I have felt convicted as of late. It should come to no surprise to any of us that we find ourselves in the middle of a celebrity age. We know far too much about those who pride themselves on being far too rich, far too famous, and far too good looking. If that was not enough, we now have people in our society who are outrageously famous for doing absolutely nothing. The Hollywood culture has somehow and someway figured out a way to celebrate herself while those of us in trapped in the cheap seats cannot seem to get enough of it all. They have far too many award shows to count – several hours dedicated to parading about the stage while they revel in the in how good they are at what they do. They (or their agents) have Twitter accounts just so that they can let us know how interesting their lives are in 140 characters or less. Some even stage relationships, parties, and crisis just to ensure that they get enough publicity just at the right time.
This is really nothing new. There have always been the haves and the have-nots. Their has always been the upper and lower classes. What might indeed not be as ageless is the fact that this celebrity-infatuation has now successfully infected the culture of the Western church. It used to be, at least how I recall it as a child, that Christians used to uphold those actors, musicians, and other public figures who claimed to profess faith in Christ. They used to look at the stars and say, “If only we could have their talents for the Kingdom. Then so many people would finally come to know Jesus.” As if Jesus needs a basketball star to display his love for the sinner. As if he needs a pop star to sing and dance before packed out arenas just so that crowds finally understand Calvary. So many of those athletes, actors, and politicians ended up sharing their testimony, writing their bestseller (or at least hired the ghost writer), and made the charity appearance at that Christian conference only to fall into public disgrace one summer later. Maybe they were not ready for the lights after all? We ended up putting our stock in the celebrity and we were left disenchanted.
Rightfully so, it seemed that the church learned to watch herself. To not look to celebrities for salvation. Sort of. We have since gone another route. A road that I fear might be just as treacherous . . . in time. We have stopped looking to the world for the star. We now create our own. Enter the Icon. Now we exalt our own Christian pastors, teachers, authors, theologians, evangelists, and worship leaders. We even go as far as to create our own factions. We take sides. As if one individual has the monopoly on truth and the other is an outright heretic. We can’t wait to podcast. To retweet. To follow the blog. To watch how our icon will make news. To buy the next bestseller. To attend the next big conference near you. Then there are those that we love to hate. We envy their success. We suspect there is something they are doing that is contrary to the gospel. How else could they be so appealing? Why would our people be going there instead of here? We secretly wait for them to fail. Just so that we can step back and say, “I told you so.”
Don’t get me wrong . . . I don’t blame those who have the platform. I read the books. I listen to the sermons. I am interested in the very latest in Christian thought – both biblically and practically. I want to learn. I want to listen. But like others, I fear that information has become my addiction. I have to step back long enough to admit that there are tendencies in me that wish that I could have their image rather than be created in God’s. There are times I want what they have rather than what God has for me specifically. Influence is not the enemy. Many of these men and women have a voice within cultures that I will never have. They are being interviewed or invited to places where the gospel should and must go. The Spirit of Christ within me needs to rejoice in that fact.
The problem comes when I want what they have just to have it all to myself. The book deals. The congregations. The name recognition. The organization. In fact, the real concern comes when I want what they have without having any real understanding of what it took for them to get there in the first place. The prayer. The training. The relationships. The risks. The time. The patience. The ridicule. The criticism. The doubt. The sacrifice. I see none of that.
Maybe that is the road that I must walk . . . not searching after celebrity . . . but of suffering. One biblical author writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6-11, ESV).
The Kingdom of God has never been about celebrity. Never. Christendom has. The Western church absolutely has. The Kingdom has not. The Kingdom will not. There is only one Center. There is only one Savior. May I learn the lessons of John Baptist. His entire existence was one huge fulfilment of prophecy. His whole life was dedicated to closing out the Old so that everyone could see the New. He prepared. He introduced. He was the one who set the stage for the keynote speaker. The guy who never gets on the poster. John the Baptist wrote the preface. Jesus wrote the book. But there were moments, at least in the beginning, when people wanted John the Baptist to be the Messiah. They asked him. The crowds grew. They chanted his name.
How would I have responded to all of that? If I am told that I am important enough times I begin to believe it. If I hear my name chanted loud enough I might very well come to enjoy it. The more I speak the greater temptation to fall in love with my own voice. That does not mean that I stop speaking. It means that I must continue to become more intentional in redirecting people’s attention to who the real Anointed One is. May I never mistake influence with importance. Fame has nothing on being a follower.