Cake is on the brain. I’m in the thick of birthday season for my family, which means baking a lot of cake. It takes all 13 years of acquired experience and skill to pull off the different flavors, designs, dietary restrictions, and dreams of the half grown people in my life. Every year I feel like I have to learn more and up my game a little in order to pull it off again.

I love it though. The challenge. The hunt for that recipe or technique that pulls it all together. I watch all the baking shows, and reels. I read the blogs and cookbooks. Just to find that pearl of cake wisdom. There are virtuosos of cake who know what I need to know, and they’re willing to show me if I’ll just look.

Some people are taking it to another level. These bakers are like getting all Michelangelo with their cake and fondant. They make these wonderfully intricate sculptures, only to cut into it and show you that it’s cake. Then laugh and take a bite.

I’ve seen more than a few that are just everyday objects. Nothing spectacular at face value, except that something special is hidden in the banality. Those are the ones that get me. Your eyes are telling you it’s one thing, but their knife tells you it’s another thing altogether.

Sometimes I think church can be like that too. There are theologians and teachers who are absolute wordsmiths. They create beautiful ideas with their words, making it so easy for your mind’s eye follow their line of thought. It constructs an understanding that tells you one thing until the two edged sword that divides between soul and spirit, joint and marrow (Heb. 4:12), reveals the heart of it to be something else entirely.

There’s one I’ve been mulling over for some time. It doesn’t even start in the church. It starts in culture.

At the moment, I would say the prevailing philosophy being worked out in culture is Humanism. It’s all like, “Look at us, aren’t we great?” There’s an unspoken expectation for us to curate something more than a reputation: an image.

That image becomes a brand that we can offer to each other in exchange for belonging. Wear the right clothes, drive the right car, read the right books, have the right guilty pleasures that make you accessible, on and on and on. Whether that “brand” offers anything of value to the world or not, you better have it and it better be on point.

It seems to me that the accepted idea of success these days looks more like acquiring the worship of others, than adding value, or having integrity, or raising up the next generation to have stability and strength of character. We have traded the hard work it takes to develop any of the things I just listed and traded it for a “get rich quick” scheme of personal branding.

This didn’t happen overnight. The seeds were sown for this present day culture during my childhood, it is merely coming to fruition now. I remember adults around me responding to these seeds by creating a parallel church culture and pushing it really hard as the only virtuous alternative. The underlying message was, “Save your children from secular humanism through church.”

The sad thing is it didn’t save us from Humanism. Humanism is still a part of our lives because it is a part of the culture we live in, whether we like or not. To top it all off, Humanism made its way into the church, it just got rebranded.

Humanism in the church looks different than cultural humanism, it looks like religiosity. I mean religion that has more to do with programs and right-ness. A Christian brand was created to offset the many personal brands. As long as you subscribe to that Christian brand and maintain it in your persona, you are in.

I fell into religiosity for a season and have two problems with it. First of all, it caused me to lose sight of Jesus. The actual Jesus, the man sitting at the right hand of God interceding for all to be saved through Him. I forgot just how much He loved me, the real me, underneath the brand. I lost track of His mercy and grace. I spent all my time making sure I was the right Christian version of me.

Which leads me to my second qualm, I carried it all in my own strength. It was all about me, what I could do to earn my place. I learned to think about how to leverage my gifts to make Jesus look better within the religious brand. The question became, how could I make myself look better while making Jesus look cool too?

It was incredibly lonely and exhausting. All of it. Instead of seeking Jesus in the secret place and reflecting God’s glory back to Him through my life, I tried to re-package what little glory I had and tried to make that enough glory for the both of us. Even though Jesus never asked me to do that.

One day Holy Spirit came with His two edged sword and cut me right to the heart. He revealed what was underneath the sweet exterior I had created around myself. It wasn’t glorious, and it wasn’t cake.

Over the next 6 years or so, Holy Spirit walked me through the dismantling of Humanism from culture out of my heart. Then He did the same with religiosity. I cried, and repented a lot. I sent more than one apology to people in my life. It was humbling, and freeing. Because, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:17 NKJV) Once I was free from all that philosophical bondage, it was just me. The actual me sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him and loving Him. Like I did when I first believed in Him.

Now I don’t spend any time on any kind of brand, personal or otherwise. I try to live a life faithful to my family and my Beloved, Jesus. All the glory I need is His glory reflecting off my unveiled face as I spend my life beholding Him. The only image I want to transform into is His.

“But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18 NKJV)

-Etta Woods

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