Looking back, I don’t know why I was shocked. I was obviously far more naïve than I thought I was. There’s no point in naming names, but my first job out of school was with a company that routinely put products on the market before they were ready. What shocked me was the openness with which people in the company talked about it. What made it all work? The answer probably won’t surprise you as much as it did me: their advertising was superior, even award winning. So was their packaging. What you saw was prettier than the box it came in, which was nicer than what was in it, which wasn’t much.
Christmas meant December was their biggest month of the year, when they did one-quarter of their business. In that odd phenomenon, “poor baby Jesus born in a manger” was good for business — very good. Hundreds of thousands of people unknowingly bought their not-quite-ready products. We’ll just say it was consumer electronics. Naïve, like me, the customers expected their product to work as it did in the commercials. Those advertisements were snazzy and effective and somehow reached many people. Those images of sophisticated, happy men and women kindled desire for our product.
The ads blurred the edge between image and reality. At home, it really seemed that most people didn’t want to face the fact that their money had purchased less than promised. I guess it’s easier to pretend it’s better than it is, or good enough anyway, than to admit that someone has fooled you. It’s amazing what people will put up with, isn’t it? I know, because it was years before I stopped to consider all the ways I was being fooled. It’s easy to assume you’re “in the know” as I was at my company.
Have you ever wondered whether you’re actually blind and can’t see what’s going on? How do you find out when you’ve been taken in by superior advertising? All I know is that nothing changed for me until I faced the hard fact that what I had was not what I thought.
Flamboyant advertising is a good sign (like any promise of something too good to be true) that someone is selling you a “bill of goods.” Every huckster, no matter how expensively dressed and seemingly sincere, must intentionally deceive to advertise a product that doesn’t work. They aggressively and shamelessly puff it up. As an evil man once said, “A lie told often enough becomes truth.”1
What if this were true about the most important decision you’ve ever made? What if the huckster who fooled you “peddled his wares” in a flamboyant, striking, brilliant, even glamorous fashion? What if only a Las Vegas nightclub could match his showmanship and elaborate setting and powerful driving music? Flamboyant comes from the same root word as flaming, which is what he does to your emotions. Why?
What about the mega-church pastor who prances around with his microphone in front of 20,000 admiring fans every Sunday? They wouldn’t come unless the show was great. What if nothing seemed odd to you about his incredible presentation, as it would about any other huckster? Shouldn’t you have been alarmed that maybe he was selling you a “bill of goods,” because of all he went through to dazzle you and persuade you that you were someone great, someone with a future, a godly man with an eternal destiny? And then all you did was go home and face the same lonely existence and dead-end life. You did, but he didn’t. His name is in the news; he’s even on the Larry King Show. His family flies away for exotic vacations and you wish yours could, too.
Next week you go back to the wild cheers, the flashing lights of the stage shows, the glamorous wife, the inspiring sermon, and you wait for the incredible feelings of being in that huge auditorium with 20,000 others to again persuade you that something is happening in your life. But every Sunday afternoon you go home, and every Monday morning you go to work, and the mountaintops seem so far away from down in the valley. And the only difference between you and your non-Christian friends at work is that you go to church and they don’t. Maybe you could work up the courage to invite them to go to the show, too.
You make it through each week, and even give a little money to help keep the show going, yet if your life were the play and the sermon you heard each week the narration, you’d see the jarring “disconnect” between the two. No one would watch after the first act. It would make no sense. Why is the narrator saying things that have nothing to do with the play? Yet when you come back with all these other disconnected, hurting people to hear more of the narration, you forget for a while, in the midst of all the excitement, that the play of your life has nothing to do with what you are hearing.
I didn’t go to a mega-church, but I was part of the greatest spectacle on earth — the Christian religion. Supposedly, Jesus had come into my heart, but neither my heart nor my life was any different or better — just cleaned up a little on the outside for the sake of appearances. I finally came to the unavoidable conclusion, based on the “play” of my life, that the “narration” of the Scriptures was about somebody else, not me or the people I was a part of. It had to be about another people altogether — a simple life of faith, one built on obedience to His commands, and one I hoped so much would be like the first church in Jerusalem.
The desire for this life entered my heart when I was a child hearing Bible stories. Though in my life, hucksters bamboozled me and many things turned out to be much less than promised, in my heart there still burned a hope for the real thing. I just thought, if God were real, if He were alive, then the words that were true then — in the gospels and epistles, the words of a life lived together, where people loved one another — would be true today. If I had never found it, I am sure I would have abandoned all religion, certainly the Christian one that was so disappointing. And I would have been better off if I had done so.
But better, far better, it was to find the true church where we live together and love one another as Messiah loved us and gave up His life as a sacrifice for us, and so we give up everything for Him and His gospel’s sake. It’s the good news that saves. Nothing flashy, just a life of caring and serving one another, something real to offer others — a hope that does not disappoint. That’s what I was looking for, and that’s what I found.