This morning we had a “guest” pastor. I put guest in quotations because he was one of the founding pastors at our church, but recently moved to a neighboring town to help stabilize a floundering daughter church. So he was only a guest insofar as we have not seen him for a while. He preached a sermon called “The Myth of Popularity” which is the final installment in a series on the Beatitudes. Each Beatitude has been examined as the answer to a common myth. The myth of popularity, according to Pastor Jim, is that popularity gives me value. He applied this to Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:10-11 NIV). Of course the reality of the Christian life is that popularity is not what gives us value before God. God desires that we pursue righteousness.
While he only dedicated the first few minutes of his sermon to the myth of popularity, I was taken by the applications to the blogosphere. This is something I thought and wrote about last week in reaction to a particularly good article written by Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost.
Jim told us today that there are three unavoidable results of pursuing popularity. First, it promotes envy. When I pursue popularity I am always, consciously or subconsciously, comparing myself to others and seeing the areas where I feel I fall short. Second, it take my time and energy to maintain it. Popularity wanes when I am silent, so I must act to maintain it. Third, it causes me to depend upon others for my approval. Jim spoke about celebrities who are always reading their own publicity, trying to keep up with how the press regards them. The popularity of a celebrity depends entirely on the approval of others.
Jim provided the example of Tim Burke, a pitcher for the Montreal Expos and the New York Mets. Tim and his wife had chosen to adopt several troubled children and he came to a point in his life where he realized that his career was keeping him from his family. If he was going to prioritize what was truly most important in his life, he was going to need to retire from the game. So while his career could have lasted for many more years, and he could have earned a lot more money, Burke retired. His popularity immediately declined so that few people remember him. He has done nothing to maintain his popularity. But surely his pursuit of more noble goals has paid dividends. Burke got to a point where he realized that Major League Baseball would be able to get along just fine without him, but his family could not, and that made his decision simple.
As I listened to this message I realized the parallels with the blosophere. It is easy for us to believe that our value is tied directly to our popularity. We may think that the Hugh Hewitts and LaShawn Barbers (or anyone else who is more popular that us) of the blogosphere have greater value because they have greater popularity. But from Jesus’ teaching we know that this is not the case. Those who have the most value are those who chase harder after righteousness. Those who pursue righteousness are counted as most blessed.
I guess it is important for each of us to realize that if we shut down our blogs – if Doug McHone or Amy Scott or Hugh Hewitt or Phil Johnson or Joe Carter or Tim Irvin or Michael Russell or David Wayne or Adrian Warnock or Tim Challies stopped writing – the blosophere would get along just fine. And incidentally, if your name is not on that list and it makes you angry or jealous, you’re missing the point!
So as we read other blogs and promote them, via blogrolls or other links, let us value what God values. Let’s give honor to those who pursue righteousness and not confuse value with popularity. Let us not be, as Jim warned, hostage to what others think of us, for other people’s opinions change like the weather. Instead, let us heed the words of the apostle who says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of th world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV).