For a couple years one of the all-consuming sins I struggled with was that I wanted people to like me. They didn’t need to like every part of me, or even most of me. I wasn’t looking for a group of friends. No, I was looking for something far more specific. I wanted a congregation of fans. I wanted a people who loved preacher me. I wanted to assemble a crowd who would promote “Pastor Matt Inc.” because, well frankly, I wanted to be a brand. Deep down inside I aspired to become a name among the big names. I imagined being the next new funny, edgy, creative, insightful and provocative preacher. In short, I was using Jesus while praying, “Jesus, I want to be used.” In fact, my wife even confronted me on this more than once with the simple loving phrase, “Matt, I worry that you’re good enough at this that you don’t need Jesus, and that’s a problem.”
Now at the time I would push back on her. I didn’t want to recognize the validity of her insight. She was probing a bit too deep. Tenaciously I would argue how my actions were not about me. It was all about reaching the lost. But over the years a few honest stares in the mirror have humbled me to the point where I can now confess these things openly. In fact, to my shame, I would admit that my want of notoriety even caused me to abandon some of my doctrinal roots so I could “win the more” through my ability to win their will. From this, reaching people to be my listeners became more important than proclaiming Jesus so He could have His followers. This isn’t to say that I failed to preach the name of Jesus each Sunday, but the person of Jesus was driven through a filter designed to collect people more than confront sin. He was a therapeutic hipster Jesus who looked a lot like Bono, and I was going to ride His novelty to my celebrity. At least that was the unfolding plan until the devastating grace of God crushed my emergent pride.
The story of how everything changed is too long to share here, but the condensed version is that I was run through by the very doctrines I believed would produce celebrity: and what a beautiful execution it was. It restored in me an addiction for the grace, love, holiness, truth and sovereignty of God. As I looked anew upon the magnitude of Jesus, my lust for recognition began to extinguish. From this I was recharged with a determination, not for my renown, nor for our church’s growth, but to make Jesus fully known even if that meant everything else came to nothing. With fresh fire I was renewed to preach, not the Jesus people wanted, but the Jesus people needed. And the difference between the two is colossal.
One seeks a savior who loves me with my sins, the other is a Savior who saves me from my sins.
One resides on a stool alongside my throne, the other offers His throne through the surrender of mine.
One makes the offer that you can pick and choose what you want to follow, the other says you must pick Whom you will choose to follow.
The former is “a Jesus” as we want to reconstruct Him, the latter is Jesus as He has revealed Himself to be.
What the Holy Spirit thrust upon my heart is that the opportunity to proclaim the worth and excellence of Christ is in itself the reward. We see this was the same impetus in the call of Isaiah. Imagine this poor guy when he’s commissioned to preach. God rolls in and says, “I want you to go and preach to a people who won’t pay any attention. You will be known as the dude no one wants to know. You will be the preacher everyone wishes would just shut-up. Your church will be the size of pool party in Greenland. In short Isaiah, you will be a reject.” Think about that. There is, from the outset, no hope given to Isaiah that there would be national repentance. Before he is even boots on the ground he is guaranteed an anti-revival. I don’t know too many pastors who would take that gig. In fact I’m not certain Isaiah would have taken it on except for what happened.
So what seized upon Isaiah’s spirit and overcame the weight of guaranteed rejection? It was the overwhelming vision of God’s holy and gracious glory!
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim… 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Like Isaiah, it is only when we are found in God’s presence, looking upon His Holiness and experiencing the full measure of His atoning grace that our lust for recognition is vanquished with the compulsion to proclaim the excellence of His glory, and not even the guarantee of rejection can stop it.
To preach like a reject means to not be enslaved by a fear of rejection.
To preach like a reject means to not be detoured by the absence of a following.
To preach like a reject means to not be moved aside by the absence of moving ahead.
To preach like a reject means to preach Jesus for the sheer joy of Jesus.
Oh Lord, may we not preach to solicit the acceptance of men, to fulfill the want of celebrity or to fulfill our church growth idolatry, but only to proclaim the glory of Your grace revealed in the Person of Your Son Jesus. May we preach with the conviction of a reject who is incapable of human acquiescence for we are made alive by the vision of Your majesty.