Friday, July 25, 2014

Five Characteristics of Excellent Followers

I woke up ready to write this morning, so I jumped over to Lisa-Jo's to see what her prompt was. You can jump over there too, and in light of her transition, I'd like to choose my own prompt today (woohoo), and we'll link up with Kate soon.

This year, Jesus and I picked a word/theme for me to work on and learn, instead of making an insane number of resolutions back in January and feeling like a failure in February. I've done My One Word now for almost three years and here's my conclusion: focus is the key to lasting change. 

So, this year's word is Follow, and wow, can I just say that God has so much to say to me about this one. I'm learning content I didn't know that I didn't know, and all because my soul is in tune to awareness of this theme. 

I'll briefly share my process of how I do MyOneWord, but it definitely varies, based on your personality, learning style, and personal development. If you've never tried it before, I encourage you to check it out and begin praying about a word for 2015, because sometimes it takes a while to hear what God is telling you. That's a whole other issue, an entirely different prompt and post. For now, here's my approach:

  • I pray about the word God wants for my year and ask Him what He wants to teach me.
  • Once the word is chosen by Him and revealed to me, I make a creative piece to have on visual display, so I see it (pretty) every day.
  • As I read the Bible, I ask God to show me verses that apply to the theme of the year, and I write them down (on pretty paper, of course) as I work on committing them to memory and applying them to my life.
(that is the fat stack of follow verses I've collected so far, on top of my Spurgeon devotional and my Bible, pardon the blue duct tape *blush*)
  • I continue to ask God to change me, making me into the sanctified woman He envisioned the day I was made. Without this surrender prayer, I honestly don't believe change would be possible for me. I'm just that stubborn.
  • I journal about what I'm learning, taking notes as if from the Master Professor. Have I ever told you how much I loved being a student? Well, I absolutely cherish learning, especially from a fabulous teacher. And believe you me, He's a dynamo!
  • I talk to others about what I'm learning and bounce ideas off of them. I especially ask my mentors and those close to me - the ones I trust with my soft places - if they see change in me, if they can tell how the Potter is working on this clay. And I let them say a hard word, even if it stings for a minute. I can't tell you how crucial this part is.
  • I seal it with gratitude. If I learn, apply, or practice any of the change God is bringing to me, I'll take note of it in my gratitude journal, and that not only brings thanks to the Source, but it helps me remember my progress.
So with that laid out, let's explore a bit about what God has to say about followers, shall we? I've learned that we have a chasm right now between our American culture which overemphasizes the value of leadership, and Jesus's counter-cultural approach which emphasizes following and serving well. Nowadays everyone wants to be a leader, everyone wants control, and everyone thinks the leader is the best. If you're not the leader, you're just not as important, right? Which is just a breeding ground for power grabs and control issues. And believe me - I'm the worst when it comes to control issues. The problem is that I want it. Control, that is - all the time and over everyone, especially myself. Unfortunately, I'm no good at being Sovereign.

Control is not God's plan for me. Check out these verses from my stack and you decide:
  • Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy. - Leviticus 20:8
  • Since you are my rock and my fortress,
        for the sake of your name lead and guide me. - Psalm 31:3 
  • May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees,
        that I may not be put to shame. - Psalm 119:80
  • Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” - Isaiah 30:21
  • Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." -Mark 8:34-35
  • Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”  “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God  will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” -Luke 18:28-30
  •  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. -Acts 20:24
I've noticed that when the breakdown in a company or institution or organization happens, it's often not a lack in good leadership, though that's want we most often assume. It's often the breakdown in good follwership. And yes, I did just make a word up. Work with me here. Followers are extremely valuable, and I've noticed that tons of people are great leaders (or at least they think they are), but not very many people pride themselves in being an excellent servant, a high-quality support, and a great follower. And maybe, just maybe, that's what's wrong with us. With me. Maybe I'm looking to move up in this world when Jesus needs me to simply move forward behind Him.

From my observations, from what I've been learning from the Teacher and attempting to apply to my own heart and actions, though it's tough, here are what I believe are five characteristics of excellent followers:

1. They choose their leaders well. 
If you're going to be able to follow well, you need to believe in your leader and the direction she/he is going. Choosing a leader ought not to be a hasty matter. Before swearing allegiance to anyone, including Jesus (He'll require that you pick up a cross, after all), observe them, listen to their vision, and figure out if where they're going is where you want to end up too.

