Imitating Others While Staying True to Yourself and Remaining Authentic!

Imitating others is a biblical principle  for effective discipleship. We must choose wisely who to follow, while staying authentic to ourselves. It’s not an easy task!

One spring day, while sitting at the piano practising drills, I became acutely aware the musical phrases were being echoed just outside my window. Perched among the blossoms of the flowering plumb, a small grey-feathered, non-descript, bird eyed me intently. Over the next five minutes, I tested his reciting ability, only to have this talented little mimic follow my lead precisely.

Mockingbird

For some reason I felt deeply saddened when he took flight and our musical conversation ended. Though excellent at imitating, I never did hear his song or appreciate his individual melody.

Authentic

We must first come to acknowledge our own God-given identity, nature and calling before we will effectively live it out. Without even realizing it, we can begin to imitate those around us and lose the essence of our uniqueness. In so doing, everyone misses out!

“If two people think the same thing
about everything, one of them isn’t necessary.”
Ben Carson

Peer pressure isn’t just something teenagers deal with! We all face it! The catchy clichés, snappy lyrics, and emotion grabbing images of advertising are aimed at capturing our attention and influencing our decisions. Peer pressure of sorts!

David sang,

“I praise you because
I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”
Psalm 139:14

There are no duplicates with God! No carbon copies of you! Why? Because God has a specific purpose in mind!

You alone can connect with others through your specific gifting, talents, perspectives, history, personality. Only you can bring your special combination of joy, compassion, and sensitivity to the people around you. God has given you an individualized ability to create, design, and solve problems. He has planted you specifically where you are to influence, encourage, and make a positive difference.

How  authentic are we willing to be? You totally being you! Me really being me!

Stand Alone

The little mockingbird has the capabilities to even imitate a cat, his fiercest and much larger enemy! This bird’s ability to imitate or “mock” other sounds, beyond its own song, is actually how it got its name.

For people, however, parroting the pattern of others can lead to problems.

Colourful parrot and boy

At one point Paul sharply confronts Peter for doing just that. Fear caused Peter to wronging imitate others!

“… I opposed (Peter) to his face,
because he stood condemned.
For before certain men came from James,
he used to eat with the Gentiles.
But when they arrived,
he began to draw back and separate himself
… because he was afraid
of those who belonged
to the circumcision group.”
Galatians 2:11-12

Fear and the need to belong can potentially draw us away from being true to ourselves and God’s purposes. Peter, by imitating others, caused many people to stumble spiritually!

“…they were not acting in line
with the truth of the gospel…”
Galatians 2:14

It takes strength to stand alone under pressure. This strength comes when we know who we are and to Whom we belong.

Direction

Living fully in the uniqueness of our identity in Christ sometimes calls for a change of direction. Many aspects of the world threaten to draw us into unfruitful conformity.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test
and approve what God’s will is
–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

The “pattern of this world” is to create clones — in organized mass production — carbon copy reflections of the latest craze. The enemy of our souls delights in incarcerating us in his prison of conformity.

Father and son walking

Rather than align ourselves with the world’s pattern, we often need to disagree, disregard, ignore and even reject it. Powerful action is required to break free from the down-draft that threatens to deny the potential hidden within our unique identity in Christ.

“Don’t let your character change colour
with your environment.
Find who you are
and let it stay in its true colours.”
(Columbine Martyr, Rachel Joy Scott)

Be assured God does have a perfect colour, His “good, pleasing and perfect will”, for each of us! His design will be clearly seen as we turn from the world around us toward Him.

Follow Me

It isn’t surprising that Jesus invited people to follow. He called out to Peter and his brother Andrew,

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said,
“and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Matthew 4:19

That door of opportunity remains open! His words still resonate with anticipation! When He washed the disciples feet, He said,

“I have given you an example.
You should do as I have done for you.”
John 13:15

In following Christ’s example, we become imitators of Him and find our otherwise hidden purpose and meaning. Though there are similarities in us as Christ-followers, how we actually walk out our lives will vary when we stay true to ourselves.

