Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Learning Factory

A Sample Chapter in my book: Learning is Fun, But Education Stinks
Available at http://www.brett-tipton.com/store.html


            Teaching methods ought to be based on the way people learn. That statement seems so obvious I almost feel ludicrous stating it, but it has to be stated. So much of what is done in the education system is completely contrary to this simple idea. So, as a starting point let me describe to you how the brain functions.
            The brain is like a giant computer connected to the body. Just like a computer, it has inputs devices. These input devices are our senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Sensory information is inputted to the brain. The brain processes that information. Then, the brain outputs what it has processed to the body. This simple cycle of input-process-output is the learning process in a nutshell.
            Let’s consider the brain as a learning factory. Just like a factory it has shipping and receiving. In an actual factory, the receiving department takes in raw materials. These raw materials will later be turned into a product. That product will then be sent to the customers by the shipping department. In many companies shipping and receiving are combined together into one department. In the brain it isn’t quite so simple, but these two departments are closely linked. Both are found at the point the brain intersects with the body and both deal with electrochemical impulses being sent through a great network of nerves.
            Obviously, I’m simplifying the function of the brain. No one fully understands how it operates. But, the shipping and receiving analogy is an accurate one and helps illuminate the learning process.
            In any factory, much occurs between when raw materials are taken in and when completed products are shipping out. I’m going to use common functions seen within a factory to explain what goes on between input and output.
            Our survival depends on our brain making sense of its environment. After it makes sense of things it has to figure out what to do with this sense-making. So, it has functions similar to research and development. This research and development could be broken down into two distinct phases: 1) Figuring out what the inputs mean—a making-sense-of-things function, and 2) Figuring out what to do with that meaning—a what-do-I-do-with-the-meaning function.
            At this point our factory has done three things: 1) Received inputs (a receiving function), 2) Made sense of the inputs (a research and development function) and 3) Figured out what to do with the meaning (another research and development function). So, our brain now has a blueprint or game plan on how to proceed.
            In a factory, would a blueprint be sufficient? Obviously not! Research and development could produce all kinds of blueprints, but until those blue prints are turned into a product no real production has occurred.
            In the brain the products being produced are ideas. An idea is a mental road map. It explains how the various roads (inputs) are connected. It also gives someone a useful guide of how to apply information.
            Having a roadmap is meaningless unless one takes a journey. The ideas in the brain need to be applied—which means that the production and shipping functions are closely connected. In order for deep learning to occur, ideas must be translated into experiences. As I write this, I am translating my ideas into an experience: writing my ideas down for the world to see.
            What we output also becomes an input. I see the words on my screen. So, our shipping and receiving functions are closely connected—they are both experientially oriented. We could view learning as a circle of: 1) experiences, 2) processing meaning to those experiences, 3) figuring out how to apply that meaning, and 4) creating new experiences, which loops back to number 1.
            Is day dreaming an output? I mentioned the receiving and shipping parts of the learning factory is experiential. This often means receiving sensing from the body and sending commands to the body. However, consider what experiential means from the brain’s perspective. It means sensory-oriented. When daydreaming the brain is creating an experience for the brain. The brain can create things the brain hears, sees, touches, tastes and smells without receiving those raw materials from the body or outputting anything to the body. Does this mean when the brain is daydreaming that it is engaged in the learning process? Consider Albert Einstein. He loved imagination and it was a big part of his process for investigating physics. Many of the things he was dealing with could not be directly sensed and yet he figured them out. He did this using his imagination. He demonstrated an extremely creative form of learning. Olympic athletes will often visualize the event before they perform the event. Why would they do this unless this active imagining was somehow helping them perform better? And, couldn’t better performance be viewed as learning? Daydreaming is the learning factory churning away.
            What does our system do with daydreamers? “Suzie! Suzie! SUZIE! Quit staring out the window and pay attention!” We squash daydreaming, but daydreaming is learning. Students daydream when their brains are longing for learning and they aren’t getting it from the classroom!
            There are a few key things to take from this: 1) Learning is output-oriented. What I mean by that is learning does not occur until the process has come full circle. Simply inputting information is not enough. The brain must make sense of that information and produce a product. 2) Creativity is a key component of deep learning. We could view creativity as a function of research, development and production. In a factory, raw materials received must be transformed into something interesting or useful. Creativity is the process of the mind transforming raw materials (inputs) into something interesting or useful. The deeper the transformation—the deeper the learning!
            One key problem with our education system is that the focus is primarily on the receiving end of learning. Students are often treated as empty receptacles to be filled. In many cases a great deal of raw materials are stacked on the receiving docks, but those raw materials don’t go through a radical transformation. In many cases those raw materials are later shipped out, but they are shipped out in the exact same form as they were received. The education system drops off a load of intellectual wood and then later comes back and receives the same load of intellectual wood. It’s a passive handoff of information. It looks more like a game of catch than an intellectual idea factory.
