God is always calling us in two directions: away from others to become the distinct person we’re created to be, and toward others to serve them in love. We’re always being separated from and sent to. Individuated, and connected. This is a communion mystery of being broken and given…The goal of this breaking is wholeness, which we then offer as a living sacrifice for the wholeness of the world.

Advertisements

Curiosity is better than duty. Sometimes I emphasize the importance of vocation, the importance of calling. Calling is deeply significant. And there are times when the thing we’re called to do becomes difficult and requires persistence. But there are levels of faithfulness. Paul said of his preaching assignment,

If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. (1 Cor 9:17)

So while sometimes Paul carried on out of duty, the real reward came when he did it in a wholehearted way. Heart matters.

Jesus talked quoted Isaiah saying “these people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” So there’s a difference between mechanically obeying our calling, and fulfilling our calling from the heart. One essential aspect in fidelity to the heavenly mandate over our lives is what Albert Einstein called, “a holy curiosity.”

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.  — Albert Einstein

Einstein called his passionate curiosity, not his intelligence, his most beneficial attribute. He had questions. His questions kept him wondering, figuring, looking, considering, and searching.

Learners, not Experts. Who is curious, the expert or the learner? Obviously, as Paul said,

“If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” (1 Cor 8:2)

A person who thinks they’ve arrived…stops moving forward. Sometimes we think of faith as a kind of adherence to a fixed doctrinal creed. But that’s not faith, that’s “the faith.” Faith is an attitude of trust and surrender in relation to the God who is there. Faith is relational! Faith is dynamic, because God is not an inanimate idea, but a moving, living, active, speaking, breathing personal mystery.

Hide and Seek. And the thing about God is that he actively hides himself from those who consider themselves “wise and learned,” and reveals himself to “little children” (Matt 11:25). Jesus celebrated that about his Father. His active hiding, and active revealing based on our attitudes.

One of my favorite verses in the Psalms is Psalm 25:14,

“The Lord confides in those who fear him, he makes his covenant known to them.”

If we want to think of ourselves as the experts, he’ll allow that deception, but if we cultivate a heart of genuine curiosity, endless realms will unfold to us as we journey forward as pioneers.

Scientists vs Theologians. Madeleine L’Engle said that as she was searching for God and meaning, she discovered that the theologians exhibited less awe and wonder than the scientists, so she learned not to trust them. The scientists were often actively seeking for truth from a place of wonder, of curiosity, and the theologians were simply protecting and defending a belief system. Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

A wide gap between our authentic faith and our outward profession? Perhaps this is because of subtle drift that happens over time. I recently heard of a local pastor who has gone on journey and landed somewhere very different from his congregation. He admitted with a secretive whisper to a fellow traveller that “I could never talk about this stuff in my church. It would be too dangerous!” I jokingly whispered to Garth at our Monday elder meeting that I’m an avid supporter of ecological conservation as a deeply biblical value, but that my views, weirdly, are politically controversial. Odd that something so obvious in the Bible is so controversial in churches. Why am I bringing this up? I’m saying that there are all kinds of reasons we say and do things that don’t actually come from faith. We can develop a wide gap between our real journey and our public face.

I’ve been transparent, and it’s been costly. My journey may involve questions you aren’t ready to ask. My journey might lead me to answers that you downright hate. My journey may cost me a lot. It may cost us a lot. And I’ll just go on record. I’ve taken an approach that others haven’t with my journey of curiosity and discovery in God. I’ve always shared the journey with the church and let the results be what they are, rather than decide what you can handle. You tell me if it’s been worth it. But I cannot, with a clean conscience, actively create a culture where there is a wide gap between who we say we are and who we actually are, a wide gap between what we pretend we affirm, and what we actually believe.

Sometimes the diversion becomes the path. So calling, is not so much a black or white, in or out, right or wrong thing. While there is an imperative to calling, it’s the lowest level of faithfulness to simply, “do it because we must.” The true and higher nature of calling doesn’t seem like calling at all. It can even seem like a disruption or a diversion away from calling! The true nature of calling is, I believe, the inward journey of curiosity. Too much dependence on duty and obligation can disrupt and erode the joyful true nature of calling, which comes from an inquisitive heart on a journey of discovery.

A “been there done that” attitude can creep in over time, slowly. There are miracles all around us to those who have eyes to see. There are mysteries all around us and we’ve become numb to the wonder of the mystery of life. But a childlike heart can  reawaken the curiosity again, and send us on a journey of discovery. Everyday is filled with miracles, and consequently an awake heart is likewise filled with wonder!

