Leaders, Followers, and The Mob Mentality: Part 1

mob
Photo Credi: “Crowds 2” by 2heads_Advertising

Mobs form for all kinds of purposes and on all kinds of platforms—a group of “Twerds” (Twilight Nerds) standing in line to see the new release of the movie, some gamers getting together to join a virtual world, a group of Christians gathering to worship—but the two things they all have in common are leaders and followers. So, I’ll put two questions to you:

Are you a leader or a follower?

As a teacher and church officer, I’ve observed that most people are followers—and even though I’ve always preferred to see myself as a leader, I’m undoubtedly a follower of certain things/people/movements, too. In my next post I will talk more about leadership, but let’s camp on the follower aspect for now, since everyone can claim to be a follower of something. To get to my second question:

Who (or What) is it that you follow?

To my (at times) chagrin, I often find myself scoffing at popular movements that create mob followings: the Twilight series, Duck Dynasty, Facebook, iphones and whatever else everyone seems to be doing. I’ve gotten into this bad habit of automatically rejecting certain things just because they’re popular, because, I figure, “If everyone’s doing it, it must be wrong.” I think this approach stems equally from my being as Christian (you know, “The path to hell is wide” and all that), as well as from my desire to be a leader (if I want to lead others, I can’t be just like them).

But is that the right attitude to have? After all, as a self-professed Christian, I have to admit I have a lot of fellow “Christ followers” sitting in the same boat. And obviously I don’t think I’m wrong.

A better approach as a Christian and prospective leader, I’ve decided, is not to automatically reject something because “everyone is doing it.” Rather, I must go back to my source of truth and test whatever is being followed, to see if it is noble, worthy, true, and worthwhile (Phil. 4:4). Isaiah says, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:20).

I’m not going to get onto my anti-technology platform (especially since I just got my first iphone) or my anti-Twilight platform, or my anti-whatever-else platform right now, except to say it saddens me to see so many people (and I’ll pick on Christians especially), flinging away their self-control, their dignity, their morals, to “follow” people, things, or movements that counter their so-called “convictions” or, at the very least, add little benefit to their lives. I know fellow believers who will wait for hours in line to see a midnight opening of a movie, but who can’t get out of bed to go to church. I know fellow believers who will whoop and yell at sporting events and listen with rapture at concerts, but who will barely look up from their iphones (sorry, that slipped in) during a sermon. I ask you: Who or what is it that you follow—truly follow?

Feel free to follow who or what you want, but please, call it what it is. Jesus said you can’t have two masters. You will love one and hate the other. He also said He’d rather a person be hot or cold than lukewarm.

Who do you follow?

I’d like to think I’m in the Jesus camp—that the one thing that would excite me enough to stand in line for hours, to go hungry for hours, to wake up ravenous (metaphorically speaking), is God and God’s word. I’d like to picture myself as one of the disciples sitting on the hillside at Jesus’ feet, unable to wait for his next “new release”—the next words He wants to speak to me. Right now I know I’m not always there. But that’s my desire: to be a “Jerd” (Jesus Nerd). That’s one mob I definitely approve of.

So, who or what are you waiting in line for? And does the person/thing/group at the front of the line confirm you are who you say you are?

Lest I sound too high and mighty for my britches here, in Part 2, I talk about some of my personal challenges in trying to be a Christian leader.

 

Are Your “Roots” Showing?

tree roots
Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

I’m not talking about your hair color, though we often get hung up on the outward appearance. I’m talking about what’s on the inside: or those beliefs you hold at the core of your being.

Last weekend I hosted about ten women at my house for a mini women’s prayer retreat, and we talked and prayed about how the negative beliefs we hold are responsible for the negative behaviors in our lives. In other words, your problem of overeating, undereating, cutting, criticizing, worrying, etc. is the “fruit” of a deeper “root.”

As Jesus said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:43-45). He’s saying that any fruit cannot grow without a root first in place, because the one flows from the other.

My co-author, Paul Coneff, likes to further explain this concept with the “toothpaste test,” which stipulates that if a tube of toothpaste is strawberry, well, when it gets squeezed, nothing can come out but strawberry paste. In other words, whatever beliefs are rooted in our hearts—whether positive or negative—will eventually come out.

