Archive for March, 2016

The Tipping Point

March 31, 2016

In the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, he tells a story about how a new hybrid corn seed spread through Greene County, Iowa, in the 1930s.  The new corn seed was introduced in Iowa in 1928, and it was superior in every respect to the seed that had been used by farmers there for decades before.  But, it wasn’t adopted right away.  Of the 259 farmers in the county, only a handful of them had started planting the new seed by 1932 and 1933.  In 1934, 16 took the plunge.  In 1935, 21 tried it.  In 1936, 36 more tried it.  In 1937, 61 used it.  By 1941, all but 2 of the 259 farmers were using the new hybrid seed.

The first farmers to try the new seed were the Innovators, the adventurous ones.  The slightly larger group who followed shortly after them were the Early Adopters.  They were the opinion leaders in the community, the respected and thoughtful people who watched and analyzed what those wild Innovators were doing, and then followed suit.  Then, came the big bulge of farmers who got on board from 1936-1938.  This group was called the Early Majority and the Late Majority.  They were the deliberate and skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected of farmers had tried it first.  They caught the seed virus and passed it on, finally to the Laggards, the most traditional of all, who saw no urgent reason to change.

Gladwell’s point is that when new ideas are introduced, or when you are trying to spread your good ideas throughout the community, it always starts slow.  It starts with some Innovators and Early Adopters who are willing to give it a shot.  If they like it, and respond favorably, the message will spread throughout the community by word of mouth – from person to person, neighbor to neighbor, and friend to friend.  But, you need a small number who are willing to try something new, experiment with the new idea, and accept it into their lives.  The new idea has to be contagious enough, and sticky enough, to “infect” people with the idea that this is better than what they have been doing before.  Once about 25% of the people in the community adopt a new idea, the Tipping Point has been reached.  The majority will follow and its spread will not be stopped.

As Christians, we have good news that we are trying to spread throughout our community.  We want to persuade people who are not going to church, and/or who don’t believe in God, that what we believe will be better for them than what they have been believing.  We want to convince them that the way the Bible directs us to live will be better for them than the way they have been living.  But, a lot of churches are stuck.  We feel like what we are doing never quite seems to “take off” and get adopted by others in the community.  What is going on?

The research behind the Tipping Point gives us some clues.  If we want to make a difference in our community, if we want the good news of Christ to spread to people outside the church, we need to begin with the people in our community who are Innovators.  We need to persuade them to give our message a try, or give our church a try.  Then, we need to convince the Early Adopters to give it a shot.  If we can convince some the key leaders and opinion makers of our mission and purpose, we will hit the Tipping Point.  The idea will take off, people will follow, and the message will spread by word of mouth from person to person, from friend to friend, and from neighbor to neighbor.  It won’t happen overnight, but if we build it organically, it will eventually take off on its own.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Easter story ends by Jesus giving the disciples the Great Commission – to go and make disciples of all nations.  Jesus wants us to go out into our community and into the the world.  How can we spread the good news of Jesus and make a difference in our community?  Who are the people we know?  Who are the Innovators and the Early Adopters?  Who are the people who will “take it and run with it”?

Churches don’t have to be stuck in a rut.  We don’t have to be caught in the mud.  We can start to gain some traction, re-gain our footing, and begin to impact some people who haven’t been reached before.  We always want to pray about this and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.  But, if we understand how to get to the Tipping Point, it will not be impossible.  God can guide us and direct us in the ways he wants us to go.  And like the new hybrid corn seed introduced in Iowa in the 1930s, we can see new people begin to come on board every year.  If we get the ball rolling, it will begin to spread – person to person, friend to friend, and neighbor to neighbor.



What’s the Big Deal about Easter?

March 1, 2016

What’s the Big Deal about Easter? In our American culture of today, Christmas is a bigger holiday than Easter. Thanksgiving is a bigger holiday than Easter. Halloween is a bigger holiday than Easter. For some, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, and the Daytona 500 are bigger than Easter. For some, the first day of deer hunting season is bigger than Easter. Many people don’t even get a day off from work for Easter. Some people think it’s just a kids’ holiday where you talk about the Easter Bunny, go looking for eggs, and eat chocolate. (Where did those things come from?) For some, it’s just a day to go out to eat. What are we missing? What’s the big deal about Easter?

