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Gaming the System

"The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites" – Judges 6:11.

The Midianites were oppressing the Israelites, confiscating their goods and ravaging their land. A man named Gideon came up with a plan to circumvent the problem by threshing wheat where no one would think to look for him  in a winepress. When there are rules or regulations in place, often people exercise magnificent creativity to avoid or beat the system that is in place. There is a phrase for that, and it's "gaming the system," which when defined means "manipulation or exploitation of the rules designed to govern a given system in an attempt to gain an advantage over other users." This is also a response to legalism, for when there are rigid rules, people creatively examine how little they can do to follow the rules with no intention of complying altogether. Are you devoting the best of your creativity to devising plans on how to do as little as possible and gain maximum returns? Are you looking for loopholes you can exploit and turn to your advantage?

Lord, I don't want to deploy my creativity to devise ways that I can invest as little of myself as possible and get a large return. I want to use it to advance Your kingdom and express Your goodness toward me and my family. In other words, I don't want to use my creativity only in ways that will benefit me but will benefit as many as possible.


Creative Robots

"Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it" – Genesis 8:20.

The Lord directed Noah to build an ark, and gave him the specifications. When Noah got off the ark with his family, he erected an altar. There is no record that the Lord directed Noah to build that altar, but the Lord was pleased with the sacrifices Noah offered on that altar. The point is that not all your creativity has to be initiated or directed by the Lord. Often, we choose to assign all our creative urges to the Lord, which is sort of a safety net that we don't have to explain to anyone why we want to create. We simply say, "It's the Lord." Yet it seems that Noah was a builder (his purpose) and he used his creativity to build things that were in his heart to build. What's in your heart to create? Are you waiting for the Lord to release or direct you to do it? Does God only want creative robots who do what He has programmed them to do? While that sounds spiritual, is it really what you need to ? Or can you give yourself permission to create because God gave you the gift to steward and develop?

Lord, I want to serve and please You, but sometimes out of fear, I am waiting for You to tell me to do something when it is already within my power to do it. Forgive me for my trepidation, for you are looking for creative fruit from creators, not from zombies or robots who only follow commands. Help me, Lord, to get over my fear and create!


Follow the Pattern

"Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you" - Exodus 25:9.

Many diminish or dismiss their creativity, using phrases like "the Lord showed me how," "the Lord told me what to make or say," or "the Lord laid it on my heart to build or form." Yet even if those statements are true, there was still personal creativity required to pull off what the Lord had given the person to do. If you are following a sewing pattern, the assembly instructions, blueprints, recipe, or the step-by-step plan for wood or metal shop projects, your creativity is still required to get the job done. If you don't believe me, then why can't everyone follow those instructions that you claim are so easy? Where have you dismissed your creativity because you were only following a pattern given to you to follow? Why are you so afraid to claim any creativity as your own, and find yourself compelled to put it all on the Lord's initiative or inspiration? What do people seek you out to do that you don't think is that big of a deal, thus not recognizing your own contribution to the creative project?

Lord, I stand convicted of my tendency to throw everything off on You and not embracing the fact that I had a role in the creative work You assigned me. I see now that I do have a role to play, and I am your partner in the process, not a passive, mechanical robot. Thank You for giving me the skill and gift to follow a pattern that leads to creativity!


A Written Report

"Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me. You are to divide the land into seven parts. Judah is to remain in its territory on the south and the tribes of Joseph in their territory on the north. After you have written descriptions of the seven parts of the land, bring them here to me and I will cast lots for you in the presence of the Lord our God" Joshua 18:4-6).

When Joshua sent the spies out to survey the land God was going to give them, he gave them specific instructions. They were to go to the portion of the land that belonged to their tribe and, when they came back, were to submit a written report on what they had seen. In other words, they were to look into their future, analyze what they saw, and then report back to Joshua with what they saw in writing! Joshua did not inquire into their writing skills and the spies could not respond, "Well, I am an explorer and not a writer." They were expected to write, and write they did. Is God directing you to look into the things He has assigned to you and then write about them? Are you paralyzed by fear, procrastinating while hoping He will forget what He told you and leave you alone?

Lord, I admit that I don't like to write because I am self-conscious. I have set a standard that I am not sure anyone could reach where writing is concerned, hoping it will excuse me from my creative assignment. I see today that writing is not an option and I will join with the spies in writing out what I see so I can inherit it with joy.


Banter

"He replied, 'It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.' 'Yes it is, Lord,' she said. 'Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed at that moment" -- Matthew 15:26-28.

Jesus and this woman engaged in what is called banter, defined as "the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks." The woman had to recognize what Jesus was doing, and then match his intent and means of communication with her own creative responses. She matched Jesus comment for comment, and when He had delivered the punch line, so to speak, she knew exactly how to respond. In a sense, her creativity and ability to read Jesus were the keys to her daughter's healing! Can you engage in playful banter with those whom you encounter? Do you study how to respond (or analyze how you should have creatively responded) to comments made throughout the day? Do you see that your ability to respond in kind to others is an expression of your creativity?

