The Real Thing


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, 1 Kings 12:21-33, Acts 4:18-31, John 10:31-42

Do you remember New Coke? It has a reputation as a huge marketing miscalculation. In 1985, to address a decrease in market share, Coca-Cola rolled out New Coke, a product closer in taste to rival Pepsi. Consumer enthusiasm was lackluster. Within three months the company reintroduced the longstanding previous formula as Coca-Cola Classic. By the end of 2002 New Coke was off the market, and in 2009 the “Classic” tag was dropped. Essentially, Coca-Cola spent nearly 25 years reestablishing a product that didn’t need a change.

New Coke’s biggest problem wasn’t its taste – it was brand identification and loyalty. Unlike iPhone customers who expect innovation, Coke drinkers valued consistency. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Jeroboam, who became king of Israel after the Lord – and an army of dissidents – deposed  Solomon’s son Rehoboam, subscribed to the “fix it anyway” school of marketing. Jeroboam had support from ten of Israel’s twelve tribes. But because Rehoboam still ruled Judah, home of the temple, Jeroboam feared the people would abandon him. He commissioned two golden calves and established places of worship in competition with all the Lord had ordained.

Like New Coke, Rehoboam’s rebranding was an impulsive, fear-driven change no one – particularly the Lord – had asked for. Unsurprisingly, it ended poorly.

When we plan to change something people are used to – be it a product, worship style, family recipe, or tradition – we should make sure the change is necessary and, if possible, welcome. Change for the sake of change is confusing and even frightening to some people. Like the taste of New Coke, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether it’s a change they will like if the process itself puts them off.

Some traditions – like great hymns – are classic for a reason. Others – like excluding women from full participation in the church – are best retired. When we are called to lead change, let’s seek first the will of the Lord, and then seek to understand how best to help people accept it. When we are faced with change, the Lord’s will – not our own comfort – is still the first priority.

Comfort: During periods of change, the Lord remains constant. 

Challenge: Look at your daily routine. Pick one thing that needs to change, and make it happen.

Prayer: God of Life, I will follow where you lead. Amen. 

Discussion: Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with change? A mix of both? What helps you handle change?

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Brand X

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Esther 7:1-10, Acts 19:11-20, Luke 4:14-30

Has American Christianity turned Jesus-the-Savior into Jesus-the-Brand? In a time and place where Christian is the default spiritual setting, and mentioning Jesus invites applause instead of danger, it’s easy to wear his name like a logo. Think that’s harsh? Consider the phenomenon of the “Christian” business. Not faith-based bookstores or religious goods shops, but carpet cleaners, dog groomers, and truckers. How exactly does a travel agency have a relationship with Christ? There’s no evidence they perform better, behave more ethically, or give more charitably. That’s troubling, since once we slap Brand Jesus onto our product, we ought to consider living up to it. More and more, the public perception of Christian businesses is that they are less interested in how to serve than whom not to serve.

While Paul was in Ephesus, some wandering exorcists tried casting out evil spirits in the name of “the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” They weren’t really followers, but attached themselves to his reputation because it was good for business (yes, many exorcists charged for the service). A spirit replied: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” The exorcists fled the encounter naked and wounded.

When we push Brand Jesus onto the world, do people believe they’re encountering the genuine article … or a intelligent-designer impostor? Are we rightfully called out by people saying: “Jesus I’ve heard of; who are you supposed to be?” Even if we don’t feel personally stripped and bruised by that reaction (and why not?), the reputation of our faith community certainly takes a hit.

Jesus is someone with whom we are meant to have a personal relationship, but too often we settle for being fans and all the tribalism and trash talk that accompany fandom. Putting on the jersey doesn’t convince anyone you are a member of the team. Isn’t it better to live and conduct business and humbly share our faith in a manner that lets people see Christ reflected in us? When a product is good quality, people will seek it out. Try pushing a cheap knock-off, and they may never come back.

Comfort: You don’t have to market yourself as a Christian; you just have to follow Christ.

Challenge: This week note discrepancies between people and entities (including yourself) who call themselves Christian and any un-Christ-like behavior they exhibit. Don’t judge them (including yourself), but pray for them.

Prayer: Holy and Loving God, may my words and actions point to you. Amen.

Discussion: Many Christians object when Christmas is shortened to Xmas, yet the X comes from the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Christ’s name, and has been used for centuries. Some use this and other manufactured offenses to shine a spotlight on the Christian “brand.” Can you think of other examples?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!