As a society we hate calling ourselves a society. We hate labeling our culture as “our culture.” There are so many loose ends and stray fibers in the configuration of our interwoven ecosystem that the words “our culture” don’t comfortably flow from our mouths. The air is filled with preachings of tolerance, hate speech towards masses, and unsettling social media remarks saying ‘THIS IS NOT RIGHT THIS IS NOT MY AMERICA,’ in so few words… I certainly get an eery feeling when I am prompted to label the thing that I am apart of, the community in which I belong to but don’t represent? Do I represent? That’s the thing, we don’t know how to comfortably own a label that says Hi my name is “today’s culture” because we know once we slap that name tag on and print out that label that we are admitting to living in brokenness. We are saying “yeah, I know he’s a racist, I know she is hateful, I know that they kill, I know that that is unjust, I know that he completely contradicts everything that I stand for and believe in but WE are today’s society.” We lean, but not too much. “But… but… we are millennials!” We put down our phones for a second then stand up and let everyone know that it’s okay! “We have more education we have more power to change!” Don’t we?… We lean, but not too much. We do have the power to change. But, we can sit back down. We can breathe for a second. The beauty of it is that even though our culture is broken, it was never a masterpiece. We didn’t shatter the vase. We can sit back down. We can breathe for a second. And as we exhale we can prepare to inhale a greater truth. We didn’t break the vase. It’s called sin. It’s called human. It’s called we need a savior. It’s called we have a savior. That sounds like hope to me. I’m tired of leaning. I won’t lean on the culture that has shaped me and that has been shaped before me. But, I will lean on a heavenly hope and love that can be roughly translated by and for each other. I will lean on serving you, in His name. I’m tired of half way leaning on a broken culture. I want to choose to grab my neighbor and tell them to lean on me so WHEN I fall, we all can fall into His grace. So I will. I choose not to lean anymore, it doesn’t hold me. I choose to fall, better yet, to dive, sink, descend, drop… to plunge into a pool of grace driven love. I want to lean too much to where I’m no longer leaning and fall into Heavenly arms.
As a marketing major and a digital media nerd, naturally, I am attracted to branding. Whether it be ads on tv or personal websites and pages I can’t help but analyze tactics and trends. We are all consumers and whether we like to admit it or not, we are influenced by branding. Personal branding has really become the new thing now that social media has taken over. People are using media accounts to put their stamp on the digital world and we tend to put out what we want people to know about us. Whether it is factual or not, I cannot say, but the intention of personal branding is to make yourself desirable with the intention of benefiting in some way from that. It’s to make people follow you, to like your posts, to share your stories, to be interested in who you are. The other nerd part of me comes out when I read. I love articles and blogs. I’m a sucker for the internet and the stratosphere of interconnected user sites that drop knowledge and research. The other day, I came across an article that argued on personal branding and what that can mean religiously. Does it encourage vanity? Does it create unhealthy idolization? Does it take the focus from He to me?
These are good. But, the question that came to mind when reading through this article, for me at least, was “am I building my Christian platform or building my personal brand?” This can be a tough question to answer and this is not something a lot of people are talking about. The bible doesn’t have a chapter in the old testament about how to manage your social media. As Christians, how is it that we build platforms that glorify Him without juicing up our own selves in self service. It’s a classic ‘play for the name on the front not the name on the back’ type of deal. Kingdom on the front. Sydney on the back.
I looked to the word for an answer, these three verses specifically.
2 Corinthians 5:20 says this, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled by God.” This is the root of what a platform entails. We are ambassadors for Christ and He is working through us to further the kingdom and to reconcile hearts.
Matthew 28:19 says this, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This was the second piece. I know that I am an ambassador for the Kingdom but now what is my purpose in that? Matthew 28:19 says it loud and clear. Go and make disciples. That is the purpose.
Lastly, when Jesus is praying to the Father, he says this in John 17:1, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Then again in verse 5 he says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Now, I know I get intimidated sometimes when I read that prayer in John and try to emulate it. Jesus not only prays that God glorify his Son but he refers to a bigtime glory; glory that rested between the two of them before the world was even created. I don’t think that my glory prayer would have quite the same pre earth existential ring to it. But, Jesus asks the same questions we should ask and prays for what we should pray for. That’s for our own glorification so that people will see His name hung in lights; in clear focus.
