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On Core Principles

January 31, 2012

Some old European guy once said that “The unexamined life is not worth living at all.” (Hint: It wasn’t Sarkozy). Since my life is mainly guided by old guys no longer walking this world, I have decided to take this advice to heart and examine my life. What I have found is that my life is better when guided by a few core principles.


Here he is, examing his life.

While not the only one or even the most important one, perhaps my favorite Core Principle (TM) is the principle of Always Amuse Yourself.* I live this concept out daily by coming up with jokes that I think are funny. If someone else laughs, it’s a bonus, not the intention. Such a posture on humor allows me to sling the jokes out there and take the hits with the misses. If even I enjoy the misses, then they aren’t really misses at all, are they?

*This is the kind of stuff that you won’t get in Covey or Maxwell. Boom, roasted.

Let me be clear, this Core Principle (TM) could easily be confused the the Deceptive Principle (TM) of Delayed Adolescence. I’m sure you’ve heard about this cultural trend in which (especially) young men seek to delay the responsibilities of adulthood. Their decisions are largely shaped by accruing the highest possible disposable income (to be used on entertainment) and the most possible leisure time. Traditional responsibilities of home and family are put off until much later than they were earlier in this century. The principle of Always Amuse Yourself is not intended to allow this type of behavior; it should only shape one’s sense of joy throughout one’s day.

What could be more joyful than a fortune cookie? And wait, it fits below as well!

Let me give some examples of what I am talking about. You may have read my earlier post That’s What Jesus Said, in which I discuss the gleeful misappropriation of Scripture and the comedy and joy that it brings my life. We even ran a contest, won by the inimitable Constant Reader Kyle. As his prize, he has won this blogpost shoutout and a cookie, to be delivered on Wednesday evening. Congratulations, Kyle. While the post was largely (although not totally) in jest, once upon a time I applied the principle in real life. What’s more, it is recorded for all posterity on the Internet.

As a side note, does anyone else ever think about what could happen if our Internet does become self-aware like Skynet or something like that? Firstly, the banks would forget that I had money in them since there really is no money any more, just numbers floating around in Cyberspace. I pay for stuff not with precious metals or bartering goats like I used to; I just swipe a card and pretend like that has value. Skynet will surely show us the error of our ways. Second, Skynet would forget that I still have student debt outstanding. You know, maybe the whole self-aware thing isn’t so bad after all?

So there I was, asked to preach one Sunday. At our church, Doxa Church Tulsa, we preach through books of the Bible in an expository fashion, so my text was fixed for me. The passage dealt with new creation and with humanity’s true home being elsewhere.* To me, this sounded crazily like Avatar. So, in keeping with Core Principle (TM) Always Amuse Yourself, I constructed a large and perhaps overly-detailed sermon illustration revolving around some of my favorite science fiction shows, as well as one that was terrible (Terra Nova). I enjoyed this illustration immensely.

*Two eternity points if readers can locate the passage. Hint: it’s in an undisputed Pauline epistle.

However, there was just one problem–nobody else had a clue what I was talking about. I think that maybe only two people in the congregation had heard of Terra Nova, and I’m sure less than 20% had viewed the greatest science fiction series of all time, Battlestar Galactica. Compounding the issue, I didn’t even use the names of the shows! I thought it would be funnier to run a contest for the church seeing if they could identify the references. Like most of my competitions, this one had a low user participation. In my quest to amuse myself, I missed connecting the church to the real truth of Paul’s letter–that we truly belong elsewhere, in a world far greater than this one, and that it is our job to help bring that world about. Instead I showed them that the Scriptures as interpreted by me are inscrutable and inconceivable. Oops.

A mix of two of my favorite things: BSG and board games

As a result, I have constructed a new Core Principle (TM): the principle of Always Run Your Sermon Illustrations By Your Wife Before You Preach Them In a Sermon, Especially if the Sermon is Going to be Recorded. I’m working on making the title snappier.

You see, that’s the thing about life–it’s not about ourselves at all. I believe that there is a multiplicative property in sharing things with others. While you could amuse yourself and thereby benefit one person, if you amuse a group of a hundred, you have multiplied your humor exponentially. This goes even more so for things of eternal value, things like teaching or encouragement. You could encourage one person, or you can encourage ten. You can converse about topics of interest to you, or you can think about what the group you are having dinner with would actually enjoy talking about and join their stream. You can push for the restaurant that you’d like to eat at (Chipotle, of course), or you can concede to the will of the masses and subvert your own desires for the good of others (unless they want to eat at Chili’s, in which case you need to stand firm).

These are admittedly somewhat small and trivial examples, but that’s the thing about the sacrificial life. A life of service is not made up of one or two large and heroic examples of selflessness, but a string of small, daily choices valuing others above the self. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (another of the old Euro guys) once said that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” For some, this death by sacrifice will be sudden, but for most of us, our daily choices to take up our cross and follow Jesus will characterize us in such a way that one day, we will look back and see that as we gave ourselves away, Jesus replaced that old self with a new creation; a new heart of flesh to replace our heart of stone.

When seen that way, there’s really no choice at all. Would you rather hang on to your selfishness for keeps or give yourself away and keep what Christ has for you? As Jim Eliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”*

Just like Avatar.

As always, thanks for reading.

*Jim Eliot is an American, which ruins the string of European references, although Jesus and Paul were both Middle Eastern, so I guess I had blown it even earlier.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. brett permalink
    January 31, 2012 12:30 pm

    2 Corinthians 5

    • January 31, 2012 3:32 pm

      You are a gentleman and a scholar!

  2. Kyle G. H. permalink
    February 5, 2012 5:01 am

    I am a little late to chime in, if only then I would have known for what I was being awarded at that time. As Jesus said, I “knew not until the flood came” or rather “did not know the time of your visitation”. (mtt. 13, Lk 19). We shall leave the object of other reward which was received as one of those mysteries that may or may not be revealed…

    I was wondering if you believe in versions of the chaos theory, basically that one action can have extraordinary effects of complexly and innumerable proportions and magnitudes? This is not to say that we are responsible for the unforeseen effects…

    Was that particular sermon this last year(sometime from the summer till December), and did it start out with saying that you enjoy science fiction literature?

    • February 7, 2012 11:49 pm

      Two answers:

      Yes, I did preach that passage last summer and reference Sci-Fi stuff. Glad you remember!

      Second, as a semi-Calvinist I’m not really into chaos theories so much as into the sovereignty of God being unimaginable, perhaps so much that it appears to us as chaos.

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