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.

Perfect Love for Trying-To-Be-Perfect Fear

Last post, I talked about my fear of being imperfect. Even as I wrote that, I realized how much farther I have to go. A year ago, I could never have admitted how much I struggle with my own sin. I would (and did) hide the majority of my life from those I love.

The Lord has made large strides in my life. He has given me freedom I could have never imagined, and I am so thankful. But it is still a struggle. I often catch myself trying to cover up my brokenness with a façade.

But that is not Jesus in me. Jesus is real. My “togetherness” is not.

Jesus’ love isn’t dependent on how “together” I am. It just is. The I AM, who is self-existent and unchanging, cannot love any other way. He is not dependent on any creature for His existence, and so is His love not dependent on any creature for its existence.

In simplest terms: He is. He is love. Therefore, His love is.

My weaknesses don’t change His love.

Instead, God is perfect; therefore, His love is perfect.

The apostle John understood this love. If you read his books very much, you realize two things: Jesus loved John, and John couldn’t stop talking about it.

He writes in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

John says that God’s love is the solution for my fear. Failing terrifies me because I’m afraid of the consequences. I say to myself: “What will people think if I open up? What if I try something and screw up?” I’m looking for a punishment around every corner.

But perfect love means I don’t have to fear punishment. As Romans 8:1 reminds me, “There is . . . now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus already took my punishment, so God isn’t going to punish me.

I don’t have to fear people either. They can hurt me, but what they do will not take God by surprise. He is sovereign – the ruler of all things – and He is my Father – the giver of good things. I can trust Him completely, even with the painful actions of others.

John continues, “whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” My fears reveal something about my heart. They show me areas that I haven’t allowed His love to penetrate.

My fear of imperfection is a barometer of how deep His perfect love has really affected me.

The areas of my life that are controlled by fear – they’re not God’s fault. They’re mine. In those moments that I fear punishment, it isn’t because His love has changed. It never will, but my response to it can.

When I do allow God’s perfect love to cast out my fear of failing:

Instead of forgetting the gospel, I remember it. I can preach the gospel to myself through reading God’s Word and rehearsing the Truth. But, I also need other people to help preach it to me. In times that I can’t see past my fears, I will go to a friend and say, “I’m struggling. Please tell me what is true.” Other times, I pick up a book or listen to a sermon to hear a mature exhortation. All of these together help me to remember God’s love.

Instead of believing lies, I take them captive with the truth of God’s Word. 2 Corinthians 10:3 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This is a battle of the mind. My fears are not based in what’s true. When they come up, I have a choice. I can either believe the lie, or I can believe what God says to me in love and turn to Him for help.

Instead of trying to protect my reputation, I rejoice that the God who loves me will get glory. This is a hard one to believe sometimes. But as God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The more I am weak, the more He has to and can do in and through me. When I trust that, I also can “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Instead of being afraid to use the gifts God has given me, I yield to His right to use them. Perfect love means that God has created and redeemed me. He owns me. On top of that, anything I have is also His, and is given to me so that I can fulfill His calling on my life. When I trust His love enough to let Him make demands on what He has given me, it makes me bold.

Therefore, instead of missing opportunities to make an impact, I take Kingdom-focused risks. I can step out into the unknown as God lovingly leads me. And the joy of seeing Him fulfill His purposes through me can be mine in its fullest. Many through the ages have taken Spirit-prompted risks. For some, it meant martyrdom. For others, it meant losing everything. For yet others, it meant dying of old age with a fulfilling life behind. But all understood a perfect love that cast out their fears. And they were compelled by that love with a faith that knew no boundaries.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . .” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Will you join me?