Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Popularity

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway I'm reminded of how the presidential race is really a popularity contest. If a candidate can say enough of the right things to sway enough of the voters to his side, he wins! (whether or not he really means what he says is another matter). So over the span of a few months, two candidates bicker back and forth about petty issues and highlight slip ups in one another's speeches in attempts to make a headline or be the top story on the news--essentially to be noticed more than the other guy. As in the game of presidential campaigning, the popularity game can have only one winner.

As a public figure, being in front of people - having them hang on every word that comes out of your mouth - is a drug. For many, being on stage is an adrenaline rush. It feels good to have people follow you, look up to you, and actually DO the very things you suggest they do. Yet, that's not our calling as followers of Jesus.

In John 1:35-37 we find an outspoken prophet named John the Baptist who has a few followers of his own. His message is powerful and he looks a bit weird (camel hair?), so he's certain to attract a few people. Yet, when Jesus shows up on the scene, John has no problem surrendering his popularity. At the moment he sees Jesus John points him out to his followers and what do they do? They turn away from John and begin to follow Jesus!

To have someone stop following you and start following someone else is a blow to a politician's career. Yet John willingly gives up his popularity in order to make Jesus popular.

The Scriptures reiterate over and over how much Jesus is the only person we can truly trust with our devotion and our lives. And yet our experience is that many, even those who consider themselves Christians, call people to follow them instead of Jesus. Some pastors ask their congregations to follow them (almost blindly at times). Some sermons have very little to do with Jesus and much more to do with the pastor's agenda. It's as if people are engaged in a popularity contest with Jesus, yet as history demonstrates, it's always Jesus who comes out on top.

It's been said if there is one person who does not have a Messiah-complex it is the Messiah, Jesus. And yet it's Jesus who calls people from every corner of the world, from every stage of life, from every economic class to follow him. I would argue that Jesus does this because he knows that his life - the very life of God - is the best thing for us to enter into. It's the most real and authentic adventure anyone has ever gone on, and everyone's invited to go on it.

So as we seek to enter this life, we have to give up our desire for popularity. If we don't, we're only competing with the most popular person in the history of the world, and we all know how that will turn out.