Captain Neat-O Man will never die!!!
You wouldn't know it to look at the distinguished gentleman I am now, but a little over a decade ago, on a beautiful fall night, you could have wandered into the Trahern building at Austin Peay State University and found me dressed up as a superhero, tights and all (think Jack Black in Nacho Libre), as I acted in a one-act play called Captain Neat-O man. I'll never live it down.
While I was quite the thespian in college, also acting in Our Town and Noises Off, this was my starring role. These were one-act plays written by budding playwrights at the university who needed actors to make the pages come to life. And I was ready to pour my heart into that beautiful spotlight as it shined all over me. [Side note to future thespians (especially the broke college ones)....When appearing in a high-energy, slapstick type of play, it is best not to sell your plasma shortly before the production. I repeat.....you NEED your plasma!!!]
Well, despite my somewhat spasmodic and slightly wobbly performance, the play went off fine. The only problem was there was less of an audience for it than my other plays. And while I starred in Captain Neat-O Man, I enjoyed being in Our Town and Noises Off much more. Turns out the spotlight wasn't as fulfilling as I thought it would be.
Oftentimes, you may hear the phrase "there are no small parts, only small actors". I found this to be very true. It is the story that people come to see at the theatre (that's THEEEEE ATE ER to my southern friends), not actors. People want to be momentarily detached from their own lives and swallowed up by the action on the stage. And the actor's job is to help make the play an inviting place for an audience member's heart and mind to vacation for a couple of hours.
For this to happen effectively, the story must be bigger than the actors. And for that to happen, the actor's ego must die. (Imagine a play where everyone who has a part tries to make theirs the biggest scene-stealer. It would be a disaster!!! You know, like every episode of Hee Haw EVER!!!)
The death of the actor's ego is the life of the story.
In much the same way, I am watching God do this in my real, non-tights wearing, life. But in this case, it is not so much the story that deserves the spotlight, as the Storyteller.
This is the truth I'm seeing unfold right before my eyes. This is the money phrase that echoes in my heart.......Moving down in the world helps me to worship God who raises me up in Christ.
You see, I've got a LOT of ego to kill. I've got a lot of craving for the spotlight. I love to hear the applause. I love to soak in the adulation. Tell me how good I am and I will listen to you for hours, baby!!!
Me, me, me, me. But enough about me, what do YOU think of ME? Whoooo Boy, I can listen to me all day long.
It feeds old Jay and gives him strength. But new creation, raised with Christ Jay is part of a different plot line than old Jay. Old Jay lived to jump around in spandex and hear 200 people in the audience clap for him. New Jay lives just for One (1 Cor 10:31). In fact, from Him and through Him and to Him is new Jay's story line. New Jay is consumed by the story that the Storyteller is telling about the most beautiful thing a person can even fathom, God Himself.
And new Jay wants everyone else to see the beauty of God. But it's hard to focus one spotlight on 2 things. Either it points at me or it points at Jesus. And when it points at Jesus, I find myself STILL wanting to jump in it and get some praise for myself.
So knowing this about me, God has shown me the rightness and goodness of moving down in the world.
This week, we are moving out of our $1000/month rental house on the river to a $575/month overgrown refrigerator of a mobile home in a trailer park out in the middle of nowhere. To accomplish the task of squeezing 7 humans in a space the size of a couple of parking spots, we have been forced to sell much of our belongings. Hearts have been broken as precious theology books, "Lost" DVD's, beloved microwave stands, and Elvis dolls have slipped through our fingers for the same amount of money as one would spend on a date at Taco Bell. (And that's not to mention the near escape of a cherished scooter friend of a 5 year old girl as big sister stepped in at the last minute to stop grandma from exiling the Barbie scooter to the lands of the north.)
OK, why did I write the previous paragraph? To evoke sympathy? To receive compliments for my descriptive phraseology? To get someone to buy me a house? The answer is.....maybe! See? That's how easy it is to try to put the spotlight back on yourself. Every moment is a battle to make less of me and more of God.
But I digress, the point is that the Lord is graciously showing us the pull of the created on our hearts rather than the role of the created to point to the Creator.
Romans 1:25 says, "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!"
You ever hear the old story of how African tribesmen catch monkeys? Supposedly, they hollow out one end of a coconut ,just big enough for a monkey's hand to squeeze through, tie it to a string and put some peanuts inside of it. When the monkey sticks its hand in, it grabs the peanuts but cannot pull its hand back out because it is now in the shape of a fist and is too big to slide back through the opening. The natives then pull the monkey towards them and whacks it on the head for some nice Indiana Jones style Monkey Brain soup.