            What schools often give students is a pattern to duplicate or a set of procedures to follow. When this happens there is a small degree of production between shipping and receiving. The intellectual planks received have been unpacked and organized into neat little piles. This did require some effort by the mental factory workers and a small degree of learning has occurred. But, this is far different than someone taking the planks and transforming them into something new. What I often see in college freshmen is an inability to think. They can collect and organize the mental planks of other people, but they cannot come up with their own planks. They are not able to analyze ideas and create. They are following some paint-by-numbers approach. Their research and development department has received little challenge and training. Their production department has been trained to answer questions as opposed to asking them.
            Imagine for a moment working in a factory. Say your job only involved collecting wood and organizing it into neat piles. Would you find that job fulfilling? Obviously not! You would just be going through the motions, emotionally detached and filled with apathy. Because our education system put little emphasis on creativity, students are bored, passive and apathetic.
            Let’s say for a moment in this factory you were paid $100/hour. Would you miss work? Would you neglect to do one single function of your job? Obviously you would do exactly what is asked of you. But, does this mean your heart would be involved? No! You would still be going through the motions, but you would be doing it in a highly compliant fashion, because you desire that fat paycheck. External systems of rewards may make people compliant, but that doesn’t make them excited about what they are doing. In fact, in such a system you would be less likely to ask questions or challenge the system. You would quietly and compliantly do what is told even if it meant nothing to you. Do you think having workers simply meandering around compliantly following orders translate into the factory producing a high quality product? Obviously the answer is no. A creative, energetic pursuit of an exceptional product comes from a person following their passions, asking questions and being fully engaged in the process. Later I will show how specific tools of the system (like grades, tests, textbooks and a whole host of other excrement) actually work against the brain producing an exceptional product. Our system is based on external rewards that condition people to compliance as opposed to tapping into their internal motivations that produce creative output.
            For a moment, compare a five-year old to a high school graduate. The five-year old will be filled with questions. Give them a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons and they will create art! Their minds are active explorers. Then that poor kid enters kindergarten and the slow, deadly process of socialization begins. He is taught what to think instead of how to think. A high emphasis is placed on putting mental planks on the docks and later having him give back those planks. A low emphasis is placed on the research, development and production components of his learning factory. Even when those components receive some attention it’s done through bureaucratic procedure as opposed to artistic exploration. At five, the kid was bright, energetic, asking questions, creating art and passionately involved in the natural, wonderful process of learning. By the time that kid leaves high school he is an uninspired slacker who wants to know the answer to only one question from his teacher, “What do you want me to say and how do you want me to say it?” The fault is not the kid. He’s been conditioned to think that way!
            While you wouldn’t know it from our education system, learning is fun. Consider a kid playing. Perhaps the child is making a fort, playing house or drawing with crayons. In all those cases the brain is receiving information from the environment, processing that information (the research and develop—making sense of things—as well as the production—translating that meaning into blueprints) and translating that into an output (where production meets shipping—experiential based: building a fort, having tea or drawing a dinosaur). A child at play is the learning factory in action. When children are engaged in this fashion they are squealing, laughing and fully engrossed in the process. It is a natural, pleasurable experience.
            Children are naturally wired to test their environment. The whole learning process of play I just described is really just a child poking, prodding and exploring the world around them. Often children labeled as having a learning disability are doubly wired to test their environment. Consider a child labeled with ADHD. Such a child will: eat dirt to see what it tastes like, throw the cat in the pool to see if it likes water or take apart the lawn mower to see how it works. A child with ADHD does not have a learning disability. Our system has a teaching disability! Consider—these children are most disruptive to the education system when they are most engaged in the process of learning (testing their environment).
            There are genuine learning disabilities. Sometimes the learning factory does not function as it should. Such students need appropriate help. What often happens is a student is smart and has a well functioning brain. They are just having problems fitting into the system. Is it naturally for young children to sit and quietly listen to lectures for six to eight hours a day? No! Adults have a hard time doing it and for the most part survive the ordeal because they’ve learned how to daydream. For a child or adult not fitting into a dysfunctional system is not a disability, but I’m afraid often one is labeled as disabled when there is nothing wrong with their learning factory. Such a label carries a stigma that can be damaging. A student can think something is wrong with them. Or, they can use that as an excuse for improper behavior later in life—“I can’t do such and such, because I have ADHD.”
            Consider an adult taking up a hobby. Say they are learning to play trombone. They receive information from their instructor or trombone lesson book. Their brain needs to figure out what that information means, how to apply that meaning and then put that meaning into actual production. You can’t learn to play trombone merely by reading a book or listening to a teacher. Your learning must become experiential—you need to play the trombone. When an adult plays, we call it a hobby, but the same learning factory is churning as a child at play. All the various functions of the mental learning factory are in full gear. Hobbies bring us joy, make us laugh and enthrall us. Hobbies are learning!
            Learning is a highly pleasurable experience. If one is bored in school, they aren’t bored with learning. They are bored because little learning is occurring.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