2. They know their role.
Every time I've observed division (okay, maybe not every time, but just about) I've noticed that it was a matter of the followers being confused about their role as followers. "Oh," I would say to myself, "That's the problem - he doesn't know that he's the follower, not the leader here." As clear as day I saw it, and yet to say it would be to exacerbate the very issue of ignorance. And every time I've observed an organization or business running smoothly, I've also noticed that the people following are secure in their role and identity as a follower. It's almost like they know who they are and they like it. It's beautiful, really.

3. They know how to confront their leader without slandering him or her. 
We can blindly follow Jesus without ever questioning Him or doubting His guidance, but He's really the only One we can do that with. And most people don't even do that - most of us DO question Him and doubt Him sometimes. My hands aren't always open. Sometimes I shake a fist at heaven, too - but I'll tell you this - only when I'm alone with Him. I believe it should be the same with the people who lead us. We should question them to their faces, not behind their backs. We need to confront their short-comings sometimes (and by sometimes I mean very rarely), but only in private, and not in front of others. This is classic Matthew 18 teaching, but we as Americans are not good at this in any way, shape, or form. Excellent followership will include the occasional disagreement with your leader, but it will never include gossip. And here's the definition of gossip, in case you were wondering (Strong's Hebrew and Greek): talebearer, whisperer; prating, talking foolishly, babbling. 

4. They put forth excellent effort without the need to be seen.
This is one of the most difficult for me, because I really do like to be noticed. I covet the attention of people and it gets me in trouble often. God is really dealing with this sin in me, because He doesn't want me to live a life that glorifies myself - He wants me to live my life to glorify Him. So why is that so hard? Well I believe it is a flesh vs. Spirit battle we all face and I believe Satan uses it every chance he gets because of how effective it is to distract us from worshiping God. But here's where following becomes counter-cultural once again. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." -Colossians 3:17. Excellent followers work hard whether or not people are watching. They have a big picture in mind - a vision and purpose of the big things cooperation can accomplish. They aren't out for attention or accolades, which are fleeting; they're out for the good of the organization, institution, company, or family. If they get noticed, they appreciate the gratitude, but they don't feed off of it. If their hard work doesn't get noticed by others, they take comfort in knowing God sees, and they let that be enough. Yes, I need to get better at this, too.

5. Excellent followers positively influence their leaders.
Playing second fiddle isn't usually a positive phrase, but I like it anyway. Unless we're talking about Jesus, all of our other leaders will need to be led as well. And just because we follow them, doesn't mean we don't have influence in their lives. When a servant earns the trust of his master, the master will eventually learn to listen to the wisdom of the servant also. This doesn't come instantly, and that can be problematic in our microwave culture, but it will happen: and if you are following well, don't be shocked if you gain more "power" than you once expected. Think of Aaron and Hur for Moses. They lifted his arms, and because of their support and encouragement (with God's power) God's people won that battle. Leaders need support and guidance too, and if you are an excellent follower, it will only be a matter of time before you find yourself in a position of far more leadership than your title denotes. 

How about you? What characteristics do you observe in people who are good at followership? Please slip your thoughts in the comments box below. And in the spirit of Friday - Keep Writing! 

Photo credit: Yuri Levchenko via flickr creative commons

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guerrilla Lovers {Book Review}

It's been a little while since I did a book review here, but rest assured I haven't lost my love for books. Reading (especially pages, not screens) is still one of my favorite ways to spend my time. Today I'm reviewing a book I recently re-read, and I'm excited to share it with you, because you know if I read something twice, it's gotta be good!

The first time I read it was with a mission team before we traveled to Haiti, and I recently saw it on my shelf as I was packing and once again wanted the challenge and encouragement I found the first time. The book is called Guerrilla Lovers by Vince Antonucci .

