How I Learned to Stop Loathing the Platform

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There’s this viral Simpsons meme that perfectly captures my feelings about the word “platform.” The image shows a newspaper with a photo of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the sky under the headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD.” People post it to mock those who are resistant to change, typically older folks who refuse to accept the new-fangled technologies young kids are using these days.

I can sympathize with Grandpa Simpson’s defiance. Since starting to explore the book publishing market, I’ve mentally shaken my fist at the Publishing Powers That Be for requiring writers to build a platform. While I understand that authors need to find their audience and that book sellers need to sell books, I bristle at the objectives to “gain followers” and “grow a brand,” activities that strike me as absurd and terrifying. Why would anyone want or need to follow me? I’m just a girl, sitting at her laptop, trying to eke out coherent strings of words to spread hope.

The both-and of vocation
Angst over platform is a dilemma even seasoned authors face. Shortly after releasing her third book, “Surprised by Paradox,” Jen Pollock Michel posed a question to herself and fellow writers: “How do we write without losing our soul?” After praying and receiving confirmation from the Lord that she should continue, Michel kept unraveling this turmoil that ties writers’ stomachs in knots.

“On the one hand, you know the sick and self-preoccupied pleasure you take out of the likes and the retweets and the shares of your posts. On the other, you feel the pleasure of God when you spin words, and, by unexpected grace, they sometimes turn to gold. Tempted as you are to the solutions of either and or, you know that what you really need is a both-and. You understand that you’re both corrupt AND called.”

Corrupt and called. Check and check. This is why I’ve hesitated immersing myself in social media engagement that feels like self-promotion – posting selfies, recording live videos, curating an Insta-worthy feed. It’s a fear that keeps me wondering if I should ditch this writing gig and go stock shelves at Costco.

I resist building a platform because I know how much I lap up praise and approval, and I worry I might drown in it.

More of him
Platforms have their place: to raise something to prominence. If I’m that something being raised, it’s likely my head will either fill with hot air or explode with worry. I might think too highly of myself or lose sleep wondering if others don’t think highly of me. Such is the temptation for anyone who steps onto a stage. How do you put your name out there and not hope that people will remember it?

The problem begins and ends with the wrong focal point: me. Jesus belongs on the platform. Of course I know this, and in my innermost heart, want to acknowledge his rightful position there. But instead of locking eyes on him, I drift back to myself. I forget he cleansed me from evil and erased the stain of pride that used to pollute my decisions. I let fear of sin become a sin itself, dwelling on how wretched I am instead of how glorious Christ is.

More of him, less of me. That was John the Baptist’s approach to public ministry. Paul also took the low road, boasting about his weaknesses and counting his strengths as worthless trash. Yet neither man would be considered a wallflower. They spoke to crowds boldly, fearing God more than people, fulfilling their calling instead of fixating on their corruption. Paul even commended himself to the church at Corinth when critics challenged his authority. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Paul’s example helped author Whitney Capps reframe her perspective on speaking from a platform. In her book, Sick of Me, Capps confesses how early in ministry, the Lord convicted her of trying to appear unimpressive. Seeing that Paul commended himself to proclaim Christ led her to reevaluate her motives and shift the focus of her messages. “Rather than trying to deflect glory from ourselves, what if we focused on reflecting glory back onto him?”¹

That’s it, friends. That’s what I decided is my way of escape through the pitfalls of platform building. Accept that the vocation of writing requires an amount of attention that scares and tempts me, and prayerfully press on to direct that attention toward Christ.

Serve the caller
How will this change the way I engage on social media? Wouldn’t we both like to know. It depends on what the Lord nudges me to do. Clearly, it should not involve campaigning for others’ approval. Sharing the gospel isn’t a popularity contest from which I emerge as the winner.

As of now, I’m viewing this as an attitude adjustment more than a behavioral change. My curmudgeonly self is gone, or at least restrained; my new life has come as a reluctant yet willing platform occupant. For the sake of Christ, I can use platform as a tool to elevate him in the eyes of however many people read my words. As I strive to proclaim his fame, my fist-shaking might give way to knee-knocking, as I try silly things like talking to my face on a screen.

In this world flooded with temptation, it helps to remember one of the both-ands of our lives as Christians. We’re corrupt – hardwired to make ourselves look and feel important. And we’re called – cleansed of our self-sickness and set apart to declare the excellencies of our king.

If I had any say in the matter, I’d vote to scrub the platform lingo in favor of more accurate terms: writer instead of influencer, readers instead of followers. Because as much as I appreciate you, dear reader, you really shouldn’t follow me. We’re both much better off following Jesus.

¹ Capps, Whitney. Sick of Me. B&H Publishing, 2019, p. 143.

Photo by Masha Rostovskaya on Unsplash.