To Grow Go Nuclear

            I’m about to drop a bomb on your company, organization or ministry. In order to grow you may have to go nuclear. So, let’s begin by looking at how a nuclear bomb works. Hard to believe, isn’t it? That the secret to growth may be found in the Manhattan Project!
            A nuclear bomb is a device that causes an implosion. I know what you’re thinking. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mr. I’m-about-to-drop-a-bomb! I’ve seen the films. A nuclear bomb causes a massive EXplosion NOT IMplosion!” What you’re seeing is the final phase. The bomb itself begins with an implosion. The fuel of the bomb is compressed. Once the density becomes high enough an intense amount of energy is released. So, the whole process begins with compression and only works if enough density is achieved.
            This same principle of compression works in a business, organization or ministry. In order to become explosive one must compress effort. By that, I mean they do less, but with more vigor. All their intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual “mass” is compressed into less “space”—density increases! Only when there is high enough density does an explosion take place.
            I’ve worked for two dying for-profit colleges. In the first one I was unaware it was dying. In the second one I knew it was doomed as soon as it started implementing certain policies. One crippling policy was a compression of the academic term. I know what you’re thinking, “Um, didn’t Mr. I’m-about-to-drop-a-bomb just say compression was good?” This is a different type of compression than previously mentioned. Both students and faculty weren’t doing less, but with more vigor. They were doing more, but with less vigor. Both colleges went to five ten-week academic terms a year. So, a stretch of six months without any break from class was common. Both schools also had a large population of students who were working full-time, raising families as well as going to school. All their energy was as diluted as a drop of food coloring in the ocean.
            The fatheaded corporate suits, which had little understanding of education (or management for that matter), started to heap more and more responsibility on faculty. Their view of faculty was as a liability on a profit and loss statement, so they did what they were trained to do: cut liabilities when crisis hit. They were able to eek out short-term profits, but long-term the burnout of both students and faculty began to take its toll. The school became a revolving door of faculty and students. What they needed to do was hire more faculty while raising salaries and benefits. They also needed to do less academic terms, allowing students enough time to breathe in between semesters. In the short term this would hurt profits, but in the long term each faculty member would be able to teach less classes, but with more vigor. But, and this is a HUGE but, this strategy will only work if the compression is high enough to bring about an explosion—of energy, talent and creative vision in the classroom. Once that explosion happens the reputation of the school explodes and students are drawn towards a quality education delivered with the explosive dynamic of fervent instructors.
            There are several glitches that happen that hinder growth. First, there is growth to a certain point. So, there is a prevailing belief that if it’s worked in the past it should work in the present and future. Usually this initial growth is centered around someone with vision and passion. This person attracts the human fuel to cause the explosion, but rather than compressing that fuel, continues what in the past has gathered fuel. It becomes a revolving door, because people want to see the explosion. They wait, wait, wait and then leave out of frustration.
            Sometimes a highly toxic question is asked, “What do we need to do to grow?” I know what you’re thinking. “That doesn’t sound highly toxic! Why is a concern for growth toxic?” It’s how people interpret the question that is toxic. What people often hear is, “What ELSE do we need to do to grow?” Instead of compression this leads to dilution. People are doing more, but with less vigor. This interpretation also leads to a lack of examining what is currently being done. If the interpretation is, “what ELSE”, then the underlying assumption is that the things we’re doing are fine. After all, they’ve got us this far!
            Things begin to stagnate. The leader, because of their vision and passion, draws new people. But, people eventually leave when they don’t see the leader’s vision explode. The organization gains a few, but then loses a few. There are periods of growth, but no explosion to take things to the next level. New programs and efforts are tried, fade and are replaced by a different set of programs and efforts. A business, organization or ministry can exist in this cycle for years or even decades. But, without the explosion things will eventually die.
            If you’re a leader, this is where you need to consider a serious question concerning your business, organization or ministry. Do you always seem on the verge of an explosion, but it never seems to happen? If so, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re a poor leader. You’re giving people hopes and dreams that are never fulfilled. You’re wasting people’s time and energy. You’re a key contributor to burn out and likely you aren’t even aware of it.
            Here’s some more bad news. In order for you to do less, you’re going to have to allow other people to take over things you’re holding on to. You’re ego is going to have to take a bruising as you accept that in many areas, even areas where you have talent, there are those who can do it better. The good news is if you give it to them (not hover over them and try to control things) they often WILL do it better. You’re going to have to give up control in exchange for influence. It’s reciprocal—if you trust others, they are more likely to trust you. If you try to control everything, people around you are more likely to be controlling. A little more good news—influence is far more powerful than control!
            The best news is there is a solution! For both yourself and your team you need to do less. Isn’t that a relief! You’re doing a hundred things when in reality you only need to do three. Isn’t that liberating! Of course, you’re going to have to figure out those few things you need to focus on. If you don’t know, just ask wise counsel. More than likely others see what you’re good at as well as the things you’re doing that are a waste of time. Be sure to ask those who have the spine to tell you the things you don’t want to hear! It’s time for you to do a few things, but to do them extremely well. Commit yourself to that task. If you don’t see the explosion, you’re still doing too much. Eventually, with enough compression, the explosion will occur.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fundamentals of Teaching in 10 Minutes

