Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The First Learning App

Matthew 13:34 (NLT)
34  Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 

That was such a cute story!  Did you hear the one about….?  Can you believe what happened last night on the TV show…(fill in)?  I was moved to tears when I heard the story of what they went through.

You cannot go through a day without interacting with a multitude of stories from a multitude of sources.  Why are we so taken up with stories?  It turns out that stories form the bedrock of our understanding of the world around us.  Lisa Cron put it this way in her book Wired for Story (see my book review):

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.

It turns out that stories are imbedded with information we need for facing the challenges of each day.  Our brain is a glutton for information and prefers it in a story.  Stories operate on both an emotional and cognitive level.   Think of stories as the first nonexperiential method of real learning, the first learning app.  I say nonexperiential, but it is not quite true.  If the story has an emotional component then we “experience” the story vicariously. To hear the story about a lion roaming in a certain part of the forest is much easier than the potential outcome of self-discovery.

Stories are critical to helping us understand the rules of living.  This includes character and values.  The catch is the brain disdains lists, but loves stories. The brain wants to “figure it out” not have it handed to us.  This is why inductive study is far more satisfying than deductive study.  The brain loves to engage in the story to figure out what is right and what is wrong.  Through this process, it adds to a life narrative of how we should respond to the world around us.  Core Beliefs (what I hold to be true about the world) and Character (how I relate to others) are enhanced by the stories we listen to and engage in.  As we swim around in this fish bowl of stories our unconscious is pulling from those stories the information it deems important and then melds that to our life narrative. Like a fish sucking oxygen from the water, we absorb information from the stories we listen to or watch.

The foundation of Christianity is not the doctrines of the Bible, it is the story of the Bible.  In particular, it is the wonderful, amazing story of how almighty, eternal God became a baby that he might grow up and suffer a humiliating death so that those he loved could love him back.  Doctrines support the story, not the other way around.

This Christmas tell the most amazing story ever told.  Make the story the center of Christmas, as it is the center of his-story.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

For Every Miracle in the Church....

International Christian Ministries exists to disciple and equip the leaders of the church.  But the goal is not simply better-equipped pastors, but more focused pastors and leaders who align to the purposes of God.  The measure of success is impact on the marketplace, not miracles in the church.  Discipleship that does not have as its purpose to impact the marketplace is not effective discipleship.
Growing to become more like Jesus is one way to understand discipleship.  Too often the focus is on "character" rather than "commitments."  Galatians 5:22 (NLT)  22  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness... Part of the transformation process is becoming more like Jesus in our character.  But that is not all.  God calls us to become more like Jesus in our commitments.  Jesus had a Kingdom of God commitment (Lk.4:43).  In fact, it was his major commitment and he admonishes us to have the same commitment (Matt. 6:33).  If we are committed to the Kingdom of God it means that our focus, our time, talents and treasure are utilized for that purpose.  Your heart follows what you are committed to.

Unfortunately, the world is ruled by a prince who wants to distract us from committing to the Kingdom of God.  He uses every possible opportunity to move our focus from the Kingdom of God to self-interest. Mark 4:19 (NLT) 19  but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. This shift from the Kingdom of God to the kingdom of self, leads to a church that focuses on attracting members rather than equipping saints.  Rather than a message of sacrifice there is a message of prosperity.  Rather than a message of giving it is a message of receiving.  Rather than miracles in the marketplace we "perform" for the crowds in the church.  

If we really want to be like Jesus we would focus on the marketplace and the message of the Kingdom of God.  In the church, we would shift from a message of what we get, to how we might be effective ambassadors to the community around us. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (NLT)  19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 

For every miracle in the church, we should see forty miracles in the marketplace.  That is roughly the ratio of miracles that Jesus did in his ministry.  If you want to be like Jesus you need to see the marketplace as the place for living out your faith.  ICM seeks to help pastors and leaders align to the commitments of Jesus by helping them Disciple Marketplace Leaders.

ICM is committed to discipling  leaders who equip their congregations to be salt and light to their communities and to the world.