our methodology should begin on an intimate level before it becomes a public matter. Matthew provides us with a wise way to disagree on secondary issues, assuming that reconciliation is the goal.
Sadly, too much talk on the Internet is about galvanizing the fanbase while alienating the other team, which opposes reconciliation principles. Of course, if your disagreement with someone is on a primary issue—like the gospel—public discretion is not your highest aim. In such cases, people need a warning when an enemy of the gospel maligns the gospel. Even so, there are Christlike ways to engage the enemies of the gospel. For example, several helpful discernment sites assist us with heretics.
An example of what I’m suggesting happened when a lady commented on our Facebook page regarding my position on 1 John 1:9. She believes Christians are once and for all forgiven, and the church has misunderstood John’s teaching in his first letter. She believes a Christian should not have to ask for forgiveness. I disagreed with her position and chose to delete her comment to steer away from a public spat.
I sent her an email explaining why I did it in this instance. I told her that she was welcome to disagree with me anytime. I’m okay with views that are different from mine. But our social media sites are not places for Christians to argue or debate. If you disagree with a public statement we make, write to us and tell us about it. There were three reasons I responded this way to this lady:
There was a day when the debate stage was for those with the academic requirements, mental acumen, practical experience, and God-given skillset to stand on it. Then the Internet gave us a cyber debate stage that anyone could access freely. Sadly, too many Christians are not writers or public speakers or have the theological depth to communicate in a debate format. They also don’t have social awareness or concern about how they present themselves to the world.
With this new public access to a different kind of stage, some folks don’t know how to use it redemptively, choosing to use it as a place to vent gossip and slander, and argue. Some of the ways that we communicate with each other do not honor God or show off the beauty of the body of Christ. It also sends the wrong message to those who do not know our Jesus. There is a better way for us to do this.
There have been too many times when I was an impulsive keyboard warrior. Sigh! To paraphrase our brother, James, be slow on the keystroke and quick to pray. I do hope the Lord will use this short list of six helpful tips to spur you on to love and good works as you think about others, whether in cyberspace or your real space.
You Are My Brother: If you are a brother or sister in Christ, we must talk like brothers and sisters in Christ. The Spirit of God is in you and me. Christ died for us. We are the Father’s children. If I walked into your home and began to say unkind things to your child, you would be offended, I hope. My friends, unsavory speech should not be our usual way of speaking with each other. When we say harsh things to or about God’s children, we insult the Almighty. If we must disagree, we should not cop an ungodly attitude toward each other.
Ask Questions First: It is impossible to say everything that needs to be communicated in a blog article, regardless of its length. Most of our articles are just over 2,000 words. A book is 40,000 or more words. There is no way a person will sufficiently cover a topic that meets all expectations in a brief amount of space. Give your brother or sister grace, which you can do by asking a question before making a statement. We could avoid so much tension if a person asked a question to gain clarification rather than make an assumptive statement.
Trust Neither of Us: There is no doubt that I can be wrong about something. I have been wrong many times, and I will be wrong again. My wife could give you a long list of things where I’ve been wrong. Did you know you could be wrong too? Wouldn’t it be better to enter into a conversation with a healthy amount of self-suspicion? Neither of us is omniscient. I will state my opinions, and you will share yours. It would bless both of us if we did not strap our opposing views to a grenade and launch them at each other.
No Public Arguments: I will not engage you in a public argument. There are three reasons for this: (1) It’s unnecessary for secondary issues. (2) I don’t have the time. (3) It does not build up the watchers, whether they are believers or scoffers or cynics. If I write a heretical piece, I want you to come at me with your loving gospel guns blazing. If I do not change, I want you to find a friend or two and approach me again. Start privately.
Allow Freedom: Why can’t it be okay to let a person have the freedom to live their Christ-life the way they choose? Are secondary matters vital to you? If you need to share your view, will you do it kindly, with grace, allowing for both perspectives? Perhaps before you sound off on a matter, you could talk to your pastor or other trusted biblicist to gain their perspective. Taking the time to ask someone about it might be just enough to remind you that it’s not that essential to comment.
Read the Context: If you have a different opinion and want to share it, make sure you understand the context before you disagree. A person will often read a blurb from an article and miss the context. They sound off, inevitably hijacking the author’s point and creating an issue that did not exist because they did not take the time to clarify the context or they wanted to map their experience over what they read. My rule-of-thumb is that if you’re too lazy or busy to pick up on the context, I’m not going to permit you to take up my time to explain to you what the context already lays out for you.
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Rick launched this training network in 2008 to provide life-changing resources that equip Christians to help others. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).