Be Like God, Be Creative

You are so inventive and resourceful,” my wife said, “you’re a creative genius!”

I modestly accepted her praise and walked back into my study carrying the camera tripod I had repaired in an unconventional way. Seeing a broken locking tab, I had asked myself, “In what ways can I solve this problem?” I was not always that inventive.

Little Jack, the Copycat
When I was seven years old and living in the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War, I had a problem but asked the wrong question.

Some of the older kids were making patriotic signet rings from pieces of Plexiglass windows salvaged from shot down airplanes. After shaping the rings they drilled three holes in the head of the ring and filled them with red, white and blue paint, the colours of the Dutch flag.

I was one of the little kids who wanted to do this too. But instead of finding out where they got the airplane glass and how they shaped the rings, I was obsessed with the problem, “How do you get the paint inside those little holes?”

“You use the pointy end of a file.” was the answer, and forthwith all my energies were fixated on trying to find a pointy ended file. I never did. Instead of blindly trying to copy one small detail of what some else had done, I should have found out the answers to the main questions and then asked myself, “In what way can I get paint into those holes?” I may have thought to use a toothpick or a small nail.

Tradition Trumps Creativity
While we lived among the Canela people of Brazil we often saw the same copycat attitude which blindly followed the traditional way things had always been done. One day a friend complained that his family had lots of sugar cane but no way of squeezing the juice out of it.

A Horse? A Horse Has No Horns!

A Horse? A Horse Has No Horns!

“What about the cane press out by the old chief’s house?” I said, “Is it broken?”

“No,” he said, “but we don’t have an ox to yoke onto it to make it go around.”

“There are lots of horses walking about,” I said, “why don’t you harness one of them onto it?”

He laughed and said, “You can’t do that! A horse has no horns. How can you tie the head yoke on?”

And that was that. He simply could not imagine taking the head yoke off the press and attaching a horse collar harness. His final word was, “No one has ever done that with a horse.”

Cultural Heritage Affects Creativity
My wife and I were doing some shopping with a local pastor in Barbados. She found a shirt she liked but the pastor pointed out that it had a stain near the shoulder. My wife examined it, and said, “No problem, I can get that out.”

“You North Americans can do anything!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how to get that stain out, and my wife couldn’t. I don’t know of anyone who could, but you glance at it and say, ‘No problem’.”

The pastor was right. Many cultures like our North American one, have a rural, pioneer history that tends to ask, “In what ways can I solve this problem?” whereas tradition focussed, copycat societies ask, “How has this been done?”

God, a Copycat? Never!
We are called to be godly, which means god-like or being like God. God is creative; He made us in His image. Like Him, we also have the capacity to create. We need to practice this creativity in every area of our lives, not just in solving home maintenance repairs, but in strengthening our marriages, or raising our children or grandchildren.

In our careers, businesses, ministry or professions, God expects us to learn from others to see what has worked in their cases, but then to creatively adapt what others did to our own unique situations.

God is no copycat, who would He copy? He creates unique solutions to specific situations.

Let’s be godly and look for creative solutions.

So, are you godly? Or are you a copycat? What creative solution have you come up with lately?

You Don’t Have to Own It to Enjoy It

All but two of our family in the lap of luxury

All but two of our family in the lap of luxury

This summer a family friend gave us the use of a huge luxury penthouse apartment on a Mexican beach so we could celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with almost the whole family. It was fabulous! Five bedrooms and six bathrooms were more than enough for all our families! How we enjoyed our weeks together there!

A Brazilian Example of Sharing
This experience reminded me of the sign in a small shed behind our simple wooden house on the Brazilian missions centre where we lived for two decades. The shed sheltered some miscellaneous tools and odd bits of equipment. The sign said, “You Don’t Have to Own It to Enjoy It

None of our twenty or so neighbours on the missions centre had a sign like that, but we all lived by that philosophy. We borrowed each other’s tools freely. Jo & I owned well over a thousand books, but at any one time, one-third of them stood on other people’s bookshelves or lay on their bedside stands. One neighbor had an extra long ladder; everyone used it when he needed to climb a roof. Two or three lawnmowers were enough for several dozen lawns. Some people owned vehicles; the rest of us borrowed them, reimbursing the owner for the fuel used. When missionaries left for a year’s furlough, others used their house and everything in it.

God Wants Us to Share Our Stuff With Others
Holding things loosely and freely sharing material things with those in need is a basic biblical way of life. The apostle Paul reminds his readers that all material things ultimately come from God, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” We are to “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” 1 Timothy 6:18-19.

God Himself is our example in freely giving us things we don’t need to own to enjoy. We don’t own the earth with its fabulous mountain scenery, its relaxing sandy beaches, and its vast expanse of forests. Warm sunshine, life-giving rain, and fresh breezes: we enjoy them all without owning any of them. God’s greatest Gift, of course, was of His own Son, Jesus, who came to show us how to live, then died and rose again to empower us to live God’s way.

