Are You Trying to Market God?

megaphone-1381104_1920Sharing our faith is tough. We want to be sensitive to our listener, and more than anything, we long to see them experience the deep love of Christ. But so often, our efforts are filtered through a heavy lens of self. This can result in an effort to market God and to love others on an agenda. Today, fellow ACFW member Emilie Hendrix

Are You Trying to Market God? 

by Emilie Hendryx

In today’s media-saturated culture we are in tune with marketing in a way that no one has been before. It’s everywhere we look, whether we’re at the grocery store, mall, bookstore, fitness center, or just driving down the road. We market pretty much everything from objects, food, thought processes, books, people, and faith.

But has this marketing-centric culture negatively affected us as Christians? I think it has, and I’d like point out three things that we can fall prey to when we try to “market God”.

Marketing tells you why “they” think you need it

At first glance this could sound like a good thing. And I agree, we do need to tell others about God! But, how we go about doing that is what’s important here. When we try to “market God” to those around us we can often pinpoint an “issue” (maybe this is an obvious sin etc.) and then make it our job to make sure that person knows why they need God.

The issue here isn’t in the sharing (that’s the good part) it’s in the heart of those who share and how they share. Do we share the gospel from a heart that overflows with love for others? Or a heart that shares in arrogance and condemnation?

Marketing tells why the “product” is the best, but leaves things out

I believe that a relationship with Christ is the only way to heaven. Sharing that is easy and personal. But, part of the difficulty when we try to “market God”, is that we can be tempted to leave out the hard parts. Sometimes it’s hard to stand up for what you believe in, especially in today’s culture. I know there are things I believe that set me apart from others. The temptation here is to gloss over, ignore, or not address these things when talking about the gospel.

Jesus is the perfect example of what to do in order to resist the temptation to “market God”. He took no effort to hide His affiliation with those who were considered unloved, forgotten, despised, or labeled as sinners in His day. But what did He do while he spent time with them? He spoke the truth. Just like when He had a conversation with the woman at the well (John 4). He told her to “go and sin no more” – so, to walk away from her sinful lifestyle – but He didn’t ignore her.

In our culture, it’s almost assured that we’ll be faced with someone challenging our beliefs. Don’t give in to the temptation to “market God” to make Him look “better” or “more accepting” or less “judgmental” just because you’re afraid you’ll make Him look bad (or afraid you’ll look bad). If your faith and understanding is rooted in Biblical truth and you’re speaking from a place of love and peace, then His truth will be conveyed.

Marketing is incentivized

 In our current culture it is almost a guarantee that any major brand you see worn by a celebrity is most likely due to the fact they got it in exchange to talk about/show real-estate-agents-1537461_1920off/or represent that product. I run an Etsy shop and have a Society6 shop where I create bookish products to sell and I choose “Reps” for my brand. These are people who pledge to represent my brand and my products on their Instagram accounts. I don’t pay them to say nice things about my products, but they choose to Rep for me because they like my products and believe in them. This is not the case all the time however. There are many companies who pay people to Rep for them in addition to giving them products for free.

I can’t help but feel a little cheated when I see a celebrity talking about something they “love” only to find out they are getting paid to say those things. Doesn’t it make it seem as if all of their kind words, though probably drawn from real experiences with the product, are tainted?

I think the same can happen with Christians who “market God”. This comes to the heart of it all. To the why of sharing the gospel with others. Are we trying to “market God” because we a) think He needs our help b) think its “the right thing to do” c) feel pressure or guilt to do it d) like the attention we get when we look smart in front of others or e) another answer I haven’t thought of…?

The reasons we should share the gospel (and not market it) come from His commands to us to go and spread the gospel (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts1:8) paired with a heart that overflows with love for our Savior and the overwhelming realization that we cannot keep this Good News to ourselves.

I don’t know you (most likely), so what I say here is largely taken from what I see myself falling prey to. In March on my blog I focus on Marketing and Social Media for writers and authors and, as I contemplated what I wanted this post to be about, I realized that I may do a good job at marketing products and books, but I cannot let that negatively affect my faith.

west-826947_1920I can’t expect to go out “into the world” and arrogantly tell others why they are wrong and need the Lord, but I can share my personal experiences with them and pray for the Holy Spirits conviction in their hearts. I can’t try and make Christianity look “better” or gloss over the heavy issues because I serve a Big God who handles the tough questions. And I can’t have any other motivations aside from desiring to share the hope that I have (1 Peter 3:15) with those around me.

Have you struggled with trying to “market God”? Which of these three things can you relate with most? What other things (positive or negative) do you see that have been influenced by this “marketing society” we live in?

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Emilie is a freelance writer and photographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She’s a member of ACFW and writes romantic square-mesuspense while dreaming up YA Sci-Fi worlds on the side. She’s got a soft spot in her heart for animals and a love for the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. In her spare time you can find her designing fun bookish items for her Etsy and Society6 shops all while drinking too much coffee.

Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, follow her on Twitter and Pinterest, and visit her online at her blog, Thinking Thoughts.

