Think with me for a minute. When you get up in the morning and start your daily routine, what is the first thing that you look at in the morning? OK, some of you grinned and answered, “My lovely spouse,” and the rest of us nodded a “Romantic, but real?” approval. Most likely, you were greeted by the messages that are brought to you for a product and its brand.
Our alarm is set to go off with music. I wish the music were being played through Bose speakers, but alas it is the tiny sound of a clock radio purchased about 20 years ago. As soon as I figure out the nuances of Alexa, we will be awakened by the sounds coming from a superior nature. A quick slap of the button stops one sound and the push of another puts power to an LG television, and we are greeted by news anchors from the cable by Spectrum (ne’e: Time-Warner, ne’e: Insight, ne’e: Marcus Cable). Pants and a shirt were probably purchased through Lands’ End, toothpaste by Crest, soap by Dial and shampoo by Teatree. All before my morning shower.
The noise of these messages just keeps getting louder. Digital marketing experts guess that most Americans are exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 ads a day, depending upon your age and job. But messages come from more places than just advertising. Text is the single most used feature on a smartphone. Ninety-seven of all smartphone users texted someone within the last week. My money would bet “within the last day.”
Four in 10 internet users follow their favorite brands of products or stores on social media. One in four users say they follow brands when they are considering making a purchase. Thirty-seven percent of online shoppers say they use social media for inspiration and guidance for their purchases. We get messages everywhere and we pay attention to the messages.
Throughout the Scripture we are encouraged to pay attention to the message of sound doctrine. We are challenged to dig into the Bible, mining the words of truth for ourselves. An aging fisherman who had long ago stopped casting nets for fish and instead began fishing for men wrote about the importance of having faith and being able to tell the message of faith to others.
Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy (1 Peter 3:15 MSG).
Peter wrote to encourage them to stay faithful. It was becoming easier for Christians to become intimidated, fearing the outcome of the growing persecution. As Peter chooses words to build them up, he urges them to be ready to explain – to give an answer – regarding the reasons behind their fearlessness, faithfulness and hope.
How should we answer? Peter challenges us by saying, “Give a kind and respectful answer and keep your conscience clear. This way you will make people ashamed for saying bad things about your good conduct as a follower of Christ” (1 Peter 3:16 CEV).
Next Peter tackles the tough part. What should we say? That is the heart of the question, isn’t it? We have talked in this column before about the “essentials” of our faith, but we need to boil it down to an even simpler statement. Our response should not be an after-thought or an “off-the-cuff” comment. It should carefully be crafted to meet the needs of the one asking.
Peter describes our answer this way. “Christ died once for our sins. An innocent person died for those who are guilty. Christ did this to bring you to God, when his body was put to death and his spirit was made alive” (1 Peter 3:18 CEV).
In essence, be prepared to tell your story. How has this Christ affected your life? What are you today because of Christ? The Message grew from stories. Madeleine L’ Engle reminded us that “All of life is a story.” Educational psychologists tell us that we learn best when we hear and learn from stories. A story is how we piece things together.
We are designed to be pulled into a story. Those who study the brain have found that when information comes through a story rather than just simple facts, the neural activity of our brains increase about fivefold. It lights up like a switchboard. The message learned through the story is being woven into the memory like the threads in a blanket.
At the same time, the brain is doing something else very interesting. When a story is being told, the brain synthesizes a neurochemical called oxytocin. It is our empathy drug, sending signals to our hearts and our brains that we should care about someone or something. The more of the story we experience, the more oxytocin our brain produces. What that means is we don’t just watch a movie about James Bond, we end up putting ourselves in his shoes.
Do you see how powerful a story is? It is hard to learn someone’s story and not feel connected to them. Researchers have concluded that storytelling lays the foundation for empathy, compassion, tolerance and even respect for the differences. Stories bring us together.
Life unfolds like a drama, doesn’t it? Each day is a chapter in the making. Sometimes the story reads like a tragedy. Sometimes a comedy. There are times when it feels like the writers are on strike and one of the maintenance workers scribbled the last paragraph.
As Paul Harvey would have answered, the Bible is the rest of the story. It explains why there is pain in our story. It uncovers why there is compassion in every thread. It sheds light on the dark places, reveals where God is when we hurt, and casts a vision for our futures. It shares God’s Message of grace and mercy. It tells where you fit into the Story.
Here are your Scripture readings for the coming week, starting on Monday.
Monday: Romans 1:8-12
Tuesday: Romans 1:16-17
Wednesday: Romans 2:14-16
Thursday: Romans 10:18-21
Friday: Romans 11:25-29
Weekend: Romans 15:17-21