Polymath. Curiosity can make you move in new directions, many directions. There’s a word I love, “Polymath.” A polymath is a person whose interests and knowledge are wide-ranging. I have a tendency to obsess over an issue, a topic, a craft for a season. And then I add it to my toolbelt and go after something else. I never really leave it behind, but it enriches my life. I don’t really feel alive if I’m not actively learning. Oddly, I hate school, but I love learning, and I learn best when I’m self-directed. What I’m saying is, sometimes we go on a journey of discovery because we enjoy it! But that’s not the only reason we become curious enough to dig…

Destabilization, Questions, and Doubt. Experiences can cause us to doubt what we think we know. Questions arise. And doubts are meant to send us on a journey of discovery with truth so that faith can grow. Unbelief is when we turn our heart away from the Lord’s voice. Doubt is usually our soul asking us to find God’s voice on an issue. What we think we know is not enough. Doubt is asking for more. Unbelief isn’t. There is a huge difference in heart, though outwardly they may present themselves similarly. Doctrinal systems aren’t faith until they’ve become “ours” out of relationship to God. Once the truths are ours out of living relationship to God they’ve got life on them and we value them and understand them in a whole new light.

Faith of our fathers. When we grow up in the church often we have to come to many points along the way where the faith of our fathers and mothers becomes our faith – and that process can be turbulent at times. Sometimes people are trying on other worldviews for size. Sometimes they repudiate the faith they’ve been handed. But one thing I’ve seen, if they make the faith their own, it begins to have depth and meaning for them in a way it never could otherwise.

My answers don’t work unless they’re your questions. When I try to hand you my answers that came from my journey and you aren’t even asking those questions or on that journey, you don’t really have ears to hear. I may be cheapening them. At the very least, it can be surface information. But once it’s the answer to your questions and the road under your feet, you begin to understand why the psalmist called God’s words, “more precious than gold,” “sweeter than honey,” and “a light for my path.”

Seasons of Digging. Over and over I’ve gone through seasons of intense curiosity and deep learning about different topics. We could call them seasons of curiosity. Usually they last many months and sometimes several years as topics spill over and lead to other unintended journeys that are tangentially related. Rarely was it my intention or plan to go on any of them. Most of the time I would have resisted the very idea that I would ever go on that journey beforehand. No matter. It wasn’t about a plan or a map. I’m not “steadily learning a curriculum.” I’m following the thread of my life where it can’t help but lead.

Questions. And what I’ve noticed is that for that season of curiosity and learning, I’m obsessive. And I live with questions Google can’t answer, and other people’s answers don’t entirely scratch the itch. In fact, the right kind of engagement with others can smell true, or smell false, but it the journey must be travelled. It isn’t about “finding THE answer,” but about finding my way forward on a path I haven’t yet travelled.

Add, don’t subtract. Then after that season of discover, of curiosity calms down, we are living from a new place, a different place than before. I don’t ever want to cheapen or belittle my past revelations – truths I learned in God along the way. New revelation isn’t superior to old revelation. One time God said to me, “add to your faith; don’t subtract.” I instantly saw what he meant. He meant that often when he reveals something to his kids, we repudiate all we knew beforehand. We have a “new is good, old is bad” mentality. He wants us to have a treasure storehouse full of all the wonderful covenant truths that our ours in Christ. We sometimes think of things as mutually exclusive that actually work together better. Just because things don’t fit together in our tiny brains.

People of encounter, not simply ideas. Curiosity is essential for authentic biblical faith, because we Bible people are the people of encounter with the living God, not the people of empty human ideas about God. We are of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the people of the philosophers. We are the sons of daughters of surrender to mystery, not masters of logic and certainty.

How do we break out of stuckness if we find that our fruit reveals that we’ve been existing in one place for far too long? If it’s been six years since we went on journey…Just ask God, and mean it. Keep asking, keep meaning it. He’ll do it. It really is that simple.

“Squid.” A while back I had an odd feeling of contentment. It wasn’t the good contentment. It was the bad kind. Just a feeling like, “I have a good grasp of the Bible and the gospel. I’m content. I’m sure there’s a few things I could discover but I got the main things down.” It bothered me that I felt that way. So I said, “Father, show me something I don’t know.” Immediately he said one word, “Squid.” I spent the next several hours learning about squid.

