Ever since my childhood, I have always wanted to be one of two things: a spy or a famous person. I would have gladly been both, but a career as a famous spy probably would have been short-lived, so I opted for fame.
Raised in a family that encouraged a Christian faith, I naturally encountered many Christian things. I saw well-known Christians speaking in front of thousands of people, and formed the belief that their popularity meant they must love Jesus a lot and that Jesus was very pleased with them and with their efforts for attracting large crowds. In short, I believed God was more pleased with the big things of life. Big lights in big stadiums filled with big crowds. It didn’t take long before this belief about God formed a primary motive in my life: If I could accomplish big things, then I could really please God—and feel great about myself to boot. I figured God was more pleased with the people doing big things with their lives than He was with the rest of us.
I’ve often wondered why Western society and culture practically worship actors and actresses. Why are they so revered? Why do we pay so much attention to them? Aren’t they people like you and me, who smell when they’re sweaty, are nervous when speaking in public or run the risk of getting athlete’s foot?
Perhaps actors and actresses are so revered because our society equates someone’s personal worth as a human with the amount of esteem they receive from others. In other words, according to Hollywood, the more people who “love,” esteem or admire you, the more inherently valuable you are as a person. Our culture values the esteem of others perhaps more than any other thing—more than beauty, wealth or power. In fact, beauty, wealth and power are often used as a means to receiving people’s esteem. Have you ever wondered why wearing name-brand clothing or owning expensive jewelry or driving a luxury sedan increases people’s self-confidence? Does the bling or Beemer really change who we are? No, not inherently. Yet the human need for love and esteem is so vast, so vital to our existence, that anything we believe can increase our chances of being accepted will bring a feeling of security and confidence. Monetary success, popularity, big crowds and a large, visible impact are not wrong; but relying on those things for our value is.
I think the reason I have almost always wanted to be Mr. Famous Christian is that I’m really searching for esteem. I need to be loved, and I often wouldn’t mind a higher position on the hierarchy of esteem our society has created. Every once in a while, however, I am reminded that when this vapor of a life is over, and judgment day comes, God won’t won’t judge me based on what others thought of me—He will judge me for what I did with my life with what I had been given, a truth I seldom slow down to remember.
So frequently, I confuse the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Hollywood and don’t remember that one of the main differences between these two kingdoms is in what they value. Hollywood values the big things of life, even bestowing the title of “star” on their poster boys and girls. Jesus’ Kingdom, however, is filled with people who, for the most part, are virtually unknown to the rest of the world. Understanding this difference has helped explain why I never need to go far in the Gospels to find something Jesus says that simply doesn’t make sense by today’s estimation, like …
“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12, TNIV).
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12).
“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on'” (Luke 21:1-4).
These are some of the very statements that infused the popular and esteemed religious leaders of Jesus’ day with hatred for Him. After these religious leaders arrested Jesus and handed Him over to Pilate to be killed, Pilate asked Jesus a simple question: “What is it you have done?”
In reply, Jesus said, “‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place’” (John 18:36).
For followers of Christ, there is one undeniable fact: By nature of our identity, we belong to another Kingdom. Not a kingdom where every citizen is clamoring with each other for supremacy and fighting for each other’s approval. Instead, we belong to a Kingdom whose King esteems those who are content to live their lives filled with small, unknown acts of love, justice and unselfishness.
That is the kind of kingdom I want to give myself to. No doubt, at times I will be enticed to find my identity as a citizen of other kingdoms. And there is no denying that citizenship in God’s Kingdom will likely result in an often uncomfortable life filled with little to no human recognition—but at least I will be a part of something bigger than myself. Even if all I am able to do is deposit “two very small copper coins” to the cause of my King and His Kingdom.