The distractions of fame

Readings for January 28, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 95
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

I have the attention span of a gnat. I struggle in busyness, when my to-do list keeps me from pausing to seek out clarity. But I also struggle in down time, which my mind fills with wandering thoughts that continue to keep me from pausing long enough to hear God’s Word. No matter what is going on in my life, distraction seems imminent. I sometimes feel like the dogs in the movie Up—“squirrel!” Or, as my youngest daughter is known to say, “Dad, that derailed really quickly!”

Throughout the Bible, God struggles to get His people to pay attention. He tried speaking directly to them, but the Israelites could not work through their fear of the fire of God’s voice. So Moses told the people that God will raise up one of their own to whom the people can listen. So God sent prophets, King David, and ultimately His Son, to speak His Word. Still, distraction remained. Paul uses marital status to warn of being distracted, exhorting the factionalized and misguided church of Corinth to live in “adherence to the Lord without distraction.”

In Mark’s gospel, the unclean spirits recognize Jesus’ voice calling to them and they were compelled to obey his command, leading to his “fame throughout the whole region.” As a result, the crowds who followed Jesus seemed to become caught up in his celebrity. There was a clamoring to see him and watch him perform healings. He was a phenomena and they used their own “social media” networks to feed the celebrity status as Jesus moved from town to town. Wherever he went, crowds followed. However, Jesus doesn’t call me to take a selfie with him and post it on Instagram or share it on Snapchat to see how many likes I can get.

There is, I think, some danger and, minimally, great distraction in this type of focus on fame. One way I see this happen is in the formation of what my wife has termed “holy huddles.” A holy huddle forms when people of faith find one another and discuss their faith almost exclusively with each other. Now, this sounds like a good thing. And in many ways, it is. But in my own experience, these huddles can be focused on ego, and can become a self-centered competition, saying, “See how faith-filled I am?” This type of competitive group-think tends to be solely interiorly focused. I believe Jesus wants me to reach beyond my self-indulgent holy huddles and take his message to those who don’t yet believe, those who resist his message. Focusing on his fame, and the fame that he can bring me, distracts me and can cause me to have expectations of Jesus the magician—creating a false belief that my endorphin-filled rush of faith when people like my selfie or share my blog, I earn God’s love, or that my sins are somehow less grave than the sins of others.

The distractions of fame can also keep me from hearing the true message. The people who followed Jesus, those who marveled at his celebrity, were unprepared for the message of Calvary. I must not allow myself to be caught similarly unprepared. Paying attention to God’s Word—and not all the things that we humans find distracting, like His power, fame, complexity, or mystery—is challenging, to say the least. In a world where distraction seems to be a solace of its own, how do I find the resolve to focus on and face the responsibility of loving and obeying God? Well, I need to work on that other weakness of mine—listening. I need to listen for Jesus, the guiding voice that God has promised me. I need to listen to Jesus’ voice more decidedly than the distractions in the world, more intently than the call of fame. I need to understand that Jesus called sinners (me) not to remain in sin but to turn toward God and live His will.

I may never conquer all of my distractions. I may never be able to sit quietly, perfectly relaxed and perfectly focused, for more than a few moments at a time. Only if I humbly recognize God as God and am attentive to Christ’s message of salvation more than his fame can I focus on the call to be a part of a God-focused, other-centered love. Living the great commandments to love God and love other, I cannot possess a hardened heart, but instead must “bow down in worship,” return in song and “joyfully sing psalms to Him.” After all, how can I keep from singing?

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