God as branded by us
I started working at Loon Mountain in the late 90’s first as a children's ski instructor and then as snowboarding coach. I’d work couple days a week in exchange for some extra cash and a season pass. Right around this time in history the U.S. was introduced to a new product in a tall, slim, shiny blue can. I’ll be honest, the only reason I started drinking Red Bull was because there were attractive girls, who were wearing not nearly enough clothes to be running around a ski mountain, handing the stuff out for free. I thought it tasted crushed up sweet tarts blended in a can with some carbonated water. But it was free and it worked, and eventually, like any good drink, I acquired a taste for it.
I still can’t drink one of those things or eat a Nature Valley granola bar with out thinking about cold days on a ski lift in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This no accident; marketing companies get paid millions of dollars to help companies create brand loyalty, so that we get warm fuzzies whenever we think about their product. This is something that Apple does really well. Making their customers feel like part of a special society of hip, tech savvy, consumers.
Have you ever heard the term “ambassador” for Christ? It’s usually something church people throw out when they are calling for some behavior modification. It’s often followed by a list of things that “God Hates” and believers “shouldn’t do”. And this is what Christianity has become known for; what it is that we are against and what we abstain from. I don’t know about you, but having my faith chalked up to arrogant moralism is not okay with me.
Those girls that run around handing out free cans of red bull are called brand ambassadors. They are strategically use to embody the image of the company. Young, hip, sexy, fun, and they work really hard to keep that message consistent. In marketing they call that cohesive branding and identity messaging. I’ve seen a lot of attempts by churches recently to “re-package” Jesus. They use words like relevant, and contemporary. The problem is when you try to mold Jesus to the culture as opposed to allowing Jesus to transform the heart of the culture something gets lost in translation. A songwriter friend of mine calls it the “sneaky Jesus” approach. It’s when you invite your friend to a “cool music concert” and then a pastor comes out from behind the guitar amps and tries to cram the message of the Gospel into a two min. elevator speech. And they walk out of the “7th Floor Jesus” concert feeling like they got hoodwinked while we got back to church to get our evangelism badge.
I do think our faith could use a serious image makeover. But it has to come from a real place. It has to come from people who are compelled to compassion because of the way the receive love and grace from the Father. Jesus was about His Fathers business; which involved caring for the sick, spending time with sinners, and showing culture a different kind of kingdom. Did he encourage them to live well, do make right choices, and seek after wisdom? Absolutely. But all of those things were based on our relationship with God and each-other.
1 John 4
19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
That term “first love” is less about chronology and more related to the idea of first fruits which in Hebrew culture was not just the first crop of the season but the BEST of the harvest. We love because God gives us the best of His love. So feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and all the other benevolent things we do are good things but when they are rooted in God as a response to love, they can dynamically impact the lives of servant and the served. Changing the “identity” and “public opinion” of Jesus and His followers wont come from a marketing campaign or an advertising strategy. It can only happen one life at a time. You and I have the opportunity to re-define who Jesus is in our friends, family and neighbors. Maybe this love heavy spirituality will taste like chalked up sweet tarts and soda water but I promise the more you give it away freely, the more people will acquire a taste for it; because it’s real and it works.
Also Read ROMANS 12