These three verses simplify what seems like an impossible subject. When it seems like personal branding counters the very essence of Christ’s glorification through us, God centered platforming emerges as the better looking twin. I think we can show ourselves some grace here. We were called to be ambassadors for Christ and to make disciples first and foremost but we are shown, through Jesus’ prayer, that we are to invite glorification of ourselves in the name of Christ. Platforming & personal branding, in my opinion, cannot be completely separated. The two seem to criss cross and tangle up like a messy set of earbuds in your pocket but in that mess we know that there is just truth; if the condition of our hearts are right we will bear fruit. We can stop analyzing, criticizing, and shaming each other’s tweets and posts. If we put faith, obedience, and purpose at the foundation we will bear fruit from the seeds that were sprinkled off our platforms. A personal brand will turn into a Jesus brand and that should be the goal.
So does this mean that we have to have a bible verse in our bio? or a #blessed at the end of every tweet? Not so much. It moreso means our priorities in our quest on social media are to plant seeds, make disciples, and point that finger to the front of the jersey to kingdom.
One of my favorite authors and preachers of all time is Judah Smith. His wit and humor combined with his dialed in understanding of the bible creates a truly awesome perspective of being a christian. One of my favorite books, I refer to all of his books this way, is Life Is, hah! I have reread it about three times maybe even four. It’s a banger, in my own slang terms. There is a piece of the book that elaborates on a story a lot of us probably know well or at least have seen a pretty painting of, the one about the Last Supper, which eventually lead into the crucifixion of Jesus. I went back and reread this part of book solely because it was Easter weekend, and so I decided to share.
Judah gives a different perspective on the movie that we watch in our heads of the Last Supper. Jesus has dinner with all of His disciples that night but, when we watch the movie “The Last Supper” in our heads, the main character seems to be Judas. I mean, he is the one who betrayed Jesus and as a child he was the disciple’s face that I saw in my head when I popped open my egg set and began to listen to the tale of the path to the resurrection. But, the main characters are actually Peter & John in this film. Here is why. Scene 1, the night of the Last Supper – action – “When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved (John). Simon Peter therefore motioned to ask him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.” (John 13:21-26)
For a second I want you to forget about Judas and, instead, watch Peter, John, and Jesus. In this part of the movie, the lens zooms and focuses in on John first who is lying on Jesus. The bible says, actually, that John was leaning on Jesus’ bosom which, in that time, was a sign of close friendship, intimacy, and fellowship. They were close in space and spirit, as John leaned on Jesus’ chest. Then the camera focuses on Peter. He says “Lord who is it!?” He’s very upset upon hearing about this betrayal and he wants Jesus to know that he’s concerned.
Scene 2, Jesus calls them out – action – In John chapter 13 & 14, Jesus is telling His disciples that they all will desert Him, but (camera zooms on Peter) Peter insists. “No Jesus I would never, I will not desert you.” But Jesus assures him, He says “Peter – this very night, you will deny me three times that you even know me.” Again Peter is shouting NO WAY! “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you” (Matthew 26:35). Peter was the disciple that was up in arms. He was like Jesus’ little groupie slash detective trying to proclaim his loyalty to Jesus. He thought his heart was in the right place. Peter wanted to know who would betray his Savior, not knowing he would soon do so. But, the cool part of this story is when we zoom out from Peter and refocus in on the disciple John. John doesn’t get much screen time at supper and in the garden. He’s a little blurry in the background. But, he actually identifies himself many times in the bible as “the disciple Jesus loved” and Jesus referred to him as such. John was not trying to prove himself to Jesus or earn His love. He didn’t pull a Peter. He just laid on Jesus’ chest. John knew that he was loved by Jesus and during the Last Supper and in the garden he was silent and humble. We don’t really hear from him. Here is the best part… Scene 3.
Jesus was right, obviously, and Peter did deny that he even knew Jesus. He did so three times that night while Jesus was being tried. In Luke 22 when Peter remembers what Jesus said to him, about denying Him, he “went out and wept bitterly.” When Jesus was on the cross Peter was MIA, off crying, so consumed with his own shame and sorrow that he was nowhere to be found. But, we again zoom the lens out and focus back to John, the scene is now at the cross. Scene 3, the cross – action – In John chapter 19:25-27 it says this. “Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple He loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.” So cool. The same man that was lying on Jesus in the beginning, silent and humble, was at the foot of the cross at the end. In the beginning, I would have guessed Peter would be the one at the foot of the cross with Jesus. He seemed so active, so loyal, so faithful, even. But, in that thinking, is where humanness steers us in the wrong direction. Judah says, referring to the scene from the Last Supper, “Peter is active, working, striving… What’s John’s problem? Come on, John. Jesus is hurting here. He’s in a lot of pain, and you’re using him as a pillow, John, aren’t you going to do anything? Do you need some Red Bull or a triple grande latte or something? But who was at the foot of the cross at the crucifixion? Just John. Peter was painfully absent… John understood what it meant to live in the love of Jesus. He knew how to rest his head on Jesus’ heart even when chaos and uncertainty and fear were the order of the day. He was the “disciple Jesus loved.” His identity, his focus, his priority” (Life Is, Judah Smith).