Squid are Cephalopods with large eyes, long bodies, eight arms, two tentacles, and one beak. They come in all sizes, live in many terrains from reefs all the way to the deep darkest oceans. They have color changing skin for communication and for camouflage. They have ink for defense. They are highly intelligent and hunt by sight. They are highly social; Humboldt squid have been observed hunting collaboratively as a team. Some species are bioluminescent, which is super cool! They are rapid swimmers who move through the water using jet propulsion. I watched videos of divers talking with great reverence about surviving squid attacks. Terrifying stuff.

The beak of a Humboldt squid is incredibly hard (difficult to dent or scratch), stiff (difficult to bend out of shape), and tough (doesn’t break easily), superior in these attributes to virtually all known metals and polymers. It can bite through a human bone easily, which is pretty horrible. When it comes to their color changing skin, it gets so fascinating; some of them using bioluminescence to have a lighter shade on the bottom side to mask their presence to predators beneath them against the light surface above, but darker shades on top to mask them against the deep beneath.

But you get the point. God said one word to me, “Squid;” one article of his creation to consider to break me out of the illusion that I know much at all, and help me rediscover the sense of childlike wonder, awe, curiosity, and joy of living in his world as his child. I know next to nothing, and that’s wonderful!

Smug song leader. I remember a worship leader at a church to which I belonged. Musically gifted. Did a good job leading. But smug. Impressed with himself. He thought we were lucky to have him. Thought he was musically and spiritually advanced or something, I don’t know. I really have no idea what he thought. But he exuded that feeling. He was impressed with himself because he could string together chords in rhythm and sing on pitch. It was weird to me. We do that with song leaders sometimes, get overly impressed with them, and then they stupidly agree with us. We also do it with preachers. “Wow, you can make sense and be helpful, you’re so amazing.” Ugh. I can understand appreciating that someone did a good job expressing something, I can. But it’s a whole new level of stupid to actually be impressed with yourself. Let’s say mom’s food was good, so I thank her, and spend the rest of the day chest thumping and feeling like, “man, my thank you was so anointed. She’s so lucky to have me.” That’s just weird. You want to impress me, songs and sermons aren’t it, bro. Make me a squid. Jesus lived a sinless life of love for others and even endured the cross. You sang a song. Chill, my dude.

Curiosity, wonder, and awe are cleansing to the heart. Pride is something that happens when we drift from the posture of curiosity, awe, and wonder – the posture of a learner and a worshiper – to an expert. Anyone who climbs Everest knows they didn’t conquer the mountain, they merely survived it, and that narrowly. Human pride makes no sense.

In pride, you are your own focus. In curiosity, wonder, and awe, you are not the focus. That’s one of the reasons curiosity, wonder, and awe are so healthy. They save us from a life that revolves around ourselves! There’s really only one thing worth bragging about, and it ain’t us…

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jer 9:23-24)

Concluding Questions

  1. Do you remember any seasons of discovery you’ve gone on?
  2. When was the last one?
  3. Are you in one now? If so, what’s the journey or question you’re living in right now? What’s the topic, or the question, or the intuition you’re hunting down with God?
  4. Or maybe you’re resisting going on a journey of discovery because you don’t trust your soul’s questions. They maybe scare you, so you wish you could silence your doubts, instead of steward them into deeper faith. I don’t know. But if that’s you, then what’s the journey or the question you’re resisting?

Agreeing with Abba

Posted: May 5, 2019 in Theology, Tim's Sermons

Image  —  Posted: April 21, 2019 in Uncategorized

Palm Sunday, John 12

Posted: April 14, 2019 in Theology, Tim's Sermons

Image  —  Posted: April 1, 2019 in Media, Theology, Tim's Sermons

Life, Edited

Posted: March 17, 2019 in Theology, Tim's Sermons

mp3

Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt. In Parks and Rec, Chris Traeger is enthusiastic and positive and loves every idea and every person. So the state of Indiana hired him because he’s an encouraging even when he disagrees. But they partnered him with Ben Wyatt, who is a numbers cruncher and shoots down any idea that isn’t feasible. Ben said, “Chris came in and got everybody pumped up and feeling great and then I came in and slashed their budget to ribbons.” When I rough draft, I’m all Chris Traeger. But in the real world, we also need a Ben Wyatt, and that’s my editor.

