Don’t Promote a False Self

By Erin Bird

When I lived in Denver, CO, back in the early 2000s, I started a side-business with a friend doing website design. We primarily designed small custom websites for churches, new books, small businesses, and more.

However, one of the gigs my business partner landed was for a large school district. They wanted an online system for tracking student attendance and inputting grades, while also allowing teachers to apply for a substitute teacher for the days they were going to be absent. (Keep in mind, this was back in the toddler years of the Internet – nothing like this existed yet.)

To be honest, this type of project was beyond us. Neither of us knew any database code to develop something of this magnitude. We were just a small two-man shop that did small websites. But the money for this deal was 10x more than anything else we had ever done – so my friend said “yes” to the job.

The plan was for me to design the interface while hiring out the database work. That turned out to be a disaster. The first database guy took our money and did a horribly shoddy job. The second guy backed out after seeing the awful code from the first guy. And the third guy attempted to “fix” the work of the first guy – the day before we were supposed to present our “work” to the client.

I felt awful. While my work on the graphic user interface was fine, I knew the database code underneath was a mess. I wanted to walk into the client meeting, personally apologize, and give the client their money back for not giving them a functional system.

But my friend felt otherwise. He walked into the presentation acting as if we had everything under control. He faked his way through the presentation, and somehow impressed the clients, even though everything we were showing them was basically a sham.

Can you believe it?

And yet, how often do you and I do the exact same thing through Facebook and Instagram? We make things appear like everything is great, but underneath, things are a mess. In other words, we are a sham.

Shine Like Stars

We are in a series here on the blog about “How to Follow Jesus Online” and today we conclude the series with “Don’t Promote a False Self.”

Our key passage for this series is from Philippians chapter 2. Take a moment to reread it one more time:

Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life.


(Philippians 2:12-16a)

I recently heard an interview with Tony Hale, a television star known for some iconic roles, such as Buster in Arrested Development and Gary Walsh in Veep. He was asked what it’s like to go to Starbucks and be recognized after years of being an unknown. Tony replied with something profound.

dont promote false self2 350x196 - Don't Promote a False SelfHe said everyone has a need to be known. That need is what propels some people to pursue fame. If they become famous, they think they’ll become “known.”

But just because a person gets recognized standing in line at Starbucks doesn’t mean they are truly known. That’s why Tony has intentionally started a small group for other actors to support one another, so that each of them are known beyond their work. In his group, you can’t be fake. You have to truly let the small group know how you are doing.

Tony went on to point out an irony of the world’s most famous celebrities. Some of them got into their business to be “known,” yet now they spend their days in homes with high fences and gates, cars with dark windows, and they wear sunglasses and hats in public to avoid people. Their celebrity self keeps them from being truly known.

When you promote a false self, it puts you in a similar position. You think that your great Facebook post or Instagram photo will get you more likes or make you more popular, but it actually keeps people at a distance because they aren’t getting to know the real you.

Now, let me caution you from just putting everything out there. To dump your junk on social media for everyone to see, is just as unhealthy as lying. What you need is a few close friends you can open up to, who will love you and speak truth into your life.

That’s why we encourage everyone in the Riverwood family to get into a Growth Group. In a Growth Group, you not only study the Scripture together, but you pray for one another. It’s the perfect place to be real, so that you can be truly known.

So don’t promote a false self online. Instead, develop friendships where you can be authentic and truly known and loved for who you are.

Don’t Share “Christian” Sharebait

 By Erin Bird

We are in a series here on the blog on “How to Follow Jesus Online.” Our key passage is Philippians 2:12-16a, which says,

Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life.

(Phil. 2:12-16a)

An Online Confession

This past Sunday, I began my message with a confession. Well, I want to confess something else to you.

You know those posts on Facebook that tell you if you love Jesus, you need to share or “Like” their photo and God will bless you? If not, here is an example:

Dont Share Christian Sharebait3 - Don't Share "Christian" Sharebait

Well, I confess that even though I deeply love Jesus, I never do it. I don’t share. I don’t “Like.” I don’t type “Amen.”

And I don’t think you should either.

What is Sharebait?

Many people call photos and posts that try to guilt you into sharing, liking, or commenting “Sharebait.” They “bait” you into sharing the image. On the surface, it seems like sharing or liking a post is harmless, and even the kind thing to do. But in my opinion, sharing sharebait is actually a very un-Christlike thing to do. Here’s why:

1. IT’S SPIRITUALLY MANIPULATIVE

Whenever we try to influence someone’s behavior through guilt, we are manipulating them. But Jesus never used guilt in his relationships. God doesn’t guilt you into salvation, nor into obeying Him. Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Remember from our key passage above – it is God who works in you, not to guilt you. So whether you type “Amen” or choose to move on to the next post will have no bearing whatsoever on how God sees you.

