Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mediocre at Two Score

"Speech! Speech!" they cried at my surprise 40th birthday party. Actually not. It was a good party put together by my wife, Lois. My brother spent hours putting together a great video slideshow of my life. However, none vied for a word of wit or wisdom from the birthday boy. Ahh... but what would I have said if asked? I do have some two score worth of reflections and predictions. I offer them forthwith as though I actually did say something at my surprise birthday party:

English translations of the Bible represent two Greek verbs, "agapao" and "phileo", by the same word, "love". "Agape" is the noun form of "agapao" that many are more familiar with. "Phileo" has no noun form that I know of except that is is turned into a prefix to form a noun referring to a particular type of love, i.e. philadelphia: city of brotherly love. There is a debate over whehther the two Greek words mean something slightly different, or if they can be used interchangeably. There are places in the Bible where the two appear to be used interchangeably. However, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, I can say "A quarter is round," and "A quarter is silver," but this doesn't make "round" and "silver" interchangeable. It is my observation that perhaps the Bible itself defines these terms. John quotes Jesus in chapter 15 of his Greek gospel saying that "Greater love [agape] has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." A few verses later He says "If you were of the world, the world would love [phileo] it's own..." The difference in meaning is given by contrast in the context of the passage. The ultimate "agape", therefore, is to understand it as being sacrificial. Stemming from God's eternally cohesive nature, "agape" love was demonstrated on the cross by Christ Himself through His self-sacrifice.

When Lois and I were married, I requested a reading from Ephesians 5. Paul's admonition to wives and husbands seems an apropos solution to God's 'curse' spoken to Adam and Eve at the fall. Paul tells husbands to "love [agapao] your wives as Christ also loved [agapao, aorist tense] the church and gave Himself up for her." Once again we see the pattern of sacrifice in agape love as defined by the Bible. At the time, sacrifice was a matter of principle. At some point along the way, this sacrifice has become a reality. There was a little sacrifice here and a little sacrifice there. As the sacrifices pile up, so does my obedient love for my wife. I wear my heart on my sleeve and love each one of you dearly, although this "love" may be properly categorized as something other than "agapao" as such is tempered sacrificially in favor of my wife. (I note also here that Lois demonstrated her obedience to the Ephesians passage by honoring me with a surprise party. Thanks, Hon.)

In my childhood, as I contemplated the unforseen future, I could not have imagined all that I have accomplished to date. As I look back on these past forty years, I regret all that I have not accomplished. Just as the sacrifice of love for my wife grew from a mere matter of principle to a very real thing, likewise my youthful awe at adulthood at some point grew into disappointment with myself. God has been kind in His gifts to me. He has given me exceptional intelligence and musical talent to be sure which I have applied to many endeavors. He has not, however, given me the one gift that would make these gifts most effective.

Ted Haggard has been found most recently to be unfit for Christian leadership. I would argue that his fall happened long ago and God has allowed him to continue in his position of leadership in such a state. God has His purposes. It's not unlike David who sinned most grievously and remained king. I don't recommend that Ted Haggard be reinstated, but I make the point that all this time living in sin he remained a most effective leader.

The President of Iran, as evil as his rhetoric is, nevertheless has Iran's best interests in mind. I'm convinced of this. He is threatened not by the US as much as he is threatened by some factions of his own people. His rhetoric and actions seem well designed to keep these factions at bay as well as keep the US out of his country. God has gifted with the leadership to make the decisions that will lead his country according to his purposes.

Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons", has used the Pope (and the Roman Catholic Church) as a straw man to attack all of Christendom. Why? God has gifted the Pope with the leadership necessary to fulfill His purposes for the Roman Catholic Church.

I have the intelligence to lead like Ted Haggard. I certainly have the presence of mind to surround myself with people to hold me accountable against the temptations to sin to which he succumbed. I could arguably make better decisions for Iran given the international political climate and the nature of Islam. When put in a leadership position in the Marines, I demonstrated my ability by leading my new tank crew to take high score in the company on the tank tables in Twentynine Palms, CA. Of course, these men had no choice but to follow my lead. Such is the nature of the military. With civilians, I get whining and complaining. I can make a perfect argument to support my case and my decisions are still challenged. Apparently, I lack the charisma to sell myself as a leader. So when I lead, people tend not to follow. It's an important factor in leadership that people be willing to follow. People faced with the option to offer me positions of leadership sense this and rightly pass me over for leadership.

How has this affected my opportunities? Let's look at some of the things I have not accomplished:

I would like to start a series of profitable companies through which people of third world countries can be trained in business principles. An analysis of political, cultural and natural resources in their area being made, a system of locally owned and run businesses could be established that could generate wealth and make these areas self-sufficient. This would help bring people out of poverty through local means taking the burden off of international support. It could also go a long way to quelling hotbeds of violence that threaten the international community.

Okay, let me back off the ambition a notch. I'd like to be a professional Christian musician. Being exceptionally intelligent doesn't mean I know everything. One of the simplest things I don't know is how to simultaneously build a program and get myself booked somewhere. First of all, I have no idea how to get booked somewhere (it's that sales thing). Second is the conundrum of building a program without knowing my audience while getting booked without first having a program. The answer completely escapes me. Third, I don't have the capital to purchase necessary equipment. This is handled by the general concept to start small and build. I can develop a program that can utilize equipment normally found in churches and adapt. However, not knowing the congregation up front, I don't know what type of music would best minister to them. There are many different types of churches and not all are open to different types of music.

Another direction I have a heart for is missions. I would like to be a full-time missionary. I have two strikes against me, however. First, reputable mission boards require college degrees. It's not the I don't have a college education. I have more than enough hours for a degree or two. I just have never completed the requirements for a specific course of study. At this point, I've taught myself more than I ever learned in college. To go back to college is to waste thousands of dollars (as well as time needed to support my family) only to be taught that which I already know. Second is that missionaries often must raise their own support, usually by making presentations at various churches. (Here's that sales thing again.) I can raise money like a torpedo can raise the Titanic. Furthermore, missionaries must ideally be leaders. Well, that really nails the coffin shut on this goal.

This all begs the question, "Why would God so equip me with gifts and not provide the means to use them to their fullest potential?" This sounds like I have sour grapes with God. Actually, no. The burden of effectiveness is on God. I can only do as God has prescribed with the understanding that my goal is to glorify Him and Him alone. Sure, it's frustrating to possess unused abilities. And should I be satisfied with mediocrity? What is mediocrity, after all? We value strength and power. Nevertheless, has God not mercifully withheld His power to condemn us eternally? God is the God of the mediocre. Who asked for a King but the Hebrews. God warned them against a King. The strength of the Hebrews was in the promise of God, not in a King. They wanted power among the nations. God wanted his people to glorify him.

I'm reminded of Moses, another leader. I'm the same age Moses was when he utterly failed in his attempted leadership by murdering an Egyptian and fleeing Egypt into the wilderness. He came back only after God had called him and was successful in leading an entire nation out of another against one of the strongest rulers in the known world. This, after 40 years in exile as a goat herder when he had all the education of a member of Pharaoh's household - surely less than mediocre in our eyes.

To take leadership outside of God's sovereign direction is to fail. In the next 40 years, I could see a burning bush and be called to astonishing ministry that fully utilizes the gifts that God has given me. More likely, however, I will continue in my God-given gift of apparent mediocrity. After all, it's really not about me. To God alone be the glory.

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