The Happiest Place on Earth

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Earlier this summer, our family made a pilgrimage to the ultimate summer vacation destination, Disneyland. As we navigated the crowds, I noticed a common trait among our fellow mouse-eared tourists. With the exception of a few overstimulated toddlers and stressed-out parents, everyone around us was smiling and laughing. The strangers we met waiting in line, the families schlepping around snacks and sunscreen, the teens, newlyweds, and retirees – most people appeared to be reveling in the magic of their surroundings.

Before we left on our trip, I had decided to memorize Psalm 84. Halfway through our vacation, I realized how fitting it was to meditate on the happiest place in Israel while visiting the “happiest place on Earth.” Strolling through a joy-sparking atmosphere helped me imagine what it might have felt like stepping foot inside the tabernacle courts, except surrounded by songs of praise rather than reprises of “It’s a Small World.”

What made the tabernacle such a happy place? It didn’t boast fun rides, huggable characters, or photo opps galore. No, the greatest draw for the Israelites to visit the tabernacle was to be with the One who lived there.

Read full article at Unlocking the Bible.

Ponder the Mystery of I AND

The siren song of mystery stories came calling in grade school. Once I learned how to read, I gravitated toward the whodunit shelves at the library, lured by the prospect of completing a puzzle. I matched wits with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew, Hercule Poirot and Richard Jury, tracking clues on the streets of London, at the racetrack, and in cozy little tea shops steeped with intrigue.

To some extent, I think we’re all mystery junkies. The unknown beckons us, promising the thrill of suspense. But it can also scare us. Uncertainty is intolerable; we demand answers to hard questions like, “Why does God allow suffering?” Especially in an age where information reigns and misinformation abounds, it’s easy falling prey to the sin that tripped Adam and Eve: We want to be like God, perfectly knowing everything.

In “Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of And in an Either-Or World,” author Jen Pollock Michel calls readers to behold the mystery of our faith as testament of our God. Like Moses drawn to the burning-yet-not-burned bush, Michel urges us to pause, scratch our chins, and explore the “promise in a little bit of wondering.”

Read full book review at Morning by Morning.

3 Myths That Fuel Burnout

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A strong work ethic has always been my calling card. During college and my early career, I packed my schedule from the wee hours of the morning until my head hit the pillow late at night. Though my responsibilities have shifted since then, I still take on too many to-dos, then feel stressed when I struggle to cross them off. In these moments, I hear echoes of my mom’s warning back in my college days: “Honey, don’t burn the candle at both ends.”

Many adults with driven personalities feel compelled to work nonstop. Whether we work at the office or at home, we resist clocking out from tasks or allocating time for breaks. Email inboxes demand our constant attention; school and sports activities consume our weekly schedules. This compulsion even extends to ministry. We realize the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, so we say yes to commitment after commitment without considering if we can do the work well on top of our current obligations. Wanting to glorify God in all we do leads us to strain our arms with impossibly heavy burdens.

Like the apostle Paul—who suffered fatigue, hunger, and pain as he poured out his life to advance God’s kingdom—we can expect to grow weary at times in our vocations and ministry work. But routinely overextending ourselves carries greater risk than merely making us tired. It can jeopardize our health and ability to serve, hinder others from stepping into roles where they can use their gifts, and captivate our hearts with working for Christ rather than with Christ himself.

Read full article at The Gospel Coalition.

[Photo courtesy Ross Sneddon on Unsplash]

Weeping with Those Waiting for a Child

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I’ve often imagined the scene at the tomb the day after Christ’s crucifixion. The world must have seemed bleak. His family and disciples spent that Saturday grieving the loss of the One they thought would free them. They didn’t know He’d rise in victory over sin and death the next day. In the shadow of the cross freshly stained with Jesus’ blood, they couldn’t see the glory of an event yet to come.

Women who suffer infertility experience a similar grief over the death of our dreams about motherhood. Like those who mourned Jesus that dark Sabbath day, we’re unsure when or if joy will come tomorrow or the day after. Our bodies set us on a perpetual roller coaster of emotions, rising with anticipation at the start of a cycle then crashing with disappointment when the test turns out negative. A friend described it well when she called the arrival of her period as a “mini-funeral” she endured month after month.

This comparison to death might not make sense if you haven’t lived through the heartache of infertility. I didn’t understand it until my husband and I struggled to conceive. After years of tests, surgeries, and failed treatments, I learned the truth of Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Read full article at Revive Our Hearts.

[Photo courtesy Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]

The Sister on the Other Side of the Screen

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Being a cynical person has its perks. Bogus “miracle” products don’t fool me. Fads or re-hashed trends don’t sway me with their hip pressure tactics. I didn’t fall for mom jeans in the ’80s, and I’m not falling for them now.

Persistent doubt has spared me from crushed expectations and helped me view the world accurately in its fallen, fractured condition. But while I’d like to chalk it up as godly discernment, I’m learning that cynicism isn’t the most Christ-like outlook on life.

God has been showing me recently how unchecked hyper-criticism harms me, mistreats others, and, worst of all, offends Him. To expose this sin, he chose an unexpected tool, one that routinely tempts, tries, and vexes me: social media.

