Saturday, December 28, 2013

When Stars Testify

SCRIPTURE: Philippians 1:15-18
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 27th, 2013

"15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:15-18)
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One of the most popular evangelistic tools is to have movie stars, pop singers, or famous personalities to share their story of how they have become a follower of Jesus. The latest is that of Hong Kong sweetheart, Vivian Chow. In a moving testimony, Chow shares with listeners how she had moved her focus of self-development in her life pursuits and became more gospel-centric and more God focused. She shared her testimony boldly and the report has been widely publicized among many of my friends in social media circles.

I remember in my varsity years how Vivian was the pin-up girl in many of the guys' dormitory walls. A versatile singer and a photogenic actress, Vivian has been around in the Hong Kong entertainment circles for almost 25 years. She has a faithful following. Vivian was not the only HK star to publicly testify of her faith. There are others like Jacqueline Law who died last year in Singapore. Her very touching video was about how her faith enabled her to brave the cancer and approach death without fear. Other stars include Ada Choi, Gigi Lai, Kwong Wa, Edison Chen, Maggie Cheung, Tracy Ip, and Sammy Cheng. For fans of these stars, it is understandable that many of them do come to Christ because their favourite stars are Christian. A whole list of testimonies by various stars have been compiled here.

As one who is cautious about letting the influence of fame and fortune influence faith, I ask: Why are testimonies of stars so powerful?

Perhaps, their names are automatic attention grabbers, just like how children recognize McDonald's logo and chain and ignore the rest of the mom-and-pop small burger shops. Or how adults gravitate toward big box stores when doing their shopping. After all, people are famous for a good reason, and how they live their personal lives is very much of public interest. Fame is the currency of mass marketing. The advertising world knows that full well. That is why multinational companies like Pepsi are willing to pour out millions of money for stars like Michael Jackson and Britney Spears to endorse their products. There is Nike who opts for Tiger Woods. Even NHL hockey stars are highly sought after by various companies hoping to ride on the fame of the stars in order to get higher public visibility. With a known star, it is easier to catch attention. It is a natural thing for people to gravitate toward the rich, the famous, and the eye-candies of life.

Some Concerns

I can understand the concerns expressed by various quarters in the evangelical circles. Those who allow the fad and fame of movie stars to inform their faith, if they are not properly grounded, are easy targets for any winds of change. Take for example the people who take to scientology just because famous stars like Tom Cruise are into it. Considering the very public divorce between Cruise and Holmes recently, those who entered into the Scientology religion will have second thoughts about the brand of religion that Cruise advocates.

Tell me. If that is the case, would not one's faith be based upon a famous name rather than the truth? It is one thing to believe something is true. It is yet another to believe in someone who thinks something is true. The former believes in the primary source of truth. The latter latches upon a secondary believer of truth. It comes back to the age-old problem of testimonies in the first place.

I have heard of many people encouraging testimonies to be shared as publicly as possible as a way to profess Christ. At baptisms, a common practice is to have the baptismal candidate share about why he or she had come to faith. Some of the stories can be very touching. Such events spur organizers to try to use this as an evangelistic tool. In the past 30 years, I have been to very public evangelistic meetings with famous names such as Billy Graham, Reinhard Bonnke, Luis Palau, Josh McDowell, and others. In megachurches, it is common for those Church leaders to invite famous movie stars of singers to publicly share their faith. American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson and Gabrielle Douglas, and even people like the mother of Justin Bieber, Pattie Mallette had published books about their Christian faith. These people draw crowds by riding on their success as singers, Olympic glory, musicians, and worldwide fame and recognition.

For me, my approach to using famous names and stars will be more measured. For I am not interested in the verbal confessions of faith. I am more keen to discern the true change of hearts that leads to discipleship and growth. No one gets saved simply because of a great introduction or preface. Only those who complete the chapters of life will reach the conclusion. Those who finish strong will prove that it is not the beginning of the journey that matters. It is the finishing, the final lap, the finer details of what it takes to end well. For many begin excitedly but few finish well.

Testimonies of great stars can wow and impress people just like energy drinks boost one's adrenaline for a while. What is needed is sustained belief. What is required is a true conversion. What is most desired is that the work is that of the Holy Spirit, and not the influences of fame and fortune.

Three Things

That said, what then are we to do with the testimonies of powerful names and famous people? Of course, we should not brush them off too quickly and forget that God can use anyone. For the gospel is open to all, both rich and poor, powerful and powerless, famous and unknown, young or old, male or female, and so on. Christ died for all. Christ's message of salvation and hope is free for all. In that light, three things ought to guide our attitude toward testimonies.

First, be open to an honest confession of faith. While there may be some skepticism about the way big names draw people, we need to adopt Paul's attitude of "whatever it takes" to introduce the gospel to people. As long as Christ is preached, everything else takes lower consideration. Of course, the common rules of engagement applies. For example, we cannot preach about Christ dishonestly, or to use deception to convince people. So, as long as there is honesty, good desire, and willingness to share, let them share. Do not prevent them.

Second, God can choose anyone to share the gospel. So why should we say 'no' to famous movie stars? Why should we be worried about the drawing power of such people? If we are truly concerned about the black sheep among the desired white ones, we can join in the fray as people to discerning the presence of wolves among the sheep; the sheep and the goats; and so on.

Third, much is given, much is also expected. People do become famous for various reasons. It is how we use what we have that matters more. It reminds me of the parable of the talents where all the servants with many talents invested and gave their master a reasonable return. The last one, however, chose to bury that one talent and not do anything with that. This is perhaps a warning for those of us who think we have way too little talent or gifts. In choosing not to exercise them, we are essentially burying our giftedness and avoiding the use of any talent we may ever have. Imagine that day if God comes up to us and say:

" ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’" (Matthew 25:26-30)

My friends, when stars testify, do your part. The attractive events, the powerful testimonies, and the initial introduction to the gospel for many are simply the beginning journey of the message of faith. After the sowing, we need people to do the watering, the cultivating, the grooming, the pruning, and the harvesting. Do not be too worried about "how" people come to faith. Focus on the sustained sharing and living out of the gospel. So that as the stars do their work of testimonies and sharing, let us do our work to ground people in the Word and the truth of the gospel. Let me close with the words of Vivian.

"Prior to my believing in God, I regarded personal development as an ultimate goal in my life. I was always self-confident, regarding the dependence on others or relying on religion is a kind of weakness. You can imagine - it was reasonable that I didn't understand and even look down on what is emphasized in the Bible - salvation only comes from faith in God. One day, my friends occasionally chatted with me about religion, I then realized that the other religions (other than Christianity) stress on the importance of self-development. But the standards set by them are almost impossible to accomplish. Then I thought more about it - if what the Bible tells us is true, I would consider myself not yet qualified to believe in God - because I have not obtained salvation from Jesus Christ, that means no matter how well I have developed myself, I am still a sinner, still not eligible to get into the gate of heaven." (Vivian Chow)

Preach it sister!


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