A while back my parents’ church printed and gave out a bunch of those cute little white window stickers for the church members cars. It had the church logo on it and for several months all I saw when I went to their town was cars with those little cross and butterflies on them. I mean seriously, it seemed like everyone had one. Everyone, except my dad. I once asked him why he didn’t have one and he told me he was afraid that people would see his behavior in traffic and see his window sticker and get the wrong impression about the church. Now, my dad isn’t the most patient driver in the world (dad if you’re reading this it’s ok…traffic is not fun for anyone…we understand) but he is also a really nice guy and I’m about 80% sure he was kidding. But it raises a good point. What messages do we send out on a regular basis? Are we even intentional about it?
When I started to write this post I googled “Jesus Bumper Sticker Car Window”…it’s not a Google search I would recommend. What I ended up seeing were a lot of what I found to be incredibly offensive bumper stickers, some of which I couldn’t post here without fear of losing my job. Some were political (which put me on a whole other tangent since what I googled was Jesus and NOT politics), some were about social issues, and some were just bizarre uses of scripture. One said something like ‘If Jesus saw you driving like that he would want to slap you’. I found the one that I posted above…and I cannot figure out what the heck is going on. If you understand what they are trying to do there please let me know because I can’t figure it out. Seriously. I need some help here.
The thing all these bumper stickers had in common though was the belief that whatever they felt so strongly about needed to be posted for anyone and everyone to see while the driver goes about his or her day. I found that incredibly fascinating. The question I think we should ask more than any other in life is “Why?” I’ve learned that it saves a lot of time, energy, and heart ache if we just ask that little question before we do something. If we check our intentions and motivations before we enter into a course of action. And I gotta wonder- why the bumper sticker? What is the point? What was the goal or intention? Is it just an announcement?
I asked some of my friends that question and one answer came back that I’ve really been struggling with since then.
“Maybe they felt like they need to stand up for what they believe.”
Well that sparked a whole slew of other questions for me, but topping the list is definitely, is that what it means to stand up for what you believe? I see a lot of this same bumper-sticker-defense on social media, usually in a pass it on Facebook post or a quote (usually a misquote) posted over some pretty scenery in order to make it more compelling. If we ask why are we posting, sharing, wearing, or driving these things around I’m not sure that the answer that comes back is that we are defending what we believe.
I have never been in a physical fight, which is a good thing since I’m pretty sure I’d accidentally knock myself out or something, but I have been in plenty of verbal fights. And the thing is that when somebody comes at you, physically or verbally, your first instinct is to push back or lash out. If someone starts to attack my ideas or beliefs my first instinct is to come out swinging- verbally of course. And once upon a time I was known to be pretty sarcastic. Ok I’m still pretty sarcastic but believe me when I say it used to be a lot worse. And when I was verbally sparring with someone who I adamantly disagreed with there was no way you were going to get me to back down. I was right, they were wrong, and I was going to make sure they knew it! And I don’t think one single argument that I’ve ever had like that has ever, ever produced anything except two very upset people who no longer wish to speak to each other.
As Christians we believe that only Jesus is Lord. And as Christians we believe that we have been given the responsibility and the privilege of helping to build God’s kingdom here and now. Centuries of Christians have sacrificed possessions, positions, loved ones, and their lives because, no matter what it costs them, they refuse to stop saying that Jesus is Lord. They refuse to stop talking about Christ and what God is doing in the world. They stand firm in what they believe.
But here’s the thing I’m struggling with: is anyone swayed by our bumper stickers and Facebook posts? If the answer is simply no that wouldn’t be that bad. A nuisance maybe to the rest of us but surely not an actual problem. But I think that there is a huge problem because the reverse is actually true. I think not only are people not swayed I think they are turned away. In fact, I think people who are most in need of hearing about God’s grace and love often only hear words of exclusion at best and hatred at worst, when we slap something like this on our car:
It’s not the sentiment that worries me nearly as much as the approach. How is this helping to build the kingdom? Is anyone stopping us to ask if we will pray with them because our bumper sticker changed their lives? Or are we just doing a marvelous job of perpetuating the stereotype that Christians are close-minded, judgmental, bigots and jerks? Where is the line between standing up for our faith and using our faith as an excuse to be a bully?
I think that it is incredibly important for us to stand firm in what we believe and to share it on a continual and daily basis. But we have to be so intentional about how we go about that very sacred task. If we are hurting people (and I don’t mean convicting them I mean doing them emotional harm) or worse causing them to actively turn from God because they don’t want to be around us we are not standing up for our faith in anyway that pleases our Lord. If they can’t hear His message because all they can hear is our “defense” then I don’t think we are doing a very good job. What if the best way we can stand up for our beliefs is by actually living differently no matter what it costs us? What if instead of bumper stickers proclaiming the sanctity of marriage we spent time and energy on our marriages? What if we made sure that the things our time, energy, and resources went to were activities and products that did good in our communities or added to the integral value of our lives instead of just the accumulation of stuff in our pockets and on our calendars? What if we stood firm in our faith by responding with interest and kindness when someone disagrees with us? What if we cared more about people and less about proving people wrong?
I don’t know. Maybe I am reading way too much into a bumper sticker or Facebook posts. But it just seems to me that the life that Christ calls us to is one of discipline and intention. So maybe everything we do deserves a little extra scrutiny and a second-thought. What does it mean to you to defend your faith? How do you stand up for what you believe?
Update: This morning in church our scripture reading fit so perfectly with this post that I wanted to come back and add it. It’s from Paul’s letter to his student Philemon but I thought it was just exactly the right thing to say to someone to encourage them to be mindful of how they are building the kingdom.
Philemon, I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers because I’ve heard of your love and faithfulness, which you have both for the Lord Jesus and for all God’s people. I pray that your partnership in the faith might become effective by an understanding of all that is good among us in Christ.
I have great joy and encouragement because of your love, since the hearts of God’s people are refreshed by your actions, my brother.
~ Philemon 1: 4-7