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.

A Little Time Away

Most of you, like me, wear many hats. Over the past year, the time I have available to wear my “writer” hat has dwindled. I LOVE researching and writing Bible studies and reflection pieces for Not About Me, but I haven’t kept up with some other writing projects God has put on my heart. So I’m taking five weeks off to focus on other writing projects.

In the meantime, there are over 300 posts here on Not About Me. Use the search tool or look through the categories to find more about anything on your mind.

I’ll “see” you back here the weekend of October 16th, and hopefully I’ll have some good news and/or some special things to reveal!

Podcast Interview

IMG_9369
Chester doing the interview at our dining room table. He makes house calls.

I recently sat down with Chester Goad on his Leaderbyte podcast to talk about the creative process, writing, faith, and some other fun stuff. Chester made it interesting and easy to talk–even about myself. Still it’s #NotAboutMe, as you’ll hear.

If you want to know more about me or where I’m coming from, listen to this. Continue reading

Follow-Thru Honors the Sacrifices

Nothing can beat a week in the mountains, surrounded by people who “get” you, with your combined love for Jesus and crazy #grammarnerd brain. Yes, it was the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Around 500 writers–from newbies to seasoned, best-selling authors–spent the week worshiping, practicing, and learning from each other. Well, mostly the newbies learned from the experienced writers.  Continue reading

Nothing New Today

The title says it all. I’ve been buried in a (paid) writing project for my church, and I didn’t step away to write a blog post. So sorry, friends and faithful followers. I’ll be back next week…probably with part 2 of The Completely Not-Boring History of the Bible.

If you’re looking for something to read, check out part 1 or start on my Christmas series from last year, The Cast of Christmas, with this post about Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Elegy for the Oxford Comma

In all language silence is as important as sound. But more often than not we are merely impatient with the silence.” -Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer

It was a quieter time, a calmer day
When people didn’t have so much to say
When thoughtfulness reigned
And answers restrained
Until we’d had time to reflect. …

For some reason, I’m occasionally sad that we only put one space after punctuation these days. It led me to think about how writing has changed, not just typographically but structurally, which led me to write an elegy for those missing punctuation marks and spaces. Because, as a reader, I miss them.

I stopped in at Almost an Author today to make fun of myself with the poem (of which you see the first stanza above) and to share my “two cents” on writing. It’s probably more like half of one cent. (Seriously, I’m amazed that they wanted to share it.) Anyway, if you are interested in writing narrative or if you want to see what happens when I try to write poetry that rhymes, here’s the link. In the lower half of the post, I share “3 Ways to Create Breathing Room in Your Writing,” which is the serious part of the post.

 

Almost An Author

Two Questions about Your Calling

The Apostle John makes it clear in His gospel that Jesus was concerned about two things: God’s glory and the circumstances of those around Him. When we consider Calling (i.e. that thing God has specially designated for a person to do) Jesus’ concerns focus us on two questions. Let’s take a look…

John 18:2-9. (I really tried to move out of Gethsemane, but there’s just so much!)

It was late at night…Passover night. A crowd of armed, antagonistic men stood opposite Jesus as He asked them a simple question…a question that didn’t need asking. Everyone knew why they were there; surely everyone recognized Jesus, yet He said, “Who is it you want?” (18:4).

Why did they fall back
when Jesus identified Himself?

When Jesus acknowledged His identity a moment later, they didn’t rush to grab Him. Instead, they drew back and fell to the ground (18:6). Isn’t that funny? (Not “haha” funny, but weird funny.) Jesus didn’t have lightning streaming from his fingers. He didn’t shout in an otherworldly voice. He didn’t suddenly enlarge and turn green like the Hulk. He simply said, “I am he.” I imagine He said it matter-of-factly, calmly but not quietly. Was it the power of His “I am”? Was it somehow a recognition of His innocence? Was it fear?

That falling down reaction must have amused Him. He tried again with His question. They answered again. He affirmed His identity again, but this time He adds a little something (18:8). In a way, He bargains with them. If this were a Western, He would have said, “You have what yer lookin’ for. Now let the rest of these men go. There’s no bounty on their heads.”

In the next verse, John tells us that Jesus’ mentioned the disciples because of an earlier (John 6:39) prophetic prayer.