The author's comic and witty style was one of my favorite aspects of this read, and I enjoyed his satire even better the second time around, which is really saying something.  I found myself laughing out loud in public places while reading it, and then glancing up sheepishly to see if anyone had heard me. The premise of this nonfiction from a hip pastor/church planter is that followers of Christ can be part of a revolutionary movement to share our faith that is similar to guerrilla warfare in that we ambush people with love. He argues effectively with examples and personal testimonies these new and refreshing methods to infiltrate our world with love and use God's grace for generosity and hope among the hopeless in our communities. With thought-provoking personal and discussion questions at the end of each chapter, as well as online testimonies and interaction opportunities throughout, this is one book that could actually start the revolution we need.

If you know me at all, you already know this is my kind of thing, so it probably won't surprise you that I liked this book and highly recommend it. What may surprise you is that I find it difficult to apply his concepts. Swimming against the current is never easy, though.

To write about befriending intimidating people, giving away large sums of money for individuals in need, hosting a church service in your back yard for your unsaved friends, or wearing a cape every day to remind you to be someone's hero - well that's easy if you ask me. But to DO those things? That's massively complicated and downright hard. I admire Antonucci's courage to write about his efforts for a guerrilla revolution among the Church, but even more, I respect that he's there too - on the front lines and in the rear guard and infiltrating the enemy's tactics of evil with God's love. I'm pretty convinced that's what Jesus was talking about when He said, "Follow Me. I'll make you people-fishers."

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book, and I hope you'll read it too. If you have read it or do in the future, I'd love for you to comment and let me know how it impacted you, too.

"What if we actually obeyed God? What if we took him seriously? What if we viewed our excess as God-given resources to meet people's needs and fund Jesus's revolution? What if we shared in a way that drew others into the revolution?"

"... perhaps the first thing we need to do is restore people's humanity."

"God's dream is of a people whose lives have been revolutionized by love. Jesus died that we might go out on mission to share his love with everyone. But instead we've become Christian consumers who keep our distance from the rest of the world by bunkering down in our churches, which are more like country clubs without pools, and that's tragic."

"What if re redefined 'greatness' and believed it comes through serving? And what if we viewed church not as something that brings in people from the community for services but as people who go out into the community to serve?"

Happy reading, and happy guerrilla loving!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Belong {Five Minute Friday}

On Fridays we write together and I'm linking up today with Crystal on behalf of Lisa, and so can you by clicking here.

Our word prompt this week is Belong.


Transition is a thief of belonging.

As I stand (okay, I'm actually sitting right now, work with me) I don't have a permanent residence and although my family all have beds and a roof right now, I'm sure some might consider us homeless. All of our stuff is sardine-packed into the garage of a place we own but no longer inhabit. We finished a two-week painting project on another house we don't live in yesterday, and return to the home-away-from-home we have here at my in-laws'. We're always welcome here and I'm thankful, but the back of my mind reminds me again that as good as this feels, it's only temporary. We're not settled yet.

(that's my Guy there on the top of the roof; and that's my heart pounding, my soul praying he won't fall there behind the lens)

Looking ahead I know God will plant us again in a new garden, but seeds blowing in the wind must take captive fluttering anxieties every moment if they want to abide intact and have any grain worth pushing down into the soil. Transition breeds unrest, worry, and anxiety faster than rabbits. And I know that I don't want to worry but worry finds me out. I wasn't playing hide and seek with it. Seriously - leave me alone already.

When I wonder where I belong on this earth, there's an answer. I'll always have a place with this guy.

He's the gift I didn't know I needed, but Someone gave him to me 18 years ago, anyway, and it seems so strange that I've known him now longer that I haven't. Who knew that little ignorant girl would find all the belonging her flailing heart needed in him, and that for decades he would calm all of her flutters in the strength of his arms and the clarity of his eyes, the flash of his smile? Her Maker knew, knew how much she would need to belong to someone. 

I still sign notes to him this way: fyg. Forever Your Girl. And when I don't belong anywhere I still belong to him. His love still amazes me. The way he still only has eyes for me. That's rare, you know. Even last night as I drifted off, I was struck by how he still looks at me. Still wants me. Still turns his eyes from other prettier things back to my eyes. Still offers me treasures like strength, time, kisses, devotion, words, balance, dreams, and hands.

I don't know where I'll be sleeping next month, or cooking or working or going to church - those kinds of things offer belonging. But I do know that whatever may come, my hand will be in his. And even though my citizenship is of a different Place, I will always belong with him.

"My steps have held fast to your paths;
    my feet have not slipped." -Psalm 17:5 (ESV)


Your turn!

