Sermon notes from 9/8/19

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As promised, here are Rick’s sermon notes from 9/8/19. Thank you for your patience with our audio difficulties with the livestream!




(Vital Church Survey Coming)

In 2004 the INTERNET was used by over a quarter of a billion people around the world, that’s 250 million people – the majority from the United States.  But that was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the Web would change our lives.

Some people saw it coming.  I found this quote from 2004:

  • (SLIDE) “This technology, for better or for worse, is going to define us.  Even if we can manage to avoid it, what’s certain is that our children’s lives will be marked by it.  For them, the Internet is going to be as much a part of their world as the air they breathe. [The internet] is revolutionizing our lives and this is just the start of it.”
    • That quote comes from this guy:
    • (SLIDE) Rick Thiessen (Wise Pastor)

Well, it didn’t take a genius to make that prediction.  Fast forward to today: 

  • 7.7 billion people on the planet, 
  • 4.39 BILLION of them are internet users.  
  • 5 Billion of them have mobile phones.  
  • 3.5 billion use some form of social media, 
  • 95% of those are mobile social media users
    • meaning they can and do access their online community groups whenever and wherever they go.

Which means we are all now citizen of a new order, a digital order.  And this month, we’re going to talk about GOOD, digital citizenship for Christ followers in the new digital age.  We’ll ask this question, in regards to our contribution to the current temperature online:

  • Are you Peace or are you Polarization?

Now before we get into that specifically, we should just acknowledge the positive things that Internet and Social Media have played in changing our lives:

  1. INFORMATION:  When I was growing up, my parents spent years paying off this big old set of World Book Encyclopedia.  I still remember them… published in 1974. I was still using them for research papers in high school in the mid 80’s, going,
    1. “Where’s the article on Ronald Regan and Cyndi Lauper?”
    2. Now, the internet is more than an encyclopedia, it’s the entire repository of all human knowledge available to anyone on earth!  That’s mind blowing!
  1. SOCIALLY: Think about the internet socially.  My parents live 1200 miles away, my brother 3000 in Atlanta.  20 years ago, I could only stay in touch with these people by a very expensive, very rare phone call.  Now, for free, I get to send snarky texts to my brother, the very second the Falcons lose the Superbowl!  It’s delightful! I get to keep in touch with and be enriched by friends past generations would simply forget, or lose track of, old high school friends, old college friends, extended family members.
  1. ECONOMY: The Net is revolutionizing a global economy. Farmers in Papua, New Guinea, used to be at the mercy of whatever trader or merchant came along to take their crops for whatever price he would give them.  Now they have instant access to the world market for their crops.
  1. EDUCATION: The Internet is revolutionizing education. Distance learning is making serious education a reality for millions of people who couldn’t afford it before.  
  1. MINISTRY: Countries formerly closed to Christian material aren’t closed anymore.  Our church wants to present historic, life-changing truths about Jesus Christ to outsiders, scared of church, what could be more helpful for that purpose than giving people a virtual sample of us, ONLINE?

So the good news is the Internet can make us all 

  • smarter, 
  • richer, 
  • better connected,
  • with fresher breath,

But there are some things that the internet brought that exposed some dark tendencies in us.  For example. The internet means:


I can stalk your Facebook page without you knowing.  I can search for really dumb things like (and these are reach Google searches BTW):

  • is it normal to be attracted to numbers?
  • Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and think what wattage is my microwave? 
  • Are babies dishwasher safe?
  • What do I do if a ginger kid bites me?

So three cheers for being able to anonymously search about that strange rash you’ve been showing!  But what’s the upshot of all that anonymity SOCIALLY? The upshot is this ANONYMITY UP, HONESTY DOWN.  One woman wrote a letter to a therapist. This is a real letter. She said, 

  • “I’ve been talking to a man I met online for months now. He lives in Arizona.  He loves me. I know I love him. I know I want to be with him. But I didn’t tell him I’m married or that I have two children, and I said I was ten years younger than I am.  How can I tell him the truth and not lose him?”