 

 

 

Ashamed to Pray

(Please note: Reach Out and book give-away winners listed below.)

Each day, we are engaged in a cosmic battle, a battle over self. It is a war between entitlement and sacrifice, between self-love and sacrificial love. And each day, God gives us a choice–to squelch His Spirit, His love, His still small voice as we fight for our rights, or to lay it down, allowing Him to reign and love others through us.

Are we aware of the consequences–of what’s at stake? When we’re consumed with self, we don’t even notice the woman in the grocery aisle, the man at the gas station, or perhaps our spouse coming home from work discouraged and exhausted.

In each encounter, God is whispering, tugging, urging us on as His embassadors. If we’re not careful, if we’re not continually focused on our Savior, our inner voice of self-love may scream louder.

Two weeks ago, our family took a trip to Odenton, Maryland to visit family. It was a wonderful time of fun and exploration–a time for me to see my brother, whom I hadn’t in over five years. But amidst our fun, I soon found myself on a cosmic battleground.

All week, God had impressed on my heart the need to lay myself down, to seek not my own glory, not my will, but His. To be like a wildflower tucked in a nook in the valley, ever-growing, reaching for the sun, even if no one notices.

And then Friday came–our last day in Maryland. I started the day at a surrender zenith, ready to die to myself and be an active instrument of God’s mercy and grace. I was determined to live out the truth God had showed me one morning in 1 Peter chapter four.

“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God”  (1 Peter 4:1-2, NLT). (Emphasis mine.)

As I read the passage, I thought of a dear sister in Christ dying of brain cancer. She’s going through a rough time. She’s lost her sight, and her speech has become difficult. But through it all, her heart remains centered in Christ. Each day, her life shouts out His praises and points everyone around her to the cross.

I wanted to be like her! To praise God regardless of what I faced, to be so surrendered to Him, so focused on His love and purposes, that my life radiates His love and glory.

My determination was quickly undone, not by a fight against cancer but instead, something as trivial as crab cakes. And because of my quickly rising self-love, I tainted Christ’s name.

That afternoon, we decided to begin a search for crab-cakes. My husband had heard Baltimore was famous for them. This was the one thing he’d been looking forward to, the one thing he longed to do before we headed home. Being the loving, supportive, self-sacrificing … (uh-hem. I shift uncomfortably and avoid your gaze) wife I … long to be, I wholeheartedly agreed, and we all climbed into vehicles and headed downtown.

Stepping out of the van and into a dingy and smelly parking garage, my grumble meter sky-rocketed. When we reached street level, things–and the smell–got worse. A quick glance told me we weren’t in the best part of town. I clutched my purse to my chest, and my sister and I exchanged glances.

“Can we go somewhere else?” I’m sure my voice held a pleading tone.

All the women agreed. So, we clamored back into our vehicles and drove to the harbor, filled with numerous clean restaurants–any one of which would mesh well with my germo-phobe preferences. Yes, I was pleased. This would do quite nicely.

But unfortunately, we kept walking, leaving the  trendy harbor area with its cute shops and alluring smells far behind. Memories of the area we’d just left still fresh in my mind, I watched the clean–did I mention clean?–restaurants fade behind us, my agitation growing. Snippets of my morning devotion came to mind, calling me to die to myself, embracing each moment (bacteria and all) in full surrender. Relinquishing all rights and expectations.

But I wasn’t listening. I was too focused on me.

The restaurant we ended up at was anything but five-star. The bathroom smelled as if it had been doused in urine. The carpet looked as if it’d been splotched with car grease, and the menus needed to be soaked in sanitizer. It was three o’clock, well past lunchtime, and I was starved, irritated … and a bit queasy, as my germo-phobiness waged war with my hunger.

Sitting with a firm scowl, arms crossed, nose wrinkled … Okay, so maybe I didn’t behave that badly–on the outside, but my heart was pretty grungy. Grungier than the floor, and needless to say, I didn’t hide my disgust well. Oh, what a role model I was for my daughter!

Then it came time to pray.

The reality of my witness–or lack there of–hit me in the gut. I thought of the waitress who watched me, frumping, longing to be anywhere else but there. Did I want her to know I was a Christian? Or would it be better, for Christ’s sake, if she didn’t?

Last Thursday, Nikki Arana asked a powerful question: Would you share your faith if it cost you your life. (You can read her post here.)

I’ve often wondered about that–how I would respond if I lived in a country filled with persecution. If, because of my faith, I faced unemployment, physical pain, or even death. I don’t have an answer, but I do know, in the day-to-day when I am called to *live out* my faith as Christ’s ambassador, I often fall short. Not in the face of extreme danger, but instead, in the face of self, over something as trivial as crab cakes.

Lord Jesus, help me to die to myself, not just in the big, courageous moments, but in those day-to-day encounters–standing in line at a grocery store or eating at a dirty restaurant. Help me, in all things, to be alert to my witness. Help me to radiate your sacrificial love–the love that drove you to a cross, for me.

Let’s talk about this! Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about offering our whole selves to God as a living sacrifice, seeking to know God and make Him known.

