Entitled to Rags

I remember the moment Christ revealed to me that my life isn’t about me. I was praying on my floor and unexpectedly had this deep conviction that my life is about Christ, and that my entire existence and all my striving is to serve him and allow him to live in and through me. It was deeply exhilarating, but also deeply humbling. He showed me his centrality in all things, and that everything I do is to further his kingdom, not mine. If I succeed, then by the grace of God he has purposed it to further reveal the love and power of Christ. Yet my motivations are not always Christ-honoring, but are blasphemous and futile, leading to a self-collapsing empire of pride. All too often, my heart gravitates in this direction. I want recognition. I want my name to be dropped at social functions and a life that is admired by followers. I want success that points to me, not Christ.

 

At our recent New Wine, New Wineskins retreat, Dr. Metzger discussed the theme of entitlement in light of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. In King’s 1968 “Drum Major Instinct” speech, he speaks of our inherent desire to be “drum major(s)”. All of us desire to “lead the parade”, he says, to feel superior. The profound thing about his life though, is that he subverted this desire to lead the parade in the name of love, truth and justice. He submitted it to the Father’s- not his- will. As he says, our innate desire to lead and for recognition is not in and of itself evil. What is evil is when we fail to understand why and how we are to lead, in whose name we are to lead, and for whose kingdom. 

 

King references Mark 10:35, where James and John requested to sit on Jesus’ right and left side, once he is King of Israel. They wanted recognition. They felt entitled to share in his wealth. His response? To be great, give your life as a servant. And this is Jesus, a man who, as discussed further in MLK’s speech, never added up to anything in the world’s eyes.  No possessions, never traveled anywhere impressive, had no college education, no published work, no awards, no family. I can only imagine what a dinner conversation would be like with him sitting amongst a host of doctors, professors and lawyers. He was killed out of mockery and deep unpopularity. Upon his last breath, onlookers only gambled for his clothes, and he was buried in a borrowed tomb.

 

I am deeply humbled when I think about our Lord’s life. And I have the audacity to compare myself to others. To want more. But this is not the way our Lord lived. He humbled himself to the lowest ranks possible, and never did he say, “I may look shabby now, but you just wait. One day, I will conquer the world and you will be sorry.” Jesus’ response was and is a message of patience, of love, of grace, a message that always points to his Father. To the world, he was as significant as the man we pass on the street corner. Forgettable. Laughable. And this was and is our Lord who breaks down barriers of hate with love, and who in Him alone we are purified and reconciled to the Father for eternity. 

 

What about MLK Jr.’s motivation? Power? Recognition? A killer eulogy? An impressive epitaph? His passion and imagination did not stop with him. He didn’t want recognition to sleep better at night. Ironically, his recognition served to do the opposite: put his life and family in danger. He wanted freedom for all people and to ultimately do God’s will–regardless of whether or not he reaped any of the benefits. This is what Jesus was explaining to his disciples. Do not do it for what you gain; do it because love is more powerful than status. It’s sobering to realize that in so many ways I long for center stage and my own victory, and I allow this desire to shape my voice as a believer. I am humbled to realize that it is only Christ in me who can reconcile, who can love, and who can transform hearts and structures. I pray that the church can learn from King’s life, and re-new her vow to serve the world in Christ’s humility and further his kingdom, not her own. 

 

 

13 Responses to “Entitled to Rags”

  1. Chelsea Pang Says:

    Kelsi,

    I am assuming this blog is open for anyone to comment…so I will! I am Rachel O’Brien’s sister.

    I love your words in this post, it really speaks to the me that tries to screw everything up and likes to hear about my successes it when I do right. Having our baby Grace, with Trisomy 18 and being stillborn, has shown me He is great in me and that has what has impressed people. And if it is not my fault that Grace was created the way she was, then it also not my fault when I act smart, funny, kind or good looking.

    Looking forward to reading more of your faith filled words.

  2. Chrissi W Says:

    Too true, Kels. All of us, especially those of us with the sincere desire to make a difference in the world, struggle with the hunger for recognition. I think we often rationalize it because we feel we’ve already sacrificed so much–the opportunity for wealth, comfort, normalcy–that we feel that there must be some recompence. I know that I’ve comforted myself in recent times, in the face of unfair attacks and slander and disagreement and so many things, with the thought that at some point I’ll be telling this story to someone, that it will be the footnote in my remarkable life story. That thousands will take comfort in it. And those thousands will vindicate me, know me, admire me. Yuck! I have a Jesus who believes in me. Why would I desire anything else?