Hello! Clue phone, it’s for you!  When the anonymity factor in relationships goes way up, safeguards against deception go down.  And that’s going to create problems. The second dynamic…


In regular 3-D life, my identity is known in the context of a network of relationships;

  • where I work, 
  • my neighborhood, 
  • my extended family.  

What that means is if I mistreat you, our broader circle of acquaintances is going to know about that, and they’re going to call me to account.  There is a very positive social pressure in physical human community that is missing from virtual human community. 

ILLUS: I grew up in a small town and people used to complain, “I can’t pick my nose without someone hearing about it.”  You go into a restaurant in my hometown with my parents and you can point at anybody and they know personal information.

–    Who’s that?  Tony Goertzen, dad has cancer

–    Who’s that?  Abe Bergman, went bankrupt.

–    Who’s that?  Tina Friesen, divorced last year.

–    Well, who’s that?  Your auntie, she had a face lift, eh.

Like or not, human community for 100’s of years entailed people knowing you well, and that helped moderate bad behavior.  Because you would be held to account. When accountability goes down, I’m in trouble. And on the Net there’s almost no accountability.

Online Community promises, “there’s no eyes watching you, no one will know, there will be no repercussions.”

So this progresses, anonymity up, accountability down, which leads to a 3rd dynamic of the tangled web:


Acrimony is fancy word that means, bitterness, hostility.  If online it feels like I’m more anonymous, and if it feels like there’s less accountability, I’m going to do and say things that maybe are meaner than I normally would.

There’s a word for this effect of the internet on acrimonious interaction: 


What is that?  Well, “inhibition” is what I feel, when I feel eyes are on me, evaluating me.  

  • Inhibition is why you don’t dance on the subway.  
  • It’s why you don’t talk loudly in a waiting room.  
  • It’s why you don’t drop your drawers in public.

(Some of you are thinking, but Rick I do all those things – we have counselors standing by!  Some things you’re supposed be reserved about!)

You are naturally inhibited by normal social pressure to NOT do stuff you know is bad.  So, what do you call it when such inhibition goes away? You call it dis-inhibition.  Surveys of thousands of Internet users found that a majority of them experience disinhibition regularly.

When this happens, 

  • people engage in incredibly risky behavior
  • people say deeply personal, secret things to virtual strangers
  • people start using language they would never normally use in regular conversation.
    • in short, they bump up ACRIMONY.  Harshness. Rancor. 
    • Compared with face-to-face interactions, online we feel freer to do and say what we want and, as a result, often do and say things we shouldn’t.

So, ANONIMYTY up, ACCOUNTABILITY down, leads to ACRIMONY up and there you have it:  what you and I live in for hours every day:

  • the divided, divisive, harsh, often angry, polarized, mean WORLD of the WORLD WIDE WEB.

Now, let me be clear, the internet is not CREATING a condition, it is REVEALING a condition.  

ILLUS: Think of it this way: For over 75 years, the Slavs, the Croatians, Muslims, Christians, Bosnians, Russians, Georgians and a dozen other groups lived in peace and harmony under the control of the Soviet Union.  But in 1989, when the USSR collapsed, it was only a matter of months, in some cases weeks, before ethnic bitterness and vile racisms came flooding out between these groups.

Did freedom create this problem?  No, when the heavy handed control of the USSR went away – it simply revealed centuries old acrimony that had been living in people’s hearts the whole time.  

I want to speak to those of you here who might be investigating faith today.  Someone invited you, maybe you’re in talks about whether Christianity is at all reasonable or not.  Let me guess that one of the things that you struggle with about Jesus is that Jesus believed quite strongly in something called the “SIN NATURE”.

That is, Jesus believed something almost completely opposite of what people believe today.  We believe that people are basically good on the inside. Inside they are full of goodness and kindness and joy and good will and light.  Outwardly they may exhibit something different, but, we assure ourselves, “he has a good heart.”