            Imagine a computer. A computer has input and output devices: a keyboard, a monitor and a printer. To use a computer you have to communicate through these devices.
            Imagine your brain as a computer. Your brain has input and output devices: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. If you’re going to teach a person, you have to communicate through these input devices. So, teaching must be sensory—through sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.
            A computer needs to be plugged into a wall socket. That electricity comes from a power plant. Without the wall socket and the power plant, the computer doesn’t function.
            The brain needs to be plugged into emotions. If you love something, you can’t stop thinking about it. The same is true of hate, joy or laughter. Whatever moves us emotionally fuels the brain. Strong emotions come from relationships. So, teaching must involve emotions and relationships.
            Teaching must be sensory, emotional and involve relationship.
            Are all emotions conducive to learning? Imagine Little Johnny taking an algebra test. He encounters the dreaded word problem. A train leaves Chicago traveling 40 miles an hour. Another train leaves Los Angeles traveling 75 miles an hour. Oh no! Little Johnny hates word problems. He becomes afraid and his brain becomes derailed. When afraid the brain has plenty of emotional fuel, but it’s like a revving car stuck in park—burning fuel, but not getting anywhere.
            Now, imagine Suzy Sunshine is in a comedy club. Mister Funny Man tells a story about helping his grandma put on panty hose. He described it in such vivid detail. Even a year later Suzy still remembers the story. Interesting—when stress was removed her brain became more adept at learning.
            So, the fear response hinders learning; the cheer response heightens learning. No wonder the American education system is in the dumps. It’s all stress, stress and stress!
            Imagine for a moment a young college instructor is called down to his boss’s office. He jokes with his students and has become friends with them. He is severely scolded. “You can’t become friends with your students! You need to maintain professional distance!” He sulks away wounded and starts to distance himself from his students. Does this help or hinder the learning process? Who produces more positive emotions—a friendly teacher or a teacher that is distant? The friendly teacher! Unfortunately, the above scenario is based on an actual event. Isn’t professional distance nothing more than removing the brain’s emotional plug to positive relationships? So many textbooks and educators try to make a head-to-head connection with students. But, emotions are the fuel of the mind. Vivid education begins with a heart-to-heart connection. If you grab the heart, you’ll grab the mind, because the heart fuels the mind!
            So, let’s review:
            1) Teaching must be sensory in nature.
            2) Teaching must evoke the cheer response—joy, laughter and fun.
            3) Teaching must happen within the safety of loving relationships.
            Let’s consider language for a moment. Language is simply a way for one person to communicate ideas to another person. We do that in sentences. A sentence represents an idea. But, what’s an idea? Somewhat hard to grasp, isn’t it?
            Let’s remember that the brain is a sensory computer. So, ideas are little chunks of sensory information. There are three basic types of sentences. One type is an action sentence. John hit the ball. The sentence creates a little movie in the mind. Another type is a still picture. John is handsome. It creates a picture in your mind. A third type is an experience. John feels queasy. When you hear that, can you feel a sour stomach? In all cases, these basic types of sentences communicate through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
            However, not all things are this simple. Some things are conceptual in nature. Does your mind have a hard time forming a movie, picture or experience for this sentence? Why? Why is it so hard?
            Let’s consider a concept like freedom. When I say freedom, what do you think about? You might see a picture of our Founding Fathers writing the Declaration of Independence. You might see a little movie of a soldier defending a hill. Or, you might actually feel yourself pulling a lever at a voter’s booth. Is freedom just one of these things or all of these things? You might conclude that freedom is all of these things. So, freedom is like a file folder—it helps to organize a collection of mental movies, photos and experiences into a category. So, concepts are mental file folders.
            When two people are trying to communicate, concepts present problems. If I talk about freedom, your mind has to access the sensory experiences in your little mental folder. That accessing takes time. Because of this, the mind has a harder time processing a sentence like, “freedom is a splendid thing” than it does processing “Johnny hit the ball.” The first one requires you to access various things in a mental folder. The second one gives you a mental picture or little movie.
            There is another problem. When I say something conceptual, like “freedom” the experiences in my mental folder might be much different than the experiences in your mental folder. Freedom may mean different things to different people. If I say something sensory, like “Johnny hit the ball”, each person may interpret it a little differently, but there is a great deal of similarity between the little movies and pictures in each of our heads.
            So, let’s compare conceptual to sensory:
            Sensory requires less processing—so, it’s more efficient.
            Sensory requires less processing—so, it’s easier to understand.
            Sensory creates more similarities between the mental pictures, movies and experiences in people’s brains—so, there’s less possibility of misunderstanding.
            In summary—sensory is a far better way to communicate!
            Now, someone out there is raising their hand. “Teacher, teacher! Oh, oh! Me, over here! Teacher, how does someone teach in a sensory fashion?”
            That’s a good question. Imagine you are sitting in the average college or high school classroom in American. How is much of the teaching done? It is done through lists of names, dates and definitions. Our system takes information and puts it into categories. Hmmm, categories? That sounds a lot like file folders. Our education system is conceptual in nature. No wonder our system is failing!
            Consider what I’ve done? I used the analogy of a computer to talk about the brain. Can your brain see and touch a computer? I used the analogy of a file folder to explain a concept. What I am doing is using mental pictures your brain is familiar with to explain things it’s not familiar with. That’s called an analogy—using a little mental movie, picture or experience to explain things. Analogies are a key component of learning—because, analogies are based on mental movies, pictures and experiences.
            I’ve also told stories—like the one about a young college instructor called down to his boss’s office—oh, that evil hag! When you tell a story, you’re giving the audience a little mental movie. Stories are sensory in nature. Tell a good story and people will experience the story along with you.
            Stories and analogies are two of the most powerful ways to communicate. In order for me to develop them I have to tap into my personal experiences. What happens when someone shares their personal experiences with you? It connects to you emotionally! It plugs you into the fuel source for your brain.
            So, I’m teaching you how to teach. I’m inputting information into your brain. Have you learned how to teach? Nope! In order for you to learn to teach, you have to go out and teach.
            Let’s imagine for a moment your brain is a learning factory. At one end of the brain raw materials are taken in. The materials are processed. Then an output is produced. Now, what if you didn’t create anything new with those raw materials? Would the factory be producing anything useful? Think about our education system for a moment. How much of it involves simply dropping off raw materials and later receiving that information back in the exact same form—on some brain dead test, quiz or paper. It might be a weak form of learning, but deep learning has not occurred.
            A factory must take in raw materials, make something new with those raw materials and then ship them out. The brain needs to do the same thing—taking in ideas, processing those ideas and then applying those ideas in creative ways. You can’t learn how to teach from listening to a teacher. It might be a useful way to take in ideas, but those ideas need to be processed and creatively applied.
            The end of the learning loop is hands-on experience. Think about hands-on. It is sensory in nature. Hands-on is also a valid means to input information. Since our brain is sensory, both the input and output is sensory in nature—involving touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. So much of our education system is just boring lecture, sitting in some classroom detached from reality. No wonder our system is failing!
            So, let’s review:
            1) Teaching must be sensory (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell) in nature—meaning it includes stories, analogies and hands-on application.
            2) Teaching must evoke the cheer response (laughter, joy and fun) as opposed to the fear response (stress, stress and stress).
            3) Teaching must be conducted within the safety of loving relationships as opposed to the idiocy of professional detachment.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why Johnny Can't Do Math

