Ours has increasingly become something of a ‘celebrity culture’. A society which has moved with such speed from the worship of God has been quick to invent some gods of its own – the superstars of today’s great global village.
So much so that many a child, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, has been known to say very simply – ‘Famous!’ But when questioned again as to what they would like to be famous for … well, they’re quick to admit that they haven’t a clue: and that in truth they don’t really care much at all. As long as they get to be famous.
Maybe it’s just the attention the famous receive which is sought; the desire to be noticed, the sense that you do actually matter. Though you’d think that you’d soon get really tired of such fame, fed up with your being in the spotlight like that all the time; you’d be longing for some anonymity.
Or maybe it’s just the esteem in which all the famous are so often held which is sought. Their views always sought from a swarm of sycophantic, groupie-like admirers; and their pronouncements carrying a weight which has little to do with their wisdom and all to do with their fame.
To some extent we all of us subtly are sucked right along in the wake of such a culture: almost without realizing the thing, we create our own ‘celebrities’, our ecclesiastical ‘galacticos’ – the preachers who get put up there on their elevated pedestals. Mainly (it should be said) these folk are put there by the people rather than seeking out such pedestals themselves – they’d mostly be the first to disdain and abhor such status and fame for themselves.
But to a larger extent we react against this contemporary celebrity culture. We see it for what in many ways it is, a shallow, superficial substitute for the worship of the Lord. We were made to worship, after all, that’s just how we’ve been wired – and if the worship of the living God is felt to be demanding and uncomfortable, then we’ll find some other shrine at which to satisfy that hunger in our hearts: we’re not fussed where, as long as that deep instinct in our souls can have some handy outlet for its strong, insistent energy. Pittodrie, Parkhead, or the Pop Idol show: or any of a multitude of ‘shrines’ from which to choose. Just somewhere where we get to be both worshippers … and still ourselves the god.
Because that’s the celebrity culture: able, it hopes, both to have its cake and eat it.
And, of course, as good, well-taught believers, we’re now ‘street-wise’ enough to recognize a ‘forgery’ and a fallacy when we see one! We know our ten commandments and we’ll not have any idols in our lives.
But in that very reaction we tend to swing far too far the other way: we miss the careful balance which the Word of God sets out and thereby often duck the crucial challenge which the Scriptures bring.
Perhaps the key to our seeing this biblical balance is to recognize the extent to which most (maybe all) of us have been influenced, encouraged and helped under God by the example which others have given: their lives have been a ‘means of grace’ and have been used by the Spirit to effect growth in our knowledge of God and secure change in our whole way of life.
For generations of Christian folk in the century and more since he died, Hudson Taylor, for instance – the pioneering missionary from a modest Barnsley home who dared to think that China could be thoroughly evangelized – he’s a man who’s become a continuing source of genuine inspiration through the life he lived, the truths he taught, the work he undertook.
“All God’s giants,” he once wrote, “have been weak men (and women, he meant) who did great things because they reckoned on God being with them.” He himself epitomised that; and as such he has fired in the hearts of any number of folk down the years the same great surging resolve that their lives shall be lived in this way.
Or think ‘Chariots of Fire’: think of the impact which the Scottish athlete Eric Liddell had – and still has. Or think of how the story of Jim Elliot (told by his wife in the book ‘Through Gates of Splendour’) – think of how the story of his martyrdom along with all the journals which he wrote, think of how they’ve left their mark on countless Christian people since he died.
You could instance a whole long list of such men and women. And there’s a sense in which Scripture itself does just that. Men and women of faith. That’s what Hebrews 11 is all about, isn’t it? Flawed individuals for sure, but faith in the Lord is what marked all these folk – and this is what it looked like in their lives. Not so much celebrities as saints – in the sense in which the Scriptures use the term: that’s to say, believers. Believers who become themselves a model for their peers and their successors in the faith.
Isn’t that what Paul is always on about? Bin those tacky bumper stickers with their “Don’t follow me, follow Jesus!” sort of line, he would say. What guff! It’s precisely the opposite which is what he is always insisting. ‘Follow me, as I follow Christ.’ That’s neither arrogance nor conceit: nor simply an apostolic prerogative. It’s a simple belief in the work of the Spirit of God. The life of the believer becomes the canvas on which the Spirit of God paints the glory of the gospel: as if to say, this is what it looks like when a person honours Jesus in their hearts.
Do you remember that singular miracle at the start of the church’s life? The healing by Peter and John (well, it was Jesus who did the healing, of course, not them) of the man who was crippled from birth. Remember Peter’s opening gambit? “Look at us!” It’s a striking and challenging statement, defining in some ways the essence of all ministry. ‘Look – and then listen.’
That’s how men and women are helped to their feet and enabled to stand and walk with the Lord. Look at us! As much as anything else ministry invariably involves this Spirit-driven ‘modeling’ of gospel truth. We don’t need celebrities to worship: it’s shepherds we need, to follow. Those to whom we may rightly look and through whom we can see how this life we’ve been given in Christ is rightly lived.
Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,