To see an example of the “fruit/root” principle, or to watch the “toothpaste test” in action, just get close to someone for a little while, settle in, and watch. Listen to what inadvertently pops out of their mouths when they get stressed. I’ve observed that even if people aren’t trying to be confessional, they end up confessing a lot more than they think (and this includes myself).

Recognizing Common Roots in Women

Writer Patricia Garey, in her book Beautiful Woman, talks about how mothers inadvertently send negative messages to their daughters about beauty and self-esteem when they make passing comments like, “Oh, I can’t go out without my makeup,” “I have to get rid of this extra flab,” or, “I wouldn’t be caught dead without [fill-in-the-blank].” What do these seemingly trite remarks say about the beliefs rooted in their hearts?

I know a lovely woman who will not go out in public until she has “put on her face.”

“I can’t be seen like this,” she chirps to her husband if he ever asks her to run to the store on a Sunday morning—even if just for a quick “in and out” errand where she will only be seen by the cashier. To go out for that sixty-second errand first must entail an hour’s preparation.

After I learned about the fruit/root principle, I asked myself: “Is this behavior just a quirk, or is it the symptom of a deeply seeded negative belief, perhaps, ‘I’m not acceptable just the way I am’? or ‘I need to hide who I really am’?”

I know another woman, well respected in her teaching job, who clearly has some insidious negative beliefs rooted in her heart. Because she doesn’t have a college degree, she feels inadequate, or “less worthy” in some way. Clearly, by the passing or side comments she makes under her breath, such as, “I’m so dumb,” or “Well, you’re better qualified for that,” or “I just wish I could really do something that would make a difference,” she believes in her heart that she is not good enough. Usually these comments come in the context of talking or hearing about someone else’s achievements, whether in the area of career, health, or other. I’ve heard many people say she is the best teacher they’ve ever seen, but sadly she won’t believe it.

I wonder how many of us have that problem. How many of us have deeply rooted negative beliefs about ourselves that everyone around us would disagree with? Sometimes no matter how many times we hear truths about ourselves, we refuse to believe them. But how quick we are to blow one negative comment into the gospel truth. If that’s so, then we can know we have some negative beliefs rooted in our hearts.

Recognizing My Own Roots

Tonight begins a thirteen-week women’s prayer group with a few good women who are willing to honestly examine those false beliefs in their hearts and let Jesus uproot them, replacing them with His truth. I’ve been through this process twice in the last year, and each time God reveals more roots I need to deal with.

Some of the easiest roots to recognize when I started a year ago were those depressive thoughts that used to define me: thoughts like “Life sucks,” “I’m a loser,” and “I will always be this way.” I have now recognized those thoughts as lies and renounced them in my life.

uprooted tree
Photo Credit: “Toppled–Uprooted” by Tacluda

Next, I faced the following slew of lies—and these, I realized, were protections I had developed to try to fend off any more depression (or my old roots): “I have to try harder and do more,” “I have to control things,” “I am responsible for making my life into something meaningful.” After prayerfully asking God to search my heart and try my thoughts (Ps. 139:23-24), I realized these, too, were lies from the enemy. I still battle some of these lies, especially when I slack in my prayer life, but this battle is getting easier.

As I begin a new prayer group, the new lies I am battling sound something like this: “I have worked through my issues, and therefore, I have arrived.” “I am better than others.” “I don’t need to spend so much time in prayer anymore.” Wouldn’t you know it, even when we reach a spiritual high, Satan can use that to slam us some more—usually this is when the “pride” lies begin.

So today I am praying about pride, and asking the Lord make me feel my desperate need for him once again. I have confidence that as I spend time with him every day, he will once again reveal his truth. In the meantime, before I can feel it for myself, I am taking him at his word that I can do nothing without him—I am choosing to believe that to remain fruitful for him, I must remain in him—I must remain in the Vine (John 15). That’s because I never want to be ashamed for my roots to show; and I always want my life to produce positive fruit (Gal. 5:22).

What fruits and roots are showing up in your life today?

 

(Note: If you liked this post, check out the preview of the book Paul and I wrote, and sign up to follow this blog so you can read more about fruits and roots when our book is published.)

Some Keys to Being Freshly Pressed

key
Photo credit: “Key” by debsch

After achieving the feat of being Freshly Pressed, a sort of fear can set in, along with  negative thoughts like these: “I’m going to screw up!” “My next effort won’t be as good!” “I’ll disappoint all these new readers!” Happily, I’ve only had these feelings mildly, and they’re not sticking around. Instead of fear, I mostly feel hope. Rather than daunting me, the Freshly Pressed Status has buoyed my confidence as a writer (a writer whose work people want to read!), and it has encouraged me.