Editing is addition by subtraction. The goal in editing is to cull the herd until everything that’s left is good. But usually the creator gets excited and says, “Ew, Ew, gimme the wheel for a minute, I got something…” So often in the edit the work actually grows.

Editing attempts to see the whole, how does this part serve the whole? If it does, where does it fit to best do that? If it doesn’t, it’s gone, no matter how good it is.

The editor must be ruthless and not fall in love with the paragraphs. Because they may need to be sacrificed for the whole. That scene or chapter or paragraph or character, if it doesn’t improve the quality of the whole, needs to be removed, no matter how much work you’ve put into creating it. People refer to this as “killing your darlings.” (If it helps you, and it does me, save that work in a new document, perhaps it will grow into its own thing later.)

Some editing guidelines…

  1. Introductions say why
  2. Conclusions are crescendos
  3. Don’t tell me, show me. (Stories and word-pictures are louder and stickier than accurate explanations.)
  4. When in doubt, leave it out
  5. A single, unifying thread
  6. Read it aloud (I use a teleprompter. This does many things. It helps flow of thoughts and transitions and alerts to monotony and flow of ideas and overall length, precise word choices become so much clearer. It helps with style, clarity, flow, length, and tone too.)
  7. Pacing – have we gone on too long without an attention getter? The best attention getters are there to communicate, not just draw readers back.
  8. Is this boring? (If you can’t keep their attention, you don’t deserve their attention.)
  9. Length: Is this short enough to be clear and focused? Is this long enough to get the message across? Is anything essential left out? Is anything unessential left in?
  10. Jargon, explained or removed
  11. Redundancy removed
  12. Antecedents replaced with their referent (this, that, it’s, they etc.)
  13. Trust the process

From ok, to good, to awesome. The difference between the high end product and the economy product is not usually basic function, but materials, fit and finish. In other words, the edits. You can upgrade an inexpensive guitar and make it amazing. That’s editing. But it takes time and skill.

You might think that if it’s God, it is beyond edits…but I suspect that’s not the full picture. Jeremiah has been edited from the Hebrew by the time the Septuagint was produced in Greek. And the New Testament tends to exclusively quote the Greek, though our modern Bible’s translate the Old Testament from the Hebrew. Many bible books were revised in the telling and remembering, before they ever made it to the page. We can see the evidences of editing in the gospels too (Matthew is Mark’s gospel reworked and expanded.) The issue is that the Holy Spirit is in both the first draft and the edits. Did you know that nearly all the scholars agree that the woman caught in adultery story in John chapter 8 wasn’t in the original version of John’s gospel? So does that mean it isn’t true? I don’t think so. According to many people’s ideas about how inspiration works, it should be thrown out. It was added in the edit. And I think John’s gospel is stronger with it included. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit can brood over you during the edit just as strongly as in the original moment of inception?

Collaborating with others is often a big part of what makes editing effective…as well as scary. The identity conversation gets loud and can shut down the objectivity quickly. If you’re a writer and you have an editor who reads your manuscript and marks it up and suggests rewrites…then even though they’re your ally, the process often feels like they are your sworn enemy. It’s one thing for YOU to kill your darlings, something else entirely for another person to suggest doing so. Don’t invite them into the edit unless you’re serious.

When the movie credits are rolling, sometimes I want to know just how much freedom the editors had in the cutting room? How much of the final movie is the director, and how much is the editors? I’m curious. Because with the little videos I’ve made I know that the majority of the work is done in the edit. Every minute of video seems to cost me an hour of editing. The ratio of impact on the final product is probably 30/70 with the edit being the 70%.

Never become your own follower. Be humble enough to contradict earlier versions of yourself. Don’t be too proud to edit your work. Some people would feel foolish to publicly say, “I’ve changed my mind.” They think that’s an admission of failure. In politics they call that person a flip-flopper. Now, if you flip and flop based on what sells or what benefits you in the moment, just to please a crowd or make money and avoid disapproval, yeah, that’s bad. But when a healthy moral compass and due process of arriving at truth is what informed and formed the decision to change your mind, that’s not a flip-flop. That’s you refusing to foolishly become your own follower, and to keep following the truth instead.

Always reforming/editing. One principle of the reformation is “semper reformanda,” always reforming, always revising, always changeable, always learning. I refuse to become my own follower.