This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”John 18:9

It was also because He loved them, and He knew it wasn’t their time to die just yet.

What concerned Jesus
in those moments?

Here we see Jesus at perhaps the most crucial moment in human history—His own personal crisis of belief, where they could have started fighting (Peter, we know, did start fighting [John 18:10-11]) but He obediently, even docilely, submitted to arrest.

What concerned Him here?

  • It wasn’t His social media status.
  • It wasn’t His reputation.
  • It wasn’t His future or His past.
  • It wasn’t His actual guilt or innocence.

Jesus was concerned with (1) fulfilling prophecy and (2) safeguarding those He loved.

Or take a look at John 19:25-27.

On the verge of death, hanging from a cross, Jesus didn’t discuss theology, argue against capital punishment, or spout some apologetics toward the bystanders. Instead, He used His precious, labored breath for something more personal. He ensured His mother’s future well being.

Jesus wasn’t worried about Himself. He took care of this one He loved.

Jesus prioritized His Father’s
glory and His followers’ good.
#NotAboutMe #faith (click to tweet)

I haven’t searched through all the gospels for all the examples. (This is a blog post, not a book–although it’s getting almost long enough.) but there seems to be a pattern emerging here. Jesus wasn’t interested in His own comfort or justification. He paid way more attention to His Father’s glory and to the circumstances of those around Him.

What’s that mean for us? Well…

People (including me) talk a lot about calling. We pursue God’s calling in our own lives and sometimes express His calling in the lives of others. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’re wondering whether this thing right now is your calling, apply this test to it:

  1. Does it glorify God? Not just tangentially, but predominantly.
  2. Does it show compassion for others? That might look like hands-on helping (e.g. teachers) or it might be more distant, but the thing is others-centered, not you-centered.

I applied this test to my calling to write. Writing makes me feel good, and I think God has given me a bit of talent for it. But enjoying something, even being talented at it, aren’t clear indicators of a calling. It might just be a hobby.

I can tell you that God meets me in the writing. Every. Single. Week. Without fail. My number-one purpose in writing is to glorify God. It has been since day-1. Not day-1 of kindergarten, when I started learning to write, but day-1 of writing for an audience according to His leadership in my life. There have been tears of gratitude and joy, hands raised in praise (yes, sitting alone at my desk), and this increasing awe at what He gives me. So yes, it glorifies God—at least in my heart.

Secondly, I write to help you. I’m concerned about the people who read my blog, and I truly want you to grow in your relationship with Christ. It’s not serving meals to homeless people, but even though I say ‘I’ a lot, these paragraphs and poems are for you.

Use Jesus’ example to ask 2 questions about your calling. My #calling is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What about you? Have you identified a calling in your life? (If you’re not worried about such things, I hope I haven’t started something.) How did you know it was a calling from God? Do these questions help you verify your calling? Please share!

We Need A Word Make-Over

Study.

It sounds like work.  With a few nerdy exceptions, people think of studying as a negative thing. We study . . . well, cram . . . for tests and exams.  That studying involves long hours of crowding a multitude of facts into our brains so that we can accurately regurgitate them at the appropriate moments.  We moan, “I have to study;” we don’t celebrate with “I get to study.”  Even when the topic interests us, studying doesn’t.  At best, we say, “It doesn’t even feel like studying,” which itself connotes a negative attitude toward studying.

Bible Study.

Come on, admit it.  We approach this in the same way, if only subconsciously. Continue reading

Why I Write

A businessman approaches an architect because he needs a larger space for his business. The architect agrees to design a new building.  The architect could design a big box that looks like Wal-mart, Best Buy, or a dozen other large retailers.

aerial box store
credit: flickr.com

Walmart
credit: en.wikipedia.org

Or he might design something more akin to a Guggenheim Museum.

credit:  bc.edu
credit: bc.edu

credit:  pinterest
credit: pinterest

Why?  Why even bother to reach for the heights of your profession, the epitome of beauty, the full release of expression?  One functions just as well as the other . . . and costs significantly less.