I’ve written before about my tension with social media, especially Insta-sham, er, gram. Even though I recognize that content is curated – that people are trying to tell a story or display their art or “find beauty in the mundane” – it’s still jarring to me. I want to know real people sharing real information about themselves, or who are teaching actual truth from Scripture.

Over time, my approach to social media degenerated from skepticism to spite, particularly toward other female Christian bloggers, writers, and speakers. I’d scroll through my feed and feel contempt rise in my throat like some vile aftertaste. As my fingers flicked the screen, my head screamed at each post: “Fake! Fake! Fake!” I judged the content they chose to share and assigned them horrible motives: “She’s just trying to drum up followers,” and “Her posts tickle ears to get more likes.”

Pretty nasty stuff. That’s what happens when you accuse others of the same temptations and sins that challenge you.

In the throes of pessimism, I forgot that people using social media are real people – with flaws and failings and masks they try to use to obscure their junk. But that’s true of anyone. Who among us can cast a stone against deception? We’re all guilty of faking goodness, whether on social media or in “real” life. But we’re also invaluable human beings made in the image of God. Those who know him are continually being refined, just as I am, and are tripping along the same path of obedience, just like I do.

Bad attitudes like this are hard to break. When you’re wired for criticism, your judgment reflex is as snappy as they come.

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how to consume social media as a realist, and as a Christian. Scripture urges us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). God gave us brains and his Word; we should use them to pierce the inspirational façade sheltering bad theology.

But attributing impure motives to Christian writers or influencers goes beyond discernment to the point of projecting logs in others’ eyes. Assuming the worst about people doesn’t make me a better Christian; it makes me a more hypocritical one.

If you’re cynical like me, you might struggle with similar hang-ups over social media. You suspect others’ words are disingenuous, and perceive their photos as staged. The showy nature of visual platforms simultaneously intrigues and repels you, drawing you in with aesthetic appeal, yet frustrating you with lack of credibility. Or maybe I’m the only Negative Nancy in the room.

The problem before us naysayers is a matter of weight. How can we tread nimbly along the true/false tightrope of social media, steadied by equal parts wisdom and grace?

For perfect balance, we know where to turn our eyes.

Jesus knew the extent of human depravity, yet he treated others with dignity and compassion. He healed a chronically ill woman deemed unclean because of her blood. He called the most loathed member of society, a tax collector, and invited him to eat together. He held a private nighttime rendezvous with a critical, questioning Pharisee. He spoke gently and directly with a woman who had sinned, repeatedly, and remained unfaithful and restless, never quenched in her thirst for love.

Christ’s attitude toward others wasn’t glass half-empty or half-full. He was fully aware of the darkness, fully surrendered to the Lord, fully given to save lost souls and grant them abundant life through union with Him. His commission to us, as his followers, leaves no room for doubt: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Sin is a given for everyone using social media. We don’t need to highlight it, and certainly don’t need to invent and ascribe it to others. Only God knows the true intentions behind what anyone posts. We can trust him to convict his children as he sees fit, not according to our assumptions.

I thank him for reminding me that the Christian woman on the other side of the screen isn’t merely a persona; she’s my sister in Christ. She hasn’t “arrived,” and neither have I. We’re both redeemed, yet still struggling; saved for eternity, yet stuck in the flesh.

For those of us who need to swap our dour shades for freshly cleaned lenses, we can learn from and apply Ephesians 4:29 as a filter for social media output and intake: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

May we see what is good, excellent, and praiseworthy about our sisters and brothers online and give grace to those who post.

[Photo courtesy Becca Tapert on Unsplash]

Pro-lifers, Don’t Forget to Speak Life Online

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On January 22, my social media feed blew up with sonograms, pregnant bellies, and cherub-like baby faces. When I read the accompanying posts, I was disturbed by the incongruity of such sweet images paired with words conveying fury, spite and vitriol.

The passage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade this year lit a tinderbox of moral outrage online. Pro-life supporters listened in horror as legislators in the New York State Senate applauded the expansion of abortion rights, including the allowance for abortions after 24 weeks of gestation. We were appalled a week later when Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran acknowledged that a bill she was sponsoring would’ve allowed a woman who was in labor to have an abortion.

Proposed infanticide was the straw that broke the back of any lingering passivity within the pro-life ranks. Silence wasn’t an option; pro-life advocates reacted using the quickest means possible – by unleashing their wrath on social media.

As I scrolled through the litany of rants, feeling my emotions seethe with righteous indignation, it occurred to me that something was missing. In the midst of these impassioned social media declarations, I saw few messages conveying compassion toward women and encouraging them to carry their babies to term.

Post after post condemned abortion and reprimanded anyone for considering it. Where were the posts praising the value of choosing life?

Read full article at Intersect Project.

[Photo courtesy Christin Hume on Unsplash]