Wednesday, July 14, 2004

True Confessions

I don’t know proper blog protocol. I might be breaking some sort of unwritten rule here, but I am going to get very personal and make a confession. Is that accepted here? Perhaps by writing this down and exposing it to the digital light, I can take another step in my own faith-crawl.

One of the personal sins I struggle with is pride. And it manifests itself in my driving obsession to be a “great preacher.” I know there’s nothing wrong with the desire to preach the word of God effectively with power and grace; however, there is something wrong with the longing to be known as a fantastic, wonderful, amazing preacher. Deep within my psyche is the craving to be the kind of speaker which makes people say, “Wow, that was great! Can I have a copy of that?” For some reason, my inner child is not satisfied with simply being a vessel of the divine word; he wants to be a spectacular vessel!

On my first Sunday out on the road this summer, in between the first and second services, I kept asking Leah, “How was the sermon? Should I cut out such-and-such a story? How did it sound?”
Finally, she turned to me as if I’d never even so much as delivered a prayer outloud before a meal, and said, “Relax! It’s fine!”

Unbeknownst to her and the people in the pews, I was secretly harboring my sinful desire to preach the “perfect sermon.” I wanted to be suave and down-to-earth at the same time; funny and, yet, poignant; casual but honest. I wanted parents to tell their children years from hence that they heard Wes Magruder speak before he ever left for Cameroon … then they would sigh with regret – “If I’d only asked for his autograph!”

You wouldn’t think preachers had this problem, would ya? But we have our own hierarchy of celebrity preachers. Billy Graham is at the pinnacle, of course, followed closely by Robert Schuller, Tony Campolo, T.D. Jakes, James Forbes, and Fred Craddock, just to name a few.

It doesn’t help that some preachers appear on TV all the time. It also doesn’t help that certain magazines and organizations publish annual lists of the “Top Ten Preachers,” and the like. It doesn’t help that the pastors of mega-churches get automatic credit as spiritual experts, leaders, and authors.

And it certainly doesn’t help that preachers are human beings ...

We get conditioned by the American culture to accept only “excellence,” “success,” and “professionalism.” We believe the hype. We crave the attention, need the kudos. We climb the career ladder, from big to bigger congregations. We take our cues from multinational corporations and big governments. We listen to our insecurities and worry about our legacies.

Honestly, it’s pitiful. And I am the chief of sinners in this regard.

That’s why I treasure the story of Jesus’ desert temptations. He faced the same dilemma. Specifically, the devil offered him celebrity status. He could have all the nations of the world eating from his hand. But instead he chose to walk back into the middle of the wilderness, the crux of anonymity, and be exactly the being that God had created him to be.

It’s taken me 37 long years to accept who I am, as a creation of God, and to rest peacefully in this identity. It will take me a bit longer, I suppose, to stop chafing against these limits, to stop kicking against the goads, and to breathe deep the Spirit of peace. I may always struggle with pride, with wanting to be somebody “more important” than who I really am.

After all, the world doesn’t need another Billy, T.D., or Tony. God’s got that covered.

All that is required of me is to bring my own tattered, weak, and fragile gifts to the altar, and leave them there with a whispered prayer, and wait for God to send down fire.