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To be Human is To Be Growing

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Ever wonder how and why we go from being helpless dependent babies to becoming autonomous adults? I mean really, life is pretty good when you’re a baby….Everyone caters to your every need; you don’t have to do a thing for yourself, you’re the centre of attention… and yet, despite this 5 star luxury living arrangement, for some reason, we weren’t satisfied; being a baby wasn’t good enough for us for very long— Children want to grow up.

And the truth is we never lose that innate desire to grow, to become better, to make the world better, it’s part of what it means to be human. Doesn’t every kid dream of saving the rainforests or polar bears or? Doesn’t every Beauty Queen dream of world peace? We all want our lives to count, to make a difference…. we all want to progress, to become better than we are. Because, God designed us this way—to be driven — to be creative, like Him; to dream dreams, and see visions, and imagine a destiny bigger than ourselves – such that we seek after, long for and discover Him—

So if it’s true that what drives us is that picture of a better world and a better me than how is it that so much of our society from business, to education to church, assumes that we’re motivated by rewards and punishments. Get an A, gold star; hit your classmate, detention; make that sale, get a bonus; don’t perform, demotion — after 50 years of studying motivators in organizations, Daniel Pink, asserts that such strategies just don’t work no matter how big the carrot or the stick… Why? Because humans are not machines such that we can push the right button and get what we want. Pink says, it’s in our very nature to be active and engaged! And then he describes the three most enduring motivators: the single largest motivator being, making progress – we want to get better – he calls it mastery; and the second highest motivator, a purpose – a purpose bigger than ourselves.

In other words, if the goal of your company is simply to make money, your people will not be motivated… period.

So what does all this have to do to with you and I and the church? A lot actually, on a number of different levels… such as philosophically—how has the church in the last century particularly in the Western world tried to motivate people? With a carrot and a stick, right? Repent and believe, go to heaven or to hell! And this was the approach of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day too—they had the rules, rewards and penalties down to the finest line. But we weren’t made simply to comply, we were made to engage!! That’s why Jesus was so refreshing, so intriguing—so wild and untamed as Alan Hirsch calls it! And that’s why people were so drawn to Him– He stirred up that long buried but never gone drive—the drive to be something better, something more—to progress like a kid learning to walk—Jesus poured water on seeds that were dying to live—to flourish, to be nourished and set free from their shriveled, wilted, thirsty state…. to grow to bear fruit! We were made to grow and bear fruit!

The sad thing is that somehow the church in the West, often finds herself with a similar thirst. Think about it, what comes to mind when I ask you what it means to be a disciple of Christ? Here’s the usual answer I get from the average person in the pew:

Well, it means you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, go to church on Sunday, try to pray, read the Bible and be a good person, maybe be in a small group….

How motivating is that? Is that really what being a disciple of Jesus is all about? And if it is, why aren’t people, myself included, more passionate about, more energized and engaged?

So let me ask the question again—only this time, think about it from a different perspective, “How would a follower of Jesus in Jesus’ day have answered it?” Take Philip or Mary for example, here’s how I imagine their response:

It’s been the craziest, most exciting wild life changing experience you could ever imagine, more than I could have ever imagined! Jesus is always pushing us- sending us, challenging us, confusing us, inspiring us; My head is spinning and my heart is pounding almost all the time–he’s got us being friends with people we would have never even glanced at before, going places and hanging out where we never would have dreamed of finding ourselves… We have seen people healed, storms calmed, thousands fed with nothing, water turned into wine. Life will never be the same again– I’ll never be the same again. I’ve learned so much, learned to trust, learn to love. — Even though it scares me half to death most of the time, I love following Jesus — And even though, I’ve had to give up all kinds of things, even leave some people behind, I wouldn’t trade it for the whole world—in fact, I’d give away everything, give up anything for the joy and exhilaration, the miracle- the adventure of following Jesus –wherever He leads and wherever He sends us….

Now that’s someone who’s driven! There’s passion in those words; there’s the kind of growth that I think deep down we all long for, were made for… So how do we get from here to there?

Scott Boren, in his book Missional Small Groups, describes a fourth story, The Story of Missional Re-creation.

This story stands in stark contrast to the predominant story of our culture. It’s the story that moves us from “I’ to “we” to ‘’other’- to ‘neighbour’ …. and it might be told like this….

We have developed a way of life together right where we live. We started with a block party. … We had to really push ourselves out of our comfort zones to meet new people and invite them in. We began getting to know the neighbours and neighbourhood better; started praying earnestly and sincerely for the people we were soon to call friends. We came alongside a family, the mother of which had been diagnosed with cancer. The women from our group began hosting coffee times with other women in the neighbourhood…the guys who were into biking got a Saturday morning cycling gang going. It seems the more we engage, hang out, live among, the more, more and more neighbours are just included in the life of the community—socials and service projects even our God conversations….Many have no real understanding of who Jesus is yet, but then I am not always sure I do either…. they and we however, are experiencing the shalom of the Kingdom and love is increasing and joy is deepening… and we’re just showing up, partnering with neighbours and in neighbourhood activities and initiatives… and we’re trusting that God is going to keep going ahead of us. He is already at work in the neighbourhood. He loves our neighbours more than we do. There’s no particular strategy here– we’re just trying to love God and love our neighbours—actually, we’re just trying to follow Jesus. We don’t always get it right—sometimes we catch ourselves and have to say, wait a minute, what are we for, what’s this really all about –in fact that’s why the name for this story is so appropriate, we’re constantly being re-creating… in the Image of Christ….

Most of the people in our pews live in a different story. As I have been told, “We just don’t live that way today.” — which is “EXACTLY THE POINT.” Are our lives shaped by the culture we’re immersed in or by Jesus? Am I dreaming the world’s dream or God’s dream? Am I fulfilling all that I am called and made to be as a growing, maturing human being? And if I am going to be satisfied with living life like the rest of the world and adding a weekly sermon and a small group Bible study on top, then what exactly is being church all about?

“God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do.” Eph.4:15

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[Photo: U.S. Army, CC via Flickr]
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