Guy Mason – Arrow 6 (2005/06)

The rise and fall of Kodak has become a global case study in innovation.

Kodak was founded in 1888 by George Eastman, who had a vision to “make the camera as convenient as the pencil.”

By 1976, Kodak commanded 90% of film sales and 85% of camera sales in the U.S., according to a 2005 case study for Harvard Business School. By 1988, Kodak employed over 145,000 workers worldwide.

1996 was the peak year for Kodak. The company had over two-thirds of global market share. Kodak’s revenues reached nearly $16 billion, its stock exceeded $90, and the company was worth over $31 billion. The Kodak brand was the fifth most valuable brand in the world.[1]

And yet – on the 9th January 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. As one writer from The Economist said, “After 132 years [Kodak] is poised, like an old photo, to fade away.”

And while business analysts will highlight the rise of ‘digital technology’ in Kodak’s demise, many overlook the remarkable fact that Kodak actually invented the very first digital camera way back in 1975.

However, instead of marketing the new technology, the company held back for fear of hurting its lucrative film business. As Avi Dan highlighted for Forbes magazine, ‘the company had the near sighted view that it was in the film business instead of the story telling business, and it believed that it could protect its massive share of market with its marketing. Kodak thought that its new digital technology would cannibalize its film business. Sony and Canon saw an opening and charged ahead with their digital cameras. When Kodak decided to get in the game it was too late.’[2]  

I was reminded of this case study at the recent Anglican Future Conference in Melbourne. Tracy Lauersen (St. Hilary’s Kew) gave a short but sharp presentation on the changing face of culture and the church’s need to learn from organisations like Kodak. While we may cringe at the association between a global enterprise like Kodak and the bride of Christ, there are valuable lessons to be considered – because in an ever-changing world, God’s people need to be awake to innovation, always keen to see how we can bring the gospel to our culture.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. In Matthew 13 we read:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

I’ll share three insights from this text that have been formative in my life, and God willing, will equip you to engage our culture with innovation and purpose for the glory of our king.

First, God’s great innovation. 

The seed in the hand of the farmer is the ‘word of Christ’s kingdom’ (see v. 19). This is the heavenly proclamation that the kingdom of God has come to us in Christ.

Foreshadowed in the Old Testament and promised by the prophets, the great ‘I AM’ has stepped onto the stage of human history. Jesus has come to redeem what was lost, heal what is broken, and reconcile sinful men to God. He achieved this by living the life we could not live (the life without sin) and then dying the death we should have died (the death for sin). Three days later Jesus rose historically, physically, victoriously so that we can enter into our Father’s happiness.

Instead of death, you get life. Instead of judgment you get forgiveness. Instead of slavery you get freedom. Instead of wrath, you get grace. Instead of rejection you get acceptance. Instead of yourself, you get God.

This is the message we believe and live by. This is the seed that is scattered – this is the message we must proclaim.

It is also important to note that throughout the parable the seed is always the same.  The sower doesn’t change it from one soil to the next – and in the same way, we must lift up the unchanging and timeless truths of scripture. 

Renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens was once interviewed by a ‘Christian’ minister named Marilyn Sewell.

She said to him, “The religions you cite in your book ‘God is not Great’ are generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I'm a liberal Christian, and I don't take the stories from the Scripture literally. Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”

To which Hitchens replied, I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.'

It’s staggering to think an atheist gets the truth of the gospel better than some church leaders, but that’s the culture into which we speak, so we must labour to get to the heart of the matter with passion and precision.

We must stand against such heresy and pragmatism. Whether it’s outright rejection of the divinity of Jesus or just a pandering to the market with ‘self-help’ messages that scratch the ears of our listeners, we are people of the unchanging, life giving word. 

Second, our need to innovate.

You’ll note in Jesus’ parable there are four responses to the word, three of which do not equate to lasting faith. These three responses represent the challenges to our work – and the space in which we must innovate.

The first response is one of confusion and misunderstanding. The first seed devoured by birds (v.4) represents those who lack understanding in the gospel. Communication is not only information delivered, it’s information received. As ambassadors for Jesus we don’t just get our message out, but are to make sure it gets in.

I believe in the all-sufficiency of scripture. But what the bible teaches me is that the timeless word of God needs to be communicated in timely ways. This requires more than contemporary language and the occasional cultural reference; it’s a call to a deep understanding of the heartbeat of our community. What are the values, hopes and questions of those around you? How might they be connected with the gospel we communicate?

Take cinema, for instance. Cinema is more than entertainment, it’s a window into the worldviews that characterize and shape our culture. At the movies we learn about our fears, our hopes, our saviours, our gods.

‘Wolf of Wall Street’ tells us about the emptiness of materialism. ‘The Man of Steel’ tells us about our desire for a saviour. ‘12 Years A Slave’ tells us about our longing for justice. ‘Walter Mitty’ tells us about our desire to break free.

