Sharing Your Faith This Christmas
Probably the only thing I dread about Christmas is the advertising!
Estimates vary, but some marketing experts tell us that we are each exposed to as many as 3000 commercial messages every day. I think that number might almost double when we get to Christmas!
These days, we are surrounded by advertising: in magazines, newspapers, on billboards, in the mail, at train stations, in trains, at airports, in supermarkets and department stores and the list goes on…
I get information overload just thinking about it.
In all the pushing of products and images, companies are facing a 'clutter' problem. Coca Cola spent $33 million for the right to become the official drink of the 1992 Olympics. Despite their huge advertising push, only 12% of TV viewers realized that Coke was the official drink - another 5% thought Pepsi was the sponsor!
For individuals, the glut of information is leading to stress, confusion and cynicism.
Forced to think on-the-run and to reject most of what they hear as irrelevant to their lives, people tend to hear only a small part of a message before deciding whether it's for them or not.
Because we're surrounded by so much hype and commercialism, we tend to listen more to word-of-mouth than what advertisers say.
We like to rely on advice and tips from friends to steer us in the right direction. We listen to 'buzz' -- informal information about products and ideas.
The world of business is now waking up to the power of 'buzz' and research has tried to uncover what makes people talk about an idea or concept with their friends.
Buzz, says the research, travels via networks: groups of people who are connected by like interests or needs. Some people apparently act as natural buzz creators; they connect more people than average to a new idea.
What's more, researchers have found that buzz doesn't just happen. It can be encouraged or created, if certain things are true of the product or idea in question.
Buzz, for example, is apparently much easier to create when the product or idea contains something useful and when it can be previewed before someone buys into it.
Buzz is also easier when it features a story with a hero or charismatic leader; when the focal point is a person. The idea must also be easy to pass on to others and deliver on what it promises and it should contain an element of mystery and even danger.
All of the above characteristics apply to the gospel. In fact, in the Bible, buzz is called 'evangelism'.
The spread of the gospel through the first century world, and later through Western civilization, provides a great example of buzz at its most contagious! That's why many business writers now talk about the role of 'company evangelists'; people who are paid to create buzz.
The greatest enemy to the gospel is not secular humanism, existentialism, rationalism or any of the plethora of philosophical options before us.
When it comes to sharing our faith in Christ, I think our greatest enemy is predictability.
These days, it seems that as soon as you announce yourself a Christian, people think they know what you're going to say and do and how you might say and do it.
Yet, there is nothing even remotely predictable about the gospel. Who could possibly have predicted the direction and the impact of Jesus' life?
There was nothing predictable or mundane about Jesus. His birth, life, death and resurrection are all surrounded with an air of surprise.
Jesus did things we'd never seen before. He could still a storm with a word from his mouth, feed multitudes with nothing more than a boy's lunch and raise people from the dead.
Jesus said things we'd never heard before. So many in our society say that they have no time for Jesus, yet they quote him all the time, without knowing it.
In his own time, Jesus amazed people with his miracles. He astonished them with his teaching. Finally, he shocked many of them with the manner of his death.
The gospel is a surprising message. God broke through the clutter of humanity's disjointed perceptions and skewed orientation to spring the most unexpected and most glittering of all surprises.
Through a baby born in a stable, through a man who evicted sickness and made waves stand still, God sprang out at us shouting: 'SURPRISE! I still love you!'
Given that we serve the Master of Surprises, why have we in the church become so predictable?
The only thing people should be able to predict about a church - or a Christian -- is that we're going to surprise them, because we represent Christ.
When was the last time you sprang out at unchurched friends and shouted: 'Surprise!'?
A church that practices surprise positions itself to be heard above all the clutter of marketing messages.
A Christian who lives a surprising life - going beyond the call of duty to deliver the Kingdom message and example - rises above stereotypes and gets a hearing.
This Christmas, we can create buzz about our Lord. Armed with the gospel you and I can be the natural buzz creators in our circles of influence!
We can make the gospel visible. We can show how useful our faith is to us - for example, in decision-making, building friendships, handling money and so on.
We can tell people about the hero of the story - showing them that our faith is not simply built around a religious dogma, but a vibrant relationship with a Person.
We can give people a 'preview' of what God can do for them, by praying for their specific needs and then asking them how things have changed as a result.
We can give them something to can pass on to others, by offering practical Bible wisdom for real-life needs or problems -- rather than simply Christian clichés.
We can also reveal how the gospel delivers on what it promises, by putting our whole lives on the line to receive and demonstrate God's promises.
Finally, we can show that the gospel is a message filled with mystery and, yes, even danger.
The gospel is surprising. It calls us to love those who hate us, to give to those who can give back to us, to walk the extra mile and turn the other cheek.