Compare that to Jesus who said:

  • Matt 15:18-20: What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies.

So we have two views of human nature here. On the secular side it’s this:

  • Man’s nature is built on animal nature.  We are simply advanced monkeys. And yet, man’s nature is good and pure and only corrupted by his environment, external shame or guilt.

On the Christian side it’s this:

  • Man’s nature is built on God’s nature.  We are or infinite worth, and made to be like God, but we are broken inside.  We’re glorious ruins. And now, inside us, our compass leans toward self profoundly and away from God and goodness.

You might not like the second view of human nature, but I want you to see two things:

  • The first view is tortured logically.  Somehow we are advanced collections of atoms, which can have inherent worth or moral value, and yet we make a sheer leap to say our nature is good?  What is good, without God?  It’s a meaningless term that doesn’t fit the secular narrative at all, but we smuggle it in FROM CHRISTIANITY.  But look at the second view:
  • It’s not hearts and flowers, OK, but it’s only one of the two views backed up by, you know… data.  Mountains of data. By millennia of human history. By personal experience. By holocausts and genocides and purges and feuds and divorce and abuse and neglect and greed.  
    • AND by the way people act online when the veil of civility is lifted, when anonymity rules and the “true self” is allowed to come out.  
      • It’s not pretty!!

There’s a clash of worldviews here friends, and you can’t land in the middle.  It’s Jesus view of human nature, we are glorious ruins that only Jesus can REMAKE, OR we are the smartest monkeys with a long history of fighting, killing, hating and selfishness, who are nevertheless somehow, good and unfallen.

  • You pick.

Turn to the Apostle Paul who had the same view as his Master, Jesus:

He calls Christians in Col 3:5-6 to:

  • Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming

When Christians turn to Christ, it is because they realize that they need saving.  From what you might ask? Not first from a lousy economy, or a bad presidency, or oncoming environmental apocalypse, or cultural shame.  Nope, the first thing you need to be saved from, is sinful, earthly things. Where do we find them?   

  • “lurking within you.”

They don’t live OUT THERE, such things live IN HERE.  Doesn’t this explain the dichotomy of our online world?  We have the riches of all human information, communication, collaboration, out there for the taking, and what do we use it for?

  • Flaming out our neighbor for their hypocrisy, cruelty and intolerance. – EVIL DESIRES
  • Surfing for images of naked people engaged in sexually explicit activity – SEXUAL IMMORALITY
  • Shopping constantly to instantly gratify cravings for things we can’t afford to satisfy empty hearts. – GREED WHICH IS IDOLATRY.

Did the internet CREATE THIS in us?  No it did not. It revealed what was always, already there.  This hasn’t changed since Paul’s time.

So how do we get on the solution side of the problem that the TANGLED WEB reveals?  Let’s keep reading Paul:

Col 3:7-15

You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.  But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.


One of the things that has been lost online, because of the anonymity, accountability, acrimony spiral is trust.  We don’t trust each other. And when you don’t trust, there’s a powerful feeling of justification that comes over you in how you handle an untrustworthy person.  In short, you can afford to be rough with an untrustworthy person.

  • IN fact, it is RIGHT to be ROUGH.
  • They lie, I can lie back.
  • They are fascists, I can hate them.
  • They are neo-nazies, I can slander them.
  • They are heretics I can rage against them.
  • They are legalists, I can use filthy language in front of them.

I don’t doubt that courageous truth telling may often require that some pleasantries be suspended, and certainly Paul was very direct at times.  But the rule of interaction for Jesus people is you never have a right to be rough.  

Think about all your online interactions this past year.  Could any of them be described by Paul’s words:

  • anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.

Soak in that one for a second.  Your online interactions versus the call of God’s Word.  Do you feel this?  The disconnect? I do!  Oh, the rage, the anger that rises in me with some Social Media commentary!  The malice in my heart, when I just want to return a nasty comment to make a person feel hurt the way I hurt – that’s malice friend!  The lack of concern for how my comments might slander. 

