On Facebook and the Incarnation

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We live in a unique age, where we are able to claim “knowing” people without actually building a relationship. By last count, I have 500+ Facebook friends and follow around 200 on Twitter. That’s not counting Pinterest or Instagram or LinkedIn. I am asking myself, “Realistically, how many of these people do I actually have the time or capacity to serve well?” And, “How is my ministry to those around me suffering because of the time I spend being ‘social’ online?”

When Jesus walked the earth, He had many followers. If social media had been around in 1st century Israel, He would have had quite the mob of “friends”. But though He showed compassion to the crowds, He did not spend the majority of His time and attention on them. Instead, He invested His life in 12 men every day, He had some women and men He spent extended time with occasionally (think Mary, Martha, and Lazarus), and He cared for His family.

Jesus did not come to be merely “God over us”–watching everything we do and keeping track of our every check-in; He came as “God with us”. As the omniscient Lord, He knows all the things we try to learn from stalking people on social media. He already knows how you take your coffee, the home you grew up in, and your secret desires and thoughts. Yet, He took the time and the pain necessary to come and live life among us. God didn’t just want to know about us, He wanted to know us, and He wants us to know Him. I believe that a relationship is built through conversation and through life, and God took the effort to do both. He gave us a Book telling us about Him, and He gave us Himself in Jesus–a person. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. While the Word communicates, the flesh dwells.

When Jesus called His disciples to “follow Him”, it was not a superficial connection He had in mind. He told one of his followers, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (John 1:42). When He says, “shall”, Jesus shows that He intended to build a relationship with Simon. He was going to be spending enough time with this man that Cephas (Peter) would become his name, not just among his small group, but also to all readers of the Bible for millennia.

Jesus also met a man named Nathanael. The Lord’s promise of a relationship with Him was even greater:

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:47-51)

Essentially, Jesus said, “I know everything about you, but I want you to know Me. I am going to befriend you and welcome you into my world–which is nothing like yours.”

In the prison chaplaincy, we often talk about “the ministry of presence”. As we go into the barracks and visit with inmates, a large part of our ministry is just being there. We seek to build relationships, pray with people, and try to provide answers to their questions. I do not visit often, but when I walk into the prison, they remember me. I am ashamed to admit that often I do not recall their names or even their faces. But they remember because I was there, with them. Many of the women there do not have often visitors and they do not have Internet access. So when they see a familiar face, even in a photograph, it means the world to them.

I often take for granted that I can “see” people whenever I want. With the click of a mouse, I can find out a person’s favorite movies, where they ate lunch yesterday, and whether they are single. Yet, in knowing those things, I have gained little knowledge of that person as a person. It is too easy. I become content in what I think I know and settle for a digital substitute for real friendship.

Yet, Jesus did not settle for that, so why should we? What if following Him led us to take the next step? What if instead of just “friending” or “following” the next person we meet, we did something with them in real life? What if instead of just building our network, we took the effort to have a deep conversation over coffee? I do have a friendship that grew out of an online connection. We had met once in real life, and often saw each other, but aside from being Facebook friends, we didn’t know much about each other. I noticed that we liked a lot of similar things online, so I reached out and asked her to meet. That first meeting led to another and another, and now I count her as one of my closest friends. But that never would have happened if online “connection” had been the boundary of our relationship.

A true friend (not the Facebook kind) is someone who knows you take your coffee – or if you drink it at all. He or she is someone who walks through the tough moments with you and knows how you will react when the next one comes. They are the ones you run potential mates by for approval and you call when you want to celebrate. Real friendship is a beautiful gift, but it doesn’t arrive easily. Friendship involves work. It can be painful. Friendship often demands letting down the walls, taking off the mask, and showing your ugly scars to another person without knowing how they will react first. The journey to true friendship takes risk, and risk is something social media rarely cultivates.

These days, I’m prayerfully seeking to build relationships the way Jesus does with me. I am convinced: if I am not talking with people or living my life together with people, I’m not ministering to people. Social media can be a tool for relationships, but I often confuse the two. Throwing memes, quotes, blog posts, and play-by-play updates out on the Internet without investing time and energy in the people around me is not ministry. It is noise. And we could all use less of that. I’ve taken several social media fasts before (including one this past month), and I’m always amazed to see how my real-life relationships thrive when the noise is taken out. Am I going to abandon social media entirely? Honestly, I have considered it. I am not there yet, but perhaps sometime I will be. For now, I am simply pursuing faithfulness in the relationships God has given me, while Jesus graciously speaks to and lives in me.

Looking Back on 2015

2015 was a year of both aftermath and beginnings. 2014 was a year of loss for me; 2015 was the year of grieving those losses. But at the same time, the sorrow I felt was mixed with great joy as I followed the Lord into new territory. Today, I’m looking back (and looking forward).