LIFE, edited. What if there are creative cycles in our lives that macro and micro this principle of creativity and editing? What if we create in some seasons of life and revise or edit in other seasons of life? What if we took time to edit our thoughts and measure our words before releasing them out into public? What if, instead of giving people our crappy first drafts, in the name of being real and authentic, we gave them our best work, once it’s finished? I think that’s what Scripture consistently means when it talks about being slow to speak, and measuring our words carefully.

The crisis of reading the editor’s remarks. And what about that frustration and identify crisis and despair and deep fight or flight desire to quit that the writer experiences when the manuscript comes back marked up in red pen? Two days of eating ice cream straight from the tub, and calling your friend to pout and rant…and then finally, getting up the head of steam to begin tackling the rewrite of a book you already thought was exactly how you wanted it. What are some life applications of that process? You know the author invited the editor into that process because the author already knew the best chance for the publisher to run with it, and the best chance for the readers to love it, is to submit it to the scrutiny of the objective third party whose judgments you trust. But it’s still horrifying and feels like death. I wonder how many of us simply run away from that process as much as possible, and how much poorer our lives are as a result.

First half, last half? I wonder if we create in our first 40 years of life and edit in our last. I wonder if some of us go through marriage after marriage because we refuse to believe what the editor is telling us.

The biblical word “repent,” is a form of life-editing. It doesn’t mean to apologize or to feel horrible over something you did, though often those things come along for the ride. The real word means to rethink on the way to a redo. Meta = change. Noia = mind. Change your mind. Think again. Rethink. You’re an author and you’re writing a  story with your life. Repentance means to edit your life. To rewrite the parts of the story that aren’t serving the plot and the character development.

The greek word for sin, hamartia, means to miss the mark. Like when you shoot an arrow, and you don’t hit the target. If you miss it, you were to the left and down, so you adjust based on that shot. That’s repentance; that’s an edit.

Editing is an essential part of the work, and life. You sit back, go over what happened and what we chose. And we make adjustments. We make changes. It isn’t done, even after it’s done. You may be done for today, and out of steam. But that doesn’t mean it’s done. Come back to it when you’ve taken time off. Revisit it later. What works? What doesn’t? How do we adjust?

Live a better story. I’m permanently captivated by the idea that we are the authors of our lives, and we’re writing a story with our choices. And I’m fascinated by the idea of living a better story. Would you want to read the story of your life? If you could read that book, what changes would you want to make to the book? What would you edit out? What would you edit in?

Sometimes we want a life that wouldn’t make a good story. In real life, the difficulties are the things we wish would go away. In the story, the difficulties are the necessary things that provoke the characters to make hard choices, bad choices, or good ones. A story about things going well is not worth writing, but we assume that’s the ideal life, and it isn’t. We were made to rise to the challenge, and do hard things, not be carried away to paradise on beds of comfort and ease. Every good story involves things falling apart. But that’s not the ending. That’s the beginning of the real story. The story of paradise is only given a couple chapters in the bible. The rest is about what the characters choose after things fall apart.

What might this look like on the daily? The careful meditation and reflection at the end of the day doesn’t have to necessarily be written down to matter. We’re sitting back letting the Lord edit our lives. We don’t need to worry…tomorrow as we go up to “preach without notes” what he and I talked about together the evening before will affect what flows out of us. I don’t have to memorize it for it to go with me.

Paul Simon’s beautiful song, “Rewrite”…

I’m workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna change the ending
Throw away the title
And toss it in the trash
Every minute after midnight
All the time I’m spending
Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna turn it into cash

I been workin’ at the car wash
I consider it my day job
‘Cause it’s really not a pay job
But that’s where I am
Everybody says “The old guy
Workin’ at the car wash?”
Hasn’t got a brain cell left
Since Vietnam

But I say Help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohhh Thank you
I’d no idea That you were there
When I said help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohhh Thank you
For listening to my prayer

I’m workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna change the ending
Gonna throw away my title
And toss it in the trash
Every minute after midnight
All the time I’m spending
Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna turn it into cash

I’ll eliminate the pages
Where the father has a breakdown
And he has to leave the family
But he really meant no harm
Gonna substitute a car chase
And a race across the rooftops
Where the father saves the children
And he holds them in his arms

I said Help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohh, Thank you
I’d no idea That you were there
When I said Help me, help me
Help me, help me Ohhh Thank you
For listening to my prayer

Workin’ on my rewrite

Good writing is just normal writing that has been edited. A good life is just a normal life that has been edited. Invite the Holy Spirit in. Make the changes. Keep after it. Trust the process. 70% of the magic happens in the edit…