Among other things, “follow me” includes:

  • Accepting Christ as Saviour and Lord (Matthew 16:24)
  • Becoming a servant of all (Matthew 25:28)
  • Forgiving others even as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Loving unconditionally (1 John 4:16)

To truly “be ourselves”, we must first be “like Christ!” Each of us is made in the image of God. Yet, each of us represents that image from a slightly different perspective. It is impossible to be fully you or fully me, without being like Him!

Imitating Others

Watching sons mimic their fathers and daughters reflect their mothers can be humorous, challenging and sobering. Wanting to emulate those we esteem is inherent in us all, Everyone desires to belong within a community.

Sailors - a son imitating a father

Paul boldly tells others,

“Follow my example,
as I follow the example of Christ.”
1 Corinthians 11:1

In imitating others, wisdom will guide us to chose those who consistently pattern themselves after Christ!

That word “follow”, “Mimetai”, is the Greek word from which “mime” originates and means to imitate. Paul tells us to closely follow his living example to “the same degree and manner” that he is imitating Christ.

Take an honest look at those in the lead. Are they following Christ? Are they living in the fullness of God’s call in their personal lives?

“Those who say they live in God
should live their lives as Jesus did.”
1 John 2:6

Live Fully

May we find a way to both follow godly examples while faithfully leading those who are stepping into rhythm with our own footsteps.

Let faith move us to live authentically, refusing to settle for “average” or the status quo. May we be propelled to rise to the fullness of our God-given capabilities.

Perhaps, there is an artistic expression
only you can deliver.
Someone is waiting to hear the story
only you can tell.
You alone have the exact match
of audacity and patience,
fortitude and meekness,
gentleness and fierceness
that God needs right now,
right where you are at.

Make a splash! Humpback whale

So live boldly! Live graciously! Live for God’s glory and the benefit of others.

“Whatever you do, work heartily,
as for the Lord and not for men,”
Colossians 3:23

Let’s not be like the mockingbird; may the world be imprinted by the genuine mark of our lives. By following Christ and imitating others who walk closely with Him, let’s each discover our own unique “normal”.

 

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Lead and Follow! Who is in the Lead?

Some people find it naturally easier to lead; others prefer to follow. Whether we lead or follow, the question arises “Who is the leader here?” Without followers, a leader isn’t leading; without a leader it is difficult to know who to follow.

Who is in the lead?

Lead and Follow

I introduced a practical exercise to a group of children learning worship dance. First a leader was chosen. Each child faced the leader and mimicked the lead dancer’s movements. After a couple of minutes the leader  became a follower designating the next dancer as the new leader. Around the circle we went. Everyone had opportunity to lead; all attempted to follow.

Afterward I asked what was difficult about leading. These answers and more came in childlike honesty:

  • “I was afraid no one would follow!”
  • “What if others didn’t like what I was doing!”
  • “Everyone was expecting me to come up with the ideas!”

Then I asked what was difficult about following.

  • “I was moving in one direction and the leader went the other way!”
  • “When I thought I had the leader figured out, she changed what she was doing!”
  • “I never knew what the leader would do next!”

If we are honest, we too would acknowledge similar problems when leading and following.

A Leader who is Safe

Whether we articulate it or not, we want leaders who are safe and predictable!

Jacob had connived his brother out of his birthright and his blessing. Then, fearing for his life, he fled to the far side of the known world. God met him in his running.

In a dream, he saw angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven.

” There above it stood the Lord, and he said:
I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.
I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.”
Genesis 28:12-13

 

Leaders who are safe and predictable

Needless to say, Jacob was disturbed by the dream. Frightened, he bargained with God:

If God will be with me and will watch over me
on this journey I am taking
and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear

so that I return safely to my father’s household,
then the Lord will be my God…”
Genesis 28:20-22

If my thoughts and prayers were publicly exposed to scrutiny, they would appear just as self-centered. If God will be a safe God, a me-serving God, ensuring my comfort, provision and care, then I will worship and follow Him.

Jacob wasn’t ready to give up the lead, until God proved He was good!

