I distinctly remember the first time I wore skinny jeans. I was a sophomore in high school, and Omega was doing its annual fall outreach, Fall Classic, where we divide the four different grades into teams for an ongoing competition. My class was assigned to be the “Sophomore Skaterz” and when I learned this, I begrudgingly traded my maroon Hollister pullover for a new studded belt…and skinny jeans.
Having grown up in an age of bell-bottoms or at least, boot-cut jeans, I thought skinny jeans were the worst thing in the world. I remember wearing a stank face when I purchased them at PacSun with my mom and being embarrassed to pull them on for youth group a few days later. I knew they were starting to be “in,” but sincerely could not see the appeal, and swore to myself they would die a lonely death in the deepest part of my dresser once the outreach was over.
Years later, I now find myself a part of Omega once again, only as a leader rather than a student. Of course, when Fall Classic rolled around during my girls’ junior year, we were assigned to be the “Slackers” (which apparently meant we were supposed to dress up as gothic skater girls). This time, unlike when I was in high school, I didn’t have to go out and buy skinny jeans—because they’re all I own. In fact, the thought of wearing bell-bottoms makes me ever-so-slightly cringe, even though the dramatic wide-leg variety are starting to appear on legs of those who have enough energy to be on top of the latest fashion trends. The irony is not lost on me.
Though I haven’t yet personally bought into bell-bottoms, not to mention pantsuits or the pointy, super long nails that seem to be trending today, I’ve learned enough to take a cue from Justin Bieber and “Never Say Never.” Only because it has happened before, I know it’s likely that as I start to see these styles on others more and more, they may slowly start to grow on me, and all of a sudden I’ll be like “Ew, why would I ever wear skinny jeans?”—circa 2007 me.
Here’s my point: we’re influenced by what we ingest and it happens subtly, so we’re a lot more susceptible than we think.
There is no such thing as neutral. We are constantly moving toward something—and that which we surround ourselves with does a great deal to determine what.
I am a huge Taylor Swift fan, but more so old-school Taylor. I remember when her newest album came out last fall, and I heard the single “Look What You Made Me Do” for the first time—I couldn’t stand it. But then I started to hear it more and more, and I’d catch myself bobbing along to the beat when it came on the radio. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Before I knew it, I liked it.
When we immerse ourselves in something, we are continually being influenced by it. We move from a place of “I would never do that” to “maybe it’s not so bad” to “maybe I kind of like this.” This isn’t a bad thing—so long as the things we are immersing ourselves in are good things.
As Christ-followers, we are called to be set apart, to look different from those around us (Deuteronomy 14:2). But unless we make deliberate decisions that allow us to remain set apart, we’re going to end up blending in with the world around us by default.
“We will not wake up 10 years from now and find that we have passively taken on the character of God.” - Jen Wilkin
If you’ve been around the church for a while, you likely know the story of Daniel. Daniel’s the guy who survived being thrown into both a lion’s den and a fiery furnace. Those little nuggets totally would have made it into his Instagram bio if social media were a thing in his day. But if we zoom out a little, we see there’s more to his story.
Daniel is an Israelite who is living during the time period of the Babylonian exile. Living in a foreign culture far from his true home, Daniel had to fight to retain his religious and ethnic identity in a culture that was actively looking for him to assimilate to their ways.
Yet as an Israelite, one of God’s chosen people, Daniel was called to be set apart—to live in a way that stood out and ultimately pointed others toward God. In order to resist being immersed in the pagan Babylonian culture, Daniel had to make deliberate decisions. Practically what this looked like, was that he refused to eat their same food, three times a day, he would open his window which was facing Jerusalem and pray to God (Jerusalem was the place he had come from the promised future Kingdom of his people), and he refused to worship what the Babylonians worshipped (their king)—because he knew God and God alone was worthy of his worship. It was this refusal to worship the Babylonian king, in fact, which led to both lion’s den and the fiery furnace happening.
We are influenced by what we ingest. If we want to look more like Jesus rather than the culture around us, I believe Daniel’s story gives us a few questions to ask ourselves.
What are we consuming? When we wake up in the morning, what is the first thing we turn to? Social media? The news? Or are we feeding ourselves on God’s Word?
What are we focusing on? Are we focused on the personal kingdoms we’re building here on earth? Striving to make our lives look the way we think they’re supposed to look? Or are our efforts and energy focused on building the Kingdom that’s to come?
What are we worshipping? Do we glorify what world tells us to glorify? Money? Fame? Status? Or, are we allowing our desires and ambitions to be shaped by Scripture?
At the end of the day, the truth is that we are constantly being influencing by something—and that something is determining, day-by-day, the types of people we’re becoming. If it’s not God’s Word we are intentionally choosing to ingest and be influenced by, this poses the question: what is?