  • Slander: false statements that damage a person’s reputation.

I ask again, how have you handled yourself online?  With…

  • Your liberal auntie in LA who won’t listen to reason.
  • Your conservative high school friend who believes in dumb conspiracy theories.
  • The argument about the president, 
  • The one about the economy, 
  • The one about vaccinations!

Friend, God says, you never have a right to be rough.  This kind of Wild West, I kick butt and take names, I don’t care what you think of me, I’m going to speak my mind – this is the old nature.  The sin nature lurking within.  It’s that thing that Jesus died to save us from.  It’s evil and it has no place in your life. Get rid of it, Paul says.


But Paul will keep going.  

  • Col 3:9-10: Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.  Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

The temptation to deceive is there in all of us, and it’s gets magnified in VIRTUALAND.  The anonymity, accountability, acrimony spiral calls to us to lie, all the time.  To put on masks to hide behind. When you strip off the old Nature, Christian, you ask God to take off your masks.

ILLUS: There’s a story about that.  A guy is unemployed. He’s quite desperate for work, and he reads of an opening at the zoo. He goes to apply for the job, and the zookeeper says, 

  • “Well, it’s a little embarrassing actually. We don’t have any regular jobs. What happened was our gorilla died recently, and we don’t have enough money to replace him.  So we’re looking for somebody to put on a gorilla suit and pretend to be a gorilla in the cage for a while. Whadaya say?”

The guy was a bit put off by this but he can’t find anything else, so he comes back later and takes the job. He puts on the gorilla suit, goes into the cage, and he actually starts getting into it. He starts thumping his chest and pounding down bananas. And there’s a vine, so he starts swinging on the vine like he’s seen in Tarzan movies.

Problem is, he gets a little carried away, and ends up swinging so aggressively, he swings over the wall and lands into the next cage, which is the lion’s cage. So he’s lying on the floor of this cage, and all of a sudden, the lion is on top of him. He feels the hot breath of the lion on his face, and he just loses it.

He starts screaming, 

  • “Get me out of here!” forgetting, you know, what he’s supposed to be doing.  So there’s this gorilla on the floor screaming, “Get me out of here!” in the lion’s cage.  

And then he hears the lion hiss at him:

  • “Shut up, you idiot, or we’ll both lose our jobs!”

There’s not one authentic creature in the whole zoo!  And maybe in the online zoo we visit every day, we could say that too.  Not one authentic, non-mask wearing person.  

How do you fight this?  Get real.

But I hesitate to tell you to get more real on your Facebook feed, because we’ve all seen very, very vulnerable posts that we all cringed at, because they were too intimate, too public.  And that’s another example, BTW, of disinhibition. Intimate stuff you wouldn’t normally share about yourself where 30 million people could see, you lay out there for the world to see.

Bottom line, AC3, Involve yourself in some 3-D, real-life, intimacy-producing relationships because the temptation to hide the truth about myself is a powerful pull.  That’s why we have to train ourselves to GROUP. (APPLICATIONS)

It’s a discipline, and all the more important in our Virtual World.  We have to strategically meet with other Christians, set aside that time.  Maybe forgo online time for real-time relationships. Then 

  • intentionally take off our masks, 
  • intentionally let somebody else see me the way that I really am.  
    • And in getting real, I will get healed.

I’m getting to the point now that if an online relationship doesn’t lead naturally and inexorably to eye to eye, mouth to ear relating, I don’t see the value.  Without that, it’s in some way false, and Paul said, “Stop lying to each other.”


Friend, the veil of a computer screen has hidden my brother’s face from me, and this has had a devastating effect on the virtue of gentleness.  But if you and I are to be instruments of peace in a world of polarization, we have to recover it. 

Simply put it on, Paul says, like new clothes…:

Col 3:10-11

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him… 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.