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That Famous Person from The Great Divorce: A Conversation Very Near to Heaven
And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
“Is it? . . . is it?” I whispered to my guide [thinking it was Mary the mother of Jesus].
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be . . .well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
“And who are these gigantic people . . . look! They’re like emeralds . . . who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?”
“Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.“
“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son–even if it was only the boy that brought her meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”
“No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more.”
–C.S. Lewis, from The Great Divorce
Saul Called by a Different Name
In our last post from the book of Acts we looked at Acts 12:24 and we saw how there’s this one thing outside of God’s control. If you’re interested you can read more here: The One Thing God Doesn’t Control.
In today’s post we see Saul called Paul for the first time.
But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him . . .Acts 13:9
Up to this point in the book of Acts Saul has been called Saul, which, in the original Hebrew, means ask, question, or prayed for. But from here on out we’ll see him called Paul: which means small, or humble.
Maybe not coincidentally, a friend of mine sent me a testimony about his parents who are in their nineties. At their 70th wedding anniversary celebration, an event with more than 80 people in attendance, this friend of mine offered a toast to his parents. While he was considering what to say, he was inspired to write their story and he graciously allowed me to share it with you today, here on God Running.
I feel like it fits perfectly with where we’re at in the book of Acts. My friend Jay’s parents remind me of the woman C. S. Lewis described in The Great Divorce. I’m sure you’ve never heard of them. But they lived lives of influence on a different level from what we so often see today.
And in a certain sense, they remind me of Paul. Small, and humble.
Influencers of a Different Kind
In our 21st century culture we experience image and identity in ways we never have before. We are assessed and assigned based on consumption rather than character and affiliation rather than aspiration. A compulsive need to manage image on social media has replaced authentic relationships. This dynamic has given rise to a new sort of societal force – the influencer. Generally self-promoted, these personalities are granted credibility not based on education or expertise or any sort of track record suggestive of special insight into a particular subject but rather based on the number of likes or subscriptions or reposts their online presence receives. We know nothing about the real person (or persons) behind the projected image. We don’t know how they treat people or how they manage challenges. We just know that lots of other people are paying attention to them. They have gone viral. They must have something worth listening to. They have real influence.
This should not really be a surprising development. Beginning perhaps twenty years ago public personalities and visible people began rejecting the idea that they were role models. Athletes, entertainers and politicians started to rebuff the burden of being responsible for the impact of their behavior that was on full display in the emerging internet world. The idea that the platform granted to high profile persons came with an added responsibility because of its outsized influence – especially on younger audiences – was considered unreasonable or outdated. Regardless of how these celebrities viewed the display of their lives, people watched and copied. Add to this an environment where anyone with a computer and an Instagram account can have an audience and a new sort of celebrity was born – the social media influencer.
Online influencers have an ever growing number of platforms, causes, agendas, motivations and sponsors. I suppose there are as many variations as there are personalities. Some are motivated by fame, some fortune, some ideology and some from a desire to make a positive change in the world. For some the reward is a sort of validation, for others personal affirmation, for still others power.
What does Jesus have to say about this? What is his instruction regarding personal influence? We have to look no further than His most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount. After describing the qualities of true Kingdom citizens in the Beatitudes, he describes his followers as salt and light. Those that season and preserve and illuminate. Influencers. Matthew’s record of this little section of His teaching ends with this simple instruction,
“let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (NIV)
To His disciples he says that members of His Kingdom should be characterized by “good deeds” that are like a “light” that reveals truth and enables sight to the blind. He says that these good deeds done on earth among men have an eternal influence. Witnesses to good deeds, done humbly and without self-interest, will see and exalt the Father in His heaven. Could being a witness to the Father be any simpler?
In a week (at the time of this writing) my parents are set to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. This has caused me to reflect again on their lives and their legacy. In many ways they are unremarkable when evaluated on human terms. A comfortable suburban lifestyle with little fanfare or notable achievements. But when you drill down a level, what you see is a couple that for seven decades has lived Matthew 5:16. At every opportunity they intentionally chose to do good, putting themselves aside for the sake of others. They did this when leading neighborhood Girl Scout troops and coaching Little League baseball and running the HS band booster club (and selling baked potatoes at football games for years) and organizing an Independence Day block party for 25 years and caring for aging relatives in their last days. The list of “good deeds” is too long to share here, and many are long forgotten. If you ask them about their good deeds they would probably not quite understand what you are asking. Doing these things was a lifestyle not something done for acknowledgment. We know that some of those who witnessed this light shining gave glory to God. For most, we will never know.
So you want to be an influencer? For what? For whom? For how long? To what end? If you are a follower of Jesus the way to influence is clear. Do good on purpose and take no credit. This will cause others to see the Father.
Pray today for the courage and humility to develop a lifestyle of doing good for the glory of God.
Then go look for your first opportunity.
The excellent story about the “Influencers of a Different Kind” was entirely provided by my brother and friend Jay Mark.
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