Ambition Re-Vision

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.  –Mark 9:35

I don’t want to be first. I just want to be full: fully me, fully serving God in the fullness of my gifting. Recently, I’ve come to realize the pursuit of a writing career isn’t getting me there.

Changing career paths is not what I expected when I named ambition as my 2020 word of the year. Quite the opposite.

Of course, I also didn’t expect a pandemic. So there’s that.

And I didn’t expect to read Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. My friend said, “You’ll like this because of your design background.”

She wasn’t trying to change my life, but the book led me to ask myself some tough questions.

Why do I write?

I’ve been blogging since 2012 and writing for publishing since 2014. There have been times when it was almost a full-time job and times when writing took a back seat to other important happenings in my life, but it has never satisfied me.

I thought it would.

Writing has spurred my spiritual growth in permanent and beautiful ways. It’s a form of worship that helps me understand God and get closer to him. Nothing has been wasted. But on the horizontal plane, its’ very one-sided. There isn’t adequate opportunity to dialogue—to learn from others as they learn from me—about the things of God. I couldn’t name this dissatisfaction until I read Designing Your Life and had space to think about these deeper things. (Perhaps the one positive in this whole pandemic: space to think.)

What do I relish?

I delight in ideas conveyed through words beautifully assembled, in dialogue, in research, in delighting in the Word alongside someone else. I also love speaking those well-pondered words in front of others.

But deeper than putting words on paper or into speech, I want my words to influence others’ thinking. I also want to take in new ideas from other thinkers, turn them around in my mind, test them, and form sound responses.

Am I quitting just shy of my goal?

My goal was publishing a Bible study (or series of Bible studies). There comes a time, however, to take an honest look at yourself. I have nine bullet points (which I’m not going to share here) honestly evaluating my writing career alongside the rest of my present-day life. The conclusion is that I’ve been living on a treadmill: running hard in one direction but getting nowhere. It’s clear I need a change of direction.

Actually, a pause. Then a change of direction.  

How has Scripture informed this transition?

After Jesus fed 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:30-44), he spent the night praying on a mountainside (Mark 6:46). Then He walked across the Sea of Galilee to meet the disciples in their boat. Mark says,

They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.  –Mark 6:51b-52

I wonder if Jesus knew that already. I wonder if He spent the night praying for the disciples to really see Who He was. Over and over, He presses them to change their thinking, to re-vision the Messiah (e.g. Mark 8:27-30).

Jesus was burdened that those closest to Him would understand what was happening. With two teenagers in the house and neighbors I don’t know yet, I feel the same kind of burden to be a catalyst for understanding among those I can touch.

Secondly, there were times in Jesus’ ministry when He had to back off, that is, to be less public. His brothers wanted him to go to a festival in Jerusalem, but he refused, saying, “My time has not yet fully come” (John 7:8). When the crowds got too big in Galilee, he left for awhile (e.g. Matthew 8:18, maybe Matthew 15:21 and context).

Jesus knew when to keep a low profile while the timing all worked out. I can do that, too. Nothing has to happen right now.

What else have I learned?

“If you seek great things for yourself, thinking, ‘God has called me for this and for that,’ you barricade God from using you.”

“When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance.”

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Nov. 10

In the Nameless series, I learned that what we say we want is often more a symptom than a solution. What we need is something different, something deeper. A leper, for example, wants to be healed of that horrific disease, but the healing is not his “why.” He asks for healing so he can rejoin society, enter into relationships again, and resume his life. (See also, What’d’ya Want?)

Writing for its own sake is good, but I have a deeper “why” that’s gone unmet all these years: influencing ideas. It’s time to change that.

So you’re not going to see me here on the blog very often. I’m living the life God has given me in these days and waiting for the next pursuit He’s preparing for me. I think I know what it is, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Thanks for reading.

I asked myself some questions, and now a revision of my ambition is leading me in a different direction for 2021 and beyond. It’s not what I expected, but what in 2020 was expected? My #ambition is (surprisingly) #NotAboutMe.

Of course, I’ll keep an eye on any comments. Feel free to respond.