            I’ve been teaching college for about a decade and I can tell you—college students can’t do math. I don’t even teach math. But, I do give out grades and when it comes time to update students on their progress I’ll have the following conversation innumerable times:
            “Mr. Tipton, why am I failing your class?”
            “Well, you didn’t turn in this assignment and this assignment.”
            “Yeah, but I got hundreds on these five assignments.”
            “Yes, but your grade is weighted.”
            “Weighted? Look, if I add up all these grades I have five hundred points. Divide that by seven and I’m getting an eighty-three percent.”
            “Actually, five hundred divided by seven is more like a seventy-one.”
            “Okay, but that’s still a C!”
            “But, you don’t just add them up and divide. Your graded is weighted.”
            “I don’t get it?”
            “Look, those five hundreds are worth three percent each. The two assignments you’re missing are worth ten and twenty percent.”
            “So, what’s your point?”
            “That zero on the twenty percent assignment is worth more than those five hundreds combined.”
            “Nuh-huh?”
            “What is five times three?”
            “Fifteen!”
            “Good, now put away your calculator. Is fifteen more than twenty or less?”
            “So, why am I failing your class?”
            At this point I just want to grab the nearest math instructor and choke him to death!
            When I first started teaching, I thought this was an isolated incident. I felt sorry for the poor student. “Well, she’ll never be an engineer. Tough break she’s also failing my writing class.” After having this discussion thousands of times and killing a few math instructors, I came to realize—college students can’t do math.
            So, I’ve identified the problem, but what’s the cause? Talking to students (or anyone that hates math) it becomes quite apparent there’s a huge mental block when dealing with math. I’ve met bright, articulate people whose heads fill with cement as soon as the word “math” is uttered. “MATH! I HATE MATH!” The eyeballs cross and steam begins pouring out the ears. When students have a mental block it’s so often math. Why?
            Imagine you’re back in school. The Arithmetic Nazi has you at the board. She has that scowl across her face. In her right hand is a pneumatically loaded chalk holder. In her left hand is a book of evil spells (also sometimes called an Algebra textbook). You’re scribbling on the blackboard, while your mind furiously tries to form an answer: x=4.
            “No, no, no! What are you doing? X does not equal four. X equals eleven!”
            You stare at the blackboard in bewilderment. “How does X equal eleven?” you think to yourself.
            Math—it’s so black and white, cut and dry, right or wrong. There is no discussion. There is no wiggle room for a difference of opinion. You’re either right or wrong—and, quite frequently you’re WRONG! Good thing that pneumatic chalk holder doesn’t hold bullets!
            Imagine for a moment a child learning to walk. If you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with math?” then quit thinking that. Just shut up and allow yourself to take a vacation from math. Can you see the child?
            The first time the poor kid stands up, he wobbles and falls. The second time—wobbles and falls. He wobbles and falls many times. Then, he begins to fall forward and puts out his right foot to catch himself. Yes, he still does a face plant, but not before taking his first step. There’s a great deal of wobbling and toddling before he can finally stand and walk as well as you or I.
            Now, think about his parents for a moment. As he wobbles and toddles, what are they doing? They are encouraging his every attempt. Think about his brain. It’s not just his body that’s wobbling and toddling. His brain is doing the same thing—trying to make connections to control his steps and gain his balance.
            Let’s suppose rather than being supportive, his parents were to smack him across the forehead every time he stood up and didn’t walk perfectly? What do you think would happen? Well, he would stand up and then SMACK! Stand up and SMACK! Stand up and SMACK! Then, he would just crawl around too afraid to try to walk. He has now developed a mental block to walking.
            So, there are two different approaches being illustrated in terms of walking. One is a positive approach that encourages the wobbling, toddling process of learning to walk. The other is a negative approach that punishes an attempt to walk that does not produce the perfect gait.
            Which approach seems closer to the Arithmetic Nazi? It seems she is taking the negative approach. Should she? Or, is learning math just like learning walking—where the brain goes through a wobbling, toddling stage? Doesn’t the brain go through a wobbling, toddling phase anytime it’s learning something new?
            X equals thirteen—SMACK! X equals two—SMACK! X equals forty-seven—SMACK! And, the brain develops a cement block anytime math is brought up. When someone is learning math (or any subject) their brain will come up with wrong answers when the brain is in that wobbling, toddling stage of learning. However, the brain must go through that wobbling, toddling stage. Keep whacking a brain when it’s going through the process of learning and the learning factory shuts down. That’s the mental block that happens with math.
            I know someone is out there thinking, “Well, we can’t just accept wobbly, toddling answers. Two plus two cannot equal five. X must equal eleven. The square root of two-hundred-fifty-six is sixteen, not seventeen or twenty-nine!” Let’s consider the parents of that toddler. They certainly embrace the wobbling, toddling phase. But, would they find it acceptable if their child was six and had a gimpy gait? Certainly not! If the wobbly, toddling phase didn’t work as it should, they would take corrective actions—but, even then it wouldn’t be done with a SMACK! It would be done in a nurturing way.
            The reason college students can’t do math is quite simple—the education system kept smacking their brain as it went through the wobbling, toddling phase of learning. Once someone has a mental block, they can still learn—but, the block must first be removed! Removing a block that is the result of hundreds or thousands of mental smacks is a laborious task. Perhaps we need to evaluate our education system so we don’t put that block there in the first place. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Five Keys to Great Speaking

So, you want to become a great speaker, but that huge speech textbook is daunting! As a college speech teacher I can tell you that book is probably worthless. I’ve seen so many different ones and they’re all the same—a huge collection of facts and concepts that give you an overview of the field of public speaking. Truth be told, these eggheads don’t understand speaking. All they’ve done is give you a boring museum of facts and ideas from people far more intelligent than they. What you’ll find is an amateur teaches by looking at everything in a field. A true expert can boil down a field to those few points that make an impact. If you want to become an expert work on these five things:

1) Find your purpose. Who are you? What is it that you truly understand? What lessons has life taught you? Why are you on this earth? Once you know the answers to those questions you know what to talk about. And, you’ll talk about those topics with wisdom and passion. This is often called your voice—your unique perspective, insight and wisdom about life. No one else has your voice. It’s what sets you apart from every other speaker.

2) Overcome stage fright. Now, by that I don’t mean you won’t have some jitters. Some of the best speakers have jitters before taking the stage. But, you can’t be scared of getting up front and letting it fly. When you’re afraid your heart and spirit doesn’t come through. When you’re scared, your voice is muffled. Fear hinders everything—from your preparation all the way through the delivery of your speech.

3) Learn to use stories. I’ve seen it over and over—vibrant storytellers captivate audiences. This is true for preachers, teachers, motivational speaker, trainers and even standup comedians. Many of the stories will simply be stories of your life. The power of story cannot be underestimated!

4) Learn to use analogies. Study great speakers and you will see analogies over and over. Dr. King was a master at using analogies and the analogy’s little brother—the metaphor. Jesus taught through parables—analogies in the form of stories. Start paying attention anytime you have that aha-moment, “Oh, now I understand!” You’ll be amazed at how many times these aha-moments are connected to either a story or analogy.

5) Get in tune with your inner rhythm. One thing that separates exceptional language (both written and spoken) is it has a beat to it. We’re wired to connect to a beat. There’s a rhythm center in our brain. In music we call it beat. In poetry we call it meter. In comedy it’s called timing. Great language has a beat to it. You need to develop your ear and find your own inner rhythm if you want to become a great speaker.

