In a recent edition of Reader’s Digest magazine, a section called “A Very Hard Sell” highlighted the difficulties businesses have advertising their products across cultural and language barriers. Often, their honest, energetic efforts fall short of their goals. The results can turn off potential customers --- and give us a tragic chuckle in the bargain!
--- When KFC began to market its famous chicken in China, it predictably tried to translate its “finger lickin’ good” motto into Chinese. The result? “Eat your fingers off!”
--- In 1987, one enterprising man in Miami tried to profit from the visit by Pope John Paul II to the area. He hawked T-shirts that said “I saw the Pope” in Spanish. However, his energy exceeded his Spanish skills, so instead of el Papa (“the Pope”) he used la Papa (“the potato”).
The American business community isn’t the only group that has problems with communicating across hurdles. The religious community in general, and Christian churches in particular, find it increasingly difficult to get their message out accurately and clearly to the world at large. As American society grows, its religious pluralism and multiculturalism, along with a burgeoning anti-religious bias, complicate exponentially the task of “letting our light shine.”
Many churches attempt to overcome these hurdles with short, pithy slogans and witticisms. You see them all the time on the changeable sign boards in front of church buildings on major streets in most American communities. This has even spawned a growing cottage industry producing little books of these slogans. Haven’t we all seen signs like, “Seven days without church makes one weak” and “Ch- -rch --- what’s missing? U are!”?! How effective are these church signs? If the recent announcement that the proportion of Americans who self-consciously list themselves as “Protestant” is any clue, declining numbers of Protestant Christians must, I think, mean that they are not really very effective! Sadly, the pulpits of many modern-day Evangelical churches have followed this trend, and the preaching amounts to little more than moralistic sloganeering and cheap alliteration.
So, if the church signs are not very effective and the preaching of so many ministers leaves the public absolutely cold, how ARE we to get out the message of our churches and the Gospel? Is there a truly Biblical public relations program? Yes, there is! The most effective church signs and public banners are YOU and ME! That right, WE are the signs that our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow students voraciously read every day! AND --- these “signs” are always effective. People see us --- they observe our lives --- they speak with us --- and they have indelible impressions about us and the qualities we embody. We simply CANNOT live life without affecting at least SOME people around us!
Now, we must remember that while we DO affect people, all the effects may not be positive. Just as so many church signs habitually reflect the trite and trivial and some turn off scores of people, so our lives may at least partially be a witness of what’s NOT really important.
This week’s passage tells us that “we’re lights.” ALL of us are “lights!” How will we “shine” this week? How will our actions and words reflect what is eternally important and what reflects our Heavenly Father? Remember --- people are “reading” us every day. Many of those will never tell us they are doing so, but they ARE! They’re making up their minds about our faith and our churches from those who espouse a commitment to Christ and His Church. This week be a “sign” that points to Christ!
May God grant that “all your bulbs burn brightly and your message is broadcast without interruption!”