For the third year is a row, my wife, Jeanine, and I are attempting to see all the “Best Picture” nominated films before the Oscars© telecast on February 22nd. One of the movies that we’ve viewed so far is “Whiplash”, an independent film about a drum student and his teacher at a conservatory in New York. The plot revolves around the student, Andrew, advancing to the elite studio jazz band and his interaction with the intense band leader, Fletcher. In a pivotal scene, Fletcher explains his volatile and abusive approach to his students by saying that it weeds out the greats, who will rise above it and reach their potential, and the average, who will get discouraged by it and give up.
I left the theater asking myself if the great are created by circumstance and training, or if they are great to begin with and circumstance and training simply exposes it. I wondered the same thing last weekend, when the Patriots won the Super Bowl©. Was it a lucky win because the opposing coach made a mistake (and greatness was thrust upon them) or was it a win that showed that they were better trained and better prepared for victory (and simply exposed their greatness)? Are there any number of skills and abilities that we can hone to become great or are we all blessed with innate skills and abilities that, given sufficient space, will express greatness?
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16 (NIV)
As the above passages state, every child of God has some good work to accomplish, some form of greatness that will honor the Father and build up His people. When the opportunity surfaces to exhibit greatness God weaves our spiritual gifts, passions, abilities, preferences and experiences so that we can shine no matter the circumstances. Whether it is the dream of playing drums like Buddy Rich or playing football like Lawrence Taylor, we all have aspirations for greatness. We all also have the potential for greatness, whether that greatness is earned through hard work or thrust upon us through circumstance.
This all brings me back to the Patriots game last Sunday, and two ‘great’ players. When it comes to greatness, there seems to be sufficient room for both Malcolm Butler and Tom Brady: Butler was at the right place at the right time and he was prepared to make a great play; Brady continued to add to an already stellar career due to his talents and exhibited greatness. I’d like to think that there is a Butler and a Brady in all of us – times when we can do great things and times we can express some innate greatness.
Where does your greatness lie? You don’t need an overbearing music teacher or an ornery coach to be great; you just need to cultivate what God has equipped you to accomplish. Now, go out there and do a great job.
“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV)
As a preacher, I recognize the importance of words and the value of the right words. I try in articles, messages and correspondence to share the right words for the circumstance, often but not always with success. Words are occasionally slippery, though. Every culture has words that hold special meaning (for example, Bostonians use terms like bubbler, jimmies, and cellar that have little meaning elsewhere). The church culture also has its own lexicon which includes words like salvation, grace, God and redemption. There are many words that Christians use that require explanation if they are expected to be understood, let alone embraced, in a larger context. Yet these are the words, often, that express the dynamic spiritual change that believers experience when they trust Jesus as personal Lord and Savior (even this sentence contains a number of words that really require a culturally specific definition).
The scripture passage above speaks of ‘words’. Paul’s prayer requests to the church in Ephesus give me pause and hope at the same time. They give me pause that God’s commission covers ‘whenever I open my mouth’. Whenever I open my mouth – in traffic, when I hit my thumb with a hammer, while I make small talk with a neighbor, with friends at Fenway discussing the game – are my words making known the mysteries of the gospel? They also give me hope because we are promised ‘words may be given me’. God is faithful to allow me to say the things He wants spoken in that circumstance.
Paul’s prayer requests to the church may only cover his teaching or preaching ‘words’; after all, he does frame the petition around words like mystery, ambassador and declare. But what if it applies to all language, not expecting us to quote scripture every time our lips move but claiming every conversation for the cause of Christ? Are there conversations to which I contribute that have no redemptive value? Sadly, I do. But this is not because of the subject matter but my laziness in directing any aspect of the conversation toward the gospel.
Perhaps these words in Ephesians are encouraging those who call upon the name of the Lord to speak for Him through our interactions over the Red Sox, “Dancing with the Stars” and election results, among other things. Then, if we can do that, perhaps we could move forward in our dialogue to also speak fearlessly (boldly and without shame) while making known the mystery of the gospel (the wonderful good news that makes a person drowned in sin alive through God’s unmerited favor demonstrated by Jesus’ intentionally sacrificial death and powerfully restorative resurrection).
I hope that the right words have been given me in this situation, and I pray that they’ve made the gospel known in your reading them.