Lord, I see that if I respond literally to everything people say, I am limiting my creative palette of communication colors, and I stifle my creative verbal expressions. Help me to be a colorful verbal communicator, using the full range of my creativity and intellect that will enable me to get the results that the woman got in today's story. Her creative ability touched the heart of God and I want to do the same.


God Laughs

"Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” John 6:9.

Some suggest this response from the disciples to Jesus' question was a humorous, or at least a sarcastic, one. They were faced with feeding a multitude and someone jokingly said, "We have a boy's lunch. Let's use that!" Humor is a God-given trait that is meant to stimulate laughter, which in turn releases all kinds of good reactions in the human mind, body, and spirit. What's more, it is a creative expression to find the humor and irony in life's situations, no matter how daunting. How is your sense of humor? Do you laugh at yourself? Do you laugh at what others say? Do you pick up on humor and can you continue it in a conversation? Do you work on your ability to see and communicate the humorous stories and events of the day or of your life? Do you realize that if Jesus laughed (and He did), then God laughs too? Make it your goal to cause those around you, and God, to laugh today!

Lord, I am much too serious at times, and fail to dig down to see the lighthearted or even humorous side of my life's events. While some of them are sad or even tragic, I need to find things to make me laugh so that Your joy can be my strength. Help me to develop my creative humor, and then help me to express it to a joyless, dying worldand in the process make You laugh, too!


Team-Building

"Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek" -- Acts 16:1-3.

Paul always traveled with a team, and after his split with Barnabas, it seems that he chose his team carefully but creatively. In today's passage, we see that he chose Timothy to go with him. You would have to say that he chose wisely, for Timothy became his trusted associate and assistant, and Paul often left him behind to put things in order after Paul had worn out his welcome in an area. It takes skill and imagination to fill out a team with the right people who will complement one another, and provide the skills and gifts needed to complete the job. Do you see hiring and team-building as an expression of creativity? Do you recognize gifts and talent when you see them? Are you able to fit them into a team, or offer your gifts and talents in a such a way that you make all the team members more productive?

Lord, I want to be a good team member and help build good teams. Help me to creatively see the potential and possibilities in my teammates, and help me to creatively adapt and adjust to my teammates so each of us can be more productive. Help me also to be a pleasure to work with, always ready to offer my creativity for the good of the team and the tasks at hand.


Excuse-Making

"Moses said to the Lord, 'Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue'" -- Exodus 4:10.

A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles called "Moses Produces the Best Excuses." In it, I described the six excuses that Moses offered the Lord when God was sending him back to Egypt. Today's verse contains the sixth and final excuse that was preceded by other excuses like "I'm not ready," "I don't know You very well," "The Jews won't receive me," just to name a few. The point is that Moses engaged his creativity to manufacture excuses to avoid doing something he did not want to do: "But Moses said, Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else'" (Exodus 4:13). Your creativity should be deployed to help you do what God wants you to do, not to find reasons why you cannot do it. How creative are your excuses? Have you used them so long that you actually believe them? Do you think they impress the Lord?

Lord, Moses was a great man and Your servant, but I learned today that he resisted Your will when You spoke to him, and began to offer excuses of why he was not the right person to do Your will. I know I have done the same thing. I ask Your forgiveness that I have used my creativity to find ways to get out of Your will rather than to do it.


Bad Problem-Solving

"One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand" -- Exodus 2:11-12.

One day Moses went out and observed his people and saw their dilemma. Moses knew his purpose, but he used his creativity to solve the problem of Egyptian oppression by taking the life of one of the oppressors. When he had killed one, perhaps he thought, "One down, three million to go," for he faced a long struggle if he was going to fight his way to his people's freedom. Your creative problem-solving must stay within the boundaries of God's law, and should not involve lying, cheating, stealing, manipulation, or any other actions that lack integrity. When you are faced with a problem, do you resort to less-than-ideal solutions that get the job done, but take matters into your own hands?

Lord, I want to use my creativity to do things the right way, a way that will please You and keep Your laws. Let me not resort to my own wiles when I am confronted with situations that are not the way they should be or the way I like them.


Wayward Creativity

"So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: 'May King Darius live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den'" Daniel 6:6-7.

We have established that all people are creative, made so by their Creator. We have also established that you have to take steps not to express your creativity, for it occurs in everyday actions like speaking, problem-solving, cooking, and time management. In today's story, we see another application for creativity, and it's not a good one. The men who were jealous of Daniel conspired to bring him down, and they determined to do so through a creative conspiracy that was based on a lie. They manipulated the king to pass a law that they knew would implicate Daniel, but did not make the king aware of their purpose (that was the falsehood). If you are not careful, your creativity will be expressed through sinful behavior that requires story telling, plotting, and misrepresentation. The best way to avoid this expression of creativity is to apply your creativity with the correct intentthe glory of God!

Lord, I realize that I ooze creativity, and I must take steps to direct and focus it. I want to use it to glorify You, and that means I must use it with integrity, and not to create lies, conspiracies, unwholesome fantasies, suspicions of conspiracies ("people are out to get me"), or excuse-making. I ask Your help as I ground my creativity in integrity and righteousness.