Making Disciples Without Puppies

By Joel Hess

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Last night while we enjoyed a far above average Super Bowl, we were assaulted with some terribly crass commercials. There were only a few sort of funny ones (unless your humor was the “full house” variety, then everything was funny and you should not be allowed to vote.) But it seems there were a high amount of sentimental snake oil sellers. Some ads were so pathos driven, they were downright depressing.

Nationwide’s commercial basically held a cute kid for ransom saying, “choose us for your insurance or this kid will die.” Budweiser argued for business saying, “drink Budweiser because…puppies are cute.” Then there were the old farts giving out advice on life which was worse than the reliability of the Dodges they were pushing (pun intended). Seriously, you are 100 and that’s your advice!? “Live for now… ‘cuz life is good.” “Hesitate and you lose.” Thanks Dodge for reminding us how age does not necessarily come with wisdom. And, of course, there was the “Does you dad suck – then get a Nissan” commercial.

Finally, two different desperate companies used people’s fascination with prosthetic limbs to sell their product. Wow! Not one company – two!

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Oh no, I’m sorry! The finale of commercial tomfoolery goes to Coca Cola! It is now a holy sacrament! Consuming Coca Cola will literally stop bullying, change hearts and transform the world.

This is America though! These fortune 500 companies wouldn’t use these guerilla marketing tactics if they didn’t work. The Super Bowl ads perfectly demonstrate how Americans make decisions on all sorts of issues…not with logic or reasoning but…quantity of puppies.

Many of us fools use our fleeting emotions as the deciding factor for important decisions in life: decisions about cars, cleaners, insurance companies, hot social topics, leaders of the free world, and yes worse of all – death, life, God!

Now for sure there is a place for emotional appeal in argumentation, but it should never be the center. Yet, it has become just that.

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And the wounds of ridiculous choices are wrecking our society and leaving people more lonely, broken, despairing than before – even though they were told they were going to be happy! Coca Cola tastes great but leaves you with a rotting feeling in your gut.

The reason emotional decision making is dangerous is that emotions can be manipulated, especially in our age where we communicate more with pictures than words.  Pictures are not worth a thousand words!

Unfortunately this method of making disciples has invaded God’s Church. Just randomly pull up a church website. Never a picture of ordinary life, people struggling or straight faces, but instead you will see pics of smiling kids, serene scenery, hugging families. Like a commercial for Pledge; come here where everything just seems to work out right. Jesus will make you happy.

Preachers can even use the cross as a sentimental manipulator – describing every detail of Christ’s passion all the while peaking at the congregation and not stopping until he sees tears and wailing. Interestingly, the gospels give very little detail about Jesus’ suffering!

Of course this doesn’t mean a pastor should be a moron and show no emotion like some dorks in the LCMS command.

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The use of puppies to sell Jesus is a lot older than the church growth movement. It is just as prevalent in high church devotees who set the mood with incense and organ, as it is with mega church wide screens and squinting eye making love to Jesus singers.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not we trust the Word!  Jesus Words. The Word that astonished the synagogue audience when Jesus taught for the first time. He spoke with authority, they said. The Word that cast out demons. The Words that changed the Samaritans woman’s life, rescued Matthew from his greedy aspirations, raised Lazarus from the dead, created the heavens and the earth, and instantaneously changed your destiny from death to life as it mixed with water declaring, ‘I baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!’

Sure His Word can elicit a lot of emotion.  You are a dolt if it doesn’t!  But let emotion flow from Truth, Wisdom, Logos, the Word.  Not the other way around.

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Repent and believe the Good news! You might not be always happy. There might not be any puppies. But you will enjoy forgiveness of all your sins, have peace with God, and will rise again!  No matter what you feel about it!

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