hen you hear how the old lady tried to jockey those boys of hers to get the cushy seats right next to the Man — it’s hard not to roll your eyes.
I mean — who just flat out says it, and to none other than the Holiest Himself: “Give your word that these two sons of mine will be awarded the highest places of honor in your kingdom, one at your right hand, one at your left hand.”
Who’s the bullying she-bear audacious enough to go demanding the highest honour award for her old mama-boys?
In the early morning dark, the black coffee in my hand is a fare bit easier to swallow down right then, than the Words audibly coming from the cranked speaker on my phone. This frozen old world’s thawing slow, sap running in the woods, and Lent could liquefy stony, hard places.
I set the mug at the edge of the counter and listen like it’s this banged up old ticker’s being tapped.
But before I wrap my hand back around the steaming mug, it’s rising like this incense of truth that turns around everything I’ve ever thought of this scene from the Old Book:
Is our longing to move up in the world, really about wanting to be moved closer to Jesus?
Is all our striving to climb higher up status ladders really about wanting to sit closer to Jesus?
We all just long to belong next to Him.
And the next Words resonate kind of tinny from the phone, kind of hauntingly in the inner chambers. The God-Man’s eying up all His rabble riled up over the chutzpah of these two Zebedee brothers and their brassy mama and He says it to soothe us all:
“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave.’’
I move the cup to my lips and drink this, the coffee, down, and hardened depths can kinda dissolve into a torrent of clarity:
Wanting to be first makes you a slave to the tyranny of the crowd forever.
But serving the ways of Christ makes you first forever.
Greatness is a function of givenness.
And I turn, there at the kitchen counter, strewn with crumbs from last night.
The struggle to get our life together is how the enemy of our soul guarantees we struggle to give our life away.
Smack dab in the very centre of our barn beam farm table, is the grainy Lenten wreath, with that wooden likeness of the God-Man dragging the Cross.
Something jockeys abruptly in this old lady’s soul:
The call is never to follow the way of the bigger and better to the finer and greater.The call is solely to Follow Him — and it’s a Cross that always follows anyone who truly follows Him.
More of your own soul dies if you think that the call is anything less than to come pick up a cross and die into the freedom living given.
The coffee cup in my hand’s been poured right out.
Because, yeah, there ain’t one of us who is honest who wouldn’t say:
Every day, we have to find our way, and every way has to find its road, and every road has to find its signs.
These Beatitudes are my signs, a kind of guideposts for embattled and bruised days, a true north when the landscape keeps changing under my feet.
I unashamedly finger them in my pocket a thousand times a day.
Do not ask what is wrong with this world.
Ask where are those living out the Beatitudes in this world.
I carry those cards around, wearing the ink off, like maybe the ultimate in osmosis could be a reality, right there in the pocket of these ripped jeans:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
What had that fine old preacher man from across the great pond said?
“He came… that you and I might live the Sermon on the Mount…
If only all of us were living the Sermon on the Mount, [the world] would know that there is dynamic in the Christian gospel;
They would know that this is a live thing;
They would not go looking for anything else.
We are all meant to exemplify everything that is contained here in these Beatitudes…
We are all of us meant to conform to its pattern and to rise to its standard.” ~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones
The wooden figurine of Jesus hauling that cross on His back, it’s back lit in the early morning candlelight. He answers the call not with cheap words, but with the literal cruciform shape of His given life.
Rise to this: The only way any of us should ever conform is to conform to being cruciform.
And what did the Cruciform one say but, Lucky are the poor, and those who mourn, lucky are the meek and the right-hungerers. “When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” — what He’s doing is summarizing at least 200 very direct (in some cases very extensive) places in the Old Testament where the poor are discussed. Two hundred, at least,” Tim Keller posits.
The morning candles flicker and this busted up heart of mine, it just keeps slow thawing and there it is, across times and trials, the reverberating question:
“Where have we any command in the Bible, laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?” The timeless theologian Jonathan Edwards rings across ages.
And the dawn clearly keeps coming up through the dark, Edwards’ one question bringing clarity:
Nothing is clearer in Scripture than you get to come closer to Christ by coming closer to the poor.
Nothing is more clearly noted in Scripture than notably giving to the poor. Nothing’s more incapable of refusing, than a Christian refusing to help the poor.Caring for the poor is absolutely not optional for the Christian — caring for the poor is absolutely elemental for the Christian.
The ink from the Beatitudes could rub off on even the likes of me, becoming the form and shape of what runs through the veins.
I met him first more than four years ago, a man under the African sun, a man who was born to refugees, a Rwandan exiled to Uganda. A refugee of violence, Charles told me in this rich baritone, how prayed for purpose, and he persevered into spiritual headwinds, and he planted a church that grew to more than 2,000 and the refugee from Rwanda soon found himself invited to seminary at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon.
Though flung far across this tilted and spun world, studying the serving ways of Jesus — Charles brims when he gets to this part in the story — he carried in his heart the faces of the orphaned, widowed and homeless of the Rwandan genocide, and he and his wife, Florence, scrounged and squirrelled every penny to begin sponsoring vulnerable children to attend school in Rwanda.
The man knew:How you are, is not where you are — and how you could become is not where you might be now.
A handful of weeks ago, I had stood again with Pastor Charles, who now has his doctorate through Gordon Conwell Seminary, stood with this anointed refugee on that red Rwandan soil, stood in the centre of the ministry that birthed from his heart, Africa New Life, and witnessed the now almost 10,000 marginalized and oppressed children sponsored and on track towards a high school graduation, vocational training, and university graduation.
On a Sunday morning, I sat in a pew of the church Pastor Charles planted at Africa New Life, and this anointed man of God, this refugee who was welcomed Home, he preached it like a man tapping the very centre of Being and what he said has gathered and collected me for weeks:
“Giving is God’s provision for you.”
And I had sat up a bit straighter and leaned in when he said it, because only when you genuinely listen do you get to genuinely live. Pastor Charles just straight-up read the Word:
“Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop.” The Bible, 2 Corinthians 9:6-9
And now, how many weeks later and ten thousand kilometres across the world, in the dawning dark of the second week of Lent, the seeds that Pastor Charles faithfully sowed on a humid Sunday morning, grows into divine yield within and the source of everything can flow free:
Giving is God’s provision for you — because when you give lavishly to those in need — you lavishly get more of Christ whom you need.
Giving is God’s provision for you — to free you from fake best things and give you the actual best seats closer to Him and His heart.
Giving is God’s provision for you — to give you more of the giving heart of God.
And I nod slowly, agreeing and aligning with His ways of abundance, and there are chairs around that barn-beam table that need pushing in and we can all find our place:
It’s the servants who are served the closest seats.It’s the Gifters who get the best seats in the house — the seats closest to people, to God, to joy.
It’s the Givers who get the seats closest to Christ, closest to kind people, closest to the kind of people they themselves want to become.
Blessed are the Givers for they get the blessing of His presence — the gift every brave soul wants most.
And mid-way through the second week of Lent, this old lady takes her seat before Him who makes room at the table, and there are prays for ways to take what is given and break it pass it down to those waiting for His grace —
– and her eyes and life settle on the givenness of God.
You could be one of the blessed & lucky ones who get to stand with the girls of Africa and help them dream. When we refuse to be part of helping girl’s dream — how do we refuse to be like Christ?