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The Problem With Jesus & Fame

“I want to be famous for Jesus,” he said behind his cardboard coffee cup as we dreamed about our futures.

My eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as an unsettling feeling moved through my small intestine. Even at 26, something about this statement felt like I’d eaten a Costco size bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

When I open my Bible and read about the life of Jesus, I don’t see a reality star obsessed with self-promotion and widespread attention. Even his flashiest of miracles were about filling a need or helping individuals, not creating a platform or movie-star following.

Everything he did was to provide clarity in places God was so dangerously manipulated to point people back to the Father. It was Jesus selflessness, his love, his strength, his drive for honoring women and the untouchables that provided all the public relations he would ever need.

This week I received an invitation to be on a new talk show hosted by a former member of the Today Show in New York City. Free flight, hotel and stipend to be interviewed about my article Saving Sex for Marriage.

Ironically, the very first line of that post reads, “I don’t want to write this post, frankly, I don’t want to talk to you about this at all. Not because I’m ashamed or uncomfortable with the topic, but rather no part of me wants to be a poster child for this ‘crazy’ decision I’ve made.”

She wanted a response by the end of the day, and ultimately, I couldn’t justify the lie. I only have two personal days from my teaching job and they are already scheduled for speaking events around the country.

“For Pete’s sake, call in sick,” many wrote on my Facebook post after I shared about the invitation. Suddenly I felt guilt and regret for trying to be an honest person. Apparently, integrity is drastically undervalued in my social circle compared to fame and notoriety.

And still the question lingers, “Should I have gone? Did I miss a ‘big break?’

If you attended any of my 25 speaking events last year, you heard I was in talks with an amazing Christian publisher to release my manuscript.

“We believe there is a no book like this from a Christian perspective and you are the perfect person to tell this story.”

After 14 months of working together toward a contract, after they asked me to start over and write a whole new version of my book (and I did tirelessly), they ultimately passed citing concern about my, “developing platform,” which had doubled since they first pursued me in December 2016.

“We would like to see you become a nationally recognized voice on the topic before publishing and hope you’re open to a continuing dialogue about working together in the future.”

And so I tried doubling down, learning and implementing a stronger social media presence, submitting articles to bigger publications, booking as many speaking events as possible in hopes of becoming famous enough to have my story sit on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.

Like so many times before, this pursuit has led me to a very familiar feeling: emptiness. So much emptiness.

“Are you excited for your speaking event this weekend?” a friend asked me last Saturday.

“Nope.” I responded.

“Isn’t it joyful for you to stand on stages and share hope to so many people?” my counselor asked.

“No, it’s really not.” I responded.

Yes, I find joy in the teenager who comes up after and can barely say “Thank you” through her knowing tears.

Yes, I find joy in embracing families who have lost someone and get a slightly better insight into the suicidal brain.

But telling this story, this story I still live in, isn’t the joy others tell me it should be.

I find joy in bonfires with close friends and vacations to anywhere with a beach and nachos.

I find joy in caring about young people in small and big ways.

I find joy in sunshine and long hikes and doing the unexpected…

I don’t find any joy in building the platform I’m supposed to want.

And yet, our culture and our churches are obsessed with Christian celebrities who fill their Instagram feeds with shirtless pics, lavish, jet-setting vacations, and the occasional selfie carrying a black, impoverished child proving the adoration and riches they receive are like totally deserved.

Obviously posting an occasional bible verse makes promoting yourself all day, everyday a part of “God’s Plan.”

And yet this is what I “must do.”

The talk shows. The big platform. The shirtless pics.

Be famous for Jesus the distractor whispers to me over and over.

After 30 tumultuous years on this planet, I’ve discovered at least one thing to be true:

Emptiness often means I’m not living the best life God intended for me.

Whether that is a sin problem, a self-centered problem, an envy problem, a lust problem, an isolation problem or anything else this flawed human body of mine is drawn to, I’m just not sure that American Christianity is actually all that interested in truly following Jesus.

Celebrityism. Sweet Moses yes. Worshiping the Tim Tebow’s of the world, absolutely. Absorption with big church buildings and budgets, expensive flashy lighting and sound systems, high production values, making money, yes.

Quietly loving and serving the world with no guaranteed reward this side of heaven? Not exactly the side of Jesus churches spend thousands of dollars promoting on highway billboards.

Maybe this post will come back to haunt me somewhere down the road. Maybe these words will be what the next radio show host throws in my face, what the angriest of you will email me about in all caps, what the enemy will use to remind me I’ll never be enough.

Or maybe these words are saving me from myself, from the emptiness, from the wrong path of self-absorption and back towards the extreme love and self-care Jesus embodied.

The one thing I do know is trying to be “famous for Jesus” is never going to make you or me feel the love and fulfillment our soul craves. If we aren’t enough without the attention, we’ll never be enough with it.

I hope today you’ll step back and really examine the people our culture tells us to worship. I hope you’ll take time away from social media and the endless images of mostly naked and “perfectly” sculpted bodies to ask yourself some essential questions:

Does this truly matter? Is this actually what I aspire to be? Does my life give off the aroma of Christ? Do I care more about helping others and taking care of myself than fame, riches and appearances?

Truly following Jesus, in my experience, is rarely glamorous. It’s vulnerable and lonely and sometimes even empty.

But somewhere in this whole thing is the source of what it actually means to feel alive.

Somewhere out there is a wholeness everybody craves, but few discover where it is truly found: in a life lived loving God, loving people, and caring for your own soul, not in the temporary props of this world.

I don’t ever want to be famous for Jesus or really famous at all. I just want my life to look a little more like love and hope.

You can have all this world, but give Jesus.

Love from your super unfamous friend,

This song can be found in my Spotify playlist, Recklessly Alive.

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