Residents were warned to stock up on batteries, water, blankets and other supplies. We were told that this blizzard was massing power and intensity and would shut down Salt Lake City. It had the potential of being the worst storm to hit the area in fifty years, they said. The news was even breaking into regularly scheduled programing to provide updates hours before the storm arrived. A scrolling banner was constantly moving across the bottom of the television screen to alert residents of emergency Red Cross locations. They hype was reaching overwhelming proportions.
But when the storm arrived, it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary for Salt Lake. There was very little wind and about 2 inches of cold, dry snow. A week before, enough heavy snow came down to cause my neighbor's old tree to collapse in my driveway. The week after the "blizzard," Salt Lake was covered in two feet of snow. (It took me nearly three hours to shovel my driveway and sidewalks.)
The new outlets however, were not about to allow the hype (which they created) to fall short. As the supposed blizzard started, they had reporters outside doing live broadcasts. These reporters would say things like, "As you can see, nobody is outside because it's so dangerous." Had they been in that same location on any other day, there still wouldn't have been anybody out, but not because of any blizzard danger. At one point, the news put up images from a highway video camera. In the shot, one could see about 3/4 a mile down the highway. It was dark and there was a light snowfall. Cars seemed to be traveling 30 or 35 miles per hour. But the report stated that it was "whiteout conditions" and visibility was "zero." "Cars were at a standstill" he said.
After the storm, the news outlets in the Salt Lake area lost all credibility. Not only was the storm nothing significant (showing the meteorologists' inability to accurately predict the weather), we also witnessed the reporters' inability to accurately report the news. The next morning as the city was realizing that the blizzard was anything but, the news was still reporting that were lucky to be alive.
It seems that Christians do this from time to time when they share Christianity with those who do not know Jesus. Intentional or not, there can sometimes be an unrealistic picture presented of what a life walking with Jesus looks like. "Before I knew Jesus, I was a drug addict with lots of problems, but after I met Jesus, my life was great and I never faced any problems at all." The prosperity gospel the worst culprit. "I was poor before I new Jesus, but now look, I drive a Lexis and have lots of money." But the truth is, life with Christ is not free of problems. In fact, the Bible teaches that Christians will face trials. (For examples, see James 1:2, Matthew 13:21, Mark 4:17, Luke 22:28-32, 1 Peter 1:6-7, Romans 8:35-39.) We cannot expect that God will keep promises he never made to us. At other times, Christians over-report the wonders of Christ's influence in their lives. Emotion runs high and the hype grows to overwhelming proportions. (I'm sure I've been guilty of this.)
So the best thing Christians can do is report the gospel accurately. The gospel is life changing; no hype is necessary. However, if we, like the news, create too much hype or incorrectly present the picture, we will lose all credibility and the gospel will be the victim. And if we lose credibility, people will change the channel or read a different news paper. Looking at America today, it is not hard to see many people changing the station because they do not see the Church as credible anymore. It is important we remain honest and accurate if we are to be good ambassadors of the Kingdom. Nobody should be left shoveling an inch of snow and three feet of cow manure because a Christian was more concerned about ratings than the truth of the gospel itself.
*The photograph is in the public domain.