Awhile back, I gave a speech about how to be truly great. Below is what I said.
“Hello Everyone! I am delighted to be with you. Now, let me start off by asking you a question. How many of you want to do great things? How many of you want to be great? Now, I am a Christian and I love stories from the Bible. And, there is an interesting story about greatness you can find in the book of Mark, chapter 9:33-37:
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
So, let’s unpack what just happened here. You have the disciples…all twelve of them arguing…about who is the greatest. Now, here’s the thing. Jesus didn’t chastise them or tell that they should not want to be great. After all, they—like each of you—were created in the image of a great God. So, they, and you, should want to be great. They were made for greatness and so were you. It’s in their nature and it is in yours. It’s in their DNA and it is in yours.
But, look what Jesus did. He defined greatness for them. He said, ‘If you want to be first—that is the greatest, you must be the servant of all.” In other words, he linked greatness to the service of others. And, he didn’t stop there. He took a little child who was standing nearby and brought the child into their midst. Now, children were considered lowly, especially to men—and often marginalized and overlooked in their culture. They were vulnerable, someone that you really didn’t pay much attention to. They were barely seen and never heard. But, Jesus said, unless you were willing to receive and care for a child…that is the lowly and the vulnerable, you weren’t great. So, he linked greatness to service of others and said that the more vulnerable the others you serve, the greater you are.
Now, this was pretty shocking for them. They were living in the time of King Herod, who called himself, Herod the Great. This guy had built a lot of fortresses, and palaces, and monuments to his greatness. But, when it came to people, he was harsh. He even killed three of his own children. And, when Jesus was born, he tried to kill him too because he knew that Jesus’s birth would threaten his definition of greatness. In fact, since he didn’t know where Jesus was, he ordered his men to kill all of the babies that were born at the time that Jesus was, just to make sure.
You see, Herod's measure for greatness was very different than Jesus. For Herod, it was about his individual plans, pleasures and purposes above the lives of others. It was all about him.
Now, we live in a culture that is increasingly defining greatness like Herod did. We hear this on TV, in our music, in our offices, and even, sadly, in our homes—where it’s about my hustle and my stuff—getting mine and taking yours. We are told to worship and glorify ourselves above everything else. There is a constant drumbeat that says—it’s all about me, it’s all about me…
Now, at Care Net, where I am delighted to work, we seek to offer compassion, hope and help as an alternative to abortion to women and men faced with pregnancy decisions. And, as I was reflecting on this passage in Mark, God gave me an insight. You see, when a woman and a man enter an abortion clinic and meet with the folk who assist them in taking the life of their unborn child, it’s really a conversation about greatness. These vulnerable folks are challenged with a difficult situation. They are reminded of the hopes and the dreams that they have for themselves and, often, for their lives together. In a sense, the abortion provider is saying to them—think about your future…your plans. Don’t you want to be great?…Don’t you want to be great?…Don’t you want to be great? And, because they are designed in the image of God, everything within them says…Yes! Yes! Yes!…I want to be great… And they are told or convinced themselves that if they want to be great and do great things and have great things, they can’t do it with this baby. They need to put the child away and too often, to millions of little ones in the womb, they do just that.
And, here the thing. They are doing exactly tbe opposite of what Jesus said. They are following Herod’s way. And, that’s why often when they come to their senses and truly realize what they have done, it so painful for them. In a book called, “Fatherhood Aborted,” there is a statement from a guy named Riccardo that illustrates this. He said: “Every year on the anniversary of the abortion, I experience a terrible pain inside—thinking about the life that was lost. The home runs that will never be hit. Or, the dance recitals that will never be…It’s an ache in me.” You see, Riccardo was robbed of an opportunity to be great.
But, here’s the good news for each of us. We actually know in our heart which definition of greatness–Jesus or Herod– is really right. Let me give you an example to prove my point.
Let’s say that there is a fireman who has to go into a burning building and he only has time to save 5 people. So, he rushes into the building and down a long smoky hallway and comes to two doors. On his right the sign on the door says, “nursery” and there are 5 little babies inside. The door on his left the sign says “gym” and there are 5 body builders inside. He has to make a decision quickly and he does. He kicks the door in and rushes outside with the 5 body builders. He won’t a hero’s applause will he. Why not? Because he didn’t save the most vulnerable and his greatness is tied to this. That’s why we have monuments to Dr. Martin Luther King, who gave his life so that the vulnerable could get justice. That’s why there was an outpouring of praise for Nelson Mandela, who could have chosen to lead a violent and bloody civil war in South Africa in revenge after being wrongly imprisoned for 27 years. Instead, Mandela chose to protect the vulnerable by modeling for others forgiveness and reconciliation.
Every day, you make decisions about greatness and you have a choice to define greatness the way that Jesus did or the way that Herod did. Jesus’s example he showed us that the great don’t sacrifice the vulnerable for themselves—like Herod did. They sacrifice themselves for the vulnerable. So, we must examine our lives and our priorities in every role of our life if we want to be great.
I wrote a book called “Bad Dads of the Bible-8 Mistakes Every Good Dad Can Avoid.” It’s basically a book about greatness and the mistakes that fathers can make when they defined greatness outside of God’s design. After all, wise men (and women) learn from their mistakes, but the wisest and the greatest, learn from the mistakes of others.
Look, there is greatness in each and every one of you regardless of your background, your income, your past, the obstacles that have been placed in your life. You were meant for greatness. True greatness. So, I encourage you to be great. But, to do so, you have to live for something more than yourself, like Jesus’s disciples did. They learned the lesson. That’s why there are more sons named Peter and John, than Herod!
Now, let me close with a story that illustrates what I have shared with you today. I was at a conference and I met a woman named Anne Pierson. In 1973, she and her husband Jim started a ministry called “The House of His Creation,” a maternity home for women in crisis. Jim became a father figure to hundreds of vulnerable young women over the years. Well, Jim died of cancer in 2012 and after his death, his family created a book called “A Father’s Heart” to memorialize Jim’s thoughts and values. The forward says these words, “Jimmy Pierson exemplified the heart of God. He did not expect anything in return, anything short of love. He was a man’s man with a heart of gold—one not afraid to love and invest in others at the expense of himself.”
His oldest daughter Holly wrote: He is one of the loves of my life… one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me.”
Here’s what his wife Anne said: As he fought his final battle with cancer, he was so aware of everyone around him, praying for them and telling him he loved them. He died July 1, 2012. I kissed him on his forehead and said, “Thank you for choosing me.”
Now, I doubt that heads of state attended Jimmy Pierson's funeral. There are probably not streets being named for him, no statues or monuments. Nope, just a legacy…a Godly legacy that lives on in the hearts and minds of his wife, his children and countless others that he received like a “little child.” And, there is no doubt in my mind, that when he entered the Lord’s presences, he heard these the greatest of words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Jimmy Pierson was a great man. He protected the vulnerable. He lived a disciplined life committed to pursuing the desires given to him by God and he was deeply connected to God’s spirit.
You see, a legacy is not something you leave; it’s something you live—daily. So, decide and commit today to be great. Serve God and serve others. Invest your life in others—receive the little ones. Be Great. Seek God’s purpose for your life. Be Great. It’s never too late or too early to start being great. You see, the truest measure of a man’s greatness is not what he does for himself—not his declarations to his own greatness in the public square. No, the truest measure of a man’s greatness is not what he does for himself, but rather, what he does for others. Jesus—the greatest man of all time—showed us that.