But the ironic part of the story is that all the monkey has to do is let the peanuts go to escape. It is too greedy and selfish to let go and dies in its pursuit of the peanuts.
(Obvious Sermon Illustration Alert!!!) This is the pull that created things have on us. They become an end in themselves. You see, I hurt when I have to move down in size and quality of my housing. I hurt when things I previously treasured are picked away by the circling Garage Sale Buzzards. I hurt when I go from being a distinguished preacher who is constantly in the limelight, to a nobody telemarketer who gets cussed out every third call.
But my question is.....Is this pain wrong? Maybe not.
Not that stuff, or good jobs, or nice housing is wrong in and of itself. But when it becomes pursued, pampered, and idolized (AHHHHHH, you thought I was going old school Southern Baptist preacher, 3-point alliteration on you, didn't you? Admit it!!), it is used to serve you instead of letting it serve or cause praise to come to the One who gave it to you.
And maybe letting go of it (even with my claw marks on it as I fought to keep it) is God's way of reorienting me to His story. Maybe he's taking me back to the times when I acted in plays where the beauty of the story, like Our Town, was more important than the fleeting applause for playing an idiot superhero who lived with his mom.
So as I signed the contract to rent our overgrown sideways refrigerator, I felt something unexpected. And upon talking to Michelle, she felt the same thing. Relief!
Relief from the burden of keeping up with a high rent when I don't make a lot of money.
Relief from even the attempt to keep up with the Jones' (no offense Kayla). Because we couldn't even if we tried.
Relief from the amount of stuff which we have constantly dragged with us from house to house.
But most importantly, relief from placing ourselves in the spotlight.
It gets hot under those lights you know. And it greatly impairs your vision. You can't see anything or anyone else in the crowd. It's all about you and you know it. And no one can live under the spotlight for too long without missing a line, tripping over a prop, or sweating profusely as people watch your every move.
We weren't created to withstand this constant spotlight. We mess up. We fail. We sin.
But there is One who is made for the spotlight. Jesus Christ, the Godman, lived a perfect, sinless life so that as we repent of our sins and place our absolute trust in Him, we can rest from the glare that was never intended for us. My favorite verse says it best. 2 Cor 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
In Him is better than in the spotlight any day of the week. I am safer there. I am covered there. I am strengthened there. I am saved there.
In me without Him, my path will only lead to ruin. Oh, but in Him there is peace with God. And that is the story He wants me to tell.
So he moves me down. And as He does, He lifts my eyes up to the all satisfying crucified and resurrected Savior. My Hero, My God, My King.
As He lowers me and empties me of my pride, He raises me and fills me with His Spirit. Instead of the disgusting muck of sin inside, I find pristine holiness and constant comfort from the Holy Spirit, my guarantee of a future inheritance which will dwarf my collection of Lost DVD's, Elvis dolls, and even theology books.
He moves me down in house to raise me up in mansions.
He moves me down in pride to fill me up with awe.
He moves me down in resources to capture my attention as He alone provides my manna.
Moving down is not bad, friends. In fact, it is the way up.
You die to raise up. Unless Jesus returns before your death, you will slowly recede back to the dust as your once strong and upright body becomes more and more crooked until it lays on its death bed. Every day you get closer to the ground. But those in Christ see it as getting closer to Him.
John 12:24 says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and
dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
Dying to yourself is necessary to become born again.
Even the posture of prayer is a beautiful example of moving down and away from the spotlight so that God alone shines.
Just think of going to a play and the spotlight guy puts his beam on the janitor in the corner while the play is going on. You would be outraged! Why? Because you would be missing the story while you watch Bubba scraping gum off the floor.
God is so good that He won't let me miss His story. He won't let me focus on the janitor. And for that, I praise Him!!!!
God's play about Himself is real. And it, too will detach you from your troubles. But it will last far longer than a couple of hours. It will enthrall you for an eternity.
Our family's hymn this month is the more satisfying story. If you fully grasp what it means, it will leave you breathless.
"And can it be, that I should gain, an interest in the Savior's blood. Died He for me, who caused His pain, for me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God shouldst die for me?"
Let that be what this post leaves ringing in your ears! Whatever it takes to see Him and know Him is worth it!!!