I love that perspective and I think Judah put it so beautifully. Peter relied on himself and his own human effort to try and prove that he was a faithful follower of Jesus. But John shows how to live softly and humbly in the love of Jesus. The Last Supper was in-tense. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like in that room when Jesus dropped the betrayal bomb. I know sometimes I am in my own room with Jesus and he drops a bomb. I question myself, I look around, and I frantically start thinking, talking, and moving. But John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, let Jesus take care of it. There was a trust and humility about John that, even though may be blurry in the grand scene of the Last Supper, was so important. He started and ended with Jesus and then was adopted into Jesus’ family at the foot of the cross. What a guy. John and Peter reminded me that faithfulness isn’t always an action of my body but a condition of my heart.
The other day, someone asked me about my basketball season that I underwent this past year. Specifically, their question was, “what was it like playing on one leg?” Well, if you don’t know me I have two legs, don’t worry. But, for those who do know me know that I have had 5 different knee surgeries/operations on my left knee. Some were simple ACL replacements and some were much more extensive, involving reconstructions of ligaments, bone resurfacings, and a screw removal… I have some sweet scars. The main problem with my knee is that I don’t have much of a medial meniscus or much healthy cartilage left, both of which function as types of cushions for my bones and joint in my knee. My knee hurts after most any moderate activity and swells at the sight of any basketball court for longer than 30 minutes. So when I decided that I wanted to continue to play I knew that I would be “limited.” Limited is a word I hear all the time. I hear it from my surgeons, from athletic trainers, from my coaches, and even from my strength trainers. It’s a reality for me. When I first began to play, the word limited and the word limitations left a sour taste in my mouth. I knew that I would never be able to move the same way that I had once moved, especially on the court. But, I had a hard time accepting the restrictions. I thought, if I willed myself enough, if I told myself it didn’t hurt enough, if I denied the boundaries enough, that I would be able to push beyond them. I knew that God could move mountains and I was hopeful and prayerful that He would move mine. I learned quickly that my body did not agree with my way of thinking. I was in a lot of pain and wanted to do and be more than what my limitations would allow. I was playing basketball, and so grateful to be doing so given my history, but I didn’t feel like me. My game had taken almost a 180 from what it used to be because of the simple fact that I couldn’t run, jump, spin, or dribble like I could with two good legs. The way that I felt when I played was a foreign feeling. I was being forced to change under the walls that were my limitations- my mountain was unmoved and it was harder than I expected.
Sometimes when we hear the word limitation we get a sour taste in our mouth. Our mental connotation of words like restrictions and limitations become bitter. Naturally, why would we want to be held back? Why would we accept something that confines us?
My game completely changed this year and so did I. I got to experience what limitation really is. Limitation is not a 4 sided box. It is more like a 3 sided box. One with the top cut off. You fall into the box and all you see are walls. All you can see is where you can’t go. But once you run into the wall a few times and you feel your way around, with the good Lord’s help, you will look up and see that there is an opening. I embraced my new game and I began to embrace the openings that these limitations in my life were bringing. When I was in a lot of pain, especially days after games, I would have to sit and read because it was one of the only things that would keep my mind off of my knee. I read so many great books this year in the midst of my literary therapy. I spent more time alone during some of those times based on the simple fact that I didn’t want or feel like getting up and walking around. But I was able to spend a lot of that time in prayer and I was getting to spend intimate time with my heavenly father in those moments where I would just lay in bed. Our relationship developed and we got pretty tight. I was forced through these limits to self reflect. When you have a knee like mine, you have to look back at the things you did that day in practice or how many minutes you played in a game and reflect on how it made your body feel. Adjustments had to constantly be made to keep me on the court and without reflection I couldn’t make them. So, I learned how to reflect. I changed my diet and now am a vegetarian because I simply learned how to look at how I was feeling related to what I was eating. Veggies made me feel good. So I mostly eat veggies now, and I feel great.