A Leader who is Present

How do you follow a leader you cannot see? That was Peter’s predicament!

Just a few short years prior, Peter made the choice to “leave all” and follow Christ, even when leaving meant passing up the greatest windfall catch he had ever seen.

“Then Jesus said to Simon,
“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
So they pulled their boats up on shore,
left everything and followed him.”
Luke 5:10-11

Peter was a natural leader. For three years, his leadership training took him through unfamiliar territory of following Jesus. Just when he was beginning to get the hang of this following stuff, Jesus left. What does a follower do without a leader?

The most natural leadership Peter knew was from a fishing boat. He immediately diverted to old patterns. Three years of training appeared to fly out the window, or should I say jump overboard?

Follow the leader!

“Quack! Quack!” Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, plus two other disciples joined the line of would-be-deserters and followed Peter’s lead. Like it or not, a leader is always leading – for better or worse!

Just like his last fishing excursion, Peter’s all night fishing accomplished nothing. Then Someone on the shore suggested he try fishing in a new way,

“Throw your nets on the right side of the boat
and you will find some.”
John 21:6

The immense catch of fish revealed Jesus’ identity. Peter immediately jumped overboard and approached Jesus, leaving his would-be-followers alone in the boat.

Jesus challenges Peter’s devotion three times and then finishes with,

Follow me!”
John 21:19

This unpredictable, unseen One is still asking and inviting one-time followers and would-be leaders to follow undeterred His lead. “Follow even when you can’t see Me. Out of heart of love, follow Me, leading others well!”

A Leader who is Predictable

I have always felt drawn by nature into secluded places. As a young girl, I chanced upon a herd of white-tails. The buck sensed something alien hiding in the willow bush and advanced with nostrils flaring and antlers flinging dust in the air. I crouched breathless – unmoving! Though he could not see me clearly, he was wary. With one flick of his tail, the entire herd of thirty-or-so deer turned, springing effortless over fences and out of sight. My heart raced in the midst of unpredictable danger and wonder!

Whitetail deer - encountering a stag in the lead!

Following God often leaves me breathless in heart-racing uncertainty with a combined sense of danger and wonder!

Following God often leaves me breathless in heart-racing uncertainty with a combined sense of danger and wonder! Click To Tweet

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

I want God predictable! But ask Job how predictable God is! Or maybe Joseph!

God, unpredictable? Yes! He seems unpredictable only because His ways and thoughts are brilliant and magnificent in every dimension.

Climbing to mountain heights

While He is leading the way to jagged mountain peaks, I’m content frolicking in the plush meadow. I’m know I’m not alone! Others have been caught slip-footed as He has leading them through flooded rivers, toward “invincible” armies, or into prisons and cave fortresses.

Lead And Follow

Following well has always been difficult for me. I echo the sentiments of my little dancers. It is uncomfortable to follow, when I’m not sure where, how or when God is about to move, change directions, or lead toward unfamiliar terrain.

I often sense God looking over His shoulder wondering if I will follow here… now… ever…

Though His ways are confusing, at the least, and perplexing more oft than not, I know I can (and should) trust His lead. Why? Because I know He is indescribably good. Where He leads is for my inevitable benefit, though perhaps lacking in personal comfort.

“Lead and Follow” is far more that a children’s activation exercise. I, too, am perpetually working on my step-by-step follow to my Father’s perfect lead. You see, to follow well requires complete surrender to another’s will and ways.

The only way I will grow as a leader is to ultimately become a faithful follower. It is wonderful paradox!

 

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More on leadership!

 Leadership 101 – Take it from the Eagles

Moses – The Defining Qualities of a Great Leader

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Answer the Call – Responding Immediately, “Yes, Lord!”

Respond Immediately

Why is the cry from our lips, “More Lord?” If we follow the pattern of the early disciples, our response will more often be a resounding “Yes, Lord!”

Today such a reaction is counter-cultural. I am amazed by how quickly and completely these men and others answered the call to an obedient and sacrificial “Yes!” Were they fully committed? Definitely!

Joseph

We find an honourable young man and woman in the process of planning and preparing for their wedding. Full of love for each, they anticipate and dream about many wonderful years ahead.

