I was on my way to lunch and was following an SUV with lettering across the back: “Jesus is my friend, He died for me.” My immediate reaction was: Would I put that on my car? I thought not … which was immediately followed by: Why? Are you ashamed of the Gospel? Which was followed by: No, not me … right? I was glad to read your Catch. I have come to realize that I’m not ashamed of Jesus or the Gospel, but I am ashamed of the Jesus and the Gospel as the World knows Him and it.
Yes, Mark. I think you are exactly right. You are not ashamed of Jesus or the gospel; you are desirous that people know the truth, and you are afraid that a bumper doesn’t give you enough room to tell it or show it. Though the message is a good one — Jesus is my friend, and He did died for me — it’s just that a bumper doesn’t give you enough room to distinguish yourself and your message from the prevailing understanding of Christians. We need something bigger than a bumper to explain our relationship with Christ and our commitment to following Him.
Forty years ago there were all kinds of bumper stickers and T-shirts with messages about Jesus, and they were not offensive, because people were curious. The message of the gospel had not been brought out into popular culture before in this way, and a sticker or a T-shirt gave you a new opportunity to talk about it. People wanted to know. Jesus was suddenly cool. Let’s face it, His long hair, beard, sandals, and the fact that He was against the establishment made Him the ultimate hippie. Christians were the new kids on the block. We weren’t even called “Christians;” we were “Jesus Freaks.”
Today, Christians are old hat. They get attention for other reasons. The gospel message has been politicized, militarized, and dragged in front of abortion clinics and gay parades, and news cameras rarely miss an opportunity to capture these confrontations and exploit them for their entertainment value on nightly news. No longer new kids on the block, Christians appear to want the heads of those who disagree with them on the block. So your message about Jesus being your friend and dying for you only means, to most people, that you are one of “them” and they want to stay far away from you.
We need to have some new answers. “Are you a Christian?” — usually meaning: “Are you one of those people?” — deserves something new, like, “No. I’m a sinner who cannot believe that he is loved by Christ,” or “Yes, but it’s not what you think .…”
Look at it as an opportunity to start over. If you’re going to identify as a Christian in the marketplace, don’t assume that anyone knows what one is. And those who think they do, generally have the wrong idea.
I just read this morning where a Gentile woman came to Jesus asking Him to free her demon-possessed daughter from the demon’s control. Jesus, testing her, responded with a common Jewish understanding of the day that you feed your own family first. You don’t take food from your own children and feed it to the dogs. (Jews talked about Gentiles as being “dogs.” Jesus didn’t believe she was a dog; He wanted to see how she would respond.) “That’s true, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs under the table are given some crumbs from the children’s plates.” Jesus was impressed with her answer and told her, “Because you have answered so well, I have healed your daughter” (Mark 7:25-30). I like this story for the creative engagement of the woman. She was listening carefully. She put her need in terms of the question Jesus put to her.
If we are going to tell the gospel, we need to put our words in the terms of the conversation we are having. We need to be creative in how we respond. We need to listen carefully and respond within the framework of the other person’s belief, whether we agree with it or not. The woman was not a “dog.” She knew it, and Jesus knew it, too, but the conversation was framed by the perceptions of the day, and the woman spoke her truth into that framework, and in so doing, she reframed it. We need to do the same. That takes careful listening and rephrasing. It means adjusting to each conversation. It means engaging. Take the bumper sticker and turn it into something. Take the misperception and use it to construct a new understanding. (This could actually be fun!)
And finally, it means acts of love and kindness, because words are not everything. Words and actions. Jesus not only spoke to her, He healed her daughter. The woman went home and found her daughter free and whole.