    And yet, from time to time, I do.

  3. Ross Halbach Says:

    Kelsi, I am moved by your descriptions of Christ’s lack of infatuation with popularity and status: “no college education, no published work, no awards, no family.” It reminds me of the familiar bumper sticker: “My boss is Jewish carpenter.” As much as I can’t stand bumper sticker sound bites, this tagline has a point; it is astonishing when you think about the humble state of the one we follow, the one our lives revolve around, the one who is the hope of the world. I don’t know about you, but such thoughts of Christ’s humility profoundly deflate the energies of my entitlement, my desires to be accomplished, to be noticed. Christ had no need for these; he had something better. He felt the warmth and security of his father’s embrace. As I set my eyes on Christ’s gentle meek path to the cross, I feel that same warmth, that same security and I know I am free. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.” Is. 42:3.

  4. Kelsi Says:

    Amen. I’ve been thinking about the fact that Christ became our sin, our brokenness, our shame and funk (a lowly carpenter) because that is who WE are. The only way for him to love us fully was by identifying with our brokenness. So really, he was “lowly and pathetic” because we are lowly and pathetic. So by us ridiculing Christ, it is really us foolishly ridiculing our own selves– our ugliness that he so humbly assumed so we could have union with him. Yet we are the ones who want recognition. I hear what you are saying, Ross. My desire for entitlement is put to shame when I seek to understand Christ’s perfect humility and the profound security in that. Like Chrissi said, it’s so true to meditate on the fact that it is Christ who believes in us, and this is more powerful and sustaining than having an audience of 500,000 applauding our own futility apart from Him.

  5. Kelsi Says:

    Chelsea thank you for your comment. It is so powerful to see how Christ humbles and strengthens us in heartbreaking experiences, and how he makes his sufficiency- not ours- known through and in the midst of it.

  6. Rachel O'Brien Says:

    Thanks for the profound comments. Because my sister commented I am reminded of His constant perfecting of us that is so different from the “arrival” that the world promises. There are moments when we feel have arrived, we have succeed, and they pass so quickly that we seek them over and over again. Constantly searching, we want a self actualization that only Christ provides, because our “self” is bound in Him. Strangely, as I begin to, or am “forced” to, seek my arrival in Christ those moments fade, their beauty becomes dull, their power weekening daily. Our story always pointing, and being in, Christ weakens the beauty of success by the worlds standards and even by our own. Chelsea, I love you, and have seen your life being more and more united within Christ, your love and devotion to Him is beautiful and inspiring. There are shades of perfection growing in you spurred by the love we have for Grace and her life.

  7. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    Quid pro quo. “Something for something. An equal exchange of goods or services.”
    In a recent theology class, I heard about this cliche on demanding from God some sort of recompense for the good that we do. Or words to that effect, at least in my understanding. I think it is about a sense of fairness: if and when i do something good or worthwhile, i deserve something good or worthwhile, too, in exchange. When i do something for God, i deserve something good from God. No, i don’t just deserve it, i demand it. I want to be recognize for the good that i do and i want to be famous for the exceptional abilities I have.
    What a pathetic contrast to what Jesus said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” And the Apostle Paul wrote in a Roman jail to his Philippian friends: “But whatsoever is to my gain, i consider them loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things…I consider them rubbish that i may gain Christ and be found in him the righteousness that is not by law but that is by faith… forgetting what is behind and straining on toward what is ahead, i press on to the upward prize that God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
    Thanks, Kelsi, for beaming the spotlight on what it means to live the crucified life without the fanfare and the accolades! May all of us who profess to be followers of Jesus not allow our left hands to know what the good that our right hands are doing, leaving them to our Father who sees what we do in secret! May we do things because we keep on falling in love with the Savior, as He continually pours out His love and consumes as with His love!
    Once more, SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI! Thus passes the glory of the world…

  8. Bobby V. Aguilar, III Says:

    I take exception and strong reservation on what MLK, Jr wrote: “our innate desire to lead and for recognition is not in and of itself evil.” Would you mind contextualizing this with what John the Beloved wrote (I John 2:16): “…For everything in the world-… the boasting of what he [man] does and has- comes not from the Father but from the world.” ? Much appreciate your clarification.

