Today is my birthday. I turn “21 for the second time”, or 42. I’m nostalgic by nature, but my birthday is always a day I take to reflect; to look around and see who has stood the test of time, what i’ve done with the 364 previous days I’ve been given, and who I’ve become by those choices. It’s not quite as melancholy as it sounds.
My 80 mile commute this morning involved a lot of really cheesy 80’s music at high volumes, thoughts about what matters in life, and the decisions (good and bad) which have planted me where I now grow. I’ve had a great life so far; a childhood right out of a sitcom, surrounded by a supportive family; the opportunity to grow up in the awesome 80’s; great small-town schools and friends; and my ride through adulthood and family has been a true joy. But as a guy working into his 40’s, the overriding thought this morning was a total middle-aged cliche… Greatness.
What is greatness? I’ve been thinking about his lately and have had some great conversations with some folks that I consider mentors. I’ve asked friends and family. And, in all honesty, I’ve checked a lot of the boxes:
I’m surrounded by family and friends who love me. I’m healthy. I’ve got the C-level position I’ve strived for. I’ve been blessed to be both mentored and mentor, and for all of this I’m truly grateful.
By most standards, I’m doing pretty well. But as anyone who has crossed into middle age will tell you… there’s got to be more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful for how blessed I’ve been; to be born in a country where my hard work could lead to success, for the opportunities I’ve been given.. but if that checklist were all there was, it would leave me empty.
When I was younger, I never understood the brooding athlete, angsty rock star, or the miserable hollywood starlet. They had it all, money, success.. greatness.
When I take inventory of what actually fulfills, what makes life worth living, it doesn’t show up on any scorecard of the American Dream.
I heard a beautiful sermon recently which drove the point home:
In the 9th chapter of Mark, we see one of the greatest events of Christ’s ministry on earth; The Transfiguration:
 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,  and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.
(Mark 9:2-4 ESV)
You would think that would leave an impact, wouldn’t you? Peter, James, and John had just seen Jesus transfigured and Moses and Elijah as well. As they rejoin the other disciples, they come upon a young boy who is possessed and Jesus heals him. They then begin the walk to Capernaum. When they arrive there, Jesus asks them what they had been arguing about on the way. I would like to think that I would have been discussing the appearance of Elijah and Moses and what that was all about. Maybe Jesus statement about being raised for the dead. At least the chaos of the young possessed boy. But no, Jesus questions them and they are embarrassed to admit what they had been arguing about:
 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
(Mark 9:33-37 ESV)
After being nothing more than passive spectators to Jesus miraculous works, they were arguing about who was greater among them. Unbelievable. I’m sure I would have been right in the middle of them, throwing my checklist out there too. But Jesus defines excellence for us in his response.
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Ouch. As one who has received absurd grace from God, I’m all too ready to share my awesomeness with others. But that’s not it. That’s not how Christ defines greatness. In the middle of my self-focus and work at checking the boxes, it hits home… I’m called to be last of all and to be a servant. When my pride rises up and says that I’ve got a different road to greatness through my gifts, abilities, or position….
 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:3-11 ESV)
God humbled Himself to be born a man. Had he come in great glory to rule it would have been condescension beyond belief. But He came as a servant. God, a servant to man. If that weren’t enough, to be executed as a common criminal, facing the wrath of God in my place.
That doesn’t sound right. It sure doesn’t sound right in light of the American Dream. I don’t want to be a servant, I want to lead. I don’t want to sacrifice, I want to take. I don’t want to come last, I want to be first in line. People aren’t celebrated for servanthood, they’re celebrated for accomplishment. Lord, let me be so awesome that they’ll want to get to you! (God forbid!) And for that, I must repent.
I see in that a need for a major “halftime adjustment” for my life. It cuts against every fibre of my being and runs counter to everything our culture values. Servanthood is seen as weakness. You serve those who are greater than you, not less. And this is the upside-down kingdom that Christ brings, for if He defined greatness as we do, I would remain a prisoner of sin.
So, here I go. Into the second half.
Your servant to His glory,