Although my diet is cool and all, that’s not the point. I changed in so many ways over the last three years but I believe that God gave me my limitations in His preparation for my role in His kingdom. He is giving you challenges to push you to become a vital part of the vision. I love these verses in John chapter 9. It says, “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” We aren’t being punished. I didn’t fail because I blew out my knee and had to give up my dream of a Division I basketball career. Instead, through my limits Christ will be seen in me. It’s still the day and it’s time for us to go to work. Although limits will continue to come for me and for you, I hope that they leave a slightly less sour taste in our mouths.
One of the greatest things about life is that you get to do it with other people. I love people and I love reading about how much Jesus loved people. When it comes to loving on anyone and everyone, Jesus lead the way. Lately, I have felt God putting the word empathy on my heart. I have been reading and slowly learning how, for us to truly and deeply love people, we have to have this thing called empathy. Jesus had it mastered. When Jesus encountered people, people meaning the rich, the poor, the young, the broken, the loud, the meek, or the least, He had a way of looking straight into their hearts and loving them right where they were. Whether that be atop a pile of sin or at the beginning of a righteous pathway. His way of love involved something that is not easy for us, feeling them. We want to love people but from a distance. We don’t always want to hear about people’s baggage and their broken pieces. Jesus not only observed broken hearts, empty lives, and hurting souls, He felt them and He sought them. When people looked into Jesus’ eyes they saw a light of understanding and sharing that brought a deep comfort and healing. They felt loved because their pain was seen, heard, and yes, felt. There is a reason God sent Jesus to be human. God could have sent Jesus down to hover over us from a distance and teach us like a divine prophetic aura. But, God sent Jesus to be a human, and to experience pain, suffering, and loss. Jesus was able to feel first for Himself what others would also feel. And being the perfect Savior that He was, He felt perfectly and He loved perfectly through the understanding of what people would feel. He had no agenda, He listened and He saw. Then He felt. Then He prayed and healed and spoke life through that great love connection. I love reading about the man that Jesus was and thankfully still is. He shows me how to love with an empathetic heart. I want to love like that.
Recently I have been praying for something specific in my life that involves a do or a not do answer. I am asking God for a yes or a no. The more I think about the situation and the decision the more that I yearn for the yes. I find myself going before God with my words saying “guide my steps where You want me to go” but my heart saying “but could You make that a yes?… and with no tomato.” I have realized that I can’t pray for an answer with a yes in mind. That isn’t trust and that is me telling God that I know what I need. We all know that’s just not the case. Jesus shows us how to pray in John 17. He shows us how to come before the Savior with a humble and submitted heart. His prayer was not out of frustration or urgency, when it seemed He had the right. I mean, the man was about to be arrested, questioned, betrayed, and crucified. Yet, He prayed selflessly for His followers and He prayed in surrender. So, when I come to God looking for direction and I’m already inching down the path to yes I can’t hear the no. Surrender is trusting that the divine alternative is better. I want to pray like that.
Architecture is defined as both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing structures. We try and shape our lives like a good piece of architecture. We try to plan, design, or construct what we believe is artwork. This involves the two perspectives, in the cave and then the open view. Inside of the cave we entertain the present and we meet needs. We meet our own needs, we meet others needs, and we attempt to balance what we want to do and what we ought to do. But if it’s good architecture, if it’s a solid life, then it should feel open with a view of the future looking out to the horizon. Here we look out to possibility and we entertain vision. The horizon is outside of the cave and it can’t be seen or touched. But it’s so visible. It inspires us to be hopeful for where we can go and it inspires us to do what we are called to do. It beckons. But we find ourselves in this fight of balancing what we want to do, what we ought to do, and what we are called to do. How can you design a right life? The beauty of architecture is that there is not one way to do it. The beauty of architecting your life is that you don’t have to design it, plan it, or construct it alone. There is a greater architect who can sculpt a life where all three of those things can be in harmony. God does not make good architecture, he designs great architecture. So I am going to provide a new image. I believe that great architecture should make you feel as if you are wearing the perfect pair of shoes. When we walk in poorly made shoes, our feet hurt, our bodies ache. We don’t want to run in those shoes, it’s not enjoyable. We ought not run, because we will do damage to ourselves. But when we give God the blueprint and let him be the architect, we will feel called to run- a divine laser focused motivation. We will not grow weary or become damaged in the shoes that God designs. He will call us to run a beautiful faithful race where we will feel the security and comfort of a perfect pair of shoes. The only way that those three things can be in harmony is for us to hand over the pencil and paper. Living in a way that is lead by what we are called to do will then change our hearts and guide our feet. Christ will seek and find our old desires and make them into an aligning desire for righteousness. Then we will be equipped to run alongside the greatest architect and shoes designer that there is. We will want to run, we ought to run, and we will be called to run.