Certainly there is a great deal more to learn about public speaking. But, if you watch great speakers you’ll see these five things over and over. Master these five and you’re well on your way to captivating your audience!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Law Versus Grace


An orthodox rabbi and an evangelical pastor walk into a Messianic synagogue. No, this is not a joke. Imagine for a moment the different perspective each will have on the topics of law and grace.

I suspect each would have a similar conception of grace. Grace is when we are given something we don’t deserve. It’s an extension of another’s goodness to us—not based on our merit, but on their character.

When it comes to the Law, they will both be thinking of Torah: the first five books of the Bible. However, they will approach the Law differently. The rabbi’s mind will likely think of a passage such as the one found in Deuteronomy 28. Let me just share a few verses:

"If you listen closely to what ADONAI your God says, observing and obeying all his mitzvot which I am giving you today, ADONAI your God will raise you high above all the nations on earth; and all the following blessings will be yours in abundance -if you will do what ADONAI your God says: "A blessing on you in the city, and a blessing on you in the countryside. "A blessing on the fruit of your body, the fruit of your land and the fruit of your livestock - the young of your cattle and flocks. "A blessing on your grain-basket and kneading-bowl. "A blessing on you when you go out, and a blessing on you when you come in. Verses 1-6

But if you refuse to pay attention to what ADONAI your God says, and do not observe and obey all his mitzvot and regulations which I am giving you today, then all the following curses will be yours in abundance: "A curse on you in the city, and a curse on you in the countryside. "A curse on your grain-basket and kneading-bowl. "A curse on the fruit of your body, the fruit of your land and the young of your cattle and flocks. "A curse on you when you come in, and a curse on you when you go out. Verses 15-19

You can read the entire chapter if you’d like. Basically the chapter says if you do what God says he’ll bless you in numerous ways—going into detail about all the various blessings he will pour on you. If you don’t follow God you will be cursed in numerous ways—going into detail about all the curses that will be poured on you.

So, the rabbi will see the Torah as wonderful. It is a means to God’s blessing. The Torah will be seen as God’s grace. So, the Law and grace wouldn’t be seen as two separate things. The Law would be seen as a vibrant example of the extension of God’s grace to the Jewish people.

So, how would the pastor view the Law? Likely he would go to the book of Galatians. He may look at a passage like the following in Galatians 3:1-14:

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Looking at this passage, he’s probably been taught that the Law and grace are two separate things—a Law versus grace perspective. From this perspective grace is seen as separate and superior. But, is he looking at this passage correctly? Are the Law and grace two separate things? Or, is the Law an extension of God’s grace?

The question of whether the Law is separate and inferior to grace; or, if the Law is an extension of God’s grace is a huge one. Your answer will radically alter your theology. Here is where both men make mistakes in theology.

The pastor will likely conclude the Law and grace are two separate things. So, grace is seen as replacing the Law. This leaves a huge theological question. If the Law has been replaced then what do we do with all that Old Testament stuff? Often the answer (maybe not in words, but in practice) is to make the Old Testament a second-class citizen on the theological bookshelf. So, less emphasis is placed on studying and applying the Old Testament. But, that is about 2/3 of Scripture. Much of God’s revelation is not given proper attention.

Now, let’s consider our orthodox rabbi. He will likely conclude that the Law is an extension of God’s grace. Following Torah is seen as a means to God’s blessing. Is it? Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if God said do something and I’ll bless that someone should strive to do it? So, he is taking a more reasonable perspective. However, is it a complete perspective? Without the Ruach Hakodesh, he lacks power to perform the Law. Is Torah just about obedience? Or, does it require a change of heart? Is it about performance or relationship? Performance or relationship? Hmm? That’s an interesting question. Where does that come from?

I think much of it comes from our education system. Think about how we teach things in Western society. Things are broken up into distinct, organized and separate categories. The result is we tend to view things in an either-or manner: the Law versus grace; or, performance or relationship. We have been conditioned to look at things in a dissected manner as opposed to being holistic. But, are relationship and performance two opposing concepts?

Let’s say for a moment I meet the woman of my dreams. Feel free to pray and fast about this! So, I give her a ring and we get married. Now, what if I say I love her, but I don’t spend any time with her? What if I say I love her and I don’t treat her with respect? What if I say I love her, but I never want to have a date night or never buy her flowers? Would any woman consider it love if I mouth the words, but didn’t perform the deeds? No! Relationships and performance are not two separate things. If we have a relationship we’re going to work out that relationship. We are going to put hands and feet to our words!

When it comes to loving God, we need to put hands and feet to our words! Our beliefs and actions have to measure up. But, can we measure up? Can we ever come to the place where we live a completely holy life—without one area that is lacking? On our own power—never! We need God’s power to do that.

So, our Orthodox rabbi needs God’s Ruach Hakodesh to fully live the Law. And, how does he receive that? Through faith in Yeshua! Without God’s abiding presence the Torah is merely a spiritual treadmill. Following the Torah without the Ruach Hakodesh doesn’t work. It’s work without possessing the power to do the work. It’s a treadmill without electricity! So, our rabbi should follow Torah—no doubt, it’s commanded and he’s bound to it. But, he also needs faith. Faith and works (in the case of the rabbi following Torah) are intimately intertwined.

So, where does that leave our pastor friend? Should he follow Torah? He already has faith, but how does the Law apply to him? Another way to look at the question is: should a Gentile’s obedience to God look like a Torah-observant Messianic Jew? Or, should a Gentile’s obedience to God look like something completely different? Or, should it be the same in some ways and different in others? Is your head starting to hurt yet?

Let’s consider 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work.

Does all Scripture include Torah? Of course! It includes all 66 books of the Bible. So, the only conclusion one can come to is the whole Bible applies. It’s no longer a question of if it applies, but how does it apply? I’ll be honest. Part of the reason for me writing this is because writing helps me to process things. I don’t have a perfectly formed answer to this question.

