I listen to Pandora radio in my office. Sorry, but I do. I have developed a number of different “stations” that play the kind of music that is helpful to me when I do office work and study. You see, the main hallway of our church is located right outside my office so there is often a great deal of noise out there that wafts into my sanctuary. So, I’ve found some “Classical Relaxation” music provides the white noise helpful to drowning out some of the conversations and other noise from the hallway.
Anyway, during times that do not require deep concentration I have, among many others, a “Show Tunes” station. On it, the song “Popular”, from the show “Wicked” comes up at times, sung by Kristin Chenoweth. The words are amusing and catchy, yet convey a real issue having to do with the perceived value of being “Popular”.
The character Galinda is singing this song to Elphaba, in whom she perceives the need to be more popular like she, Galinda, is. The song is a “tutorial” on how to be popular. Some of the words go like this:
You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper poise,
When you talk to boys,
Little ways to flirt and flounce,
I’ll show you what shoes to wear!
How to fix your hair!
Everything that really counts to be…
I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts,
You’ll be good at sports,
Know the slang you’ve got to know.
So let’s start,
‘Cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go!
Don’t be offended by my frank analysis,
Think of it as personality dialysis,
Now that I’ve chosen to become a
Pal, a sister and advisor,
There’s nobody wiser!
Not when it comes to…
I know about popular.
and with an assist from me,
to be who you’ll be,
instead of dreary who you were…
There’s nothing that can stop you,
from becoming popu-ler… lar…
We’re gonna make you pop-u-lar!
When I see depressing creatures,
With unprepossessing features,
I remind them on their own they have
To – think – of
Celebrated heads of state,
Or specially great communicators!
Did they have brains or knowledge?
Don’t make me laugh!
They were POPULAR!
It’s all about popular.
It’s not about aptitude,
It’s the way you’re viewed,
So it’s very shrewd to be,
Very very popular
I know, cute, witty, right? And yet kind of jaded at the same time. However, it conveys the exact problem so many Christians, churches, and Christian organizations have; the desire to be popular in our culture; a culture that is exponentially turning on biblical Christianity in the public square.
Jeremiah faced this problem. Jeremiah was not very popular in Jerusalem in his day because he did not have a popular message. His message to Judah and Jerusalem was basically, “Surrender to the Babylonians and accept the judgement God has determined for you” (see Jer. 21:8-10). Not a popular message…which made Jeremiah himself extremely unpopular, especially with those corrupted leaders in charge at that time. This led to Jeremiah’s persecution beginning in chapter 20 by Passhhur the priest, with the approval of the other powers that ruled at that time (Jer. 20:1) This first persecution was relatively mild; being placed in the stocks for a day (v.2). Along the way Jeremiah would be threatened with death (Jer. 26:7-8), beaten and incarcerated in the house of Jonathan the secretary (Jer. 37:15), and ultimately, thrown into the cistern of Malchiah to die, in which well was nothing but mud and into which Jeremiah sunk down to his armpits (38:6).
Is it any wonder that Jeremiah was tempted to not speak this unpopular message anymore? The word of God had become “a reproach and a derision all day long” for Jeremiah (20:8) and he was tempted to just shut up already (20:9a) and be relieved of all the hatred and derision aimed at him. This is what they wanted. They just wanted Jeremiah to shut up, to go along to get along, to stop proclaiming his unpopular message.
Dear Christian friends, this is exactly where we stand today. The message of the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ alone to save and the historic and orthodox moral values of the gospel are not popular messages today. They never really have been. But there has never before been the all-out attack against them that we see today. The doctrine of Hell is not tolerated today, nor are you if you proclaim it. The roles of men and women in the church and home is not popular. Basically, every tenant of Christianity that opposes the sexual freedom of the sexual revolution, personal choice in abortion, the freedom of gender choice, individual sovereignty, etc., are not just unpopular, they are condemned and targeted as “hate speech” if you hold to them. There has never been a time in our nation’s history that biblical Christianity has been so unpopular. Not even close. And like with Jeremiah of old, all they want us to do is shut-up. Don’t proclaim that unpopular message. If you want to hold to it personally, go ahead. But don’t share it with anyone else and certainly not in the public square. If you do, you may lose your job. You may not be allowed to open a business in our town (ala Chick-fil-A being banned from opening stores in some towns). If you must hold these views, they say, keep them within the four walls of your church, synagogue, or mosque.
If you want to be popular today in our culture you cannot be a biblical Christian. You can be a quiet Christian and be popular. You can be an anonymous disciple of Christ and still be popular. Or, you can become one of those “cultural Christians” who have joined the popular bandwagon on most of these issues and be very, very popular with the world. You’ll even be celebrated as one who has “seen the light”.
But there is hope. Jeremiah’s brief flirtation with “silencing his message” was immediately replaced with an overwhelming fire in his bones for the truth of God, so that he could not remain silent no matter what the opposition (Jer. 20:9). To the end of his day, they never could shut Jeremiah up. He speaks still today in the pages of holy writ.
But there is even hope in the conclusion of the “Popular” song cited above. At the end of the song, Elphaba, clearly unaffected by Galinda’s intentions to make her popular, excuses herself from the engagement, obviously rejecting its message. She doesn’t care about being popular.
How about us? Are we Galinda, singing about the virtues of being popular so that everyone likes us leading us to the wide acceptance of the culture? Or will we be like Elphaba: unaffected by the siren call of popularity? Or more importantly; will we be like Jeremiah, who lived in a society where his biblical message was not popular, hated, and ultimately, not tolerated. Yet he remained faithful to proclaim it!
There is only one with whom I desire to be popular; Jesus Christ. How about you?