“I’m Offended” – Choosing Cultivation over Ventilation

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As a side effect of our Western love affair with personal autonomy, American emotions have become increasingly fragile. A few months ago I heard someone jokingly say, “Good morning, America. What can I be offended about today?” Social media has given every person a public platform. But instead of using our platforms for culture-cultivation, our sin-scarred hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) are naturally inclined to use them for ventilation. Without a larger context, everything we write/post on social media is easily distorted by minds inclined toward offense. Consequently, we exercise our foolishness daily when we reject understanding and empathy in favor of showing off our own opinions (Proverbs 18:2). In so doing, easily offended emotions erect and maintain impenetrable walls around our garrisons of personal pride (Proverbs 18:19). Being offended ceases to be a circumstantial reality and, instead, becomes a way of life.

As part of the progression, it has become noticeable that this social media culture has affected the way we feel about all things said, done, or even proposed. We come to immediate conclusions about what we hear or see. Sometimes our conclusions are formed before the opportunity for offense even rises. We have already decided in our hearts that if a certain name, hashtag, or catch phrase appears, we will automatically be offended. For example, how do you immediately feel when you read the following words: Trump, Obama, national anthem, #blacklivesmatter, #alllivesmatter, socialism, Benghazi, LGBTQ. The idea is not to completely remove objective thinking when a hot-button term is mentioned, but rather to recognize our emotional predispositions and choose wisdom over foolishness; reason over futility; cultivation over ventilation.

The tongue/fingers are so closely connected to the heart. Jesus Himself said that “from the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” (Luke 6:45). King Solomon gives timely insight to the issue as well:

“Don’t give your heart to everything people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you, for in your heart you know that many times you yourself have cursed others.” (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22)

We give our hearts to what people say when we choose offense over understanding. This may surprise you, but your emotions are your responsibility. You may or may not be immediately offended by what someone says or types. But how you respond to that offense is entirely up to you. When we respond by reciprocating offense, we perpetuate futility. When we respond respectfully, we cultivate understanding.

And let’s not forget Solomon’s reasoning behind refusing to give our hearts to what people say: every one of us is guilty of the various evils for which we are condemning others. Consider Solomon’s immediately preceding thought: “There is certainly no one righteous on the earth who does good and never sins.” The offended personality is built on a false pretense of self righteousness. It is evidenced in an inability/unwillingness to hold the tongue. 

Thankfully, the Gospel of Jesus Christ redeems the heart (Philippians 4:7), the tongue (Ephesians 4:24-32), and the fingers (Romans 6:12-14). Christians must be careful to daily give their hearts over to Christ, and not give them over to what other people say. If I am to win the battle against perpetuating futility and to, instead, cultivate understanding then every heat of the moment, knee-jerk reaction to say “I’m offended” must to be replaced by the truth of the gospel: “I’m redeemed.” Being born again gives Christians the countercultural ability to evaluate every thought and every word toward cultivation over ventilation.

Every word is powerful. Every word comes from the overflow of the heart.

  • What is your heart full of?
  • Who is it given over to?
  • And how are your words bearing this witness?

 

Grace and Peace,
Tony

 

Exercising Wisdom on Social Media

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Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter can be a great blessing at times. But in some ways they have done untold damage to the art of interpersonal interaction. Not only do people generally feel more secure behind a keyboard than face to face, but also, important aspects of effective communication are easily lost. Very little of communication consists of the actual words you choose. Most of communication has to do with the inflection of your voice, facial expressions, body language, history with the listener, and the listener’s personal emotions at the moment. So we’ve come up with emojis, gif’s and other cyber-tools to simulate actual relationship. It’s good. But it’s not the same. So, effective communication on social media takes work.

Here are four suggestions from Proverbs 18 (CSB)…

  1. Choose your words wisely. (v.4) “The words of a person’s mouth are deep waters, a flowing river, a fountain of wisdom.” Since most of communication on social media will inevitably consist of the words you choose, choose them wisely. Be sure they flow from your head, not just your heart and your fingers. Read back over your words before you post them. Ask yourself, “Could someone take this differently than what I am intending?” People will assume that your words are flowing from the deep places of your life. So, be sure they communicate what you intend.
  2. Don’t try to pridefully show off what you know. (v.2) “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.” Do you remember that time you won an argument on Facebook? When that other man/woman finally wrote in your comments, after hours of debate, “Oh yes, you have finally convinced me; I completely recant my previous convictions and am totally convinced of your opinion.” No? You don’t remember that? Me either. It seems that no matter how much I know about a given subject, or how opinionated I am about it, those who disagree with me will disagree with me and those who agree with me will agree with me. Pridefully showing off your opinions is a foolish endeavor, especially when it is done at the expense of seeking understanding from others.
  3. Entertain both sides of an issue before you jump to conclusions. (v.13, 17) “The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and a disgrace for him… The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” In case you have not noticed, even our news media outlets are opinionated, often developing and reporting stories from predetermined platforms. When an accusation is made, do your homework before you choose to agree or disagree. Forbes did a piece on this tendency of ours not long ago. Turns out 59% of social media users will share an online article based solely on its title, without ever even opening the link (Forbes article here). This means 59% of us are not really interested in the facts; we want to give an answer before we listen. As it turns out, there really are at least two sides to every story. Be sure you’re informed before you develop an opinion and share your thoughts on it.
  4. Cool down first. Disagree later. (v.19) “An offended brother is harder to reach than a fortified city, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress.” Sometimes the best thing you can do is shut down the computer or put your smart phone back in your pocket. We are wired to think negatively first. I can’t tell you how many times I have read something, gotten upset, then read it again later only to come to the understanding that it meant something completely different than what I originally assumed. If you must disagree with someone on social media, don’t do it in anger. Cool down first. Allow your mind some time to circumvent the issue/statement. Fortified cities have fallen faster than offended men’s opinions. Step away. Keep calm. Then you’ll be in a better state of mind to understand and address the issue.

