For some say, “Paul’s letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are worthless!” Those people should realize that our actions when we arrive in person will be as forceful as what we say in our letters from far away. Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! [2 Corinthians 10:10-12; NLT]
It always worries me, and should, that I seem to easily see the faults of others while remaining totally blind to my own. I want to declare right at the beginning of this piece that as I seem to point one finger at others, three more are pointing back at me. Of this, I am aware. In actual fact, all of us are floating around in the lifeboats of a sinking vessel; we are in this together.
Concerning me this morning are the personality cults we so easily fall into. I used to work at a vocation that came complete with a public perception fostered in no small part from entertainment television. Without purposely counteracting that perception, I was usually accredited with an aura of personality I did not deserve, could not earn, and would often struggle to live up to.
I was never able to rise above in reality from what I really was as a person, complete with faults and built in biases. In fact, the only difference between me and the people I “served” was my conscious and persistent choice to rise above my frailties in service to others. I know that sounds so very altruistic, but for me it was the only way to accomplish what I needed to do without “chickening out”.
Think of it this way: we send soldiers to war not because they are brave; they sometimes have to choose to be brave just to survive the wars we send them to. Our perception that front-line troops are brave (by nature), constitutes a personality cult. It is a position they are placed in by people they may not even know or ever meet, but if they admit to being on leave from the front lines of combat, we often treat them in accordance with the personality cult we’ve assumed for them, instead of the human beings they really are.
God chose the Apostle Paul from among many other men, and He did so for His own foreknown reasons, but one thing should be clear…God’s choice of Paul was never made so Paul himself could assume a certain awesome persona from his old way of life. He was never to be catapulted into fame and renown in the Christian life due to his own excellent credentials as a retired persecutor of believers. In several biblical passages, Paul counts all his prior credentials as garbage, as he sets them in contrast to the excellence of Christ. Paul’s philosophy seemed to mirror John the Baptist’s: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Would that it were that way today!
If we are listening to a preacher on television or in person, I believe we have every right to ask ourselves, “Who am I hearing more about, the preacher or the One preached?” It is an important question, and usually easily answered once we know to ask it. Our intimate knowledge of the personalities of the presenters will never help us in times of great need; only the imparted knowledge of the One preached can do that. We are so easily duped, and so easily made weak by strong men – instead, we need to be introduced intimately to a strong God, and to do that well, some men have to ‘decrease’. Not many are willing.
I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. I was stationed in South Korea in 1969-70, and served as an enlisted man. However, the on-base Officer’s Club had the good food, so we would don our civilian attire and brazenly enter the Officer’s Club. We never failed to get away with the impersonations because we seemed so sure of ourselves.
Miss Lee was always the hostess, and I know we didn’t fool her, but she always served us and often would sit with us and talk. One night she pointed out another table of men in civilian attire and told us they were preachers. “How can you tell they are preachers?”, we asked. She answered, “Because they always count their shrimp!” The obvious lesson in that story is that Miss Lee should have said, “Because they always talk about Jesus!”
My advice for all of us, and especially those entrusted (and maybe even ‘called’) to preach is this: Here’s a news flash for you – we need to hear a whole lot less about you and a whole lot more about Jesus Christ. Stop counting your shrimp, instead, start counting the time spent on your knees.
Open your ears, and hear what God is saying.
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