The Day the “Applause” Sign Must Have Been Broken
The day of my college graduation was actually one of the more humbling days of my life. It took place over a decade ago, but it is as fresh in my mind as a Subway sandwich (interpret that however you will). Hundreds of graduating students stood in line outside the building where the diploma ceremony was set to begin in mere minutes. I must have just looked amazingly cool and debonair as the hot sun bore down on my black polyester, unventilated, flowing graduation gown. (I still think there is a market for those things being used by astronauts in need of a cheep, air-tight suits when they do spacewalks outside their shuttles). I was the fashion envy of the parents and friends hurrying by, trying to get to their seats inside.
And then I noticed who was standing in front of me in line. I will not mention his name in this blog for his discretion, but I will say that he was a nationally well-known, accomplished Christian musician who was quite popular both within and without the school. I was actually half-expecting him to set up a table, while he stood in line, so he could sign 8×11 glossy photos of himself. This was, of course, simply my own perception of him and not a true, accurate representation of what he was like as a person.
Some time later I found myself inside the auditorium, standing at the foot of the stage steps, ready to receive my diploma. Someone on an extremely loud microphone was announcing the names of the now-broke, former students so they could come up in front of a small multitude of people and get a piece of paper that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. But truth be told, I was thrilled that this moment had finally come.
The celebrity went before me, and when his name was called, he pumped his fists in the air, and the roar of the crowd reminded me of a scene from Gladiator. I almost expected the man to yell out, “Are you not entertained?!” And then the announcer on the microphone called my name. The silence was almost deafening, especially considering the contrast to what came before. At first, as I worked my way up the steps and across the stage, I thought maybe that the crowd just missed hearing my name announced since there had still been some lingering applause when the preceding superstar descended off the stage after getting his diploma. But then I did hear a couple of people clapping for me. About seven or eight people, perhaps. My family, I supposed. I did a little, meager fist pump when I got my diploma as well, but I think I was still riding in the wake of our local celebrity. The ripples of his awesomeness just left me bobbing in the water behind him like he was the Love Boat and I was Scuffy the Tugboat.
To be honest, it didn’t bother me that much. I really thought it was more comical than anything else, but it still gnawed at me… just a little. And that’s how Satan gets his barbs in. He finds a chink in the armor, and burrows into it. I was a musician of sorts (I guess I still am) and I was only a few weeks away from getting married. I had put my musical career on hold to honor the start of my marriage and to focus on what God wanted for me. But I still remember feeling just a pang of jealousy that day. I wanted what the “other guy” had. The adulation of the crowd. Not so much that I could be famous or a celebrity, but I think there is something inside each of us that desires affirmation. We thrive off of it. It invigorates us. It motivates us. But when the adulation lifts us above our Maker, it blinds us.
I never want that kind of adulation.
Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t do anything out of selfish ambition. And he had his chances. Oh, he had his chances.
Even when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the moment when scripture was finally being fulfilled (Zec 9:9), and the people cried out, “Hosanna” (meaning “God saves” or “God save us”) it was done in the most humble way possible. He didn’t ask for it. For he knew that some of those same people would be crying out, “Crucify him,” mere days later.
Affirmation is a fickle thing. If we adore people because of the great things they’ve accomplished or done, then what happens when they don’t do anything of worth or value anymore? The accolades stop. The affirmation is cut off. What then does that person think of themselves? Are they all of a sudden worthless?
What happens to the all-star, Heisman Trophy finalist college quarterback– the envy of his fellow students– who doesn’t make it in the NFL? He is then called a “bust” because his lack of accomplishments and his inability to meet lofty expectations. One of those players is Ryan Leaf (chosen second overall in the 1998 NFL draft, just after Peyton Manning ). Numerous articles have been written about him, practically making fun of the man who never lived up to the hype the ESPN and Sports Illustrated analysts had thrown all over him. One NFL show called him the “No. 1 draft bust in NFL history.” His failure defined him. Unfortunately, his life took a tragic turn towards dysfunction which culminated in him getting arrested numerous times over the last few years on charges of burglary and drug possession.
I don’t want my identity being wrapped up in who others say I am. People can say, “Gary, you write great songs,” or “Gary, your blog inspired me to hike the Appalachian Trail.” But what happens when I stop writing songs and stop writing this blog (which could be tomorrow)?
My identity is in Christ.
John 1:12-13 (NIV) …to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV) So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
So I am not clothed with a stifling hot graduation gown. I am clothed with Christ. Not because of anything I have accomplished so that I should boast. But it is Christ who did it all on the cross. HE is to receive all the glory and affirmation. Every victory in my life is simply because Christ lives in me. And because of that, after I hear my name called in the Book of Life, I won’t hear just the smattering applause of seven or eight family members. I will hear the only voice that matters and it will boom in my soul. The voice of my loving, patient Father who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I think that will feel pretty amazing.