So don’t feel guilty scrolling past the sharebait. Instead, realize that if actually you share the post, you are allowing yourself to be manipulated in order to manipulate others.

2. IT DISTORTS THE GOSPEL

Dont Share Christian Sharebait2 350x196 - Don't Share "Christian" Sharebait

Yes, I said it: Christian Sharebait distorts the gospel. It makes the gospel appear to be works-driven. Sharebait theology goes like this: “if I share this post or like it, God will approve of me.” But God’s approval of you isn’t based upon anything you do – it’s based upon what Jesus has done and your faith in His sacrifice.

When the gospel gets distorted, it is no longer the good news it is intended to be. By sharing such images, you confuse the theology of your fellow Jesus-followers, and present a twisted view of the gospel to your spiritually disconnected friends. So don’t confuse your Facebook friends with a twisted view of the most important story in the world.

3. IT FEEDS THE MACHINE

Did you know that creating Christian Sharebait (and other sharebait) is actually big business? Here’s how it works:

  • The makers of this kind of content are aiming for shares, likes, and comments…
  • …which gets more eyes on their content…
  • …which leads to more eyes to their website…
  • …which leads to more eyes on the ads they sell…
  • …which leads to greater profits.

This means most sharebait is not created by some well-meaning-but-naive Christian trying to help their friends share the gospel. It’s created by someone driven by money, someone who is part of the “crooked and perverted generation” that Paul talks about in the key passage above.

In Conclusion

I am happy to say that I have yet to see any of my Riverwood family sharing Christian Sharebait. But I still see it from other Facebook friends. That’s why I am writing this, to help you not fall into the same trap and help me change the online culture.

So let’s work together to stop the spread of Sharebait. We can help turn the tide if we will boldly, yet gently proclaim that you can both follow Jesus and not heap social guilt on your network of friends by sharing such content. Let’s be part of the solution. Just say no to Christian Sharebait.

Don’t Get Overly Political

by Erin Bird

This past week, I read a story about a young adult guy who got blocked on Facebook by his own mother – because he shared a political post she disagreed with.

Yep, politics are that divisive.

You’ve heard the adage: “if you want to make friends, never discuss politics or religions.” And yet, many Christians, whether politically on the right or left side of the aisle, seem to think it is their mission to convince others their political opinion is the right one.

But if you follow Jesus, your goal isn’t to convince others politically. Your mission is to love like Jesus loved, live like Jesus lived, and leave behind what Jesus left behind – even online.

Following Jesus’ Example

In this series on “How to Follow Jesus Online,” we are looking at Philippians 2:12-16. Here is our key passage again:

“Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12-16a)

In Mark chapter 12, a group of religious and political leaders confronted Jesus with a question. They were trying to drag him into a political discussion where they could trap him politically. They asked whether it was right to pay taxes to the Roman Empire. Their thinking was that if he said, “No,” they could arrest him for insurrection against the Roman government. But if he said, “Yes,” he was acknowledging the sovereignty of Rome, betraying the nation of Israel.

But Jesus, who wrote Philippians 2:14 through the Apostle Paul, refused to get dragged into the argument. He elevated the conversation by asking whose image was on the Roman denarius (a coin worth about one-days wages). The answer was known to everyone – Caesar. Then Jesus uttered his famous line: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

Here are four things we learn from Jesus’s response in this political encounter that can help us online.

1. He refused to argue.

Notice that Jesus didn’t jump into an argument. He refused to argue politics. It’s like he knew that George Bernard Shaw quote: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” Jesus had more important things to do than wrestle pigs.

2. He stayed calm.

dont get political 2 350x196 - Don't Get Overly PoliticalThe text doesn’t explicitly say this, but Jesus seems quite calm in this interaction. There are other moments in the Scripture where Jesus appears frustrated, but as he talks with these hypocritical men, he seems to respond rationally.

Too often, when discussion turns political, we allow our tempers to rise, which clouds our thinking, which affects what we say, which can then ruin relationships. If you truly want to love someone like Jesus would love them, stay calm. Pray for God to help you overflow with the fruit of the Spirit as you interact online.

3. He pointed out a third way.

In America, we tend to see politics in terms of two: Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal. I think we often reduce the political arena to “two” in the American culture because we want to know clearly who won. Third options usually don’t give us a clear winner.