In his book Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright, he says that when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he rose as the beginning of the new world that Israel’s God had always intended to make. Jesus brought heaven to earth. In biblical thought, heaven is not a long way from earth. In the Bible, heaven and earth overlap and interlock, as the Jewish people believed they did above all in the Temple. Heaven and earth are not like oil and water, resisting one another and separating themselves out. Heaven and earth were always meant to co-exist.

The view from the Jewish Bible is that heaven and earth are twin halves of God’s created reality, designed eventually to come together. Suppose that what has kept heaven and earth apart all this time is that the human creatures who were put in charge of the earthly part of this creation had rebelled, rejecting God’s rule over them, desiring to rule themselves. We wanted to “call our own shots.” This landed us in a hole we couldn’t dig ourselves out of. We became addicted to sin, and couldn’t break free. We knew if we couldn’t break this addiction, it would eventually kill us. But, we couldn’t figure out how to undo the damage we had inflicted upon ourselves. We were stuck forever, with no hope of parole, no time off for good behavior, no anticipation that the future would be any better. We were caught in an endless downward spiral that we could not stop. We were dying.

Suppose then, that the creator God had finally come in person to set us free from the addictive power of sin. Suppose that God sent His Son to stop our downward spiral, lift us out of our hole, and put us back on sturdy ground once again. Suppose that the power of sin and death was broken, hope was restored, and the original purpose of creation was fulfilled after all. That is what happened when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Easter was the birth of the new creation. The power of sin and death that had tyrannized the old creation had been defeated, disabled, and overthrown. Jesus launched the new kingdom of God in power and glory on earth as in heaven.

Jesus let loose a new power in our world – the power to remake what was broken, to heal what was diseased, and to restore what was lost. The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated strangely, mysteriously, and partially during his public career through his healings, feastings, and teachings was now unveiled in a totally new dimension. Jesus is the prototype of the new creation.

This new creation overflows with the power of love. When Jesus meets his followers on Easter morning, they are sorrowful, ashamed, and anxious. He calls them by name. He tells them not to be afraid. He explains what is going on. He deals with them individually. There is a love, a deep, moving, warmth that goes out from Jesus. This love is strong, powerful, life-changing, and life-directing. The new creation has begun.

The old creation lives by pride and retribution. I stand up for myself, and if someone gets in my way, I try to get even. We’ve been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it. Now there is a completely different way to live, a way of love and reconciliation and healing and hope. It’s a way many people have never tried before. It’s a way that has been as unthinkable as – well, as the resurrection. That’s the point. Instead of building walls to keep people out of the new creation, Jesus builds bridges and invites everyone to come in. Jesus has ushered in a new world, a new reality, a new creation.

This is why Easter is a big deal. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t just mean “It’s all right. We’re going to heaven now.” No, it means the reverse. It means that heaven has come to earth and made earth into a new creation. It doesn’t just mean “So there is life after death”, even though there is. Easter means so much more than that. Easter means you can live a beautiful, wonderful kind of life now both before death and after death. Death has lost its power over you. It will still hurt when it happens. But, now instead of being a painful end, death becomes a temporary phase that we pass through as we move on to an even better kind of life with God. Easter speaks of a life that is neither ghostly or unreal, but solid and definite and practical. Though the Easter stories come at the end of the gospels, they are not really about the end of the story. They are really about the beginning of the story. The beginning of God’s new world. The beginning of the kingdom. The beginning of a relationship that we can now have with God. A relationship that Jesus initiates for us. A relationship that will grow. A relationship that will never end. We can now experience an unconditional, never-ending love that sets us free to be who we really are, completely unafraid, healthy, honest, strong, and pain-free.

That is why Easter is a big deal. Easter changes everything. Reality has now been altered for all time. Some people will experience this new reality and some will not. If you will step out in faith, believe in Jesus, agree to follow his directions for your life, give up what he tells you has been holding you back, and join with others who are journeying with him through life, you can begin to experience this new reality. Your life can change in ways that you can’t begin to imagine yet. The world becomes a better place than you have dreamed. Jesus gives you a future that you can look forward to, that no thing and nobody can ever take away from you. Don’t miss it. Easter changes everything. Easter is a big deal.