It’s no secret that Jesus’ use of parables in the New Testament continues to draw parallels to present day story telling. Using the arts—theater, photography, movies, books, and more—generation after generation have continued to take the lead from the Master Storyteller who walked the earth over two thousand years ago. It frustrates me greatly how only recently (within the last one hundred years) Christians—”little christs”—have lost the lead in the use of communication mediums. While I do believe this will only be a short blip on the historical timeline of “Christianity screw-ups,” I do think its implications are calamitous.
Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” If only Yogi’s instruction would have been on billboards in the first half of the 1900s. Christians not only came to a fork in the road, they came right up to it and turned around! They were only one letter away from getting “holywood” and missed it on their drive back to church planting in the suburbs (did urban life have too much culture already?) and catching flights overseas for missionary work as the dawn of aviation became the answer to “go into all the world.”
Man did we miss it.
The late Bob Briner, is his book Roaring Lambs, said, “I’m afraid many in the world view us as a flock of lambs grazing in the safe pastures surrounding our churches that have been designed to blend right in with the neighborhood landscape. We’re good neighbors. We look like everyone else. And except for Sunday morning, we follow the same patterns of behavior as those who have little or no interest in religion.” He continues, “We (the church) have created a phenomenal subculture with our own media, entertainment, educational system, and political hierarchy so that we have the sense that we’re doing a lot. But what we’ve really done is create a ghetto that is easily dismissed by the rest of society.”
We must be better communicators
I recall a message from Bahamas behemoth Dr. Miles Monroe. He spoke of this Bible passage from Matthew 13:1-17:
At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories. “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. ‘Are you listening to this? Really listening?'”
The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.”
Notice the statement by Jesus, “Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.” Dr. Monroe brilliantly brings together this parable and frames the context for all other parables. Watch the disciples in the above story—the close followers of Jesus—asking intently why on earth does Jesus have to speak in parables. Why speak plain truth to those close to you and who know you, but imaginary stories with no obvious point to all of your crowds? Jesus’ response seems almost rehearsed, as if cramming his destiny into three years had already been carefully thought through while he was a twenysomething just a few years earlier. “I tell stories [to] create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.”
Jesus communicates by telling stories, duh
Dr. Monroe goes on to say that God only gives us what we ask for. He is holy. Being holy means being one, coming from the word “integrate” where we get the word integrity. If God says it, he has to do it. And if he does it, he has to be it. He cannot do something that he is not, nor be something he has not said. If he did, his holiness would be in question. That being the case, if a holy God imposed a relationship with Jesus into your life and you did not want it, he would be doing something that you did not want, thus something he can not do because by freewill your decision is to ask or ignore, which means God can not do something he is not. So when Jesus says, “That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight,” he is simply showing the disciples why telling stories is just a part of getting the gospel message through. He is not looking to cram eternal life down people’s throats or force people into a Sunday service with worship, a collection-plate-pass, and a sermon. Jesus is hiding the message inside a container that is being lowered into people’s hearts.
The passage from Isaiah reveals the psychology of the unconverted, “Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.”
People respond to good communication—stories
Luke 11:9-10 says, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
I want to be a part of a culture—not exclusive or inclusive of the Christian bubble—that communicates well. I want to tell stories that get people to respond. I want people to ask questions about answers they don’t understand.
And I think I know the answer.