‘Les Miserables’ tells us about the transforming power of grace. And my personal favourite, ‘The Lego Movie’, tells us that everything is not awesome.

So: do you understand the narrative of our culture? Are you reading its stories, studying its films, listening to its songs? Are we creating opportunities for unbelievers to hear God’s word in their tongue?

The second response is one of shallowness and superficiality. The second seed which was sown on rocky ground, had no depth of soil, so withered under the heat of the midday sun (v.20) You can impress culture with great music, great programs and great sermons but you’ll not see lasting faith unless the ministry of the word is characterised by God-centred depth and breadth. This is a call for more than the tweets of scripture but exposition and celebration of the richness of God’s character, the wonder of his attributes, the mystery of his sovereignty, the beauty of his glory and the supremacy of his Son.

This is why I have no time for the so-called prosperity gospel.

In his book “How Long oh Lord,” Don Carson says:

'One of the major causes of devastating grief among Christians is that our expectations are false. We do not give the subject of evil and suffering the thought it deserves until we ourselves are confronted with tragedy. If by that point beliefs – not well thought out but deeply ingrained – are largely out of step with the God who has disclosed himself in the Bible, then the pain from the personal tragedy may be multiplied many times over as we begin to question the very foundations of our faith.'

If you want to engage culture for lasting change, lift them to see the whole counsel of God. 

Be innovative and tell them that some of the most faithful followers of Jesus were persecuted, suffered and died. Tell them God is bigger than his gifts. Tell them Jesus is the supreme treasure.

The third response, seen in the thorns that choke the life out of the seeds, represents the cares and distractions of life that stifle growth (v22). The bible speaks of these things as ‘idols’ – the things that we use to give us meaning, purpose and an identity.

The American writer David Foster Wallace was not a believer, but understood the perils of idolatry. Addressing a class of college graduates, he said:

"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there’s actually no such thing as atheism. There’s no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they’re where you tap real meaning in life — then you’ll never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. 

Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you’ll always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you’ll die a million deaths before they finally plant you....Worship power — you’ll feel weak and afraid, and you’ll need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you’ll end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.  

As a sower of the Word, we need to help people identify their idols and expose their futility.

Many years ago, I met a young man who’d been coming to church. He was working in the finance sector and exploring the claims of Christ.

On one particular meeting, I could see he was nervous. He began to share about his addiction to sex. In addition to pornography, he was visiting local brothels weekly. In fact he was such a ‘valued member’ that he’d received a membership ring – a symbol of the covenant he’d bought into.

And while many would tell this man that he should do whatever feels good, the bible reveals that true and lasting happiness and fulfilment isn’t doing what we want to do, but what we were made to do. We were made for a higher purpose and pleasure. We were made for God…

Some weeks after our chat, he came up to me after a service sharing his desire to follow Jesus. At that stage our church was meeting in a venue just by the water, so we went outside and stood by the water’s edge. We prayed, confessed sin and he committed his life to Christ. As we finished praying, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his ‘brothel ring’ … and threw it into the water.

It was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen. This was one man recognising the emptiness of the world’s riches and holding onto the glory that is Christ our King – one man tearing away the thorns that would have choked the life of God within him.

Jesus offers us more than existence - he brings life. As men and women of the Word, we are meeting the challenges of our day with the better news of His abundant life. Not a cheap high, or a temporary pleasure – but a life of lasting fulfilment and everlasting joy.

And this leads to the final point.

Third, the fruit of innovation.  

Look to verse 8, Jesus says,

Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

He adds, verse 23:

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

We’re called to bring the word of God to unbelievers – and while it’s true that some will reject Jesus, he’s also wanting us to see that there will be those who receive his message with lasting faith.

People will hear the word and put their trust in Jesus – not because of what we’ve done, or who we are, but because the seed - His gospel - is powerful to save.

We live in a day where far too much is placed on the innovation, gifting and competency of the leader, over and above the supremacy and power of the Word.

We must remind ourselves that we have a treasure, which is carried around in a jar of clay. Jars of clay are not impressive -they crack and break. But the weaker they are, the more powerful the light within.

Self-confidence looks in the mirror and says I can do it. I have the gifts. I have the power to make the difference. Jesus calls us to gospel confidence, finding hope not in our own ability, but in the supreme and ultimate power of God. 

Eighteen months ago at a City on a Hill Christmas service, I preached a simple message from John 3. Sitting in the second row was my dad. He was not a Christian – but I’ve been praying for his salvation for 20 years.

At the end of my message I invited people to respond to the invitation of Christ and receive his salvation - and right in front of me my dad’s hand went up. This time last year at Easter, I had the privilege of standing in the waters with my older brother as we baptised my dad before the Lord.

Jesus is alive, he is building his church, and his gospel is powerful to save.

It’s not about us or our strategies and plans, it’s always about Jesus who uses ordinary people like us to achieve his extraordinary will.