The Bible tells us we are Christ’s ambassadors–His representatives. Are we representing Him well, or has our self-love tainted His image? What can we do today to radiate His sacrificial love and glory?

I also want to congratulate our two winners this month.

Tanya Eavenson, when you retweeted Nikki Arana’ s post, Consider it All Joy, you were entered in her book give-away drawing. Congratulations! You won a copy of her fabulous novel, the Next Target! I’ll be contacting you shortly to get that book to you.

And this month’s Reach Out winner is Vona Elkins with her touching story, When Lives Intertwine. Thanks, Vona, for sharing your story with us! I’ll be contacting you soon to get your gift basket to you. (click here to see what you won.)

A Heart Prepared~Melissa’s Story

A few weeks ago, a dear friend posted a heartwarming story on her facebook wall, so I shot her a quick fb message and asked if I could share it with you all. This week, I’ve been focusing on ways to reach out with the love of Christ, whether through prayer, a kind word, or even just taking the time to offer a smile. Last year I took an evangelism class and it really opened my eyes. I learned that the journey to faith is rarely a one time step. Often when people come to Christ, God has already been working in their lives for quite some time. Through a neighbor ten years back who baked pizzas when they returned from the hospital with a newborn. Through a mailman who offered to pray. Through a family member who consistently demonstrated patience, or even a passerby who offered a quick, “God bless you.” Often we’ll have no idea the impact our smiles, prayers, and words have…until we get to heaven.

There are three things I love about Melissa’s story:

1. God had been loving on her, drawing her closer to Himself, and preparing her heart to receive His love, for years.

2. Melissa caught a glimmer of God through the consistent witness of her cousin’s life.

3. Her teacher shared when God laid it on her heart to do so, and the timing was perfect.

One question: What if the teacher had been too busy to go to the coffee shop that day? Or too concerned about offending Melissa to hand her the gospel tract?

The next time you feel God calling you to reach out, stop and think, what if the person He’s calling you to reach out to is praying to Him right at that moment, asking Him if He’s really there, if He really cares, and if He can hear them. You might be their answer to prayer.

And my final thoughts are…when I first approached Melissa, I asked if she could share what God had been doing in her life. Her first reaction was, “Wow, I don’t know. Has He done something I’m not aware of?” But once she’d taken the time to look back, she realized God had been there all along.

Melissa’s story:

On first thought when reading this, I was thinking “Yikes, has He been moving in my life without me recognizing it?” Then I drove home for lunch in a quiet car and thought it over and it came to me clear as day. He has been moving, maybe taking small baby steps with this once skeptic, but nonetheless I am learning that none of us are on the same trek with Him now are we?

About a year ago, my relationship with my cousin Robin was rekindled. We hadn’t been in contact for nearly 30 years. My dear cousin is a true woman of God. Her spirit is always praising Him and in her faith I found something I knew was missing within myself. The more we talked, the more my path was being cleared. In May or June, I purchased my first Bible and began reading. Prayer came naturally although the prayers I send up may be a bit chaotic and jumbled, I am sure He understands and can sort it all out.

To backtrack my journey I should mention, that when I say I had been skeptical it was mostly based on what I now see as a misunderstanding in what it means to be Christian. Having never been surrounded by religion growing up, my vision was narrow, although I thought it wasn’t at the time. From my perspective, I saw “bad” things happening to “good” people. I had a person who I thought I would spend my life with taken away in death. The people I knew who were church go-ers, in my opinion were hypocrits and Sunday warriors who dropped their religion at the church door as they walked out after services. By saying these things, I don’t intend to offend anyone, but to understand my journey I must be honest.

It is with fresh eyes and an open heart that God is working through me the most right now. I am less quick to jump to judgement about another person, because I now understand more. Yes, we are all on different journeys to take us where we are meant to eventually be. I am learning that bad things will happen to good people, but it is part of a larger plan, one that I cannot see but must trust and have faith in. When you read the stories of the Bible, it is filled with those exact types of scenarios. Last year, those kind of thoughts would have never occurred to me and I would instead see only the despair and feel bitter about what I perceived as “bad”.

Once the walls that I had built which were keeping the religious at bay started crumbling, I began to notice more people being drawn to me (or perhaps me to them). In search of a church home, I began attending services at a few different churches trying to find one that fit me best. Now I am still on that search but it is one of the things I want to really focus on this year. Knowing that the more I submit myself to receiving, the more I will be able to give.

The day I bumped into my teacher, Miss Winter (Sue), felt like a culmination of God saying to me “See, I am here.” To have this woman, who was important to me so long ago, be the deliverer of a small Christmas tract about Jesus, and for me to be willing accept it – read it and for her name to be there was more than a coincidence. It felt like a true gift and I accept it.

*   *   *

Jesus offers that same gift to each of us, but for it to be of value, we must accept it. What about you? Has God been working in your life? He always is at work, loving us, drawing us, guiding us. Sometimes we just need to take a moment to step back, and look back, to see His hand. When you do, you’ll find He’s been there all along.