Have you ever had your name ‘up in lights’? I had a chance once. It was while working as a youth minister in Southern California. The church had a marquee directly across from Disneyland. Thousands passed by it every day.
I was asked to preach on a Sunday night (the usual time for the back-up hitters). I had preached in other venues before but those were much smaller. I remember the day pastor asked me, ‘have you ever had your name up in lights?’
It was a request that took me off guard. I mean, how do you answer that? Today, I’d probably just say something snarky like, ‘yeah, when they were showing a preview of the movie ‘Dumb & Dumber’ on the Broadway street big screen’…
The allure of the thought was intriguing for a young pastor. The thought that people may come to hear ‘me’ preach. The idea that, ‘hey, maybe they’ll really like it and ask me to come to their church’. And then the thought, ‘yeah, this must be God because I didn’t ask for it’ comes into the mind.
Sure enough, my name was on the marquee that week promoting a Sunday night message by ‘Pastor Brad Clawson’. By the time I saw my name up there and the ego was inflated, I’d lost sight of the fact that I needed to have something good to say. Yeah, that would be a good idea, right?
Sunday night came along, and we had about five hundred people there. I would be lying if I said I knocked it out of the park. More like I knocked it in into the dug-out. Sure, I tried and put on all the moves, prancing around the pulpit. If I had to see that sermon today, I would probably run for the door. Thankfully, the congregation was much more forgiving than I was of myself.
Sadly, it was that type of hype and promotion of man that entrapped me for some time at that age. The idea that God may use ME to do these great things was a dream I pursued vigorously only to realize, in reality, His plans had very little to do with my effort and everything to do with my faithfulness to Him.
Human nature defaults to raising people up. It’s built into us to promote and entertain. That mentality, mixed with Christianity, however, is very toxic. I eventually parted ways with that church and never recovered. The disillusionment from having met preachers, who I thought were spiritual leaders on a global scale, but treated people like they were beneath them, destroyed that fantasy very quickly.
Did it seem cool to have my name ‘up in lights’? YES. Was it real? NO. My youthful ideas of what it meant to be in the ministry quickly met reality. Afterward, it was a dangerous place to be. It’s in that place where we doubt God, doubt ourselves, and are disillusioned by others, that the enemy of our soul will feed on and, feed, he did.
The next five years of my life were, without any doubt, the most difficult. A few poor personal choices, a failed marriage, false allegations, and financial ruin were all a part of those days.
Through all of that, I will say that my God is faithful. He is so very loving and graceful. He takes the broken pieces and puts them back together. He heals the wounds, wipes away the tears, and fills us up with hope again. The ironic thing is that, if I had it all to do over again, I may not opt for that chance because He has brought the Mrs., her family, friends, financial stability, and a depth that I may have never known to my heart.
So, the next time you’re faced with those disappointments of what you thought would be glamour, greatness, or even fame, only to find emptiness, look up. You have just arrived at a place where you can start from a new foundation of humility. And, trust me, it may not seem like it, but that is a good place to begin the work of realizing what is truly important in life. God, family, and friends…
Wishing you all a safe and restful weekend my friends!