To write with a community and find belonging for your words, click here. And keep writing!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fear or Security - You Choose {Sabbath Bread}

Yes, the sky really is this blue here. It's a "fluffy cloud day," as my friend Renae fondly refers to them. 

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ... I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free." -John 8:32, 34-36 (NLT)

"... regardless of what may come our way, God's people are safe. Let the solid earth shake and let the skies be torn in row, yet even amid the destruction of the world, believers remain as secure as they are during their calmest times of rest. And if the Lord does not save His people under heaven, He will save them in heaven... Stand upon His promises, rest in His faithfulness, and you can defy even the darkest future, for nothing can harm you. Your only concern should be to exhibit to the world the blessedness of obeying the Voice of wisdom." -Spurgeon 

"He will shield you with his wings! They will shelter you. His faithful promises are your armor." - Psalm 91:4 (TLB)

Oh God, Your love amazes me again today and I'm humbled to repentance as I recall lists of fears where I should have stood on Your faithful promises as my armor. This fear that strangles, this worry that creeps - oh how I hate how my enemy infiltrates my mind with illusion and doubt. Jesus, You died to set me free from the sin of fear, the trap of fear, and the illusion of fear, and I have no business living in the prison cell for even another moment. If I do, it is not Your fault, but my choice. Perhaps my thinking is ignorant or deceived or foolish. Or perhaps mere forgetfulness is to blame. But no - not today. Today I remind my soul and preach to my heart of Your faithful track record. You have never failed me and You won't. Today I refuse fear and I deliberately choose to receive with open hands the freedom You have paid for so dearly to emancipate this mind from terror. Please reveal to me any illusions of fear the devil has pulled over my eyes and wake me up to Your peace and security. Thank You for this freedom. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

It's the Little Things {Thankful on Thursday}

If you've been with me for a while, you know the drill. We choose gratitude together every day and help each other see the gifts with eyes looking at the Giver. On Thursdays I we share a few of these gifts here. And if you're new here in the nest, I should tell you that choosing joy and a life of thanksgiving was a turning point for me when I was in a really bad way a few years ago. A friend gave me a book that I now recommend to everyone I can about giving thanks and, well, you really just have to try it. 

One important thing to share with my new readers is that I count these gifts, like counting the ways He loves me. 

I had recently spent three weeks of the summer away from my children (the longest yet) while they were living it up with the grandparents. There may or may not have been excessive ice cream and chocolate involved. I'll never know. But when K caught a glimpse of my gratitude journal among my book stack, she asked, "Have you gotten to 5,000 yet?" At first I had no clue what she was talking about. Five thousand times I've agonized over this transition? Five thousand times I've wished God would just go ahead and hurry up already? Five thousand words I've shouted at Daddy because I'm tense and he's the closest thing I have to a scapegoat? Five thousand reasons I hate packing? "Five thousand what, honey?" I finally ask.

"Five thousand gifts, Mama." 

Oh, that. "Let's see - nope, not quite. But almost."

Leave it to my tween to bring me down to earth. Back to sanity.

Because gratitude is the door to joy and joy is the antidote to all this insanity surrounding me.

So, without further ado - a few gifts from my list. But, please - don't just read mine - add your own too in the comments below. Let's encourage one another's hearts as we point with hands full of gifts to the Giver who is so generous. 

- generous love offering from T&C, neighbors who love with words and deeds

- a delicious burger at a new restaurant, and fun birthday celebration with family

- giving baby B her bottle, and sweet wrinkle-nose faces

- news from afar, and the amazing way You sustain my heart afloat with hope

- deep riches, promises, love found in Isaiah 43 - every delicious morsel of Your word

- PL's sermon about bitterness, and his challenge to forgive rather than sit in a "hot-tub full of pus" [no lie - that was his analogy!]

- getting to meet interesting people with astonishing testimonies at a church picnic

- laughing with J about the "dirty rotten bird" who had the audacity to sing outside his window and wake him up

- "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven." -John 3:27

- long talks with old friends

Lord, thank You for all of this and so much more. Thank You for Your generosity, and for giving me everything I have, tangible and not. You love me far more than I deserve and if I could give it all back to honor You, I would. For now I have this - Thank You. Let it be enough.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ― Epicurus