But for Jesus, this wasn’t about winning a political argument, it was to help his listeners realize there was something far more important. Which leads us to point three…

4. He focused on what truly matters.

Have you noticed how temporary political discussions are? During one presidential election, certain topics will be the hot button issue, then four years later those same subjects won’t even be mentioned.

And yet the gospel is for all ages. It isn’t temporary like political issues. So don’t get caught up in divisive politics that can potentially push people away from you. Keep your eyes and heart on things above. Focus on what truly matters.

In Conclusion

Let me make a few disclaimers as I close:

  • It’s okay to have political opinions.
  • Political discussions don’t have to be volatile.
  • You are exercising good responsibility when you vote and participate in the political process.
  • It can even be a good thing when Jesus-followers run for political office.

But we have to remember that politics can only accomplish so much. As Bill Hybels says in his book Courageous Leadership, all political leaders can do is “rearrange the yard markers on the playing field of life. They can’t change a human heart. They can’t heal a wounded soul. They can’t turn hatred into love.”

True change only comes through Jesus. So don’t get overly political online. Instead, elevate your online conversations by pointing people to Jesus and what truly matters.

Don’t be a Jerk

by Erin Bird

Years ago, in the pre-Facebook era, I (along with a handful of leaders from area churches) started a city-wide young adult ministry in Cedar Rapids called Watershed. We drew 80-100 young adults from over 20 different churches to a Thursday night worship gathering.

It was evident the college students and 20-somethings Watershed was drawing were not only hungry to connect with God, but with one another as well. So, to help build relationships, we started an online forum. The World Wide Web was bursting into adolescence in 2003, so it was “cool” to have a place where young adults could connect online.

However, within a year of launching, the forum was a train wreck. I was one of the moderators, and I would experience a mini-anxiety attack every time I logged on to the forum. Why? Because normally sane people turned into Internet assassins, converting their computer keyboards into weapons, writing hurtful opinionated words from behind the shield of their computer monitor.

Ever since I watched the decline of the Watershed forum, I have had a passion to see Jesus-followers live out their faith even in the online arena. So for the month of July, we are going to do a series called “How to Follow Jesus Online.” Our key passage is going to be Philippians 2:12-16a, so let’s look at this passage as we discuss our first topic – “Don’t be a Jerk.”

Our Series Key Passage

Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life. (Phil. 2:12-16a)

Let’s put this passage in context.

In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul is talking about the importance of humility. In verse 4 , he defines humility as not looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others as well. To help them see what this type of humility in real life, he talked about Jesus in verses 5-11 . So the context for our series key passage is how to live like Jesus lived, full of humility – putting others first.

That’s why in verse 14 , Paul says to do everything without grumbling or arguing. When you grumble, you’re complaining that things aren’t the way you want. When you argue without humility, you are demanding your way, not considering the needs and interests and opinions of others.

dont be a jerk2 350x196 - Don't be a JerkThat’s where the Watershed forum failed. A handful of the young adults forgot to put others first. They wanted to get their opinion not only heard, but accepted as the best and right way. Their posts lacked grace, empathy, and understanding, making them sound like jerks, not Jesus-followers. They weren’t posting with “fear and trembling” (verse 12) they were posting with ferociousness and tempers.

Now realize: being a Jesus-follower doesn’t mean you take your brain out of your head in order to be kind. (Jesus does after all tells us to love Him with all our mind!) I’m not asking you to act as if your point isn’t valid. But being right isn’t more important than being loving. The well-worn cliché still holds true: people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

So as you write a comment on a Facebook post or respond to an angry email, do what Paul says in verse 15 and, rather than be a jerk, be “P.U.R.E…

Pray

Before you post, pray. Pray that your words would be seasoned with grace. Pray for those who will read your words.

Understand

Being right isn’t more important than being loving.

Before you seek to be understood, seek to understand. What is the other person truly saying? How might their experience be affecting what they are saying? Understanding where others are coming from will affect what you write and the “tone” you write with. In other words, build a bridge instead of a wall.

Reread

Before you hit “Send,” reread what you wrote. Or when someone posts an opinion that raises your ire, reread what they wrote carefully just in case you are misinterpreting what they intended to say. Rereading often slows us down just a little bit in order to help us not be an internet jerk.

Extend Grace

When all is said and done, you will not agree with everyone, nor will everyone be won over by your eloquent words. That’s okay! Extend them grace, just as God has given grace to you.

If you act “PURE” online, you are all the closer to not being a jerk online and living like Jesus would have lived, filled with humility – even on Facebook.