This question did arise in the early church. Most of the early believers were Jews. Obviously Yeshua was Jewish as were his twelve disciples. The body of believers began in Jerusalem. So, we are dealing with Jewish people and a Jewish context. However, in the book of Acts Gentiles begin accepting Yeshua. The question arose of whether they needed to follow Torah? Do they need to be circumcised? Do they need to follow all these regulations? The church leaders assembled and discussed these issues in Acts 15. Their conclusion is found in verses 28 and 29:

For it seemed good to the Ruach HaKodesh and to us not to lay any heavier burden on you than the following requirements: to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will be doing the right thing. Shalom!

And, all the Gentiles breathe a huge sigh of relief. “Phew! I don’t need to be circumcised!” But, does this mean the Bible is in conflict? All scripture is given by God and should be applied. But, as a Gentile I need to only follow these four regulations? Hold on a minute! The Jews have to follow hundreds of regulations? I only need to follow four? The Jews must observe Torah! I have four little regulations! So, I can’t strangle my cow or drink blood? That wasn’t high on my to-do list anyways! Maybe the fornicating thing is more tempting, but I’m still allowed to marry so it’s not that bad. And, I can’t have a chicken sandwich that was dedicated to Zeus. Okay, that may have been harder in the first century than today, but today it’s much easier. Chik-Fil-A here I come!

Here we need to start understanding the concept of authority. Who is the authority in my life? Well, I attend a Messianic synagogue. So, the rabbis and leaders are authority in my life. I know as Americans we hate authority. He’s not the boss of me! We’re leery of government and we want to be self-directed. Should we take that position?

Let’s look at what is normative in terms of following authority. I say normative, because it is how things are suppose to operate most of the time. We are supposed to obey our government authority. Study Romans 13. God put those authorities in our lives for our protection. But, at times God’s people disobeyed those authorities—for example the Hebrew midwives disobeyed commands to kill children. The apostles disobeyed commands to quit preaching Yeshua. When authorities put us in direct conflict with obedience to God, we must obey God rather than men. This is the exception and not the rule.

When we deal with authority in a synagogue or church, it is important to realize that authority is there for our protection. Your rabbi, pastor and other church leaders provide an umbrella of protection from Satan’s attacks. Study 2 Peter 5 and you’ll see this principle. The leaders are supposed to protect the flock. So, I do seek advice and listen to the leaders God has placed over me. As American, we want things our way. But, let’s say it’s raining fiercely and another person lets you stand under his umbrella. Is it wise to take advantage of the protection from the elements? Yes! Is it wise to seek shelter under the protection of Godly leaders? Yes! That is to our benefit. Those leaders have a responsibility to God to protect us. But, ultimately we each are accountable to God for our actions. Rabbi doesn’t have to give a message on adultery for me to know I shouldn’t have relations with my neighbor’s wife. While I’m under his protection, I’m also responsible to God for my own actions.

In Acts 15 the early church leaders (who were Jews, remember) were not supposed to impose all those Jewish laws (such as circumcision) on the new Gentile converts. But, does that free the Gentile believers from their accountability towards God? No! Just because the church leaders didn’t impose Torah on the Gentiles doesn’t necessarily mean Gentiles shouldn’t study Torah or learn how to apply it.

It was certainly jarring to the early church as Gentiles became believers. These people didn’t know anything about Torah. They didn’t know about Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. King David? Who’s that? They didn’t know the Psalms. They didn’t know about all the feasts and celebrations. They knew Yeshua had rose from the dead and had accepted him. And, God gave his Holy Spirit to them just as he did to the Jewish believers.

Was it fair to the Gentiles to expect them to pick up and understand Judaism 101 immediately? No! The Jews had been doing Judaism 101 for fifteen hundred years. Just last week the Gentile was eating a ham sandwich at the feet of Zeus. So, for the first century Jews it would be a reasonable expectation for them to follow Torah when they accepted Yeshua. For the Gentile it wouldn’t be a reasonable expectation—they had absolutely no training or background.

So, a Gentile doesn’t immediately know how to become a Torah observer. Honestly, there are many passages that leave me baffled. But, over time should a Gentile become Torah observant? Yes! All Scripture is God’s Word and it all applies. So, over time I should learn how to apply Torah in my life—not because it is imposed on me by the leaders at church or synagogue; but, because God’s Spirit is working in my life to help me live righteously. God’s grace towards me stirs within me a desire to follow God’s Law. To have to obey is one thing, but to want to obey is a far greater thing—it is the thing God’s Spirit does in our life. God does the greater thing!

This brings us back to the passage found in Galatians three. If you look at that passage, you’ll notice it talks about the “curse of the law”. Here is where the pastor and rabbi often part ways. The pastor often sees the “curse of the law” in a distorted way—as if the Law itself is a curse. The rabbi would likely see the “curse of the law” as being the curses found in not obeying the Law. He would see that there is both cursing and blessing connected to Torah. So, the “curse of the law” would be all the bad things that would happen if one doesn’t follow the law. And, he would have valid Scriptural support for this. So, what happens if we view that passage from this perspective? Then, we no longer come at the passage as the Law versus grace. Once that blindfold is removed we see that the passage teaches that Yeshua frees us from the curses in the Law—the penalties for disobedience.

Now, hold on a second? If we are free from the curse of the Law, doesn’t this mean we can do whatever we want? Adultery, murder and covet! It will be a free-for-all of sinning! No, no, no! That is not what it means. Truth faith implies a change. When God’s Spirit enters our life he begins to shape our character so we reflect God’s character. He doesn’t free us from the consequences of sin. He frees us from sin itself! Free, so that we may live righteously and not fall under the penalties of sin. If we are no longer bound by sin, we are no longer under the bondage of the penalty of sin. So, as long as we follow God’s Spirit as opposed to our flesh, the curses of the Law are of no effect—because, we aren’t sinning!

Of course, we all do sin. And, when we do we need to seek God’s forgiveness. The amazing part is he offers it. He has given us the power not to sin. He gives us forgiveness when we sin. And, one day he will completely free us from our sinful nature.

