Pastor, do you have the faith to be courageously obscure?

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Pastor, do you have the faith to be courageously obscure?

January 19, 2023 -

A pastor behind a pulpit raises his hands as spotlights shine down. © By shoenberg3/

A pastor behind a pulpit raises his hands as spotlights shine down. © By shoenberg3/

A pastor behind a pulpit raises his hands as spotlights shine down. © By shoenberg3/

Is it just me or has TV entertainment taken several steps backward in the last year or two?

It just seems like the overall quality of general programming is less about excellence and less in volume. Major networks are more occupied with game shows than ever before.

Don’t even get me started on how confusing it is these days to find the shows you like or want to try. Who decided we needed 100+ cable channels? And now, who decided we needed two, four, six, or ten streaming services that may or may not produce or provide all or part of your favorite series?

It’s all very frustrating and confusing. I just want to watch good TV and relax!

Let’s reassess

If I’m correct about this, I point to the lower quality as a lagging indicator of the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

Hollywood, like the rest of the world, shut down in the spring of 2020. Now, almost three years later, we are playing a global catch-up game in every sector and section of our lives.

How else do we explain the weird reality of our economy?

Inflation is still too high, but unemployment is at record lows. That doesn’t usually happen. Are we headed into a recession or not? Perhaps something better, worse, or different than we have ever seen. We are in uncharted territory.

Most of the WWII generation is gone. Few today have first-hand knowledge of what it’s like and what it takes to reset life on a grand scale. The whole world continues to take deep breaths, to reassess and recalibrate, and to revise plans for the future.

We do this in ministry too.

The new year has always been that kind of season. It’s more so now.

A quiet dedication

In this TV entertainment desert, I’ve gone back to old favorites like The West Wing and Madam Secretary. It’s a bit unsettling how prophetic some of these shows were!

In one episode of Madam Secretary, the speechwriter is required to substitute for the Secretary to deliver a commencement address at a college graduation. He’s obviously nervous because he’s a speechwriter, not a speech giver.

Here’s part of what he said:

This is the first moment in my adult life I’ve stood in the spotlight. Truth be told, it’s likely going to be the last. Why? Because I’m one of those people who work in the dark. I know what you’re thinking . . . . In this world of relentless self-promotion, we’ve all been raised to think that the limelight is the only light worth seeking. But that isn’t the case. And if I can impart one thing today, a small simple truth to carry with you as you walk through those gates it’s this: achievement is often anonymous. Some of the greatest things have been done by people you have never heard of, quietly dedicating their lives to improving your own.

That scene and speech captured me.

Addicted to attention

I confess, I’m addicted to the limelight. I like the attention and applause of being The Preacher on Sunday.

Since leaving the pastorate fifteen months ago, I’ve been on a quest to find a new church home. My wife and I hope to make a decision and a commitment of membership this month to start the new year.

But several times, including this past Sunday, I’ve found myself in church wanting the limelight of the pulpit.

I’m sure my motives are mixed. I want to help people find and follow Christ well. Preaching has impacted my life deeply and mostly for the better, both as a believer and as a pastor.

But I also know I’m longing for the platform and the pulpit because of the applause and affirmation that comes with it. I want people to be impressed with me sometimes more than Christ Jesus. That’s a moment for ongoing confession and repentance.

Lord, help me.

Maybe this need or want is why I’ve often taken notice of people we only catch a glimpse of in Scripture. You can find them all over the stories of the Bible.

The Good Samaritan Jesus made famous. The one leper out of ten who came back to show his gratitude for healing, who was also an unlikely hero because he was a Samaritan.

Peter, John, and Paul all had friends and coworkers who are little known to us.

I love this reference by Paul of a friend who came to him in a tough moment: “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains” (2 Timothy 1:16). I hope and pray that you have a few people who refresh your soul while looking past whatever chains you have.

Paul’s made-for-TV moment

In Acts 21–23, Paul has made his way back to Jerusalem. It didn’t take long before he was in hotter water with his fellow Jews than he had ever been with the Gentiles because of his loyalty to Jesus.

The Roman authorities intervened and arrested him, which had the immediate, short-term effect of saving his life from the angry Jewish mob. As the Romans deliberated what to do with Paul, more than forty of the angry Jews made a blood pact with each other that they would not eat until they had killed him!

Then as now, conspiracies are hard to pull off. Word leaked out, and Acts 23:16 says, “But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.” When his nephew tells him what’s cooking, Paul sends him to the Roman commander, who then sneaks Paul out of town until further investigation can be done.

Wow, this is a dramatic story of life and death!

It’s the stuff TV drama is made of.

Through the adept use of his citizenship, Paul put the Romans on notice to deal with him in an honorable way. The threat from the Jews was so strong that the Romans felt the need to concoct an escape plan for Paul under the cover of night using 470 trained soldiers for security!

The Romans could sense how outraged the Jews had become and they took it seriously. Then, the nephew of Paul becomes instrumental in saving his life so that God could later use Paul to share the gospel with multiple high-ranking officials and to fulfill his desire to share the gospel in Rome, the capital of the known world.

I have seven nephews and two nieces. I pray at least one of them would have stepped up to save me!

God save us

This is what gets me: someday in heaven we will surely bump into Paul’s heroic, unnamed nephew.

(Did Luke not name him here so as to protect him from an ongoing threat as “the whistleblower” two thousand years ago?)

We’ll get to learn the rest of the story of how he and his mom discovered the conspiracy, how anxious he was to tell Paul, and what it was like to speak to the Roman commander. Likely, he went on to do other important things for the kingdom of God that we know nothing about right now.

Most of his life and service were an exercise in courageous obscurity.

Paul’s nephew and sister and others worked “in the dark.” He “quietly dedicated his life to improving” the life of another.

So can we.

As much as I love the limelight of the platform and the pulpit, I want to be more like Paul’s nephew and his sister.

God save me and us from the relentless pressure of self-promotion.

When we stand to preach or teach or sing this Sunday and in every instance, may the attention, praise, and applause be to God, Jesus, and the Spirit for the marvelous grace and mercy they show us every moment.

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