The Surface Answer

So, you want to know how to get Freshly Pressed? (Before last Tuesday, I wondered that, too.) The easy answer is that you just have to keep writing and hope one of your posts gets picked. On the day produced my “pressed” post, I was just doing my regular thing. I was praying and reading the Bible like I do every morning, then I started scribbling about the issues my prayer time had revealed to me. I let the writing sit for a weekend, and then on a busy Tuesday when I almost didn’t think I’d post, I tweaked a bit, paired it with a picture, and posted. It was one of the easiest pieces I’ve published, in fact, because I didn’t expect much out of it—not like some past posts I’d edited into mincemeat (hoping to be “pressed”).

It was a complete and total surprise when, three hours later, my inbox greeted me with: “Congratulations! You’ve been Freshly Pressed!” For the next few days I soaked up the extra comments, likes, and follows—and thanked God for blessing me when I wasn’t even asking.

The Deep Answer

Maybe that’s a key to receiving blessings: to stop trying to force them.

I think back to the small string of writing successes I’ve had so far. (You can liken my writing to whatever dream you’ve carried for most of your life.) In all honesty, when I’ve succeeded in writing, I wasn’t much expecting it. Conversely, when I’ve most expected to succeed, often I’ve actually flopped.

I know I’ve talked to God a lot over the years about my dreams. Heck, he was aware of these goals even before my birth. But when I started chasing them in the beginning, it was like I wanted God on call, ready to answer at the moment I asked. I was selfish (not that I’m a saint today, but I’m slowly learning patience). I wanted to be published, and I wanted it when I wanted it, in the way I wanted it.

Some Instructive “Flops”

In 2010 I prepared a manuscript based on my “oh-so-interesting” teenage journals and figured this just had to be my first book. After a pause in the project, during which time I encountered some pushback from one of the main “characters” in the memoir, I realized maybe this sensitive material wasn’t yet “book-ready.”

In 2011, when I was re-entering graduate school with the dual goals of professing and writing, I identified a PhD in Creative Writing program one hour away from me that I thought would be “so much better” than the bland rhetoric program I was currently in. So I fretted my way through months of manuscript and application preparation, then lay awake at night with knots, willing and wanting so badly for this to work out—only to be rejected a few months later.

In 2012 I tried again, this time a distance MFA program that specifically catered to writers of faith. This, I was sure, was the vehicle through which I would make my plans—my plans—happen. Only, I didn’t get in.

Today I’m not sorry I attempted that now-dead manuscript and those fruitless applications. I think it was good for me to try, especially since I felt God nudging me toward writing and I didn’t sense him expressly forbidding those things. Where I went wrong was becoming too bull-headed to recognize that God had other, better ways to make my dreams come true besides those few paths I could see.

Doing Our Part, Letting God Do His

So it is with any endeavor. Maybe we don’t exactly know if the thing we want is the same thing God wants, but we feel it might be. In that case, I believe our part is to work faithfully—do our homework, hone our craft, practice it, and perform it to the best of our ability (so we are not presuming on God)—but after we’ve done that, we should let go and let God.

When we live our lives like that, quietly and diligently doing those things that (to the best of our knowledge) God has appointed us to do, we might just be pleasantly surprised one day when our faithful efforts pay off. Since I’ve made writing a part of my daily routine (and dropped those arbitrary, self-imposed expectations, such as “the writing has to result in X”), I’ve had a few of those pleasant surprises, including three published (and paying!) magazine articles, a co-book project, and most recently a Freshly Pressed blog post.

It’s fun to get good news when you’re not expecting it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect good things from the hand of God. We should.  But we shouldn’t try to dictate what those things will be. As I’ve learned, God has a vast storehouse of blessings for me that I’m not able to see—and it’s bigger and better than anything I could ever come up with.

Today my prayer is that I will faithfully do the task God has given me while letting God be God, trusting that he will reward me according to his promises and for the purpose of his glory. If you need to get re-centered on what really matters today, I recommend reading Psalm 119 in its entirety, as I did this morning.

Dear Lord, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 119: 36-38)