Who would have known that Proverbs written thousands of years ago on papyrus and scrolls could be so applicable to 21st Century life on keyboards and smart phones? God’s Word is never irrelevant. It’s always right on target. “I pursue the way of your commands, for you broaden my understanding,” (Psalm 119:32).

Grace and Peace,
Tony

5 Steps Toward Winning the Argument

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Everyone likes to win. I know that we’re supposed to have fun “just playing the game,” and that no matter what, we’re supposed to “do our best.” But seriously. I want to win… who doesn’t? In our rapidly evolving world of social media (false senses of courage building from the perceived safety of one’s keyboard), trying to win arguments seems to be one of America’s new favorite past-times. Most of my daily news feeds are littered with one “side” or another attempting desperately to prove itself right. It appears not to matter if the topic at hand is spiritual, political, relational, or even entertainment-based. Polarized sides will take to social media daily in desperate attempts to prove their superior rightness over the baseless idiocy of their opponents. But if your social news feeds are anything like mine, it’s becoming more and more apparent that while many are playing this game, no one is really winning. 

The problem is, in most arguments, we’re not real clear on what winning looks like. You would think that redeemed children of the Living God (Christians) would have a clear understanding of what it looks like to “win” an argument. But it has become apparent that even we are losing it – both figuratively and literally. So, in efforts to help you (Christian) win an argument on social media, allow me to offer a bit of biblical advice, from 2 Timothy 2:22-26. No matter the nature or subject of the controversy, Christian, here’s how you can “win.”

  1. Understand what winning looks like. “Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (v.26). When someone who disagrees with you is freed from the snares of Satan, you’ve won. That’s it. That’s what it looks like to win… It looks like freedom. Grace. Salvation. The real “win” is that Satan’s work be squashed and his will overcome by God’s great glory. That’s the “win” for the Christian. Anything else is a loss. So maybe, before going on to Step 2, you need to make sure you have a proper vision of what it will look like to win. If your goal is to prove yourself right, to beat your opponent into humiliating submission, or to catch him in the entanglements of his own flawed logic, you’re not pursuing the Christian win. You’re pursuing something else. And our time is too short and our mission to important to settle for anything less than a real win.
  2. Grow up. “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (v.22). If you’re responding to opposition with self-centered, childish behavior, get a life. Namely, get Jesus’s life and let Him live it through you. Your unholy tantrums are producing nothing of value in the fight against Satan’s schemes. So grow up. You can’t control what other people say, do, or think. But you can control how you respond to their words, actions, and attitudes. If your actions or reactions are anything but righteousness, faith, love, and peace, you’re playing for the wrong team. If your alliances are with anyone who is not calling “on the Lord from a pure heart,” you’ve switched benches in the middle of the game. So grow up. Get over yourself. Pursue Christ-like spiritual maturity over pursuing a win in any argument. Once you’ve got that down, you can move on to Step 3.
  3. Pick your battles. “But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel…” (vs.23-24a). Part of winning is knowing what battles to fight. If you spend all of your time, energy, and report on insignificant battles, you will not win the war. I heard a coach yelling incessantly the other day, on the basketball court. He could barely get a breath in because he yelled at the top of his lungs about every single little thing. Halfway through the second quarter, he called (yelled) for a time out and the officials didn’t hear him. He kept calling it and calling it and they never acknowledged him. Eventually, someone else had to call for the time out from the bench. Know why they never acknowledged him? Because they had tuned him out. He was talking, but they weren’t listening. I wonder, Christian, if you’ve been incessantly talking/complaining – staking your claim and yelling at the top of your lungs (TYPING IN ALL CAPS) – about things that are “foolish and ignorant disputes.” And I wonder if this has caused you to lose report with those you are trying to reach. Don’t quarrel for quarrels’ sake. If you’re going to win the war, you must choose your battles wisely.
  4. Be patient and gentle. “…but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness” (vs.24b-25a). When you do engage in battle, understand that it is the “kindness of the Lord” which leads us to repentance (Ro.2:4). Biblical Christian opposition is always done from a position of gentleness. If you “win” the argument but misrepresent the Savior in the process, you’ve won nothing at all. In fact, if your actions or reactions point people away from the kindness of God instead of to the kindness of God, you’ve not won, but lost. Speak with gentleness. Exercise great patience. Don’t soften the truth, but don’t speak it without love. Don’t cower in fear, but don’t borrow on it either. Whatever the argument, be gentle. And be patient. That’s what points people to Jesus.
  5. Let God do what only He can do. “Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth” (v.25b). Christianity is not a showboating event. You’re playing for the team – for the kingdom of God. Your part is to represent God well in the world where He has placed you. His job is to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and draw them to salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Read the playbook. You’re just the assist; God gets the dunk. The real win is not your win anyway. It’s Jesus’s win. No matter how flattering, convincing, or emphatic your words, you cannot get the win on your own. You must play your part well, with a surrendered trust that God will play His. “Repentance” and “truth” cannot be attained by those who are far from God unless God Himself grants it to them. So as you constantly work on Steps 1-4, be sure to let God handle Step 5. And when He does, make Him famous for it. Let Him get the glory.

Grace and Peace, Tony.