Then the unexpected! Mary is pregnant! Joseph wanted to do what was the very best according to the law with the greatest compassion toward Mary.

“Joseph…did not want to expose her to public disgrace,
he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Matthew 1: 19

In this midst of the agony of “obvious” betrayal, an angel appears to him in a dream confirming what Mary had tried to explain already. Joseph believes the unbelievable, the child is conceived of the Holy Spirit!

Pregnancy

When Joseph woke up,
he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him…”
Matthew 1: 24

Joseph didn’t wrestle for days or even hours to weigh the implications. Neither did he allow emotion or sound reasoning to dissuade him. He responded immediately!

Joseph’s, “Yes, Lord!” would cost him his reputation and alienation from friends and family. When Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, Joseph’s home town, to register for taxes no one received them. Aunts and uncles, cousins, and perhaps siblings lived here. No room! There was no room for this family!

Another dream, another angel, another message, another “Yes, Lord!” For the sake of his wife and family he would become a refugee without securities of homeland. In fact, we see Joseph so loved and obeyed God that there would be a pattern of laying himself down in order to do the will of God.

Don’t skim through the lines thinking these were easy choices. Joseph’s sacrificial “Yes!” came at a great price! God chose well who to establish as the step-father for His Son. He could trust Joseph to obey!

Simon Peter

“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew
casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.”
Mark 1:16-18

“At once!”

They didn’t immediately leave the family business, assets and industry because Jesus was a world renowned leader with a huge following and giant reputation. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Peter and Andrew were the first to follow!

There were no contracts explaining personal benefits! No explanation of the ministry or mission plan! No introduction to a pension plan or benefit package!

Fishermen Galilee

“I will send you out to fish for people,” sounds quite vague to my always questioning mind.

What was so compelling? Why did they leave the “sure thing” of financial security? What drew them instantly to their, “Yes, Lord!”

More “Yes, Lord!”

More would follow!

James and John, the sons of Zebedee,

immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
Matthew 4:22

Such immediate response is beyond understanding. They were laying everything down for the sake of Christ. Everything!

Can you feel the heart of Zebedee in this encounter? Later, he would perhaps understand, but right now was difficult. He wasn’t as young as he once was. He depended on his boys to carry on the family business and help him in his retirement.

Yes, Lord Anywhere

Life ahead would be radically different from everything they knew.

Others would join them in similar fashion.

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi
sitting in the tax collector’s booth.
Jesus said to him, Follow me!
 
So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.”
Luke 5:27-28

Questions and Doubts

Some of John’s disciples would shift ranks and follow this Jesus. First they weighed the odds, asked many questions and tested Jesus’ ministry.

Other’s like Nathaneal would initial scoff. Some would refuse the call altogether choosing rather to stay in their place of normal. Family, security and reputation are hard to risk!

Wealth

God probably isn’t asking such a great price from you. But then, maybe He is!

Just this past week I met another young couple leaving all with a resolute, “Yes, Lord!” as they venture to another unreached people group. Neither they nor their destination can be disclosed for their own protection. We send our best; it is the best whom Jesus calls.

I wish I could testify that I too have consistently and quickly said “Yes, Lord!” Unfortunately, it has not been so! I am challenged in my level of willingness to yield wholly and immediately to His voice.

The voice of Jesus calling more followers may come through the bible as one reads and studies. Perhaps, it will come through a dream or vision. It may come through an open opportunity under the leading of the Holy Spirit.

May my response be as immediate and complete as other followers of the Messiah. On the backs of their obedience we can trace the expansion of Christianity worldwide. They knew nothing of the impact they would have. Nothing!

Before the crowds and miracles,
without powerful messages, sermons or teaching,
even recklessly and irrationally,
with limited understanding or foreknowledge,
they said, “Yes, Lord!”

Yet, they put in action to their, “Yes, Lord!” and followed him – not perfectly, but completely. It is never too early or too late to do the same. Join the chorus of others. Say, “Yes, Lord” when you sense He is calling you to motion!

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