Isn’t it funny how seemingly insignificant expressions of faith can accomplish huge things? A small word; a short verse; an honest answer; a helping hand – these are a few small seeds that can produce a huge harvest. Sometimes, things that you think make little difference end up making all the difference in the world.
Take for instance the 30-second commercial ran by Focus on the Family during Saturday’s AFC Semi-Final matchup between the Broncos and the Patriots. It’s cute. It’s warm. It’s personal. But how much impact could a few kids reciting one verse of Scripture (John 3:16) really have? The answer: quite a bit.
* On Monday, “John 3:16” was the 14th most searched phrase on Google. Think what that means – MILLIONS of people saw the commercial either on television, or on the internet, and felt curious enough to search for the verse and read it online.
* Both FOCUS ON THE FAMILY and JOHN 3:16 were trending on Twitter throughout the weekend.
* One man emailed Focus on the Family to tell them that his sons read the verse with him, and before the night ended, knelt and gave their lives to Christ.
* An anti-Christian organization started a petition asking CBS to apologize for airing the commercial. Another group complained that Focus on the Family was “exploiting children”. The very fact that they complained shows the effectiveness of the ad.
* The video went viral, and continues to make rounds through Cyberspace.
How crazy is that? Just 30-seconds, and basically no script. Really. No jokes. No gags. No special effects. Just wide-eyed children proclaiming truth.
As we process the moment, here are a few observations to ponder:
1) The gulf between Christianity and culture continues to widen. Among the most blatant changes in our culture over the past decade is the changed tone in the discourse over Christianity. Put simply, the gloves have come off. Any public display of faith is met with bitter, acidic opposition. We saw it two years ago, when a Mass. 2nd grader was suspended and ordered psychiatric evaluation for drawing a picture of Jesus at school. We see it every Christmas, when Nativity scenes greetings of “Merry Christmas” are censored. We have seen it throughout the football season through the Tim Tebow saga – considered among the most controversial players in the league because he dares to display his faith in Jesus in a public way.
The story surrounding the John 3:16 commercial is just another chapter in the debate . . . and it will not be the last one. In fact, days after the stir created from this ad, Focus tried to buy air time during the Super Bowl. Fox Sports rejected their ad, however, choosing to distance itself from statements of religion.
As Christians, we must be careful as we navigate the poison of public perception surrounding the Gospel. On one hand, we absolutely should make our voices heard, and support organizations and film studios and public figures who fight the tide of culture. On the other, we need to be careful not to perpetuate the myth of the “Bitter Christian”. Jesus said that people would know us for our love. Even in the face of bias and ridicule, we need to be warmth and light – always pointing toward God’s Grace. That’s what the kids did in this commercial, and the results were incredible!
2) Contrary to popular belief, many Americans have still never heard the Gospel. I must confess, I was surprised to read that John 3:16 was trending as a Google search term. I would have thought that everyone knew that verse. I mean, everyone in America has heard the Gospel . . . right? Apparently not.
If there is one lesson that really stands out in this story, it is the sheer number of people who are curious about a God who loves the world. We all know that the Gospel needs to reach into the darkest corners of the earth; the 10-40 window and beyond. But as we reach out beyond our borders, have we neglected to share the Gospel with our immediate neighbors? Remember, America is a post-Christian nation, and many folks have kept themselves in the spiritual darkness. We need to consider howt to penetrate that.
3) As America grows more secular, Christians must seize opportunities. Focus on the Family saw an opportunity, and they took it! The buzz surrounding Tim Tebow had reached a sort of fever-pitch before the Patriots game. Remember, Tebow was known for promoting John 3:16 during his college days, and ironically, had thrown for 316 yards the week before. With his personality drawing curious onlookers, Focus seized the moment. Their commercial hit the bullseye!
What opportunities do we have with the people around us? How can we reach out to them with the simple truth of God’s love? I know it’s not easy. Many of our workplaces have rules in place to prevent displays of faith in the office. And with such a polarized society, it can be awkward to initiate meaningful conversations.
The lesson here is to pay attention. Watch for the right moment. Pray for your friends. Ask God to open a door, and when He does, take a breath and run through it. Just remember, proceed with humility and love.
4) Loaves and Fish are enough. We’re right back where we started. Little things matter. In fact, in God’s economy, small offerings can accomplish great things. He defeated the Midianites with only a handful of soldiers. He fed a tremendous crowd with just some loaves and fish. He planted the Church with just 11 uneducated followers. In every case, it was enough. Remember, Jesus said with only faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains. God doesn’t need something huge. He just wants us.
That’s it for today. Check out the two commercials here, and let CBS know how much you appreciate them running the first one.