What the Canelas Taught Us About Sharing
When the Canela people started reading the Bible we translated into their language, they learned a whole new way of life. But when it came to generously sharing material things, we Christians could have learned from them! They knew all about sharing long before they learned about it in the Bible. Sharing is so much a part of Canela culture; it is even reflected in the language.

A linguistic marker attaches to every noun that indicates if the thing is shareable or not. Things like basket, knife, and cloth are all shareable, held loosely by one person. These nouns have markers meaning “my/your/his shareable possession.” They can be given away or loaned out.

On the other hand, body parts such as eye, hand, and skin, and kinship relationships like child, mother, and father are not shareable. These nouns have linguistic markers meaning “mine/yours/his own specific possession.”

We can learn from the Canela. Their word for “Bible book” has a shareable marker. Their Bible is to be shared, not kept as their own specific possession. Worldwide, the Bible has for many generations been shared through translation with people of all the major language groups.  And now, with vast amounts of linguistic know how and translation experience more readily available on line to translators anywhere in the world, even the smaller language groups are beginning to receive God’s Word in their own language.

The Real Reason God Blesses His People
We often pray variations of David’s prayer in Psalm 67, “May God be gracious to us and bless us. . .” It is good to ask for God’s blessing.

But we should not forget about the rest of that passage. “. . . so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. . . . God will bless us, and (as a result) all the ends of the earth will fear Him.”

The whole point of God giving us health and wealth is so that we will share it to bring His life giving Word to a dying world so they too can learn to know Him and His salvation.

We enjoy salvation from the penalty and power of sin. Our saving relationship with Jesus has a shareable marker. It’s not our specific possession to own, but ours to enjoy, and to share with others.

What are you doing with the spiritual life, your physical health and material wealth God has given you?

How are you sharing these with a needy world?

Return of an Old Love Affair

Wow, I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing this!

Elkwater Lake Cypress Hills

Elkwater Lake Cypress Hills

I was enjoying the scene of a placid lake reflecting some low hills at the end, the mirror image so perfect the hills looked surreal in stark contrast with the clearly focused flowering shrubs and bushes in the foreground.

I had just copied some photos to my computer from a new camera and looking at the first few photos on my 23” monitor brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes.No, it wasn’t the summer vacation memory that jarred my emotions. It was the realization that for far too long I had been suppressing a creative urge, denying an emotional need, and neglecting an area of my life that in my younger years had given me great satisfaction.

I was 32 years old when a friend took me into his photo darkroom and taught me to make black and white enlargements. I was instantly hooked on cropping, burning in, and lightening my blowups. Within a few years I was developing not only film and photo paper, but my photographic creativity in my own darkroom in Brazil. I also had a Minolta slide camera with multiple lenses, but used it mostly to shoot photos needed for slides to show on furloughs or pictures to illustrate newsletters.

But then, in the late 1980s the pressures of completing the Bible translation project and looming life changes squeezed artistic photography out of my life. I sold my darkroom equipment, and my large format film cameras and took snapshots, not photos with my 35 mm Minolta camera. After 24 years in Brazil I returned to Canada with hundreds of black and white negatives, and 3,000 slides of our family and ministry among the Canelas.

Leadership responsibilities and blog writing filled the creativity gap. Or so I thought.

About 15 years ago I stopped using the 35 mm film camera and bought a small automatic digital camera good for taking snapshots. Then, about a month ago, I finally listened to what my wife had been saying for many years. “Jack, you need a hobby, something that has nothing to do with words.”

She had often been after me to relax, get out of the world of ideas and into the world of nature. I should have listened to her years ago. I bought a new camera, a digital Nikon with a Nikkor zoom lens, a famous brand I had lusted after in my youth, and now forty years later was finally within my reach. The next day we left on a two-week combined ministry and vacation trip . . . through the mountains! Oh yes!

It was love at first click. I shot 25 pictures a day . . . for two weeks! Some of them even turned out to be good photos showing care for composition, colour, and contrast. And being digital, there was no worry about expense! Great!

But wait! There’s more!

Our four American teenage granddaughters are very much into drawing, painting and photography. So I started a Photo of the Week project where we each share a photo via email telling what we like about it, and how it could possibly be improved and, sometimes, what it teaches us about God. Afterwards we comment on each other’s photos. Now I not only feed my own creative urges, I am helping some talented photo artists to develop their talents. Life is good!

The lesson in all this?

Be open to God’s urging. Listen to your heart. Give in to your gut feelings. And, if that fails, listen to your spouse. Your life will take on more colour, have better compositional balance, and certainly show more contrast with your everyday world.