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Nov 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 22, 2015 – Numbers 13:25-31 & 14:1-2

Christian Creativity
Hanging On to the Creative Vision

When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land.
Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amonites are living in the  hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.” Numbers 13:25-31

Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in the wilderness!” Numbers 14:1-2

Intro: There are episodes in scripture, when I come to them, though I know what happens, I hold my breath

– the decision before the characters will determine the fate of the nation
• I want to yell and warn them, “No! That’s a bad idea. Don’t do it!”
◦ they have so little to gain and everything to lose — God’s companionship, their welfare, their destiny
◦ but they never listen to me, and so the tragedy follows (just like the last time I read it)
• of course, I can’t change their past any more than I can change my own
– this report of the spies and Israel’s response is one of those episodes

It seems to me that Moses set the spies up for failure
– in chapter 12:17-20 he told them what to look for:
• the people (are they strong or weak, few or many), the cities (large or small, open or walled), etc.
• it comes as no surprise that the spies found what they were looking for
◦ strong people (even giants! 13:32-33), fortified cities and a land that “devours its inhabitants”
– God responded to Israel’s moaning by giving them exactly what they said (14:28-29)

It is as if he said,
“Okay, you’ll get everything your faith is able to grasp and what you have imagined possible. I will reward you to the limit of your creativity.”

• but God made an exception for two of the spies, one of whom was Caleb

But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it. (14:24)
This, because Caleb had tried to calm and inspire the people
. . . do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them and the LORD is with us; do not fear them (14:9)

• Caleb had creative vision – he could see the promise as if already fulfilled

Creativity’s greatest resource is faith

Faith inspires and encourages creativity
– if you know there’s a way through, you’ll look for it
• faith is biased in favor of positive outcomes
– I’ve experienced the ease and joy of working with people who can!
• when teamed up with Rick Founds, I’d often ask him for something extra – perhaps unusual
◦ he would smile and within a few days, he would have it ready for our next event
◦ working with Rick spoiled me
• with other creative artists who followed Rick, I would first have to convince them they could! 
◦ it was not that he was more talented or creative
◦ he simply had more confidence in his talent and creativity

Where faith falters, creativity declines

Creativity is not irrepressible, it can be blocked
– in his book, A Whack On the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech explored “mental locks”
• thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that block creativity
◦ I can think of dozens of blocked lines I’ve heard in church board meetings:

“We’ve never done it that way”
“We tried that once and it flopped”
“Okay, we’ve had our fun; now let’s get serious”

• certain moods and emotions can also block creativity
– the biggest block to creativity is loss of faith
• from another point of view, the greatest challenge to faith is fear
◦ not merely “stage fright”
◦ but the kind of fear that takes over — like in a state of panic

Richard Rohr, “If contemplation teaches us to see an enchanted world, cynicism is afraid nothing is there. . . . we have become cynical about ourselves, our world, our future.”

Most everyone God called, first said, “I can’t”
Moses: I’m a failure when it comes to public speaking
Gideon: I’m a nobody and descend from long line of nobodies
Isaiah: My lips are impure and unworthy of speaking Your word
Jeremiah: I’m just a kid; no one’s going to listen to me
– God had an answer for every objection
– Stephen Nachmanovitch talks about “creative despair”
• almost every artist has had moments where further progress seemed impossible
• Nachmanovitch, however, regards it as a stage in the creative process

Sometimes being told we can’t do something kills creativity
– other times, it is the very motivation we needed to energize our creativity
– Richard Wurmbrand, founded the magazine Voice of the Martyrs
• several of his books detail the torture he endured for his faith in Romanian prisons
• during one especially painful ordeal, he made up a simple prayer which he kept repeating:
“Jesus, dear bridegroom of my soul, I love you”

Wurmbrand, “The quiet beating of a loving heart is a music that carries far, so I said this phrase to the same rhythm. . . . In a short time . . . I had ceased to think.”

“Later I was often to practice this detachment in bad moments.”

◦ suffering was the soil from which his creative vision grew

Stephen Nachmanovitch, “There is nothing that can stop the Creative. If life is full of joy, joy feeds the creative process. If life is full of grief, grief feeds the creative process.”

Jesus was pleased at the creativity of a person’s faith

A Gentile woman whom he refused to help at first
A Centurion who translated Jesus into his own culture
A team of four who were blocked by a crowd when trying to carry a man on a stretcher to Jesus

Jesus led people straight into impossibilities:
Nicodemus, “How can these things be?”
The Samaritan woman, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with . . .”
The disciples, “Who then can be saved?” — and in this instance

Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27)

– his purpose was to drive them beyond what they knew — their certainties
• to open their minds to the creativity of faith
– God says, in effect, “Do not fear impossibilities, for I am with you”

Of all people, we expect Christians to live creatively
– the fixed dogmatism of the Pharisees is not the path we take
• to declare war rather than make peace, not the solution we choose
• to despair over the world’s future is not our only option
– we all have two impulses — two voices in our ears
• the sometimes faint voice of a creativity that flourishes in faith
• the louder voice of cynicism, which is frequently spoken by the majority
(in our passage this morning, the voice of ten out of the twelve spies)
◦ those who want to shut out cynicism must not sit in the seat of the scornful

The prophet’s job was to break mental locks

The way things are, doesn’t mean that is the way they always have to be
– most people go along with the mind-set that dominates their culture
• it takes Prophetic Imagination to see an alternative to the cultural consensus

Prophetic Imagination is one of Walter Brueggemann’s book titles. In it he says, “It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
“We need not ask whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.”

– God created the universe and everything in it by his word
• similarly, the prophetic word is creative
◦ it imagines new possibilities
◦ it can see the moment of crisis as opportunity
◦ it is the beginning of the journey to a new world

Conc: Can we bring creativity to our spiritual lives?

Usually, if we want the spiritual depth we see in another person, we copy him or her
– we adopt and perform their spiritual exercises exactly as they do
• but your spiritual development is unique to you
– of course, many general practices are universal
• every Christian prays, but there are a billion ways to pray (maybe six billion)

You don’t have to do anything “great” or be anything great
– you didn’t bring God into this world, he brought you into it
• you do not dream God up — he’s here already, you only have to wake up to him
• and you only have to be yourself – you’re his creative project (Ep. 2:10 2 Cor. 5:17)

How do you know when you’ve found your creative way to deepen your spiritual life?
– when it gives you joy
• not merely relief (for example, from guilt, fear or a sense of overwhelming responsibility)
• not just happiness, which may be so tied to circumstances that it is unstable and unreliable
– when your heart is warmed by the joy you share with Jesus

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (Jn. 15:11)

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