Nameless: Sabbath Healings

If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!  –Matthew 12:11-12

The Gospels record seven times Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. In every situation, we don’t know the person’s name! (One was Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, so we know a bit more about her, but still no name.) We can only define these people by their malady and their location. I’ve listed all seven passages at the bottom, but let’s take a few minutes to look with more detail at three of these people.

Continue reading

Nameless: Deaf Man in Decapolis

After a fairly serious confrontation with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:1-20), Jesus “withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Matthew 15:21), where he met an interesting woman (See Nameless: A Woman in Tyre). We don’t know how long he stayed there, but sometime later, He took a circuitous route back to the Sea of Galilee, wandering into the Decapolis (a loose collection of ten cities that stretched all the way up to Damascus). People recognized him there, too. What happened next is easy to miss when you’re reading through the Gospels.

Mark 7:31-37.

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Nameless: A Muddy Man with Leprosy

Let me say up front, the muddy part is my imagination.

On two separate occasions, Jesus healed men with leprosy. Once, it was a single man, and the other time, it was ten men. We will spend some time with the former today and the latter next week. But first…

The New Testament term, leprosy, comes from a Greek word that refers to any type of skin disease. I worked in our backyard a couple of weeks ago, and as I write, I still have poison ivy on my arms. That’s one type of leprosy. The serious medical condition we typically associate with leprosy, however, is now called Hansen’s disease. It’s a bacterial infection that leads to nerve damage. The person doesn’t feel injuries to his/her extremities, resulting in disfigurement and sometimes death.

Here’s the CDC clarification:

The “leprosy” found in historical and religious texts described a variety of skin conditions from rashes and patchy skin to swelling. They were noted to be very contagious, which is not true for Hansen’s disease and also did not have some of the most obvious signs of Hansen’s disease, like disfigurement, blindness, and loss of pain sensation.

The Old Testament established regulations and purification rituals for those with leprosy (see Leviticus 13-14), which turned the priests into pseudo dermatologists. Glad I’m not them!

Now. Let’s get into the Scriptures.

A Muddy Man in the Road

Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-44, Luke 5:12-14.

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Nameless: 4 Friends on a Roof

Jesus’ reputation was getting huge! He’d grown too large for the coffee shop scene and even the small venue circuit (Mark 1:45). He needed arenas for His teaching and healing times, but you don’t see many of those in first-century backwaters of the Roman Empire—especially not ones available to an itinerant Jewish teacher. Sometimes word got out that Jesus was in someone’s home. These unintentional public appearances always overflowed their spaces. People crowded into the main room, leaned in the windows, and blocked the doors—all just to get close to Jesus.

That’s the situation four friends found when they brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Continue reading

Nameless: a Woman in Tyre

Here’s the first study in our series about unnamed—but not unimportant—people in the Bible.

Jesus took off from Gennesaret, on the Sea of Galilee, after a confrontation with the Pharisees (Matthew 14:34-15:20), and He headed west, away from his normal stomping grounds. He probably traveled through the mountains of Upper Galilee, passing Gischala and Mt. Meron before he reached the coastal city of Tyre in Syrian Phoenicia. (Can you tell I just bought a Bible atlas? Yay!) His disciples must have wondered what He was doing. Continue reading

There’s This “One Thing”

Jesus told the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Jesus said to Martha, “Few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

For the young ruler, the one thing was what he would gain by losing his possessions. For Martha, her sister had found the one thing and she was left holding the oven mitt.

But I think, at the root, these two very different people lacked the same one thing. Continue reading

Brokenness and Image-Bearing

I needed to heal. It took a long time, and sometimes I still feel like a broken arm that wasn’t reset before it healed. Things don’t line up exactly like they should…or at least like they used to.

My sister broke her arm when we were young. We took her to the hospital, of course, and they reset it beautifully. But to this day, she has a knot where the bone fused back together. That spot is stronger than any other part of the bone.

The brokenness
is what God uses.

We don’t want to be broken, and when we are broken, we try so hard to get back to wholeness. We want things to return to how they were before the traumatic experience or situation that broke us. We want to stop being broken. We rush to heal, thinking God can use us more effectively if we are whole, but the brokenness is what God uses. The brokenness eventually makes us stronger and, yes, better. Continue reading