I once went to the symphony in Poland. The Krakow Chamber Orchestra played Bolero, by Maurice Ravel.  By no means is this the most profound piece of music ever written.  Ravel himself called it “simplistic.”  At the culmination of the piece during this performance, however, the audience sat in stunned silence for much longer than was appropriate before they began to applaud.  But once that applause began, it did not stop.  The orchestra returned and performed the last bit again as an encore.  Again, the audience refused to stop clapping.  The entire orchestra returned for a second time and played the entire, fifteen-minute piece again.  (What exhaustion for the percussionist on the snare!)  When the applause resumed, the conductor turned around and said, “Please!  We cannot.”

There are times (I’ve written about this before) when I have to just stop reading and let an exquisite sentence settle into my mind. Sometimes, I reread a paragraph several times because it is so well-conceived.  My friend, Hannah, is really good at writing like this.  She recently penned, “The invisible fibers of my spiritual muscles had broken down through the relentless repetition of stress and spiritual warfare.” (Here is the context, if you’re interested.  You have to scroll down some to get to Hannah’s part.)  That’s poetry in paragraph form.

So all those examples mean . . . what?

There’s a message that I want to convey when I write, but any number of people could tell you the same thing. I am not so presumptuous as to think that God reveals Himself to me with any sort of exclusivity.  Once you get the grammar right, like the structure inside a building, the function of writing is settled.  But then, the message takes on the personality of the writer and attempts to link his or her subject (for me, a continually increasing understanding of God) with the lives of his or her readers.

There is something significant in a beautiful building, a superb symphony, a perfectly proportioned paragraph. (And it’s not just the alliteration.  Ha-ha!)  Such things affect us more deeply and connect us more securely not only to the creators and performers but to everyone around us.  The audience in Krakow that night stood up “in one accord.”

credit:  vacationlovers.net
credit: vacationlovers.net

Visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. just know to be quiet—even the children.  No one has to tell us to do that.  The place evokes a reaction.

The best writers (fiction, nonfiction, prose, poetry—it doesn’t matter) do the same thing:  ignite a reaction in the reader’s mind . . . and sometimes in his heart.  I think most artists/designers are trying to do this.  But the writer has a further advantage; he can also be the voice of that shared human experience.

I write because I want to understand—and help the reader understand—how profound God truly is. If, through my unique presentation, I can reach into another’s soul like God has reached into mine and pluck the strings of comprehension so precisely that Truth reverberates into your toes and permanently reconditions your heart . . . well . . . then, facts and observations become authentic Christ-likeness and the earthly expression of His glory.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Afterward

Just after I finished the rough draft of this post, I read *this* blog entry by John Piper.  So now that I made you plow through my convoluted thought processes, go read how he phrases it so eloquently:  that each of us is the “secretary of the praise of God.”

This is the ‘Why’

“You should write a blog.”  I’ve heard it at least 47 times.  Forty-seven is my official number of hyperbole, by the way.  But I always hesitated.  I was afraid it would end up, well, narcissistic (no offense R, J, M, et. al.).  Plus, I’m a private person.  I actually don’t want the whole world to know the intimate details of my life and family.  Then one day . . .
It was January, and something I was reading (maybe John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, but I can’t remember for sure) prompted me to ask myself this question:  “When in my life have I felt most connected to God?”  Not on a retreat or in a worship service.  The question involved doing something.  More like, “What I have done that intimately connected me with the Father?”  Or maybe, “What did He create me to do that I recognize because, when I do it, it ‘fits’ and I know He is glorified?”

The answer came quickly.  [Can’t believe I’m telling this to the world right now!]  It’s when I study Scripture and write or speak about it.  Currently, I’m not at a place in my life where I can do that with people face-to-face, so this was a small crisis.  Should we move?  Should I let go of this thing He created me to do?  Is the timing just wrong?  Why tell me this now, Lord, but don’t give me a way to do it?  And that was the moment when He led me to do this blog.

Yes, I realize that was eight months ago.  I ‘wimped out’.  I made excuses.  PLUS, I couldn’t think of a good name, and that, I’ve heard, is very important.  Last month (July), I spent time with some amazing college girls, and I promised them that I would actually start blogging.  At about the same time, while doing my quiet time in John, I read 12:27-28, which, of course, I had memorized at some point in the past, but now I found it freshly relevant.  Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”  It was never about Jesus’ wants and needs.  It was always about the Father’s glory.

So that’s why I named this blog what I did.  The ‘1151’ in the web address comes from Psalm 115:1.  Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.