This Is US!
Pt. 4 - Extras
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” That was the declaration of the Ralph Ellison who was the author of the Invisible Man. Do you know who you are? If you do not, then it isn't Jesus' fault because He climbs a mountain, sits down and takes considerable time to tell us who we are supposed to be. He says this is us . . . blessed, square pegs & spotlights, and then grown ups! Jesus tells us about us! He continues this detailed explanation with what almost seems like a contradiction. In Matthew 5:16, in informing us that we are supposed to shine brightly He says, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and recognize and honor and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
Now listen to verse 1 of Matthew 6. “Be very careful not to do your good deeds publicly, to be seen by men; otherwise you will have no reward prepared and awaiting you with your Father who is in heaven.
So, in one breath He says let men see your good works and then He almost immediately says just the opposite . . . Be careful not to do your good deeds publicly.
What is going on? I believe He is plumbing the depths of our human heart . . . He is dealing with our motives. Knowing our tendencies to be self absorbed, self serving and subject to succumb to pride listen to what He says after this "contradiction"!
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘play actors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. Pray with simplicity “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. “When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well. (Message)
This is US . . . Extras!
Think for a moment about the huge movies that come out each year. The attention is always on the star right? It could be Denzel, Hugh Jackman, Emma Stone or Meryl Streep but the focus, billboards, trailers, and invitations to appear on the talk shows are reserved for the stars. The big names. The key roles. The recognizable. But very seldom does anyone pay any attention to the extras. They are the ones in the crowd scene with no names. Overlooked. Unknown. But absolutely essential to the success of the movie and the story being told. Without those people in the crowd scene the star can not command the screen, the plot is meaningless, the story is told but isn't as full or engaging. So Jesus, talking about us, says "This is US . . . Extras!" We are not the star. We are not the key player. We are not center of attention or the attraction. We have light, but we are not the light. Our good deeds are not to be done to make a name for us but rather for Him.
Jesus knew this about us . . . If we are not careful we will become applause and at-a-boy hungry! We have a tendency to push our way into the lime light. Like Absalom we will resent being off stage and to our own demise sit in judgement over those over us and above us and pull them and us to destruction! So, Jesus spends time talking to us about our role as extras. This is a complete and total opposite approach than what we are taught by life. Driven, make room for yourself, insert, force, pull strings, self promote. Instead, He encourages us to fly under the radar and to do good we do for the good for the person we are doing it for rather than for our own promotion.
I don't think we understand what a huge favor Jesus does us and the incredible gift He has given us here. He attacks and totally dismantles the performance mentality that has trapped so many of us for so long.
Too many of us treat people kindly, pray the way we pray, approach God the way we approach God based out a performance mentality. I am trying to gain approval and acceptance from man and from God. Jesus pulls the stage out from under our feet and says that living like that gets us nothing but short term applause from man and subsequently overlooked by God. We are not called to perform for approval because we have already received His approval! So, we are called to simple live for Him. That is freedom for those who have been killing themselves to be accepted!
This "extra" mentality should invade our work and our worship. Our work points to Him! Our worship should be about the object of our worship rather than about the one worshipping. Our prayers should be simple. Our fasting should be shrouded.
In very real terms, Jesus is pointing to what John had learned when he says in John 3:30. The attention has been shifted to John. The crowds and applause has centered on him and so understanding who he was he says, “This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines." Or as we probably memorized it, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
This "extra" mentality is why disciples could say, "silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to you." They knew who was doing the work. They had come to grips with the fact that we are not called to be manufactures, but rather distributors. If we have nothing to distribute, then it is a pretty good indication of who is in charge of manufacturing in our life. If we what we are distributing produces followers of us rather than followers of Christ, then we are the manufacturer and we are in the lead.
This begs the question . . . Is He increasing in your life? You do understand that in order for Him to increase that also means that you must decrease? You can not ascend without Him descending and vice versa! Are you decreasing at all? Who is in the lead role?
Who is in the spotlight of your life? Is Jesus center stage or are you?
In the last few months, I have reminded you of some old lyrics, but perhaps today I would be better served to point you to a newer song . . .
Yo, I had a dream that I was captain of my soul
I was master of my fate, lost control, and then I sank
So I don't want to take the lead, 'cause I'm prone to make mistakes
All these folks who follow me, goin' end up in the wrong place
So just let me shadow you, just let me trace your lines
Matter of fact, just take my pen, here, you create my rhymes
'Cause if I do this by myself, I'm scared that I'll succeed
And no longer trust in You, 'cause I only trust in me
And see, that's how you end up headed to destruction
Paving a road to nowhere, pour your life out for nothin'
I could play the background
I could play the background
'Cause I know sometimes I get in the way
So won't You take the lead, lead, lead?
So won't You take the lead, lead, lead?
And I could play the background, background
And you could take the lead
This is us . . . Extras! Get off the stage! Reposition.