Honestly, I still don’t have a definitive answer as to if a Gentile believer should eventually end up living like a Torah-observant Messianic Jew. My gut reaction is that he should. God has given the Law to the Jew. It is his blessing and upon faith the Jew is not only empowered to the follow the Law, but has knowledge how to do so. It’s been woven into his culture. It’s been taught to him from generation to generation. The Gentile believer doesn’t have this cultural transmission. He often begins with nothing but faith. But, God’s Spirit moves in his life to make him righteous. With this stirring, at times he ends up following the Law and may not even be aware what he’s conforming to. The Law and grace are not two separate things. They are two interwoven things. They must work in tandem—one showing us the form, but the other giving us the power. At least at this point that’s the best I can figure things out. So, what’s your opinion?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Almighty Awaits

            The thunderous chorus of the four beasts echoes across the crystal sea. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”
            Seven lamps burn searing hot upon the lamp stand. Upon the altar the coals burn with an all-consuming, holy fire. Voices, thunders and lightening emanate from the throne room of the universe.
            A magnificent event takes place in this Holy of Holies in the Heaven of Heavens. All of a sudden the angelic host bend their ear to await instruction from their King. A fragrant smoke of incense envelopes the one seated upon the throne. Even through the smoky cloud his presence shines forth like an emerald.
            Seated to his right is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. His eyes burn like a fiery flame. His hair is white as wool. His tongue is a sharp sword. He wears a golden girdle that shines like the sun. His voice shakes the stars of the universe. With the words, “It is finished” he threw open the Holy of Holies in the Heaven of Heavens. He opened the way for the event that is happening.
            A thunderous presence enters. The whole universe quakes as he brings before the throne utterances beyond comprehension. So, what is happening? God’s people are praying!
            It seems inconceivable—that the prayers of sinful people could cause such a stir in God’s throne room? Yes, inconceivable—but, God desires fellowship with man. God desires us to seek his face and enter his holy presence. Perhaps we need a greater understanding of the power of prayer!
            In the tabernacle and later the temple was a special place called the Holy of Holies. It was separated from the rest of the complex by a curtain. This Holy of Holies resided next to another chamber: the Holy Place. These two chambers were enclosed and were a special area.
            Within the Holy of Holies sat the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a box made of wood and covered with gold. Within the ark was: Aaron’s rod that budded, a bowl full of manna and the tables of stones with the commandments given to Moses. On top of the ark was a lid called the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat had two cherubim that faced each other. Between the cherubim dwelt God’s glory. It seems mysterious that God’s glory could be contained in such a place, but the Lord God can do what the human mind cannot comprehend.
            Outside the Holy of Holies in the Holy Place was: a candlestick which had seven lamps, a table of showbread and a small altar called the Altar of Incense. The seven lamps were to burn continually and upon the Altar of Incense fragrances were burned. On Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies he would have a censor in his hand burning incense from the Altar of Incense. The smoke would cover God’s glory—serving to protect the high priest from death.
            What was on earth is an image of what happens in the Heaven of Heavens. The fragrant smoke of incense that surrounded the glory of the Lord is a picture of the prayers of the saints!
            The incense made for use in the tabernacle and temple was of a special recipe. No one was allowed to make fragrances after that recipe. Its use was for only one purpose—God’s sanctified purpose.
            Can you see the nostrils of our Heavenly Father opening wide to inhale the sweet fragrance? To him our prayers are a sweet fragrance—a smell unlike anything else. Our prayers come before his throne—before his radiant presence and glory. Our prayers enter the throne room of the one we cry out to, “Abba Father!”
            Jesus—the one who was, is and is to come has thrown open the Holy of Holies in the Heaven of Heavens. He became our great High Priest and offered a blood sacrifice—his own flesh and blood upon the cross. He became accursed so that we might have access to God’s throne. Truly we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned to our own ways, but the Lord laid upon him our iniquities. And, he willingly accepted them—God in the flesh taking the penalty we deserve. When he was finished the curtain in the temple was torn—not by the hands of men, but was torn in two from top to bottom by the hands of our Almighty King!
            The thunderous presence that enters the throne room is God’s Holy Spirit. On our behalf he brings before the Father intercession for us. God takes prayer so seriously, that God prays for us! God takes prayer far more seriously than we do!
            In Acts 1 we find that Jesus ascends. After he ascends a small band of believers chose the man to take the place of Judas Iscariot. Other than that all they do is gather in an upper room seeking God’s face in prayer. Can you see them huddled up there waiting for the Lord?
            As they prayed, a sweet fragrance filled the throne room of God. The curtain had been torn and the Almighty awaited. Jesus had thrown open the Holy of Holies in the Heaven of Heavens. The throne room rumbled with utterances from God’s Holy Spirit. And then, . . . PENTECOST! God’s Spirit was poured out upon them like a mighty flood. The early believers took prayer seriously. Prayer was corporate, consistent and at times combined with fasting.
            So, why don’t we experience these things today? Why do believers lack power? It’s not because God isn’t waiting to pour out his Spirit like a mighty river. It’s because we don’t take advantage of the power we have in prayer—a power to shake the throne room of God! The Almighty awaits!

Notes: I have used my imagination in envisioning what happens in heaven when we pray, but I believe that imagination is guided by Scripture. I submit the following for further study:

For God’s throne room: Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6, Revelation 4, 5
For the image of Jesus: Revelation 1:13-16, 19:11-13
For Jesus becoming our High Priest and Sacrifice: Isaiah 53, Matthew 27:51, 52, John 19:30, Hebrews (in particular chapters 8-10)
For the angels awaiting instructions when we pray: Daniel 10, Acts 12—it would be a stretch to say every time we pray God dispatches some sort of angelic force like a divine delivery to meet our needs, but at times it does happen.
For the Holy Spirit offering intercessory prayer with us: Romans 8:26
For the tabernacle, temple and priestly activity: Exodus 25-31, 35-40, Leviticus 1-10, 1 Kings 5-9
For the atonement made by the high priest: Leviticus 16
For the activities of the early church: Acts
Note: references are not an exhaustive list in regards to these matters, but a good place to begin studying!