  9. Paul Louis Metzger Says:

    Thanks to everyone who wrote comments on Kelsi’s post on entitlement. God’s sacrificial love poured out in our lives through Christ Jesus in the Spirit is stronger than the desire for status. It is only as we are secure in that love that we can reach out and serve others with no demand for recognition or sense that God or they owe us. This love alone can sustain us for the marathon race that King ran so well so many years ago.

  10. Dave Hickox Says:

    I think here is one of the fundamental reasons why I’m troubled when people try to downplay the humanity of Christ.

    Paul makes it so clear in Philippians that “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” I work in Washington, DC where status and power are king cultures mix together in a crazy theological stew. In the midst of a backdrop painted with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Humanism, one of the most sovereign and powerful qualities that stands out about Christ can be found not in the whip he casts in the temple, but in his surrender on the cross. Look to other beliefs and tell me where you see God becoming man and not seizing power, but surrendering his life and being humiliated by those whom He created?

    Christ was God and if anyone in history could have had any sort of right for earthly power and glory it was Jesus. But, it wasn’t even on his radar screen. If we’re basically the gum on God’s shoe, how can we possible think or feel that we have any right to status or power? The truth is that in my book, in the words of William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army), “the greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender”.

    Thanks for some great words Kelsi.

  11. Kelsi Says:

    Ronaldo, you are right, that is so often our mentality: quid pro quo. I keep on going back to the subverted reality that Christ’s kingdom is not a kingdom at all by the world’s standards. His success is not the world’s, his glory is by no means the world’s. It is shattering to see that this is who and how we are called to be. Yet sadly, by and large, this is not the type of success and glory I am seeing us, the church, striving after. Devastatingly, I don’t see it looking any different than the power structures of this world. But I do have hope in a Christ that transforms and changes in a radical way. I must hold this hope for the church today. I am humbled through and through to realize that to even begin to strive after this upside down kingdom, my eyes and heart must be on His kingdom, not our own earthly empire. It is a beautiful call and struggle that he has confidently called us to, and he only does so because all things are possible in his name. This means we are victorious, if only we can believe and call on his name, not our own names of power and control.

  12. Kelsi Says:

    The quote you shared, Dave, by William Booth is powerful. I do see that total surrender is truly the greatest mark of power. I often feel much too weak to surrender to Christ because my own self-interest and desire for control is overwhelming. To truly surrender my control, autonomy and self-interests to Christ and entrust them to him is nuts if I only take into account my own strength. This is what strikes me with awe about Christ. He DID surrender completely because of his profound security and intimacy with his Father. I know that everyday I fail miserably at that, so it is no wonder that the Lord we worship was so perfect at such a seemingly insurmountable calling, because he is what we fail to be. This again brings me full circle to realize that my strength and perseverance must be found in Him, or else, yes, I will end every day feeling weary and defeated.

  13. Bobby V. Aguilar, III Says:

    The Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians about his thorn in the flesh said,
    “But He (God) said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness.’ Therefore, i can boast more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power will be made perfect in me.”
    Ms. Johns, i believe the love of God to be so compelling, so overpowering, so captivating, so intoxicating and so ever-desirable. So much so that when I fin myself “too weak to surrender to Christ” because of my own self-interest and desire for control, I will find Him engulfing me instead, perfecting His power in my weakness of surrender. On the one hand, my desire for Him, more than my will to obey Him, makes surrender a sweet yielding of my ghost. On the other hand, as Dr. Metzger said, if i am not anchored on the assured ground of my union with Christ, i will never surrender to Him because i am not assured that He has my best interests at heart.
    Jesus was in a perichoresis (eternal dance) with the Father and the Spirit and so in their oneness as God and yet their uniqueness of persons, everything, including Jesus’ full surrender to the will of the Father, was an expression of holy love and perfect intimacy.
    May we find ourselves and our religious faith consisting of holy affections for the fountainhead of all affections! May our religious affections lead us always to a more profound, to a higher level of sweet surrender in the already-not yet of our journey with Christ!

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