What I Did In 2015:

  • Worked four jobs at once and left them to follow God’s call to full-time ministry.
  • Planned to move to another city and then saw God redirect me.
  • Accepted a job offer with Revive Our Hearts as an editorial services assistant and began building a team of financial and prayer supporters. 
  • Traveled (a lot):
    • Two trips to Niles, Michigan for a job interview and training at Life Action Ministries
    • Flew and then drove cross-country to help my grandmother move from New Jersey
    • A two-week fundraising trip to Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin
    • Returned to Michigan for Seek Week, Life Action’s staff revival week
    • Traveled to Little Rock for prison chaplaincy volunteer training
    • Served with the Revive Our Hearts team at their women’s ministry leader conference, Revive ’15: Women Teaching Women, in Indianapolis
    • Took another trip in October to Michigan, where I shared my testimony and presented the ministry to two women’s Bible studies at my childhood church.
    • Took two trips to McPherson Women’s Prison in Arkansas, once in August to help with a Bible retreat and once in December to play music, visit in the barracks, and help with Christmas distribution of t-shirts, socks, and treats to 1100 inmates.
  • Created a personal purpose statement.
  • Read 41 books (I am planning to post on my favorite 2015 reads soon).
  • Renewed several old friendships; lost a few others.
  • Joined my church in covenant membership.
  • Spent nearly two months in bed and in doctors’ offices, during which God taught me to better rely on and trust Him. Although I am still dealing with health issues, I am grateful for His mercy towards me.
  • Completed my first Whole30.

Things I Learned With God in 2015:

  • God has wired and called me to be a writer. Although I have always wanted to write and it is like breathing to me, I was afraid to believe I could be a writer. (This book challenged me to embrace the desire God had put in my heart.) When He overcame my objections, I was able to say “yes” to using my writing skills in full-time ministry.
  • Being a writer means He calls me to write about the hard things. This year it is going to happen . . . with lots of prayer.
  • God provides in ways I do not expect or can see. In the journey of raising my financial support for the ministry, God has used many people to provide for my needs. I am thankful for His sovereign hand working behind the scenes.
  • Hospitality is beautiful (no matter what form it takes), and it’s also a two-way street. In most of my traveling this year, I was staying in others’ homes. I even stayed with a couple I had never met before! Each family approached hosting differently, but each shared what they had and treated me like family. As a guest, I learned how to appreciate and accept God’s love working through them. They showed me the Savior by providing practically and sharing their everyday rhythms.
  • Lessons about God’s grace working through my weaknesses:
    • Something can be a permanent part of your story without being a permanent part of your identity.
    • Every open wound is also a door for God’s grace to walk through.
    • To be truly broken before God means not hiding my weaknesses, sin, and struggles from other people.
    • Being vulnerable about my struggles with sin may be the path to healing for someone else.
  • God’s love doesn’t call me to a cupcake life of sprinkles and frosting, but a cross-carrying life of blood and tears. But God is my help and is with me every step of the way. More about that lesson can be found here.
  • To live simply. I am learning to clean out the clutter in every area of my life and focus on what and who are most important.
  • Faith does not always look extraordinary. Instead, it is found in the mundane, ordinary obedience of every day.
  • Singleness can be an idol just as much as marriage. (Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ testimony broke me.)
  • A truly beautiful covenant community is one that loves Christ and loves people. I joined a new church this year, and I couldn’t ask for a better fellowship to travel with in this season of unknowns. My church is not perfect, but in our imperfection, God’s grace always shows up. I love that.
  • Even though some Christian leaders will fail me, there is always a remnant that seeks to follow the Lord faithfully. The past two years, I have seen many pastors and teachers fail, including a few close to me. The godly, caring leadership of the ministry I am joining and my local church has helped to heal the broken places left behind in the storm. I see Jesus in their successes and their weaknesses, and that vision encourages me to stay the course of faith.
  • I should seek God’s Kingdom and build relationships where I’m placed, instead of always pursuing the next thing. I have a tendency to live in the future and forget that God has put me in this moment and this place to serve Him. He is sovereign over tomorrow, and He is also sovereign over today. I should live like I believe it.
  • Lessons about relationships:
    • When a friendship ends, it is not always my fault. Some people will forget or leave me, and that is ok.
    • I do not have to be everything to everyone – God has given me certain responsibilities and relationships to fulfill faithfully in different ways.
    • Not everyone will understand everything that I’m struggling with, but God can still speak truth into my life through them.

Other Things I Learned:

  • I do not like the taste of alcohol.
  • To choose clothes that suit me.
  • To use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram as tools in understanding how God has wired me, seeing areas to grow in, and relating to others. I learned I’m an INTJ and Enneagram Type 4 (it is an unusual combination, but it explains me well).
  • To build and code my own website (and resurrect it after I crashed it!).
  • To use a bullet journal to keep my days organized and document my year.
  • To use Instagram and MailChimp to connect with people.
  • To make my own beauty products and home remedies.
  • To play the guitar (enough to get by).
  • I love songwriting.
  • Routine and structure is good for my heart.
  • I don’t need access to everything all the time. My iPhone got significantly “dumbed-down” this year. Although I still use a lot of apps daily, social media and the browser have all been removed. I’ve chosen not to check my email on my phone either. The quiet has been healthy and needed.
  • I need fiction and memoirs in my reading diet. They’ve done more to show me excellence in writing than anything else.

5 Things I’m Looking Forward To in 2016:

  • Finishing building my ministry partner team, moving to Michigan and beginning work at Revive Our Hearts (if you would like to help, you can donate or become a monthly ministry partner here!).
  • Blogging weekly and starting to write about hard things.
  • Doing the Visual Theology Reading Challenge.
  • Focusing on deepening my prayer life.
  • Following God into the adventure of turning 25.

I will be sharing my favorite reads from this year next week, but in the meantime, have you taken time to reflect on and thank God for 2015? Remember this as you move forward: the grace that kept His people last year is the same grace that calls us into new territory this year. With His help, we survived; with His help, we will run into a new year with hope.